THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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13 posts categorized "West Africa"

16 March 2018

The Manuscripts of Mali

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The fabled city of Timbuktu has attracted frequent media attention over the last few years. During the occupation of northern Mali by Al Qaida linked extremists in 2012 the destruction of mausoleums to local Islamic saints in Timbuktu caused an international outcry and resulted in a UNESCO funded rebuilding project after the recapture of the city in 2013. The extremists also burned around 4500 manuscripts from the Ahmed Baba Institute as their last act of defiance before the French and Malian forces re-conquered Timbuktu. Already during the Jihadist occupation many thousands of manuscripts had been transported in secret to Bamako in the now famous rescue operation organised by the Timbuktu librarian Abdel Kader Haidara. This swashbuckling tale has been the subject of two international best-selling novels, The Bad Ass Librarians of Timbuktu (2016) by Joshua Hammer and The Book Smugglers of Timbuktu (2017) by Charlie English, as well as countless articles and documentary films. Timbuktu, ante bellum, was a thriving city of tourism and the centre of over fifty private family libraries which have now been moved to Bamako where the manuscripts are receiving conservation treatment and are being digitised by SAVAMA, an association of Timbuktu libraries led by Abdel Kader Haidara, which has received international funding from the German, Dutch, Luxemburg, Swiss and Norwegian governments as well as the Ford Foundation and many other sources.

Timbuktu-139086

Certain important libraries in Timbuktu declined taking part in the rescue mission to relocate to Bamako. Instead they chose to hide their precious manuscripts in secret desert hiding places in and around Timbuktu: these include the Imam Essayouti, Al Aquib and Al Wangara manuscript libraries, attached in turn to the three ancient mosques of Timbuktu: the Djinguereber (built 1327), the Sankore (built soon after) and Sidi Yahya (1440). Together they compose what was known as the University of Timbuktu. The British Library, through the Endangered Archives Programme and in partnership with the Hill Museum and Manuscript Library in Minnesota, USA, is now undertaking the digitisation of these libraries in situ in Timbuktu, where work is underway in the Imam Essayouti library since October 2017, and will begin in the Al Wangara in April 2018.

  Imam Ben Essayouti and Sophie resize
Imam Ben Essayouti with Sophie Sarin

Al AquibThe Imam of Sankore at the Al Aquib Library, Timbuktu

Al WangaraThe Al Wangara Library

Although the main concentration of Arabic manuscripts in Mali was undoubtedly in Timbuktu due to its position as the most important trading city of the Trans-Saharan trade route since the early Middle Ages, other Malian cities also boast large deposits of ancient Arabic manuscripts: Djenné in particular. It is situated some 500 km south of Timbuktu in the Niger Inland Delta of Central Mali and was also an important city of trade and scholarship and one of the gateways where Islam first penetrated Mali in the 13th century. Djenné is a repository for thousands of manuscripts which have been kept by families for centuries. In 2009, the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme ran a Pilot Project, which concluded that Djenné’s manuscripts provided a suitable source of material for the mounting of a major two year digitisation project. This was the first in a series of three consecutive major projects, which finally came to an end in October 2017, when in the region of 400,000 images had been achieved from the 8,500 manuscripts which are currently stored in the Djenné Manuscript Library.

Library front Djenné Manuscript Library

Malian manuscripts deal in the main with traditional Islamic subject matter such as Hadiths (traditional sayings and stories attributed to the Prophet Mohammed), Islamic Jurisprudence of the Malikite School, religious poetry and sermons etc. There are also frequent philosophical expositions, mainly on ethics and logic as well as many manuscripts dealing with the Arabic language and grammar. There is history, correspondence, and astronomy which is normally treated as inseparable from astrology. A large proportion of the manuscripts, particularly in Djenné, fall under the label ‘esoteric’; incantations and magic formulas which purport to tell the future or influence the course of events by the use of phrases from the Qur’an in combination with the manipulation of vegetable matter or animal sacrifices. These sorts of practises are frowned upon by certain factions within Islam and some believe that this may possibly have caused the destruction of the manuscripts in Timbuktu by the fundamentalists who derive their Islamic creed from the Wahhabist school of Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

The involvement of the British Library through the EAP in these projects in Mali continues to be instrumental in safeguarding these manuscripts. In the case of Djenné not only in digital form but also in providing a physically safe environment for the storage of the documents, which had previously been kept in very precarious situations in the family homes, susceptible to the vagaries of the climate where during the rainy season violent rainstorms often cause destruction to the fragile mud buildings, and insects are a continuous hazard.

Fig 9 MaliDigitising in Djenné

However, the menace for the manuscript collections in both Djenné and Timbuktu lies not only in the threat of physical deterioration; the political situation is very unstable. There exists an uneasy truce in Timbuktu, but Islamic extremists are encamped in the surrounding desert and attacks on the city are frequent despite a very large UN peace keeping force.  Similarly, the escalating security crisis in central Mali is making the future uncertain for the Djenné Manuscript Library. State presence is withdrawing from the area as frequent attacks from local Islamic fundamentalists target state employees at institutions such as gendarme guard posts and schools. The Mission Culturelle, as the representative of the Ministry of Culture is a potential target and by extension the Djenné Manuscript Library. So far neither has been targeted, but the situation is volatile. The fact that the Djenné collection of documents has now been digitised and that copies exists at the British Library and also at the National Archives in Bamako means that although the original copies continue to be kept in troubled central Mali, at least the vast majority of manuscripts have now been saved for scholars in digital form, and the Timbuktu manuscripts from the three famous Timbuktu University Libraries are now also on their way to being digitally preserved for posterity.

Written by Sophie Sarin, grant holder of five EAP projects based in Mali: EAP269, EAP488 (Over 2000 manuscripts newly online), EAP690, EAP879 and EAP1094

 

From September 2018, the British Library will be showcasing the projects carried out in Djenné in the form of an exhibition to be held along the Second Floor Gallery. There will also be accompanying events related to Mali during the autumn, so do check the Library's What's on page later in the year. 

16 January 2018

Doctoral Research into the Migration and Settlement of Liberated Africans

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Each year, the British Library organises Doctoral Open Days, with the aim of helping students explore the Library’s collections. Two years ago, I met Jake Richards at an Asia and Africa focused Open Day. I am absolutely thrilled to share this blog post, the first to be written by a PhD student using EAP material as part of their research.

