Endangered archives blog

News about the projects saving vulnerable material from around the world

01 August 2022

Job Opportunity

The British Library's International Team is seeking an International Engagement Manager to work with partners across the world and lead on setting up international hubs for EAP.

You would be working across both the International Office and the Endangered Archives Programme with a focus on skills and knowledge exchange. You would administer the already established International Library Leaders Programme, as well as setting up the Endangered Archives Programme Regional Network Hubs. These hubs would involve creating partnerships with institutions in various geographic regions and working with them to deliver a series of training sessions and workshops.

The closing date is 16 August 2022 and if this sounds interesting, do look at the job description on the British Library website.

EAP264_1_8_3-EAP264PE_03_022_L

22 June 2022

New online - June 2022

We have another 4 new projects online to bring to your attention. This time from Indonesia, Iran, India, and West Africa:

Bima Manuscripts [EAP988]

Led by Dr Titik Pudjiastuti, this pilot project digitised 205 manuscripts that represent the history and culture of Bima - one of the provinces in Nusa Tenggara Barat, in the eastern part of Sumabawa Island, Indonesia.

In 2016, these manuscripts survived an avalanche and flood that affected the region. And this project has gone some way to helping protecting the manuscripts against future natural disasters.

Manuscript page
Bismillahirrahmanirrahiim [A treatise of the spirits (Ruh)], EAP988/1/1

Zoroastrian historical documents and Avestan manuscripts [EAP1014]

This major project was led by Dr Saloumeh Gholami. It digitised 11 manuscripts containing more than 8,000 pages. It also digitised more than 15,000 historical, economic, and legal documents regarding the religious minority of Zoroastrians in Iran.

The collection came to light in February 2016 in a Zoroastrian house in the Priests' Quarter [Maḥalle-ye dastūrān] in Yazd in Iran. Arabab Mehraban Poulad, a famous Zoroastrian merchant from a priest family, had accumulated and archived his own documents and Avestan manuscripts as well as the documents of his father and grandfather over the course of his lifetime. This collection now belongs to his grandchild Mehran Pouladi.

A Man digitising a manuscript with a scanner
The EAP1014 team digitising the archive.

Private records of leading business families of Early Colonial Bengal [EAP1104]

Led by Dr Tridibsantapa Kundu, this major project digitised the private records of 11 leading business families of colonial Bengal. This project built on the EAP906 pilot project, also led by Dr Tridibsantapa Kundu, where 25 business families were approached and a survey of the various collections was produced.

These collections are important for understanding the Bengali business community and their strategies in dealing with the English East India Company and the British Raj.

A bank cheque
Cheque or money receipt issued by King Hamilton & Co., EAP1104/9/3

 

Pulaar Islamic Texts: Six Archives of the Taal Families in Senegal and Mali [EAP1245]

Led by Dr Mohamed Mwamzandi and Dr Samba Camara, this project digitised manuscripts written by some of the most influential Haalpulaar (speakers of Pulaar) Islamic scholars of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Pulaar is a variety of the Fula/Fulani language spoken by over five million people in the West African countries of Senegal, The Gambia, Mauritania, Guinea, and Mali. About 40 million Africans use varieties of the Fula/Fulani language. And you can read more about these manuscripts and the project to digitise them in a blog post written by the project's co-lead, Dr Samba Camara.

A Panorama of two photos. 4 people with digitsation equipment and a view of Mount Tapa from the town of Koniakary
Left image: left to right. Dr. Nzale, Mountaga Ba, Kerry Bannen, and Dr Camara; Right image: A view of the Mount Tapa. in town of Koniakary. in southwestern Mali.

 

08 June 2022

Digitising Haalpulaar Islamic Manuscripts (EAP1245 Project)

This is a guest post by the EAP1245 project co-lead, Dr Samba Camara.

This project digitised Islamic manuscripts written by speakers of the Pulaar language – or the Haalpulaar people – in Senegal and Mali. Pulaar is a variety of the Fula/Fulani language spoken by over five million people in the West African countries of Senegal, The Gambia, Mauritania, Guinea, and Mali. About 40 million Africans use varieties of the Fula/Fulani language.

View of Mount Tapa from town of Koniakary
A view of the Mount Tapa in town of Koniakary in southwestern Mali

The Fuuta Toora region, the Pulaar language, and Islam

The original creators of this project’s 6,000 folios of manuscriptions hailed from Fuuta Tooro, a Pulaar-speaking cultural region situated around the middle of the Senegal River. Fuuta Tooro straddles parts of northern Senegal and southwestern Mauritania. Fuuta Jombuku, a Haalpulaar enclave, exists in southwestern Mali. It was born from the nineteenth-century settlements of Haalpulaar migrants who had followed Al Hajj Umar Taal (ca. 1797-1864) in his campaigns to spread Islam in West Africa. What the Haalpulaar have in common is not just a language. They also share a traditional rootedness in Islam and a distinctive Muslim culture carried in the Pulaar language.

