Collected over 100 Tamacheq stories, fables and legends
Received support from clan chiefs, mayors and government VIPs
Made expeditions by camel to find celebrated nomadic storytellers in the desert
Trained a group of town students
Created a model for recording stories by women for women and children
Shown the potential for bringing thousands of ancient manuscripts to life
Organized a high-profile launch of the Mali mission – the first storytelling evening in Timbuktu for centuries
Mounted an enthusiastically-received multimedia exhibition

We have pioneered four different methods of recording and collecting stories in Mali, each of which is unique to the nomadic culture and the climate, for example a small team going on camel to find desert encampments. LCS has worked to revive and record readings of the ancient manuscripts of Timbuktu, and has empowered LCS-trained students to seek out elderly storytellers who live in the extended Timbuktu conurbation.



In Mali, LCS has built a local team, collected over 100 stories, and created a local vision for the project that is totally supported both by regional level mayors and VIPs and some of the top Tuareg chiefs. This is evidenced by their letters of support, despite the sensitive and complex politics of the region and the multiplicity of local ethnic groups. Stories and photos have been recorded from several camel expeditions to expert storytellers in remote encampments in the desert, in the urban arena, and from the library of ancient manuscripts. These have been catalogued, selected and digitally edited. Students in the town have been trained in respectful Full Prior Informed Consent protocols and basic digital technology use for story and image capture. A group of women collected a special set of stories for urbanized Tuareg children and their diaspora. Our work in the challenging environment of Timbuktu has been presented at both a much-celebrated Soiree of live storytelling-the first in this fabled city for centuries - and at the first multimedia exhibition the region has ever seen, not to mention over two radio stations.

Our Vision: A Living Base of Tamacheq Stories

Our project aims to connect Tamacheq people around their stories. Our vision is to combine three sources of stories, fables and poems into a single evolving Storybase:

• Stories collected in the town of Timbuktu by women and the future generation of Lycée students
• Stories collected from celebrated storytellers in the desert
• Readings in Tamacheq of poems and legends in the ancient manuscripts

This digital cultural resource can then be levered, e.g. for:

• Local multimedia exhibitions; MP3 mobile devices in the desert; radio programs
• Internet websites; podcasts; Two-way audio blogging with photos; Spoken emails; Streaming ‘Radio Timbuktu’ over the internet for migrant Tuareg workers and their families; CD’s of Tuareg tales for children
• Tuareg storytelling evenings for Timbuktu’s tourists or at international music festivals
• Connection with Tuareg artistic and cultural groups in other countries
• Inter-generational exchanges of stories and reactions between youth in town and elders in desert
• Revitalizing the ancient manuscripts of poems and legends in the libraries of Timbuktu, i.e. repatriation of the written heritage to the community

We thus want to ‘combine the past with the present and prepare for the future’, via a resource of spoken stories that evolves with the Tamacheq culture. Tuareg in Bamako, Agadez, Paris or New York should be able to communicate with each other in their own language about changes to nomadic ways and wisdom, but in the context of their traditional narratives and oral heritage.

After the first multimedia exhibition in Timbuktu, we want to take the exhibition to other places, develop the model and repeat it with other cultures under threat. Our pilot project for the Tamacheq is intended as a model for the other five minority ethnic groups found around Timbuktu. This will need money, partners, supporters, experts and volunteers.



Project Launch

Our pilot project around Timbuktu with the changing nomadic Kel Tamacheq culture was proudly launched in December 2007 with an evening of master storytelling that, to our knowledge, was the first live storytelling event in Timbuktu for many centuries. The whole town attended as well as all the local political leaders and dignitaries.

The stories were excellently told in two different local languages by master storytellers, who were accompanied by a team of master interpreters for animated translations in French and English. The famous Malian singing star Khaira Arby, along with several traditional Tuareg singers/oral historians known as griots, helped animate the evening, which became the talk of the town for some time. The entire affair was broadcast the following morning on a local radio station and considered as great success by the local community as well as the dignitaries.

Student Training and work

The young are the Tamacheq future. Supervised by Issaka Nazoum, education coordinator, we have trained students at the Timbuktu Lycée Mahamane
Alassane Haidara to use the LCS digital capture equipment, helping them to understand how to take quality images or audio recordings. They are also taught the importance of an ethical approach, following protocols of the explanations that should be given and the information they record about the identity, wishes and consent of the participant storytellers. Pairs of the LCS-trained town students then sought out elder storytellers who live in the large Timbuktu conurbation. Many had their first taste of the nomadic lifestyle of previous generations, through interviewing elder storytellers who are visiting from the desert, camped outside the Timbuktu town.