In April 1839, J. B. Hazely, an official in the Liberated African Department in Freetown, Sierra Leone, requested that his colleague, S. Thorpe, ‘with all possible speed, send up to this Department six able Boys, capable of speaking English, & fitting to be placed on board Her Majesty’s Brig of War Harlequin’. The Harlequin was one of several Royal Navy ships that patrolled the Atlantic to suppress the slave trade. Naval ships intercepted hundreds of slave ships in the nineteenth century, and transferred the embarked slaves to particular ports where they would be declared free from slavery, and then apprenticed for up to fourteen years – a process which labelled them ‘liberated Africans’. The Liberated African Department Letter Books, digitised by the Endangered Archives Programme, contain correspondence between departmental officials, Royal Navy officers, and missionaries who were involved in different stages of this process of ‘liberation’. As Hazely’s letter reveals, the six boys would work to suppress the slave trade from which they or their relatives had recently been rescued.

Eap284_liberated_african_dept_letterbk_1837_1842_216EAP443/1/18/6 Liberated African Department; Letterbook [22 Aug 1837-15 Feb 1843]

Sierra Leone handled around half of the approximately 200,000 slaves rescued after Britain abolished the slave trade in 1807 – more than any other location in the nineteenth century. Britain’s colony in Sierra Leone had begun twenty years previously as a site not much larger than Freetown, established as a home for black soldiers and sailors who had fought for Britain during the American War of Independence, plus Maroons from Jamaica and freed slaves from Nova Scotia. After 1807, colonial governors and the Church Missionary Society founded a series of villages outside Freetown to manage the influx of liberated Africans, and appointed managers, such as Thorpe, to run them as part of the Liberated African Department. Many of these villages still bear their English-sounding names: Hastings, Kent, and York.

Eap284_liberated_african_dept_letterbk_1842_1847_050EAP443/1/18/7 Liberated African Department; Letterbook [1842-1847]

The Letter Books suggest that the managers combined jobs as administrative heads, magistrates, and experimenters in labour patterns – a local social engineer before ‘decentralisation’ became a buzzword. One of the most noticeable patterns of experimentation was a division of work and opportunities according to whether the Department identified a liberated African as male or female. Managers distributed male apprentices to naval ships, to the West India Regiments, and to settle Tombo (or Tumbu) on the southern fringe of the colony. Although girls went to school, some women were married off soon after arrival, including several ‘Eboe’ women who were presented with husbands soon after disembarking from their slave ship at Freetown’s Liberated African Yard in 1838. Sometimes women worked for ‘respectable married women’ to learn domestic skills until they were eligible for marriage, as a letter from April 1842 attests. The Letter Books give only glimpses of the other work women did beyond the oversight of village managers, such as food hawking or market selling. The lack of choice in deciding labour and domestic relationships may seem surprising, but many contemporary workers in Britain had similar constraints on their choices. The Letter Books continually remind their reader that there were many gradations between enslavement and free labour, and that the processes of moving between them were unpredictable and halting.

The EAP is a cherished window into documentation at the frontier of historical research, and I am grateful to the archivists and researchers whose EAP grants made these sources accessible, to Jody Butterworth for telling me about them at the BL’s Doctoral Open Day for the Africa and Asia collections in 2016, and to the staff who ran a wonderfully helpful open day.

Jake Christopher Richards (University of Cambridge) is conducting doctoral research into the migration and settlement of liberated Africans around the South Atlantic, c. 1839 – 1871.

If you are interested in attending this year's Open Day, it is on Monday 22 January 2018.

08 February 2017

Tracking the past – the preservation of the railway archives of Sierra Leone

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It seems a long time since the Curator of Archive & Library Collections at the National Railway Museum (NRM) wrote to me flagging the Endangered Archives Programme, wondering if it might be of interest to the Sierra Leone National Railway Museum (SLNRM).

The NRM had been involved with SLNRM since 2005, when its founder, Col Steve Davies MBE invited the Director, Andrew Scott CBE to attend the official opening that March. At the time, we were fortunate to get a grant from the British Council, under Tony Blair’s Africa Programme, to cover the cost of a small number of advisory visits and a UK based training programme for the newly appointed staff there, who had never seen a train in action, let alone a steam engine!

As the history of Sierra Leone is one of British slavery and colonialism, much of it is shared across our two nations, including the story of the railways – built during the colonial period in the 1890s and closing in 1975 after only fourteen years of independence. This means that the museum is equally relevant to us in the UK as it is in Sierra Leone.

It was somewhat miraculous that the collection of locomotives and rolling stock which form the core of the SLNRM collection had survived more than ten years of bloody civil war, housed in the heart of the former National Railway Workshops, which had become a refugee camp for some 10,000 displaced persons.

Several documents and images had been found in the pits of the building and inside some of the vehicles at the time when the museum was being developed. They included, tickets, files, notebooks, wagon labels and operating manuals, stores receipts, postcards, stamps. On setting up the museum, Colonel Davies and the Museum Coordinator (and former Workshop Manager) Mohamed Bangura, managed to gather a small number of photographs, postcards, tickets and other ephemera from former railwaymen and other sources in Sierra Leone and the UK.

Image 1

This material was piled in the corner of a showcase in the museum, not properly stored and there was no proper provision for its care or access. It was kept in heaps in unsuitably hot and humid conditions and was vulnerable to damage from movement, light exposure and dust. It was un-catalogued, with the exception of a small number of tickets and wagon labels, so inaccessible to visitors or researchers, and vulnerable to loss or theft.

The material known at the time dated largely from the 1930s through to the official closure of the railway in 1975, which seemed somewhat unusual in terms of EAP projects. However, we felt that, whilst this may not be recognised in the UK as pre-industrial, in Sierra Leonean terms it was pre-modern, since we would argue that the modern era began in 2001, with the end of the war in which much material evidence had been destroyed, and the beginning of a new era of peace and democracy.

Image 2Photographs found in the museum, faded and embrittled by the harsh climate.

We managed to put together a preliminary EAP application in October 2012 and were delighted when we received a letter from Cathy Collins that December, to say that the International Advisory Panel would like us to submit a full application for the project. We were advised to apply for a pilot project, as there was clearly much work to be done to identify what, if any, further material existed.

As there are few people left in the country who remember the railway in operation, it was essential that any surviving archives were located, preserved and catalogued as quickly as possible and that storage and access facilities created. We also wanted to ensure that proper training was given to the museum staff so that they could properly care for the collection.