A metal signpost
Signpost in Koniakary indicating location of historic mud waal built in 1855 by Sayku Umar Taal (ca.1797-1864)

Muslim culture and chanting local remembrance poetry

Mawluudu, or the chanting of local remembrance poetry (dhikr), constitutes an integral part of that culture. Professional singers perform mawluudu chant during religious events, such as the commemoration of prophet Muhammad’s birth (mawlud), Islamic graduation ceremonies (ɓaaral, refto), and during welcome ceremonies (teertooji). Modern technology and Internet have taken mawluudu poetry and culture to the media and online. The chanted texts include a panegyric praise poetry in Arabic and in ‘Ajamī (the use of the Arabic script to transcribe foreign languages). Arabic texts were composed by authors, such as Al Hajj Umar Taal, Egypt’s Imam al-Būsīrī, and others from the Tijaniyya Brotherhood. Pulaar ‘Ajamī poems were composed by several scholars of Al Hajj Umar Taal’s school of Tijaniyya in Fuuta Tooro and beyond. The texts extoll the attributes of God (Allāh), Islamic prophet Muhammad, and Algerian-born Ahmad al-Tījānī. The latter founded the Muslim Brotherhood of Tijaniyya to which the authors of this project’s manuscripts belong.

The digitisation project and team

Raised in Fuuta Tooro, Dr. Samba Camara, who is this project’s initiator, grew up listening to mawluudu, knowing some popular poems by heart like many Haalpulaar people.

In the EAP1245 project, Dr. Samba Camara collaborated with his UNC colleague Dr. Mohamed Mwamzandi and UNC digitization specialist Kerry Bannen to locate and digitise the written source of Haalpulaar Muslim culture. The effort was not only to preserve manuscripts from precarious storage conditions that exposed them to dust, termite, rain, natural fading, wear, and tear; but also, to facilitate their access and study by scholars of West African literature, popular music, and Islam.

The project’s field work began in 2019, shortly after the projects Principal Investigators were awarded a Major Project Award by the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme to digitise Haalpulaar manuscripts. The team undertook three field trips to Senegal: in October 2019, December 2020, and June 2021. Unfortunately, the delays in the final trip, due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, hindered the digitization of several Pulaar ‘Ajamī materials in Fuuta Tooro.

Six people standing by digitisation equipment in discussion
Left to right: UNC Digitisation Specialist Kerry Bannen, Dr. Samba Camara, Dr. Delivrance Nzal, Dr. Mohamed Mwamzandi, Mr Cheikh O. Tall, and Warc Director Dr. Ousmane Sene, at Team studio at WARC

In Dakar, the team took base in two studio bases – in the West African Research Center and at Ceerno Madani Taal’s residence – and photographed manuscripts collected from different locations in Fuuta Tooro region.

The team’s collection of local Islamic manuscripts in Fuuta was facilitated by Ceerno Madani Taal who made his library available to us along with a team of scholars to help with metadata production. The team benefitted from a preliminary research trip in 2018 to Koniakari (Mali) facilitated by regionally celebrated Ceerno Hamidou Bane. Director of the West African Research Center Ousmane Sene and his team, our research assistants Mountaga Ghali Ba, Oumar Sy, Seydou Nourou Ly, Abdoulaye Barry, Dr. Delivrance Nzale, and archivist Cheikh Oumar Tall brought immense support to this project.

The collection of Ceerno Madani Tall

Ceerno Madani Taal is the current custodian of the manuscripts recorded under his name and collected from his Dakar residence in Medina. The collection includes 11manuscripts in total. Ceerno Madani Taal’s collection is housed at his residence and includes unbound and bound manuscripts for a total of 4090 folios. The manuscripts were originally under the custodianship of Ceerno Seydou Nourou Taal (1880-1980). Upon his death, Ceerno Mountaga Tall (1914-2007) took over custodianship. Then, he passed on the library to Ceerno Madani Taal. The manuscripts are stored in leather folders and kept at Ceerno Madani Taal’s family library in Medina. The project’s metadata reveals that eight of the 11 manuscripts were composed by Al Hajj Umar Taal. The other three were authored by Haalpulaar scholars Shaykh Ahmad Ndiaye (aka Demba Raabi), Muhammad al-Jamrābal Mu’adh al- Fūta Jalūwī, and Mountaga Tāl. Al Hajj Umar Taal’s texts include his originals, as well as foreign books originally authored by Arab scholars. The manuscripts are wrapped in leather and cardboard folders, stored at Ceerno Madani Taal’s family library. The texts cover assorted topics about general Islamic education, Qur’an exegesis, panegyric poetry, hagiography, and the expansion of Islam. Texts also cover Tijaniyya teachings based on the text of founder Ahmad al-Tījānī and the well-known Imam Mālik’s al-Muwatta concerning Islamic law about marriage, trade relations, food and goods, lands and land-related law, civil and human rights, collective property, and leadership.

