Susana Molins Lliteras “‘Africa Starts in the Pyrenees:’ The Fondo Kati, between al-Andalus and Timbuktu.”
Timbuktu has recently become an “iconic” symbol of the pre-colonial written tradition in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, scholars have often focused their research exclusively on the content of the manuscripts and the scholarly traditions they represent. My PhD project approaches a family manuscript collection, the Fondo Kati in Timbuktu, from the perspective of archival biography. My research analyses the complex processes of construction/ production of the Kati archive, the processes through which it came into being and how it became recognized as such. The Fondo Kati library is one of the many private/family archives that have surfaced in Timbuktu in the last twenty years. Like the other private libraries in the city, it faces enormous challenges in terms of preservation, housing, financing and making the collection accessible to the public. However, the Fondo Kati has adopted a unique strategy to confront these problems. Its director, Ismael Diadié Haidara, has looked to the peculiar history of this archive and the history of his family, to position his library apart from the others. He uses both the oral history of his family and the marginalia contained in the manuscripts of the collection to reconstruct a unique identity and family genealogy and memory, which he in turn mobilizes in several public discourses in the present. Thus in my project, I treat the Fondo Kati archive itself as an historical artefact, analysing both how it is changed by and in turn changes the context in which it finds itself.
Susana Molins Lliteras holds a degree from George Washington University in French and Spanish Literature. She completed a MPhil in African Studies at the University of Cape Town (UCT), researching the West African Tijaniyya tariqa’s recent history in Cape Town. In 2005, she joined the Tombouctou Manuscripts Project as a researcher and has been an integral contributor to the project’s events and output, concentrating on book history, family collections, African archives and marginalia. Susana is currently finalising her PhD dissertation in Historical Studies at UCT, researching a family archive library in Timbuktu, the Fondo Kati, and its making, particularly its links to al-Andalus and present-day Spain.