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A Thirst For Knowledge: Arabic Literacy, Writing Paper And Saharan Bibliophiles In The Southwestern Sahara

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Chapter Summary

This chapter highlights the development of literate societies in the southwestern Sahara, a region encompassing most of present-day Mauritania, northern Mali and northern Senegal. It describes the development of a distinct schooling system and the impact of Arabic literacy, considering, on the one hand, the intellectual and practical motivations for acquiring literacy, and the multiple domains of its usage on the other. The chapter examines how writing paper, the indispensable complement to the writing implement, was first imported into the region, underlining the importance of writing to both the production of literature and the organization of the economy. Finally, it discusses the activities of Saharan bibliophiles and book merchants focusing on the remarkable case of Ahmad Bularaf of the Wad Nun, in what is today southern Morocco, who settled in Timbuktu in the late nineteenth century.

Keywords: Arabic literacy; Saharan bibliophiles; southern Morocco; southwestern Sahara; Timbuktu



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