The collection of Mountaga Ba

Mountaga Ba is the current custodian of the manuscripts recorded in his name and collected from the town of Pate Galo (northern Senegal). Ba’s family holding includes 54 small unbound book manuscripts and loose folios. The material was mostly authored by the custodian’s father, Muhammad al-Ghāli Bā who, during his lifetime had occupied important political and religious positions in both Senegal and Mauritania. In Senegal, al-Ghāli Ba was the biographer and member of the entourage of supreme leader (Khalif-General) of the Taal branch of Tijaniyya and he worked with both Ceerno Saydu Nuuru Taal and Mountaga Taal. In Mauritania, he was an adviser to Moktar Ould Daddah, the president of Mauritania from 1960 to 1978 and worked with the country’s national radio at the latter’s request. During his stay there, he authored several manuscripts documenting socioeconomic and political life in Mauritania. The manuscripts document al-Ghāli Bā’s lifework. The files are of varying sizes, ranging from manuscripts as big as 150 pages to short texts of only three folios in length. The book manuscripts cover Islamic sciences, history, Islamic education in Pulaar speaking society, praise poetry, Sufism, and several biographies of Sufis of the Tijaniyya brotherhood. The folios contain Islamic praise poems, correspondences and, sometimes, a mixture of both. The correspondence was written and/or received during religious and secular occasions. Majority of the manuscripts were composed by Muhammad al-Ghāli Ba (d.1991) of Pate Galo. Some other folios were authored by Mamad al- Amīn Āj, Sall Ahmad Al Hajj, Abubakr Sī, Mountaga Ba, and a few unknown authors.

Three people digitisting manuscripts
Dr. Samba Camara, Dr. Mwamzandi, and Mountaga Ba digitising at Studio at WARC

The collection of Oumar Sy

Oumar Sy is the custodian of the manuscripts recorded in his name. Oumar Sy’s collection differs from the above collections in that it is comparatively recent – beginning in the 1980s – and was composed in Pulaar `Ajamī. The Sy collection includes ten small unbound manuscripts and folios. The material was mostly authored by Oumar Sy, and some of the files are copies of famous mawluudu songs originally composed by celebrated local poets, such as Oumar Sy’s teacher, Hamet Sy. A small set of unbound Arabic folios was authored by the custodian's friend, Ahmed Tijān Bah. The files are of varying sizes, ranging from manuscripts as big as fifty pages to works of two folios in length. The manuscripts are praise poems in panegyric style.

Today, the manuscripts in the EAP1245 collections constitute a living Haalpulaar culture. The locals’ engagement with the manuscripts has given the texts a continuity of modern social life through time.

06 May 2022

New online - April 2022

In this month's round-up we have a collection of portrait photographs from Lima, Peru (EAP1234), and two collections from Sri Lanka, palm-leaf manuscripts from the Jaffna, Vanni, and Mannar districts (EAP1056), and Tamil Protestant records from the Jaffna Peninsula (EAP971). You can read more about each of the projects below and follow the links to see the catalogued records, digitised images, and project information.

EAP1234 - Preservation of Film Negatives of the Elias del Aguila Collection of the Historical Archive of Centro de la Imagen 

Eap1234/1 family portrait

When the Elías del Águila collection first arrived at the Centro de la Imagen in Lima, Peru, it was concealed within another acquisition, the Fotografia Central/Estudio Courret archive. Though originally attributed to the Courret brothers, research in 2015 revealed the true source to be the photographer Elías del Águila and his studio, E. del Águila y Cía in central Lima, operational from 1903 until the late 1930s. Until this discovery, Elías remained practically unknown and there are still relatively few details known about his life.

