Amid the unimaginable devastation, there is a growing concern among academics about the fate of thousands of historical documents, believed to be trapped inside two libraries in downtown Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The buildings are endangered and the documents face imminent harm, especially with the coming rainy season. In the great rush to assist people and to provide living quarters, the damaged libraries are left unattended with rain water rushing in and looting is believed to be widespread.
On Friday, UNESCO, the United Nations' cultural agency, launched a campaign to protect Haiti's heritage. Drawing on previous experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq, the agency called for a temporary ban on the "trade or transfer of Haitian cultural property," to prevent looting from art galleries, museums and historical sites.
The main archivist at La Bibliothèque Haitienne des Pères du Saint-Esprit, Mr. Patrick Tardieu left Haiti with his family immediately after the earthquake to live with relatives in Montreal. He is now leading a different kind of rescue mission: He plans to return this week to the crumbling capital to save the collection of letters, manuscripts, newspapers and books spanning the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.
Included in the archives are one-of-a-kind documents from the 13-year Haitian revolution from 1791-1804, which resulted in Haiti becoming the first independent Western nation ruled by people of African descent, and also the first to abolish slavery.
Another downtown library, at the seminary Les Freres de l'Instruction Chretienne, also contains unique archival materials, which includes letters by revolutionary leaders Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, books from French missionaries, and documents by statesmen and ex-presidents which historians say continue to inform modern Haitian politics.
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