Expeditions to Desert Encampments

The local project leader Ousmane, taking along two student assistants from his village TinTelout made several long expeditions by camel to find master storytellers in the desert who still live the nomadic life and whose fame has spread by word of mouth. Going through a respectful traditional procedure and ensuring full prior consent, many photos and stories were recorded in remote locations.

Takoubao Festival

We were honoured by being invited as the only outside body by the region's top Tuareg clan chief, to attend an important Tuareg inter-clan cultural revival festival in January, 2008. At the site of the Takoubao battle in the desert we recorded the important long griot ‘song’ of the 1894 Tuareg victory against a French Expeditionary force, which is in danger of being lost from their history.


Women’s activity

Four female LCS-trained students assisted a group of women in collecting stories especially for children. Female representation within the local team was at first been difficult due to the cultural norms of gender separation. However, Tinalbaraka as female advisor to the previously all-male team, opened access to female storytellers and the women’s groups in Timbuktu.



Radio broadcasts

Both Timbuktu’s radio stations, Alfarouk and Jamana, have come on board as partners of the LCS mission, agreeing not just to play LCS announcements and promotions, but also to assist in the process of gathering Tuareg stories, organizing radio broadcast story competitions, creating social dialogue around the culture and exploiting new technology options, such as Internet audio programs. Radio broadcasts of interviews with the LCS team and of recorded Tuareg stories help to keep the project alive during the fierce heat of the ‘death seasons,’ when little work is possible in Timbuktu.

‘Talking manuscripts’

The past, i.e. the ancient manuscripts in the libraries of Timbuktu, are important to preserve for scholars, but can also be revived through recorded readings to speak again to the young about the heritage of the Kel Tamacheq. Timbuktu was a center of scholarly learning in the 15th and 16th centuries. Scholars came from all over the Afro-Islamic world to study and write, and there are more than 40,000 ancient manuscripts to be found in the town’s libraries, including some of the earliest manuscripts on astronomy and medicine which have been written. Many Tuareg families still have tin boxes buried containing their own private family manuscripts. This written cultural and historical heritage gives a foundation for the Tuareg values. Several Foundations have invested in preserving this unique written heritage for scholarly research. Our LCS exhibition in October 2008 demonstrated the possibilities for its repatriation to the community.

Multimedia exhibition

The culmination of the collection phase of over 100 stories and several 100 photos during 2008 was an LCS exhibition in Timbuktu in October 2008. Considerable work was necessary to mount a multimedia exhibition in such a remote location:
• A small editorial Tuareg team reviewed and classified all of the material, selecting about 25 stories and accompanying images as being the most culturally relevant.
• These audio recordings and all the images were digitally converted, edited and enhanced, downloading each audio story to an MP3 player.
• The accompanying photos and summary text captions transcribed into both Tamacheq and French were printed and mounted
• Several large posters in French detailing the LCS mission, vision and activities, along with exhibition flyers and VIP invitations were produced.
• All the necessary equipment was transported to Timbuktu, carpentry and many details arranged.
• A big opening ceremony with multilingual speeches, traditional music and dancers was organized, as well as radio program interviews and promotions

The LCS exhibition ran for a week during October 2008 with five supervised school visits, organizing visits for women and children, Tuareg and VIP groups. The feedback on the LCS work and enjoyment of the exhibition, from comments in a guestbook and interviews with visitors was unanimous in its praise and appreciation of the cultural importance and value of our activities. LCS is seen in Timbuktu as more than an important new way of reviving minority cultures’ traditions and values for the young, but also as a great opportunity for strengthening the name and fame of Timbuktu around the world.

Cultural VALUE

The ‘feared blue men’ of the desert, the Berber Tuareg number around 2 million. They are proud nomadic herders, caravaneers and traders who have long roamed the Saharan ex-French colonial countries of Algeria, Libya, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Chad. They have their own language,Tamacheq and its dialects, and an ancient alphabet, Tifinagh as well as Arabic.


The Tuareg are Muslim but also have their own code of devotion, hospitality, honour and bravery. Tuareg society is partitioned into different classes, traditionally holding different status and wealth. Inheritance is through the female line, the women enjoying respect and freedom.

Men are the tailors and craft sought-after Tuareg silver jewelry. Clans gather for events in the Islamic calendar, whilst baptisms and marriages are always special celebrations.