His studio was popular with Lima’s burgeoning middle class of the early 20th century. Among his subjects, researchers have identified important businessmen, intellectuals, and politicians, including child portraits of the two-time President of Peru, Fernando Belaúnde Terry. Other notable portraits in the archive include those of the architect Ricardo Malachowski, the former mayor of Lima Augusto Benavides, and the scientist and diplomat Vitold de Szyszlo.


The Centro de la Imagen holds over 20,000 of Elías’s negatives in their archive. For this pilot project the local team catalogued, digitised, and rehoused some of the most endangered of them. Over 2,000 of these images are now available to view on the EAP website.

Eap1234/1 portrait of two boys

 

EAP1056 - Survey and digitisation of individual manuscript collections in Northern Sri Lanka

Eap1056 project work

This project surveyed and digitised endangered Tamil and Sanskrit palm-leaf manuscript collections in the Jaffna, Vanni, and Mannar districts of Northern Sri Lanka. The team conducted more than 150 field visits and identified 49 different collections. Many of these were located in temples, medical centres, and local libraries, while others are in the care of families and individuals including priests, medical practitioners, and astrologers.

135 manuscripts were digitised from 21 different collections in total and broadly cover the following subjects: traditional Siddha and Ayurvedic medicine; Hindu religious and temple ritual texts; astrology/astronomy works; local histories; literature; mathematics; unorthodox Hindu folk practice-related works including those on tantra, mesmerism, witchcraft, and folklore; and archival records including birth charts and budgets.

Eap1056-2-blog

 

EAP971 - Jaffna Protestant Digital Archive

Eap971 sample

This project is a continuation of the EAP835 pilot project, which produced a survey (and some sample digitisation) of archives from the Tamil Protestant community of the Jaffna Peninsula. EAP971 built on the knowledge and experience from this earlier project and returned to carry out larger-scale digitisation from eight different archives. They include collections from Jaffna College Archive, St John's College, Evelyn Rutnam Institute, and Uduvil Girls' College. Digitised records include church record and ledger books, correspondence, and college magazines.

There are over 240 digitised items available to view here. An additional 27 items can be vieweed from the earlier project here

Eap971 sample

23 February 2022

Digitising Arabic Manuscripts in Mattool, North Kerala (EAP1390)

Ali Thangal and Muneer
Ali Thangal and Muneer

Carrying out a digitisation project in between the pandemic waves entails many challenges that only a fabulous and resourceful project team can successfully tackle. Luckily, a pilot project (EAP1228), undertaken between November 2019 and January 2020, organised and trained such a team just before the pandemic started. The pilot project delivered a survey of handwritten manuscripts at the family archive of Sayed Ali Ba Alawi (Ali Thangal) and organised a team of three digitisation and cataloguing trainees, Sajeev, Fasil, and Muneer. We were also fortunate to have the best digitisation expert in Kerala, Shiju Alex (see here), who trained Sajeev and Fasil in capturing images and working with the hardware and software in the most professional way. Shiju continues to support the current project with advice and guidance, as Sajeev and Fasil manage the digitisation process efficiently and to the highest standards. Sajeev has just completed his MPhil in Malayalam and Cultural Heritage Studies at the Shree Shankaracharya University of Sanskrit (regional branch in Thirur). Fasil, a BCom graduate, is a talented photographer, who had produced charming videos of mawlid chanting for the pilot project in 2019. Muneer is a madrasa student in Kodiyathur with proficient knowledge of Arabic and Malayalam. He works on the catalogue and is supported remotely by the PI in inserting diacritic marks and metadata on a spread sheet, not a trivial task at all when one’s pronunciation of the Arabic language is coloured by Dravidian phonology.

Sajeev (left) and Fasil (right)
Sajeev (left) and Fasil (right)

Ali Thangal and Muneer work closely on the catalogue of the manuscripts’ image folders, while Sajeev and Fasil work on capturing the books. Ali Thangal’s archive is dynamic; it keeps on changing like a river flowing along a curvy path, at times thickening, at times splitting into rivulets. Ali Thangal takes great efforts in finding the names of authors and scribes when they are not specified in the manuscript. He opens reference books and crosschecks names and titles to complement missing information wherever possible. Muneer on his part skillfully checks for details online to harvest metadata whenever the need arises. And so, the information on each and every text is represented in the most coherent manner possible. The project PI guides Muneer in typing the metadata, translating titles into English, and typing diacritic marks according to academic standards. This is done remotely. We rely on broadband internet connection for meeting on Zoom to work together on the catalogue.

