THE BRITISH LIBRARY

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20 posts categorized "Islam"

14 November 2018

Mandinka Ajami and Arabic Manuscripts of Casamance, Senegal

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This a wonderful blog written by Eleni Castro, OpenBU & ETD Program Librarian at Boston University as well as Project Technical Lead for EAP1042.

This October we presented a poster entitled, “Digital Preservation of Mandinka Ajami Materials of Senegal” at FORCE2018 (Montreal, Canada), which is an annual conference on making research and scholarship more broadly and openly available. This poster provided a project overview and update on the work we have been doing for EAP 1042 - an international research collaboration between Boston University, the West African Research Center, and local experts in Senegal, which involves visiting manuscript owners in the Casamance region of Senegal to work with them to digitally preserve and make more broadly available manuscripts written in Arabic and Mandinka Ajami (Mandinka using Arabic script) from their personal libraries.

In January 2018, we gave a three day digital preservation workshop at the West African Research Center (WARC) in Dakar, and shortly thereafter went to Ziguinchor to begin our digitisation field work. Overall, the team is spending 15 months 1) interviewing manuscript owners and digitising rare manuscripts from Ziguinchor, Kolda, and Sédhiou, 2) curating and post-processing over 14,000 digital images, and 3) depositing three independent copies at: WARC in Dakar, the British Library, and Boston University’s African Ajami Library on OpenBU. At the time of writing, we have digitised over 10,000 Arabic and Mandinka Ajami manuscript pages (some bilingual).

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Digitisation Workshop team at the West African Research Center in Dakar, Senegal (Jan. 2018)

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Project PI, Dr. Fallou Ngom, looking over manuscripts with manuscript owner, El-hadji Lamine Bayo

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Ibrahima Ngom (photographer) and Ablaye Diakité (local project manager) photographing manuscripts from the Abdou Khadre Cisse collection (Jan. 2018)

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Ibrahima Yaffa interviewing manuscript owner Abdou Khadre Cisse and his brother Cherif Cisse. Filmed by project photographer, Ibrahima Ngom

As we began our digitisation, we noticed that there was a large number of bilingual manuscripts written in both Arabic and Mandinka Ajami, which is very different from the mostly unilingual Wolof Ajami manuscripts digitised in EAP 334. The genres and subject matter found in these works varied widely, from religious to secular topics, such as: astrology, poetry, divination, Islamic education, jurisprudence, Sufism, code of ethics, translations & commentaries of the Quran and Islamic texts from Arabic into Mandinka, stories about Mandinka leaders and important historical figures (including women), records of important local events such as the founding of villages, ancestral traditions, and Mandinka social institutions.

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Manuscript of a long form poem praising the Prophet Muhammad, written in Arabic with marginalia in Arabic and some Mandinka Ajami (Abdou Khadre Cisse Collection)

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Mandinka healing document (Abdou Karim Thiam Collection)

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19th Century watermark found in Biniiboo manuscript (Abdou Khadre Cisse Collection)

Since we are working in remote areas, with non-studio conditions, we encountered some technical issues early on. Finding the right lighting has been an ongoing challenge, since our time in the homes of manuscript owners is precious and limited, and so we have had to work with available light and the help of a macro ring flash. Our camera overheats after +1h of continuous use, but we found that by replacing an extra hot battery with a cooler one, helps us resume digitisation much faster. Since we have a geographically dispersed team, we have setup a communication channel via WhatsApp, and upload files on Google Drive for backup and review as soon as a new collection is being worked on. Internet speeds can be quite slow when sending these large raw image files, but a mobile hotspot modem has helped with internet access while working in the field.

While we will be wrapping up digitisation and curation of these manuscripts by April 2019, there is still more work to be done to help researchers more effectively study and explore these materials. We will be looking into using a IIIF image viewer for scholars to better be able to compare various manuscripts and annotate them. Transcription is a longer term goal, since more unicode work is needed to extend Arabic script characters for African Ajami manuscripts to be full-text searchable in their actual languages.

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.

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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. 

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.