We had until February 2013 to make the full application and this was the tricky part. Sierra Leone’s postal service was largely dysfunctional and connectivity limited and rather sporadic which meant that communication with the museum was not easy. However, through the good offices of a well connect ex-pat friend in Freetown we did manage to get agreement from the museum that they wished to undertake the project in partnership with us and that they would provide the necessary information, references and electronic signatures.

A formal application was eventually submitted on time and then all we had to do was sit back and chew our nails. We were delighted when we received a further letter from Cathy Collins in July 2013 agreeing to a grant of up to £15,266 over 10 months to complete our project.

We got started as soon as the paperwork was completed – purchasing the necessary materials and equipment needed, arranging shipping to Sierra Leone and planning our visit. In November 2013, we made the first visit to set up the equipment, test photograph the material held at the museum and to research what other material we might find. I’m not going to talk about the detail of all that here, as Archivist Tim Proctor can tell that story better than me [in a future EAP blog post].

One thing that is worth highlighting is the gratitude of the Sierra Leone people, who were delighted that a British public body was prepared to support Sierra Leone heritage and we were feted by the Ministry of Tourism & Cultural Affairs for making it happen, with a grand reception at the SLNRM and a police escort to get there through the horrendous Freetown Traffic! Tourism and culture had recently been listed as part of Pillar One in the Agenda for Prosperity – the new Sierra Leone strategic plan and so museums and other attractions were sharing a spot of the limelight.

Image 3Press Conference at the Ministry of Tourism & Cultural Affairs, widespread media coverage for launch of EAP626 in Sierra Leone

A second visit to complete the photography was planned for spring 2014.

We were glad that we had planned two visits rather than one, as the first set of photographs were not as good quality as we had hoped, and needed to be repeated. However, we were amazingly lucky to meet a fellow at the National Archives who had already been doing some work for another EAP project and understood the requirements. That was a godsend given what happened before we got out there for the second visit. When Ebola broke out it very quickly became clear that our 2014 visit would not be able to take place.

The EAP team were extremely supportive and agreed that project completion would be delayed until the Ebola crisis ended and Foreign Office advice permitted travel to Freetown.

In the event, we had to wait until March 2015 before we could safely travel. During this visit, we were able to see real growth in the museum, following the appointment of a new Chair of the Monuments & Relics Commission – the governing agency for heritage and the appointment of a new Coordinator for the SLNRM. A restructuring of the museum team had also taken place and an Education & Outreach Officer appointed, along with a Museum Clerk. This is great news, as it means that the work we have done to catalogue and digitise the collection will be used to good effect in country as well as through the online resources developed under EAP.

A little goes a long way in Sierra Leone and the impact of this project will be significant and far-reaching.

Many thanks to everyone who made it possible both in the UK and in Sierra Leone.

 

Written by Helen Ashby, Chair of the Friends of Sierra Leone National Railway Museum, formerly Head of Knowledge & Collections, National Railway Museum, York and grant holder for EAP626

05 May 2016

New collections online - April 2016

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In April six collections were made available through the EAP website and BL Sounds. The variety of subjects, locations, and types of record really highlight the broad range of projects that the Endangered Archives Programme is involved in.

EAP190: Digitising archival material pertaining to 'Young India' label gramophone records

1427 recordings can be listened to on BL Sounds

Related record label ephemera, including catalogues and advertisements

Young india Young India record and sleeve

The project digitised gramophone records, disc labels, record catalogues and publicity material from ‘The National Gramophone Record Manufacturing Company Ltd. Bombay’, which issued records under the ‘Young India’ label between 1935-1955. The company produced over 10,000 titles on 78-rpm, 10 inch diameter shellac discs with two songs per disc. The recordings of film, popular, classical and folk music, as well as educational material were issued mainly from amateur or up-and-coming artists. They feature music from different regions of India, sung in many different languages. The recordings have never been reissued on audio tape or CD and are therefore now available for many people to listen to for the first time. We have already received some great feedback about this collection, including one person who recalled his music teacher many years ago telling the students about Young India and how he used to be a tabla player for the label and regular D V Paluskar accompanist. He was delighted to find that he could now hear the actual music that his teacher talked about all those years ago. Hopefully, with this collection now available for anyone to listen to worldwide, many more people will discover or rediscover the recordings from the Young India label.

EAP468: To preserve Indian recordings on 'Odeon' label shellac discs

1404 recordings can be listened to on BL Sounds

Related record label ephemera, including catalogues and advertisements

OdeonOdeon record label advert

This project digitised shellac discs, record labels and associated ephemera from the Odeon record label. Odeon label shellac discs were issued in India between 1912-1938. The company produced over 2,000 titles of north and south Indian music. About 600 titles [1,200 songs] have survived and are with private collectors

Odeon label shellac discs were issued in India in two phases: during 1912-16; and during 1932-38. During the first phase, Odeon's first Indian recordings were made in late 1906 on a grand tour that took the engineers from Calcutta to Benares, then on to Lucknow, Cawnpore, Delhi, Amritsar, Lahore, Bombay and finally back to Calcutta. In all, they recorded some 700 titles, which were duly shipped back to Berlin for processing and manufacture in what was then the established worldwide pattern. Disc records manufactured and pressed in Germany were shipped back to India by 1908. Gramophone records were the only mode of public and family entertainment in that period. Because of the diversity of language and cultural taste, Odeon's engineers recorded a great deal of regional music for local consumption. In a time before film music swept regional variations away, Odeon's activities allowed Indians to listen to the music that would otherwise have been irretrievable. Very few disc records from this period have survived.

In the second phase, the Odeon disc manufacturing company operated during 1932-38. Its operations were mainly from Mumbai and Madras and the company produced over 2,000 titles in north and south Indian music. At this time, radio and film songs had just entered the entertainment era. Disc manufacturing and distribution activity continued until the outbreak of World War II. Because of the embargo imposed on German goods, the company had to wind up their business in India, leaving behind hundreds of titles. The musical genre recorded on these discs include drama songs, speeches, folk music, classical music, drama sets, skits and plays, vocal and instrumental music.