The Tuareg have a rich intangible heritage of learning and storytelling. ‘Griots’ are their traditional inter-clan ambassadors and oral historians. (They say that when a griot dies, ‘a library has burned to the ground’.) Finally, poetry, music and traditional Tuareg dance play a vital role. Each year the desert becomes a stage for a Tuareg-organized international music festival at Essakane, whilst musicians such as Ali Farka Toure born in Niafounke near Timbuktu (now sadly deceased) and groups such as Tinariwen celebrate Tuareg music in international performances.


Timbuktu in Mali and Agadez in Niger have been sister centres for the Tuareg, sited on the ancient gold, salt and slave camel train routes across the desert. Moreover, ‘Tombouctou La Mysterieuse’ was the ancient centre of learning for the African-Islamic world in the 15-16th centuries on the salt caravan, gold and slave routes controlled by the Tuareg.


Earlier, following the arrival of a famous sorcerer from India, Fanjur Omar, in the 14th century it became an animist centre ruled by the king magician, Soni Aliber. After its golden age it became the fabled goal for the London and Paris Geographical Societies. Intrepid German, French and English explorers are remembered on plaques above its Moroccan studded doors.

The unique heritage of Timbuktu includes more than 40000 ancient manuscripts of the earliest books e.g. on medicine, mathematics, philosophy and astronomy, and three unique earthen mosques.

This "Town of the 333 Islamic Saints" was added to Unesco's World Heritage List in 1988, listed as Heritage in Danger in 1990 because of sand encroachment and has had World Heritage Fund restoration since 1996 see: However its rich intangible heritage has hardly been noticed outside the Islamic world, as an ancient Sudanese proverb says:‘Salt comes from the North, gold from the South, money from the white man’s country; but the word of God, holy things and fine legends, one finds them only in Timbuktu.’


The LCS project in Mali is staffed by local people, young students and a women’s group. The team includes the teacher/historian Ousmane ag Abbi, an English teacher called Issaka Nazoum, the cultural advisor Azima ag Mohamed Aly, and an influential cultural advisor, the historian and eminent researcher Salem Ould Hadj, who had received a national award for his long services as Regional Director of the youth development program. Tinalbaraka, a Tuareg woman, was appointed as advisor for the women’s participation in LCS, and the President of the Tamacheq Noir association, black Tuareg ethnic group, are also involved.


Appreciating the opportunities for other minority cultures and of increased cultural tourism, those responsible for the ‘decentralized’ communities of Goundam and Timbuktu, along with Tamacheq clan leaders have given their favorable support for our unique cultural project.


Local radio stations collaborate as partners to communicate the mission and its possibilities for the Tamacheq and for the region. Finally, loyal volunteers in France and USA help as translators.


The Tamacheq language, spoken by between 800,000 to 1 million people in central and northeast Mali, in Algeria, Niger and Burkina Faso, is listed as ‘definitely endangered’ in UNESCO’s Interactive Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger, see

Divided and sometimes politically marginalized by national governments, the recent history of their feudal clans has seen hard times and conflict, as in the ‘Tuareg rebellion’ of the 1990’s in Mali, or conflicts recently when displaced from the uranium mining areas of north east Niger. There has often been a tension between the national educational curriculum and the traditional ‘marabout’ Islamic teaching, or the traditional way of learning the gender roles, skills and customs of nomadic life by a child living in the Tuareg encampments.

Since the droughts and famines of the 1970s many Tuareg have been forced from their desert encampments into urban areas, some becoming settled farmers, but the majority typically ending up in city employment in Mali or France, with little contact with their nomadic roots or even other speakers of their language. Once their nomadic lifestyle and the stark quietness of the desert context are lost, then their knowledge of how to survive and navigate a harsh arid environment where rain is uncertain, the synergy between man, camel and herd, transmission of their history and traditions, or customs such as the tea ceremony or dances, along with their values e.g. of frugality, hospitality, giving alms or respect for woman are vulnerable. Urban pressures, social conditions and shortages of the basics in Mali once outside their traditional subsistence livelihood press harder on the Tuareg than the Bambara majority.


Life in sub-Saharan Africa is difficult, regardless of ethnic group. Mali is among the poorest countries in the world, with a Human Development Index of only 0.38, being 173rd out of 177 countries. Agriculture is limited by the 65% of its land being desert or semi-desert. Poverty in Mali is widespread: 72% live below the poverty line, more than half do not have access to improved drinking water, 76% are illiterate (the highest in Africa) and 25% of children under age 3 suffer from chronic malnutrition. Health indicators are among the worst in the world: life expectancy is 53, only 36% are within 5km of a health service, and only 8% have access to modern sanitation. Malaria is endemic and the main cause of mortality for children under five. Food, shelter, basic medicines and health care are difficult to afford, nationally and individually. (Use of more affordable traditional medicines is declining of course.) See