21 October 2015

Safeguarding poetry by Usman dan Fodio and his contemporaries

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To celebrate West Africa: Word, Symbol, Song, the current exhibition that is on at the British Library, we are excited to have guest posts by some of the grant-holders that have carried out EAP projects in the region and we look forward to posting them in the next few months. Our first contributor is Dr Anneke Breedveld who talks about her project to digitise important Fulfulde ajami manuscripts from Nigeria, one of the poems from this project appears in the exhibition.

In 1997 Abubakar Bashir, the custodian of some 700 handwritten poems composed more than 200 years ago by the famous Nigerian Muslim leader Usman dan Fodio and his contemporaries, crossed almost 900 kilometers of rough terrain from Yola in Nigeria to Nkambe in Cameroon, to track down a linguist who could help him document his important inheritance. Covered in dust and bruised from being bounced about for four days in public transport, he arrived in Nkambe where he found me. Somehow he knew that I had written my PhD thesis on Fulfulde, the language in which the poems were composed and thought that I was the expert he was looking for. I couldn’t agree less, but Bashir insisted on showing me copies of some of the poems he had brought with him and explained to me their provenance, their contemporary use and historical importance. The significant involvement of women instantly caught my attention.

Bashir had inherited the poems from his mother and they were passed down to her by generations of men and women, all the way back to the 1790s when Usman dan Fodio and fellow jihadists, including his daughter Nana Usmanu, found the time to sit down and write beautiful poetry in their mother tongue, Fulfulde. These poems are a living history, as they are still recited by men and women alike at festive occasions such as Mawlid, the celebration of the birth of the prophet Mohammed. The original poems are written in Arabic script and some are in a very bad condition due to centuries of folding and unfolding. Bashir looked for advice and help to safeguard these texts for the future by transcribing, translating and archiving them properly. He returned home with a list of questions we thought should be answered in order to understand the poems. 

Raaji sown 1 - CopyEAP387/1/3/10 First page of the poem  entitled "Yimre yeyraa'be" by Moodibbo Raaji , a friend (and later also critic) of Usman dan Fodio. It shows a page skilfully sown together, showing the care and respect that owners had for the texts.

Years later in 2009, Bashir invited me to London. Apparently I was not the only authority he had turned to for help and he had managed to get sponsoring from the Emir of Sokoto to fund my costs, including a laptop and a mobile phone so that we could stay in touch. Bashir had managed to produce transliterations into roman script of all the Fulfulde poems in his possession, which made it so much easier for me to understand (or at least to read) them. Like his mother, he would also recite the poems at special occasions and we made some recordings of the poems. And since in Fulfulde “to recite poetry” is synonymous with “to sing”, these are impressive recordings. London was also the place where the seed was planted for EAP387, a major project for digital preservation of the 1500 pages of Fulfulde poetry. In 2011 I went to Nigeria to digitise the documents at the University of Mubi.

Picture - Copy

The documents of EAP387 are now accessible for people to study. The translation of the texts is an ongoing process, as the documents show that Fulfulde has changed considerably over 200 years. My knowledge of different dialects and morphology helps to put forward possible translations to the native speakers without whom translation would not be possible.

Safeguarding the digital records in EAP387 is only the beginning of transferring the knowledge contained in it to future generations. Wouldn’t it be great if the recordings of the recitals of the poems, Latin transcriptions of Fulfulde and translations into Hausa and English would be added to the digital records of EAP387 in a multi-modal document? Thus the poems would truly become a rich source for the study of West African history.

Dr Anneke Breedveld, Tilburg University 

Grant-holder for EAP387: Safeguarding Fulfulde ajami manuscripts of  Nigerian Jihad poetry by Usman dan Fodio (1754-1817) and contemporaries

 

23 September 2015

5 million images online

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In February, the Endangered Archives Programme celebrated its tenth anniversary and the various press releases and newspaper articles all quoted that we had 4 million images online. It is hard to believe that today we reached the milestone of 5 million images.

I thought I would use this opportunity to reflect on some of the projects that have gone online since the beginning of the year – doing a ‘round the world’ selection.