EAP462: Preservation of Kaya district colonial archives and assessment of the potential and feasibility of recovering other former district capitals' collections, Burkina Faso

EAP462_1_1_6-EAP462_47_0004_LEAP462/1/1/6 - Telegrams

This project digitised a wide variety of documents related to the administration of the Cercle de Kaya colonial district. They are of interest to a wide range of historical study fields: population, politics, economy, development, customary law. These documents provide an insight into the local intricacies of the administration, politics, economy and social life of the district.

The material in Kaya though was at risk of neglect, physical deterioration and destruction. The documents were stacked on shelves and on the floor in a shed behind the administrative buildings, exposed to dust and moisture and at the mercy of rats, termites and mildew. More recent documents continued to be piled haphazardly on top of the old colonial ones. These colonial archives that for decades had been piled up in a shed in the former colonial district capital, Kaya, were packed up and transported to the Centre National des Archives (CNA) in Ouagadougou. At the CNA, the documents were thoroughly dusted and subsequently sorted, selected and subjected to an initial analysis. The documents were sorted into 4,200 files, with an average of 20 documents per file. Of these, about 40% were from the period 1919-1960 and eligible for digitisation.

Unfortunately, very little metadata was provided with this collection so file descriptions and titles are very limited. If you would like to volunteer your time to making this collection a more usable resource, please get in touch with us.

EAP650: Grima in Caloto Viejo: archiving Afro-Colombian history

EAP650_1_1_2-EAP650C29C09A1914_01_LEAP650/1/1/2 - Judicial documents

This project made an inventory of the historical, notarial and judicial collections held in Caloto’s alcaldía (town hall), Colombia, and digitised a sample of the most valuable and damaged documents.

First founded in 1543, Caloto Viejo (Old Caloto) was the administrative capital of a wide region northeast of Popayán that included Native American groups, European settlers, their enslaved Africans, and maroon communities formed by escaped slaves. By the 1940s this rural region had not yet experienced industrialisation, yet many of Caloto Viejo’s towns had become autonomous districts. Now only the head of a small municipality, Caloto still houses the pre-modern documents of Caloto Viejo.

Caloto Viejo’s documents are crucial for Afro-Colombian history. Caloto and adjacent regions of the Cauca constituted the nineteenth century heartland of slavery, with Julio Arboleda’s massive Japio estate in Caloto the towering symbol of landholding power. The archives of Caloto are important for tracing the wider history of elites, native Americans, and Africans, and essential for salvaging the local history of important Afro-Colombian towns such as Puerto Tejada or the scholarly unknown maroon community of Caricacé with unique linguistic traditions, whose documentary history exists only in the endangered collections of Caloto.

EAP688: Digitisation of the Deed books in Saint Vincent for the slavery era, 1763-1838

  EAP688_1_1_72-EAP688_Deeds_1822_1823a_401_LEAP688/1/1/72 - Deed book 1822-1823

This project digitised surviving Deed books for Saint Vincent from the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

The Eastern Caribbean Court House, St Vincent, holds numerous historic manuscript documents connected with the colonial administration of the island. The earliest records date from 1763, when Saint Vincent was ceded to Britain at the end of the Seven Years’ War, until 1838, the date when Apprenticeship for slaves ended in the British Caribbean and slave emancipation was fully implemented in accordance with the Emancipation Act of 1834.

The Deed books include important material for researchers. After 1763, Saint Vincent was drawn into the orbit of slavery in the British Empire. Its sugar plantation sector expanded rapidly after that date and the island became (along with other Windward Islands such as Dominica, Grenada and Tobago) a new, expanding frontier for British slavery. The Deed books, compiled in the offices of the island’s Colonial Secretary and the Registrar, proved a comprehensive record of all land and property transactions carried out during the seventy-five years when slave plantations were the main type of investment and employment on the island. The Deed books are large bound volumes that are available for every year in the period from 1763 to 1838. The land and property details recorded in these records provide the names of investors, along with their occupation and residence, and precise financial details, either in sterling or in the island’s currency. The information on investors includes whites and free blacks, men and women, and absentee residents (in other West Indian Islands or in Britain) as well as those living in Saint Vincent. The financial information is wide-ranging. Credit transactions are included. Mortgages, annuities, loans and bonds are all specified, with the names of the parties involved. The Deed books contain much material on slave sales between individuals connected with Saint Vincent and they also have information on slave manumissions. Where sugar plantations are identified in these records, the numbers, and sometimes the valuations, of slaves are given. This is particularly useful for researchers for the period from 1763 to 1815 because it was not until after the end of the Napoleonic Wars that slave registration was commonly carried out throughout the British Caribbean.

EAP749: The narrative and ritual texts, narrative paintings and other performance related material belonging to the Buchen of Pin Valley, India

EAP749_2_3_9-EAP749_Sangnam_CD_Obj9-2_LEAP749/2/3/9 - Statue: Kunda (Wylie sku 'dra)

The Buchen are performers of specialist rituals, travelling actors, healers and exorcists, and disciples of the 14th/15th century Tibetan ‘crazy saint’ Tangtong Gyalpo. They reside in the culturally Tibetan Pin Valley in North India and are most famous for performing an elaborate exorcism ritual called the ‘Ceremony of Breaking the Stone’.

Buchen enact dramatisations of popular folk-tales, Buddhist morality plays which illustrate principles of karma and ideas of impermanence and are frequently enlivened with comedy. Buchen spread the teachings of Buddha through entertainment. These performances are related to the Tibetan Opera and to a tradition of lay religious performers called lama manipa, who retell the life stories of Tibetan saints whilst pointing out key scenes on narrative painted cloth scrolls (thangkas) with a metal pointer. Buchen theatrical performances contain a similar manipa-like introduction.

This project digitised or took images of a variety of texts, paintings and objects associated with these traditions, including images of masks, clothing, instruments and objects used in performances; thangkas; handwritten decorated and unbound Tibetan books (pecha).

EAP749_3_2_1-EAP749_Tilling_LT_Tnka1-19_LEAP749/3/2/1 - Drowa Zangmo Thankga

EAP749_3_4_1-EAP749_Tilling_LT_Portrait1-2_LEAP749/3/4/1 - Meme Buchen in full costume

 

25 January 2016

Syliphone record label archive from Guinea

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Over the past few months we have been working to make publicly available some of the sound collections that the Endangered Archives Programme has funded. Two of the first collections we worked on were EAP088: The Golha radio programmes (Flowers of Persian Song and Poetry), and the three projects that make up the Syliphone record label collection from Guinea (EAP187, EAP327 and EAP608). It is with great pleasure that we can announce that these two collections are now available on BL Sounds for anyone to listen to worldwide.

