Chinguetti, Mauritania

Chinguetti, Mauritania: Story in Pictures

A Moorish man shows the ancient manuscripts of Chinguetti

The Teacher


One of the main things to see in Chinguetti is the “biblioteques’. These are depositories of ancient manuscripts that are owned by several families in the town. The owners of the books know that they are valuable and try to protect them the best they can by keeping them in closets, leather satchels or maybe a glass case if they have one. They showed us the damage where the beetles were devouring manuscripts. They asked us not to touch the manuscripts, but people did anyway. One man, who professed to be something of an expert on old manuscripts, couldn’t keep his hands off. It was as if he were caressing a holy relic and he was compelled to lay his hands on each book. 

a boy reads the ancient manuscripts of Chinguetti

The Young Scholar


We walked through the sand filled alleyways of Chinguetti to this man’s home. His family had been imams and scholars, and the old manuscripts they had collected through the ages, (since 700AD more or less), were stored in a cubby-hole in his salon. He was pleased to show them. Our little guide, a boy who led us to this man’s house, was as interested as anyone. He peered at the pages trying to decipher them. I don’t know if he could read or not but he was listening intently to what was being said.

I love the ambiance of these photos. Desert people keep their houses dark. It’s cooler that way. There are few windows and these are usually covered by wooden shutters. The light here comes from the open door and it makes for dramatic lighting. To me it is painterly. I did have to ask to have the manuscripts placed near the door and that is where the boy dropped to his knees to peer at the old writings. At the time, I was still using slide film and couldn’t raise my ASA as we can now with digital.

I wanted to show 5 photos of this day, but Word Press is a temperamental software and though I tried several times, I can’t get it to show more than this. So much for a photo story. Another time…maybe tomorrow?












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