One of the first projects to be made available this year was EAP164, which consisted of people's memoirs and diaries from rural societies along the Ukrainian Steppe. As well as paper archives, there is a wonderful selection of photographs giving a real sense of community, as this picnic illustrates.

  Image 1EAP164/1/2/3 Album of photos of representatives of a family - Perovskyh [1891-1990]

From the Africa collections, we put EAP286 online, a project from Ethiopia that digitised both Muslim and Christian manuscripts. A substantial part of the collection consists of Asmat prayers,  and this is an example of part of a 19th century scroll.

  Image 2

EAP286/1/1/38 Asmat Prayers [19th century]

To show the variety of the collection, this is the first page of an incomplete Taḫmīs al-Fayyūmī on the "Poem of the Mantle" by al-Būṣīrī.

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EAP286/1/1/489 Uncomplete Taḫmīs al-Fayyūmī on the "Poem of the Mantle" by al-Būṣīrī, The Unwān
al-šarīf ("The Token of the Noble") on the birth of the Prophet [18th century]

EAP566 is an example of one of the Asian projects that went online, a very impressive collection of 18th and 19th century Urdu periodicals. The articles cover an incredibly broad range of subject matter and the accompanying illustrations are a joy to browse through, as can be seen from these pages from Nairang-i khiyal.

  Image 4

EAP566/1/4/10/1 Nairang-i_khiyal (Volume and Issue not known) [1932]

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EAP566/1/4/10/1 Nairang-i_khiyal (Volume and Issue not known) [1932]

My final continent from the EAP worldwide whistle-stop tour, of course, is the Americas and one important project that went online was EAP563 – the archives of the engineering firm ‘Hume Brothers’ which was set up in Argentina in 1880. The company's main work consisted of planning and building thousands of kilometers of roads, not only in Argentina but also throughout Uruguay, Chile and Brazil. It is a project that contains a mixture of texts, drawings and photographs.

This is a photograph of the construction of a lift bridge over the Riachuelo in Buenos Aires.

  Image 6

EAP563/1/5/4/3 Construction of a lift bridge over the Riachuelo in Buenos. Aires. It belonged to Ferrocarril Sud ( F.C.S.) [Early 20th century]

And this example is a stereoscopic view of the San Roque Dam in Argentina.

  Image 7

EAP563/1/5/5/1252 San Roque Dam (Argentina). [c 1945]

But of course I must not leave out the two projects that went online this month and got us to 5 million images. The first was EAP753, a pilot project that carried out an inventory and sample digitisation of parish documents in the area of Belém do Pará, Brazil.

Image 8

EAP753/1/1/4 Cairary Baptisms, n 4 [1895-1901]

and EAP541, which digitised the historical archives in the Public Records and Archives Administration (PRAAD) in Tamale, Northern Ghana. I rather liked the fact that we have records about latrines - this has to be a first for EAP!

  Image 9EAP541/1/1/88: Salaga-Site for septic Tank Laterines [1952-73]

11 August 2015

New online collections - August 2015

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This month two projects have gone online, EAP352 and EAP764.

The first of these projects is EAP352. The project digitised Arabic and Jawi (Arabic Malay) manuscripts that come from two regions in Indonesia - Western Sumatra (Minangkabau region) and Jambi. The 11 collections held in private hands contain manuscripts from two Sufi brotherhoods: Shattariyah and Naqshbandiyah.

The texts include treatises on the peculiarities of regional Islam such as the history of local religious traditions, hagiographical works and documents on the Naqshbandiyah and Shattariyah mystical conceptions written by local Shaikh’s. They also contain unique examples of calligraphy, illumination and bookbinding. The manuscripts describing Suluk mystical ritual are particularly noteworthy, as the ritual is practiced only in the remote corners of Sumatra and is considered to be unpopular among younger generations of Muslims. They contain interesting examples of al-Qur’an and works on traditional medicine in Jambi.

Study of such written heritage can contribute greatly to the history of Sumatra as well as the history of Islam and Sufism. 