The Golha radio programmes were broadcast on Iranian National Radio between 1956 and 1979 and consist of a mixture of musical pieces, poetry and literary commentary. These programmes can be listened to here. You can read more about this project in a previous guest blog by Jane Lewisohn.


To celebrate these collections now being made available we have a guest blog entry from Dr Graeme Counsel whose hard work has enabled these fantastic Syliphone recordings to be shared with a wider audience. The recordings are available here to listen to. There are 7780 tracks in total for you to enjoy!

Syliphone logo 2015

The end of colonial rule in Africa commenced with Ghana’s declaration of independence from Great Britain in 1956. Faced with a growing independence movement, to gain the ascendancy France presented its colonies with an ultimatum: the choice of autonomy in a confederation of states under French rule or total independence. Guineans were the first to vote on this offer via a national referendum, and in September 1958 the mayor of Conakry, Sékou Touré, addressed a large crowd who had gathered on the eve of the poll. With President Charles de Gaulle standing by his side, Touré implored Guineans to vote no to the offer of autonomy, declaring that “Guineans prefer freedom in poverty to riches in chains”. A few days later Guineans stunned France by voting for independence, and under the Presidency of a young and charismatic Sékou Touré the nation would become one of the major proponents of pan-Africanism and an architect in the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (now the African Union).

President Touré saw the development of national identity as key to the progress of his nation. The development of culture was thus a central policy platform, with the arts sector, for example, largely under government direction. This was not unusual in Guinea, for in the course of his presidency (1958-1984) Touré oversaw the government’s reach extend into virtually all facets of daily life, supported by over 26,000 party cells. To develop culture, Touré’s government launched an official cultural policy called authenticité, whereby artists were encouraged to seek inspiration from the values inherent in traditional African culture as a means of edifying contemporary society. Traditional folklore, for example, would be “revalorised”, with Guinean heroes “re-awakened” through imagery, songs and text in order to serve the needs of a post-colonial Guinean society. The process was most concisely illustrated in a catchphrase of the time – “regard sur le passé”, or “look at the past”. Of the arts, music was the principal focus of the authenticité policy, and one of the first acts by the government was to disband all private orchestras in Guinea as they were deemed to be too European in their musical style. To replace them, new state-sponsored orchestras were created in each of the nation’s 35 prefectures. The government supplied all of the groups with musical instruments, which, in the vein of the Cuban/Jazz style popular at the time, included electric guitars, saxophones and trumpets. The government hand-picked musicians who formed core “national” orchestras, and they were tasked with training the young musicians of the 35 “regional” groups. Through authenticité a new form of African music was being created, one which presented traditional Guinean music in a modern style. All of the orchestras’ musicians were paid a regular wage and all had opportunities to perform at government-sponsored national arts festivals.

In addition to a network of orchestras, the authenticité policy also created theatrical troupes, traditional music ensembles and dance groups in all of Guinea’s prefectures. Together, they formed artistic companies who represented their region in arts festivals. To further embed the authenticité policy all Western music was banned from Guinea’s radio network, and to fill the gap the government broadcast its own recordings. Since at least 1960 the Guinean government had been recording musicians, initially on Nagra III’s in makeshift studios. By the mid-1960s, however, the West German-funded Voix de la Révolution studios had been created in the Radio Télévision Guinée (RTG) offices, and these state of the art facilities would soon be augmented by a government-owned recording label, Syliphone. Originally recorded on ¼” magnetic tape, Syliphone recordings were released both locally and internationally via eighty-three 33.3 rpm and seventy-seven 45rpm vinyl discs. Broadcast by the RTG through one of the largest radio transmitters in West Africa, Syliphone recordings were a sensation, and Sékou Touré sent his orchestras and musicians on tours throughout the region and continent. It was a remarkable period of creativity which saw Guinean musicians as pioneers in the creation of African popular music styles and as the voice of a new Africa.

EAP608_Pub002
Dr Graeme Counsel, the project archivist

The British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme (EAP) funded three projects to archive the collection of music contained in the sound archives of the RTG. The Syliphone archive, as it has been named, is now available through the British Library Sounds website.

The first EAP project was to reconstruct the entire Syliphone catalogue of 750 songs released on 160 vinyl discs. The government’s own archive of this collection had been destroyed in the counter-coup of 1985, when artillery bombed the national broadcaster and home of the offices of the RTG. I commenced the project in 2008 and completed it in time for Guinea’s 50th anniversary of independence celebrations. These recordings commence with the reference number “Syliphone1”. The success of the project enabled access to the RTG sound archive, a place I had visited some years earlier. Then I had been shown a hand-written catalogue of perhaps fifty audio reels of recordings. In 2008 I was ushered into a room which contained walls of reels, two or three deep. In the few weeks that remained of my project I digitised and preserved as many reels as possible, and these recordings commence with the reference number “Syliphone2”.

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Many of the reels had been poorly stored. Some were completely void of identifying information

I returned the following year to complete the archival project. In the interim, Guinea’s long serving President Lansana Conté had died. This heralded a coup, and when I arrived in August 2009 a new military regime was in power. On September 28 an opposition rally was attacked by the Guinean army in an infamous event known as the “stadium massacre”. 187 civilians lost their lives and 2,000 were injured. In the aftermath that followed, with risks of reprisals and civil war, it was clear that working at the centre of the government broadcaster was too dangerous. The project was abandoned, just a few weeks before the government fell. The recordings from this project commence with the reference number “Syliphone3”.

In 2010 Guinea’s first democratically elected government was in office, and I returned to Conakry in 2012 to launch the third EAP project to archive the RTG’s audio recordings. In 2008 I had archived just 69 audio reels of music. In 2009 I archived 229 reels. From September 2012 to January 2013 the remaining 827 reels were archived, and these recordings commence with the reference number “Syliphone4”. The completion of the project drew much media attention in Guinea and had resulted in the preservation and digitisation of a total of 9,410 songs, or more than 50,000 minutes of music. The bulk of the material was recorded during the era of President Sékou Touré, and the archive is thus a testament to his government and to the policy of authenticité. The Syliphone archive captures an important era of African history, that of the independence period, when governments and artists alike looked to Africa’s history and culture for inspiration.

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The Ministry of Culture organised a ceremony to celebrate the end of the project. The Minister of Culture & Dr Counsel both made speeches, and the all-female orchestra 'Les Amazones de Guinée' performed, as did 'Keletigui et ses Tambourinis'. The event was broadcast live

 

The Syliphone archive contains many unique and important recordings which document Guinea’s 1st Republic. It covers the early years (1960-1965), when Cuban music was a strong influence on the new and exuberant modern styles. The years following the Cultural Revolution of 1968 are extensively covered, and here new experimental styles are in evidence as music was being directly channelled by revolutionary policy. The early 1970s, when Guinean music was arguably at its creative zenith, is also comprehensively covered, and there are also numerous recordings from the post-Touré years, too, which permit a comparison.

Authenticité was abandoned in 1984, following the death of Sékou Touré, and the RTG’s sound archive was subject to years of censorship and neglect. Most of its recordings were never broadcast again, which resulted in a generation of Guineans having little exposure to the music of their mothers and fathers. The archive’s emergence is thus emblematic of the new era of Guinean democracy and of the gradual rehabilitation of Sékou Touré into mainstream Guinean politics. It is also a wonderful collection of music which permits us to “regard sur le passé”.

The list of artists and musicians represented in the archive is a who’s who of Guinean musicians. In addition to the complete catalogue of Syliphone vinyl discs, there are numerous examples of unreleased studio recordings by major artists such as Kandia Sory Kouyaté, Bembeya Jazz National, Fodé Conté and Kadé Diawara, in addition to hundreds of unreleased recordings by Guinea’s National and Regional orchestras, troupes and ensembles. There are dozens of concert recordings, too, and a wealth of material by famous Guinean artists who, as they were never commercially recorded, are unheralded outside of the region. Some of these include Farba Tela, Mama Kanté, Binta Laaly Sow, Koubia Jazz and Jeanne Macauley. The archive collection also features thousands of traditional songs from Guinea’s regions and ethnic groups, including recordings in the following languages: Baga, Bassari, Baoulé, Djakanké, Djallonké, Fulfuldé, Guerzé, Jahanka, Kissi, Konianka, Kônô, Kpèlè, Landouma, Lélé, Lokko, Maninkakan, Manon, Onëyan, Sankaran, Susu, Toma, Toma-Manian and Wamey.

Further information on the archival project can be found in the chapter “Music for a revolution: The sound archives of Radio Télévision Guinée", in From dust to digital: Ten years of the Endangered Archives Programme (Maja Kominko ed., Cambridge: Open Book Publishers, 2015) and also at the author’s website – www.radioafrica.com.au.

Dr Graeme Counsel, 2015.

18 January 2016

Deciphering Wolof Ajami Texts

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Our final blog to coincide with the British Library's exhibition on West Africa is by Dr Fallou Ngom, grant holder for EAP334, a project that digitised Wolof Ajami manuscripts from Senegal. Dr Ngom gives a fascinating and detailed explanation on how the Arabic script was modified for the Wolof language.

 

It has been noted that some of the oldest African Ajami texts kept in some European libraries are mislabeled as arabe indéchiffrable (“undecipherable Arabic”).[i] Though Ajami has a long tradition in Africa, stretching from Senegambia to the Horn of Africa, it has been largely overlooked in teaching and research about the region, partly because Ajami texts are difficult to decipher by outsiders. Like other Ajami users around the world, Wolof Ajami writers enriched the 28 Arabic letters with diacritical dots (Wolof: tomb). These diacritical dots can be placed below or above Arabic letters or below or above Arabic vowel diacritics, as reflected in the excerpt below.[ii]

Exerpt 1: Wolof Ajami text

 

  Figure 1 275

Romanized transcription

Bismi llāhi al-raḥmāni al-raḥimi

Wa ṣalla llāhu ʿalā sayyidinā

Muḥammadin wa sallama taslīman.

  1. Mboolem Muriid yi degluleen ma yee leen
  2. Ci mbiri Shaykh Anta buleen nelaw yeen.
  3. Li may nelaw-nelaw du tee ma yeete.
  4. Li may gëlëm-gëlëm du tee ma woote.
  5. Amaana kuy nelaw-nelawlu ngir réer.
  6. Waaye bu dee fee yeete doolul yandoor.

 English translation

In the Name of God, The Merciful, The Beneficent.

May blessing and Peace be upon our Master Muḥammad

                        ---o----

Fellow Murid disciples, listen to be awakened

about Shaykh Anta. Do not sleep

No matter how asleep I am, I will wake you up

No matter how confused I am, I will call upon you

Perhaps, some pretend to be asleep because they are confused

But when awakened, they will snore no more.

 

Decrypting Wolof Consonants

The Wolof language has 43 consonants (including geminates). The following eleven consonants do not exist in Arabic: p, mp, mb, c, ñ, nc, nj, and ŋ, g, ng, and nd. Thus, to render them in writing, Ajami users had to modify Arabic letters that represents Arabic sounds closer to them with diacritical dots. An orthographic rule is applied to the following natural classes: bilabial, palatal, velar, and prenasal-alveolar consonants. The bilabial consonants (p and the prenasal mp, and mb) are written with the Arabic (ب, b) with three dots placed above or below. Verse 1 and 2 show examples of mb written with the dots above and below the . Similarly, the palatal consonants (c, ñ, nc, and nj) are rendered with a jīm (ج, j) with three dots above or below. An example of c (in ci, the proposition at, in, on) written with a jīm with three dots below is shown at the beginning of verse 2. On occasions, the dots are omitted inadvertently.

The velar consonants ŋ, g, and ng are generally written with the Arabic kāf (ک, k) with three dots above or below. An example of g is in verses 1 and 4. The prenasal-alveolar nd forms its own class and is commonly written with the dāl (د, d) with three dots above or below. Verse 6 contains an example of nd written with dāl with the three dots above. While in Romanized texts, the vowel diacritic that typically follows geminates and prenasals in Ajami texts is not represented, in Ajami texts it reflects an articulatory phonetic feature. It refers to the consonantal release at the end of words with geminates or prenasals. Finally, the sukūn (o placed above a consonant) functions in Ajami texts as it does in Arabic materials. It is used to indicate absence of vowel after a consonant.