EAP352_ EMWSPJCSB_SSSB _06_ EMWSPJCSB_039EAP352/1/6: Dalail al-Khairat [19th century copy of the famous work of Shadziliyah Sheikh of the 15th cent. Muhammad al-Jazuli from Northern Africa] – Image 39

The second project is EAP764, a pilot project which surveyed documentary material located in the archive of the Prefecture of Bandiagara (Mali). This was undertaken in order to preserve collections of historical and anthropological relevance from the early decades of French colonialism. The archival material falls within the wide area of the Cercle, an administrative unit introduced in 1903 by the French, which came to encompass a territory reaching up to Burkina Faso. Bandiagara is still the capital of the Dogon country, an area of extraordinary cultural interest and is included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. Since the region is rich with oral traditions and has few written records, such documents, written in French by the colonial administrators, represent valuable and unique evidence of a historical period which has been little investigated. The collections identified will be of great interest for researchers looking at the history, law, religion, anthropology, politics, demography and economy of the region.

The project was successful in identifying the most endangered and precious collections dating back to the early decades of the 20th century. A sample of these collections was digitised and is now available to view online.

EAP764_JR_1912_1914_006EAP764/1/1/1: Tribunal de Province du premier janvier 1912 au 28 avril 1914 Court of Province from Jan 1, 1912 to April 28, 1914 – Image 6

Check back next month to see what else has been added!

You can also keep up to date with any new collections by joining our Facebook group.

09 April 2015

New online collections - April 2015

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This month three projects have gone up online. EAP031, EAP039 and EAP286. EAP031 and EAP039 both digitised Buddhist manuscripts, the first from Mongolia and the latter from Bhutan. EAP286 digitised a collection of manuscripts from Ethiopia.

EAP031 digitised the private collection of Danzan Ravjaa. Ravjaa was the 5th incarnation in the lineage of the Gobi Noyons, whose monastery was at the centre of a political and artistic renaissance located at the crossroads of Tibet, Mongolia and China during the 19th century. These Buddhist manuscripts have recently been unearthed from caves in the Outer Mongolian province of Dorngobi. During the communist regime Buddhism was suppressed and in 1938 the manuscripts were hidden for their protection. The location of these records, as well as other records from the local monastery, was passed down through the generations of monastery gatekeepers.

The project created over 40,000 images. This includes all of the manuscripts found in the collection that were authored by Ravjaa himself. These constituted the heart of the collection and consisted of manuscripts in both classic Mongolian and Tibetan. Subject matter ranged from poetry, astrology, medicine, plays (original manuscripts of the Moon Cuckoo operetta) and sadhanas (including some of Ravjaa’s ‘pure visions’ centring on the figure of Guru Rinpoche and his two consorts Yeshe Tsogyal and Lady Mandarava). This material will help scholars and researchers open up new areas in the field of Tibetan and Mongol studies.

EAP031-0558-0002EAP031/1/532: Tibetan title: slob dpon chen po pad+ma kA ra'i zhabs kyis … – Image 2

EAP039 successfully digitised the entire collection of manuscripts at Gangtey monastery in Bhutan. Gangtey Gonpa, founded by Gyalse Pema Thinley (the grandson of the famous Bhutanese saint Pema Lingpa), houses an enormous manuscript collection. This includes a set of the 100-volume bKa’ ’gyur, two sets of the 46-volume rNying ma rGyud ’bum, the world’s largest Astasahasrikaprajñaparamita, and about a hundred miscellaneous titles. The collection, mostly written in the 17th century as a funerary tribute to the founder of Gangtey, holds a unique textual, artistic and historical value of immense religious significance.

Gangteng_kanjur_'bum_014_pha (3)EAP039/1/1/1/14: Sher phyin ‘Bum: Volume 14 – Image 3

EAP286 digitised archives held at the Institute of Ethiopian Studies (IES). The IES is the major custodian of cultural and historical antiquities in Ethiopia. Manuscripts in the collection have come from government offices, monasteries, churches, mosques, public libraries, and private collections.

One of the largest parts of the collection is made up of Ge'ez manuscripts representing the history and literature of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Numbering more than 1,500 items, these manuscripts cover a wide range of genres: bibles, liturgies, histories, theologies, grammars, and magic scrolls produced by the Church.