Decrypting Wolof Vowels

Three diacritics are used to write the three vowels of the Arabic language: i (kasra, a line below the letter), a (fatḥā, a line above the letter), and u (ḍamma, a superscript د above the letter). Similar to the consonants, Ajami users deploy innovative techniques to represent the vowels of their languages that do not exist in Arabic. For example, Wolof has the following eight vowels: i, e, é, ë, a, o, ó, and u. Five of them (e, é, ë, o, and ó) do not exist in Arabic. As in the case of the consonants, an orthographic rule applies to natural classes to write Wolof vowels that do not exist in Arabic. The classes include: front, central, and back vowels.

The front vowels i, e, and é are typically written with kasra, imāla (a dot below the letter) or their combination, as illustrated in verses 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. The back vowels o, ó, and u are written with ḍamma as seen in verses of the excerpt. In some Wolof Ajami texts, o and ó are further differentiated from u and are written with a ḍamma with a small dot inside.  With respect to the class of central vowels which includes ë and a, both vowels are generally written with the fatḥa, as shown throughout the excerpt.

Additionally, when a word begins with a vowel, there are several possibilities to write the vowel. Because the fatḥa, kasra, and ḍamma diacritics used to write respectively the vowels a, i, and u in Arabic cannot stand alone, the alif (ا) is commonly used as a supporting letter in Wolof Ajami materials. The consonants ḥā (ح, ), (ه, h), and cayn (ع, c) can also serve as supporting letters at word-initial position in Wolof Ajami writing. The vowel a in the word amaana (perhaps), the first word of verse 5, is written with a fatḥa placed on a supporting ḥā.

Additionally, the ḥā (ح, ) and (ه, h) have other orthographic functions in Wolof Ajami writing. They can both occur at the end of words. When these two letters (ح and ه) are used at word-final positions in Wolof Ajami texts, they reflect an articulatory phonetic feature: the uninterrupted airflow of final vowels. The hā (ه) can also indicate a dialectal trait in Wolof Ajami. In such cases, hā (ه) indicates a dialectal feature of the rural Bawol-Bawol Wolof variety spoken in the heartland of the Murid areas where h is pronounced before nouns beginning with a vowel, in contrast to urban varieties where it is dropped.

Decrypting the Segmentation System

The segmentation system that Wolof Ajami practitioners utilize to break their words and phrases also differs in some respect from the one commonly used in the standard Latin script texts. The phrases with multiple elements in the Romanized excerpt form single units in the Ajami excerpt. The first phrase in the box in verse 1, ma yee leen (I wake you up), consists of the subject pronoun ma (I), the verb yee (to wake up), and the object pronoun leen (them). The second phrase in the box in verse 2, ci mbiri (about/concerning the business of), consists of the preposition ci (at, in, on), mbir (business/affair), and the plural genitive morpheme –i. The two phrases in the boxes in verses 3 and 4, ma yeete (I wake up people) and ma woote (I call upon people), consists of the subject pronoun ma (I) and the verbs yeete (to wake up people) and woote (to call upon people). While the elements of the structures are isolated in the standard Roman transcription, they are agglutinated in the Ajami excerpt.

Though deciphering Ajami texts is clearly not easy, the benefits are immense. Deciphering such Ajami texts opens up new doors into important written sources of African knowledge that have hitherto eluded most Arabophone and Europhone scholars. Ajami sources are old and extensive and they complement the (1) Arabic, (2) Europhone, (3) indigenous written, and (4) oral traditions of Africa that constitute the “African Library.” Ajami sources equally deal with both religious and secular matters, including arts.[iii]

Calligraphy

Bàyyi fen moo gën jàng al-Quraan ak xam-xam te jëfe ko [to stop lying is better than studying the Qurʾān and knowledge [of Islamic sciences] and living by it], a maxim in Ajami calligraphy emphasizing the primacy of ethical excellence over ritual practice in the Muridiyya Sufi order of Senegal. Courtesy of Yelimane Fall, Murid calligrapher.

[i] Mamadou Cissé, “Écrits et Écriture en Afrique de l’Ouest,” Revue Electronique Internationale des Sciences du Language 6 (2007): 84.

[ii] Source: Ka, Muusaa. Nàttoo di Kerkeraani Awliyā-i, copied by Muhammadu Amiin Saaw. Tuubaa, Senegal, 1989. For a recited version by Mama Njaay.

[iii] For more on the information in Ajami materials in general and the Wolof tradition in particular, see: Murid Ajami sources of knowledge: the myth and the reality ; and EAP334.

14 January 2016

A Living Archive - Emmanuel M. Mbwaye, Bokwango (Cameroon)

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The African Photography Initiatives has just completed its two years project (EAP542) to partially digitise and conserve the archive collection of the Photographic Information Service in Buea, Cameroon. The collection contains images documenting “all the official ceremonies and things of general interest”(1) taking place in the Anglophone part of Cameroon between 1955 and 1980.

NEE_4611Federal Information staff celebrates Christmas, 1970. © MINCOM Cameroun

During the course of the project approximately 4,000 groundsheet dossiers (14,000 individual pages) and 26,152 negatives covering some 35 years of Anglophone Cameroon’s history were digitised and a database established.

NEE_8792Emmanuel M. Mbwaye, ca. 1980. © MINCOM Cameroun

If we wanted to give a face and a name, which is closely connected to this collection, we would immediately refer to the photographer Emmanuel M. Mbwaye (b. Bokwango 1928), the Photographic Information Service’s first photographer. Even though he retired 30 years ago, he retains very strong links with the collection and supports any initiative which helps to sustain this important visual heritage.

NEG_5236Emmanuel M. Mbwaye on his way to the South West Regional Delegation of Communication, 2013. © Rosario Mazuela

He learned photography from the Colonial Films Unit CDC (Cameroon Development Corporation) in the early 1950s. In 1964, he received a British council scholarship to study photography at Blackpool Technical College Young School of Arts, England. During that period he worked with the Information Service London and the Daily Mirror newspaper. In 1977, he received another scholarship to study in Italy where he did colour photography and television at Naples’ Channel 21. In the course of his professional career he trained many photographers and, as he said, “I’m satisfied that my knowledge has been passed to younger generations” (2). He was Head of the Photographic Section during the first part of his career and later became responsible for the Information Service’s Cinematographic Section.

NEG_8089Photographers covering the visit of President Tubman of Liberia to West Cameroon, 1962. © MINCOM Cameroun

A fervent advocate of the rights of the Bakweri people, Buea’s autochthon population, he tenaciously initiated and supported a great number of projects for the welfare of his community. Promoting health and education was most important to him. Together with Mrs. Ann Cross he created the first Buea Health Centre at Bokwango, organized baby shows (to reduce infant mortality), literacy campaigns, and, last but not least, acted as a referee for the Fako (the region of which Buea is the centre) wrestling competitions. “He not only loved development”, said Chief Litumbe George about Pa Mbwaye, “he was also very clear about human rights”. Against this backdrop, the creation of the Fako Division Tourism Board in the 1960s, which focused on the touristic development of Limbe and Foumban as well as the function of Chairman he exercised for many years, was only the next logical step.

NGT_1187Grand wrestling contest in Buea. Pa Mbwaye (as a referee) participating in the libation ceremony, 1980. © MINCOM Cameroun

In this post we want to present some pictures from the EAP542 collection which show the wide spectrum of Pa Mbwaye’s interests and activities. As much as he loved to be the man behind the camera he enjoyed his role in the limelight of social recognition, which he well deserved. Often, he, himself, was the “event to cover”.

NGT_2451Photographers' seminar in Yaoundé, 1977. © MINCOM Cameroun

NGT_3036
Visit of the International Women Club Douala and presentation of gifts to the Ann Cross Health Centre Bokwango, 1983. © MINCOM Cameroun

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Fako Wrestlers Association contest in Douala during the "Ngondo" ceremony,  1972. © MINCOM Cameroun

These images are only a few examples of many more which the South West Regional Delegation of Communication keeps in its treasure chest, the Buea Press Photo Archives.

(1, 2) Statements from Emmanuel M. Mbwaye in the program “Emmanuel Moanga Mbwaye. Photography Icon. Beacons of Time. CRTV. 2013 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yr2Vd0IrrRg)

Rosario Mazuela

African Photography Initiatives

It is hoped that EAP will receive the appropriate permissions so that we can make this material available online.

07 January 2016

Freetown and the transatlantic slave trade

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EAP has funded three projects at the Sierra Leone Public Archives (EAP284, EAP443, EAP782) and we are lucky to have a joint blog post written by the grant holders of these projects; Professor Paul Lovejoy (York University) and Professor Suzanne Schwarz (University of Worcester).

Over the past five years, several British Library Endangered Archives projects have focused on preserving documents in the Sierra Leone Public Archives at Freetown which are of enormous importance for an understanding of the transatlantic slave trade and the African diaspora. A long-running programme of digitisation has contributed to the preservation of rare and invaluable sources which are perishing in woefully deficient storage conditions characterised by extremely high humidity. The oldest document held in Freetown is a treaty dated 1788, in which British officials claimed that the land on which the original settlement was built had been granted to ‘the said ffree community to be theirs, their Heirs and successors for ever...’. The treaty, now encased in Perspex, recorded how the land had been secured for a bundle of goods including a ‘Crimson Sattin Embroidered waistcoat, a Lead Coloured Sattin Coat, a Waistcoat and Breeches, a mock Diamond Ring, two pair of Pistols, one Tellascope, Two pair of Gold Ear Rings with Necklasses...’.

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EAP284/4/1: Treaty from 1788

Among the most important sources held in the Public Archives is a long series of Registers of Liberated Africans (c. 1808-1848), which document the African names and physical characteristics of tens of thousands of Africans, labelled 'recaptives,' released at Freetown from illegal slave-ships by Royal Navy patrols in the aftermath of British abolition of the slave trade. These registers include rare biographical information on the African names and physical appearance of individuals released from slaving voyages originating from all the main provenance zones of the Atlantic slave trade from Senegambia to West-Central Africa.

EAP284_1_1-284_RLA_1814-1815_4684-7507_0060_LEAP284/1/1: "Liberated African Department; Register 1814-1815; Nos 4,684 - 7,507"

EAP443_1_17_20_Pt_2-eap443_liberated_african_register_1808_1812_425_LEAP443/1/17/6 Pt 2: Liberated African Department; Register 8529 - 9758 [1816-1817]

As such, the evidence documents the characteristics of Africans who were part of the forced intercontinental migration by sea in the first half of the nineteenth century. Importantly, a number of the registers and letter books from the Liberated African Department include information which makes it possible to reconstruct the subsequent life histories of individuals following their disembarkation at Freetown. This includes details of the enlistment of men and boys in the Royal Navy and Royal African Corps, as well as the ‘disposal’ of men, women and children as apprentices in the colony for periods of up to fourteen years. The role of colonial officials in the dispersion of recaptive children to settlers was modelled to some extent on the example of parish officials in distributing pauper and orphan children in England to reduce the immediate and long-term burden on the rates during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. As such, the ‘disposal’ of Liberated Africans in Sierra Leone emerged as an important test case in the development of prototype systems of apprenticeship for the management of peoples uprooted and displaced by the transatlantic slave trade. This test case had wider ramifications, as principles and systems developed in Freetown were subsequently applied to other national jurisdictions for recaptive Africans in South Africa, Cuba and Brazil as well as in the British colonies of the West Indies and elsewhere following the emancipation of the enslaved population after 1834.

EAP284_1_2-284_LADLB_1820-1826_0035_LEAP284/1/2: Liberated African Department; Letterbook; 1820-1826; Vol. 1

Letter books in the Liberated African series also record the distribution of 'recaptives' to colony villages, including the settlement of Wilberforce outside Freetown, and their patterns of employment, education and accommodation. The correspondence of colonial governors and letter books that record exchanges with local citizens, missionaries, and merchants have also been digitised.

EAP443_1_3_2-eap443_births_freetown_1857_apr13_1860_apr12_008_LEAP443/1/3/2: Births; District Freetown [13 Apr 1857-12 Apr 1860]

Series of birth and death registers for Freetown and outlying districts provide evidence that charts the composition of the colony’s population in the second half of the nineteenth century. Subsequent phases of digitisation in the British Library Endangered Archives Programme will include police and court records from the nineteenth century, which include testimonies by Liberated Africans and their descendants. Other materials include Arabic letterbooks involving correspondence with indigenous rulers and officials in the interior of the Colony, records of fugitives who escaped slavery from the hinterland, and registers of children whose status in the Colony was sometimes uncertain, if not dubious.

These projects have received additional support from the University of Worcester and the Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on Africa and its Diasporas at York University, Canada.