Another substantial part of the collection is the Arabic manuscripts representing the history and literature of the Muslim community in Ethiopia and the set of Amharic manuscripts representing the last 150 years of Ethiopia's emergence into the international community.

EAP286IES00788_069EAP286/1/1/119: Commentary on 1-4 Kings, Commentary on Ecclesiasticus… -  Image 69

Check back next month to see what else has been added!

You can also keep up to date with any new collections by joining our Facebook group.

18 February 2015

Stories they tell: clues from endangered archives

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Documents, manuscripts, photographs and sound recordings that capture much of the world’s memory are preserved in vulnerable collections around the globe. If they perish, part of history is irrevocably lost. In the past, efforts to preserve these collections and make them available for scholarly interpretation often meant removing them to the safety of western libraries. Though well intentioned, these actions frequently had unintended consequences. Preserved and available to scholars, the materials became inaccessible to the communities whose history they captured. This had a twofold effect: it impaired the communities’ ability to write their own history and at the same time, by detaching documents from original context, led to the loss of an important layer of historical information.

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EAP039 Buddhist manuscripts from the library of the remote Gangtey monastery in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan © Dr Karma Phuntsho

The Endangered Archives Programme uses digitisation to preserve records and to make them freely accessible to all, without removing original materials from their custodians. Whenever possible the projects help the keepers to secure the survival of the original documents. Because the materials are often too fragile to be handled on a regular basis, the digital surrogates frequently provide the only point of access not only for scholars worldwide, but also for local readers. By making digital records available to all, the programme ensures that the history they capture is open to wide audiences, multiple perspectives and diverse interpretations.

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EAP334 Locating and digitising manuscripts in Wolof Ajami script, written by members of the Muridiyya Sufi order founded in Senegal in 1883 © Dr Fallou Ngom

The “From Dust to Digital” volume, which marks the 10th anniversary of the Endangered Archives Programme, showcases the historical importance and research potential of the digitised collections. The open access online version of the book is designed to ensure that not only the primary sources, but also the research they have inspired, are freely available to all. The book brings together 19 articles from the 244 projects that the programme has supported since its inception. We asked the authors to focus on the digitised collections, but gave them complete freedom in choosing specific questions they wanted to explore. The intention was to ensure that the volume illustrates a wide range of research that the EAP collections make possible.

Front-cover

The chapters discuss inscriptions in Libya; manuscripts in India, Ethiopia, Kenya and Mali; archival records in Bulgaria, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Nigeria, Senegal, Palestine; photographic collections in Argentina, India, Russia and Cameroon; and sound recordings from Guinea, Iran and the Russian Federation. The articles tackle the fundamental problems of transcribing and translating – sometimes for the very first time – languages that have nearly fallen silent. They investigate historical transmission of texts and explore the processes underlying collection formation. They bring to light unknown events and cast new light on historical phenomena. They provide vivid insights into local and even personal histories. 

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EAP526 The priests of May Wäyni monastery with their manuscripts, Ethiopia © Professor Michael Gervers

Many of the contributions stress the importance of the original context for our understanding of the materials. The physical location of inscriptions within a landscape; the ceremonies preceding a reading of a manuscript; the place that a manuscript or a photograph holds within a larger collection, are all important for our interpretation of these documents. Without them we can only see a part of the story.

Most of the sources discussed here were not previously subjects of scholarly attention. We hope that this publication will open new debates and inspire scholars to explore the archives preserved by the Endangered Archives Programme. We also hope that open access to both the primary sources and to the articles in the “From Dust to Digital” volume will encourage future authors to make their research freely available to all.

  EAP_2015_066Roly Keating, Chief Executive of the British Library, with Ambassador of the Lao Embassy, H.E. Mr. Sayakane Sisouvong and the 3rd Secretary, Mr Moungkhoun Chansavath at the book launch held at the Library on the 17th February 2015.


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Gabriela Ramos and Evelyne Mesclier browsing through the publication.

Dr Maja Kominko

Cultural Grants Manager at Arcadia and the editor for the publication “From Dust to Digital”