Of the archive’s contents, especially challenging are the majmuʿas, or anthologies with several manuscripts bundled in one volume. From the perspective of researchers, we would like to keep these majmuʿas intact, as they represent performative, living traditions. But the perspective of the archive owner, Ali Thangal, is somewhat different. He would like to represent his collection in the most accurate way, as it is going to be displayed on the website of a prestigious, world-famous library. This brings about some changes in the behaviour of Ali Thangal’s dynamic archive. And so, the first majmuʿa to have been digitised was dismantled into three parts, each with its own complete manuscript with a brand-new binding. The second majmuʿa, however, remained intact upon the PI’s request. This Majmuʿa al-Mawlid is a collection of seventeen smaller manuscripts, all are devotional poems of praise to Muḥammad, of course, but also to his family members Ḥamza and Fāṭimah, to other saints such a Muḥyi al-Dīn (Shaykh ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Jilānī) and other saints and spiritual figures, including Jesus (Mawlūd al-Qudus). Of particular interest is the mawlid dedicated to the legendary Hindu king Cēramāṉ Perumāḷ, who is believed to have converted to Islam and met the Prophet before dividing his kingdom into twelve districts, each with its own mosque. This tradition was passed down in Arabic texts and Malayalam palm leaf manuscripts, and possibly orally as well. However, this mawlid of Sharamā Farmāḷ (or, in Arabic: Mawlūd Tāj al-Dīn al-Hindī) is a new source that has not been studied so far. It is a significant discovery, because the mawlid genre is evidence for oral transmission and performative background. Such discoveries make this project especially exciting and motivating to continue unearthing the textual heritage guarded so lovingly and meticulously by Ali Thangal.

Ashir (left) and Safvana (right)
Ashir (left) and Safvana (right)

Two more team members, Ashir and Safvana, are in charge of coordinating the project in Mattool and organising home stay and homemade food for Sajeev, Fasil, and Muneer. But there is more to it than merely organisation and hosting; Ashir and Safvana have collected historical objects and stored them in their house. We therefore use this time in Mattool to survey the objects in their home for planning a future digitisation project to include also these valuable historical artefacts. Once the bulk of the surveyed manuscripts has been completed and stored online, we have started to survey the objects in Ashir and Safvana’s home. We have decided to start with their impressive coin collection, with some coins going back as far as the sixteenth century. The reason is that for the survey we need to know the size and weight of the objects, so we can plan what equipment is required for capturing tridimensional, asymmetric objects, some of which are quite bulky. The coins are relatively simple as they are small. And so, we purchased a caliper and a kitchen scale so that Ashir with the support of Sajeev and Fasil can start working on the coin survey.

There is a greater vision behind this ongoing project in Mattool. The team members hope to further develop this initiative into a heritage preservation project. Ali Thangal, Ashir, and Safvana had established a cultural association, the Mattool Hazrami Foundation, long before the project PI first approached them. Ashir was fostering a dream to establish a local museum for the objects in his collection so they will be better preserved and attract visitors from the vicinity, perhaps even tourists from afar. The objects and documents in Ashir’s collection are historically significant, as Ashir is a descendant of the Kuñjāli Marakkārs, those famous valiant seafarers who served the Zamorins of Calicut as their naval forces in times of war. It is the same legendary Cēramāṉ Perumāḷ commemorated in the Arabic mawlid, who bestowed Calicut upon the Zamorins, along with a sword to fight, defeat, and claim territory from all rival petty kings settled in the divided kingdom of Malabar. Ali Thangal’s living, restless archive cannot be captured in images alone; its textual heritage underlies con-textual associations on both local and trans-local levels. We all hope that the vision to establish a cultural heritage centre to digitise, preserve, and display Mattool’s hidden treasures will become a reality despite the challenges to realising dreams in times of turbulence and uncertainty.

Written by EAP1390 project lead, Dr Ophira Gamliel, University of Glasgow

17 January 2022

New online - December 2021

This month's round-up of newly available collections features archives from India, Romania, Moldova, and Indonesia.

EAP1130 - Digitisation of the Kováts Napfényműterem photographic archive (Odorheiu Secuiesc, Romania)

Eap1130 sample image

This project digitised photographs from the Kovats Photographic Museum and Studio in Romania. The vast majority of the photos represent the work of several generations of photographers from the Kovats family. A small part of the photographic archive consists of images created by collaborators of the Kovats studio, and of donations of photographic materials from the local population of Odorheiul Secuiesc.

The first photographic studio in Székelyudvarhely (Odorheiu Secuiesc) was founded by Ferenczy Lukács (1850-1926) in 1876. In 1903 Kováts István Sr.(1881-1942) bought the studio from Lukács and in 1906 reopened it under his own name – Kováts Napfényműterem (Kováts Sunlight Studio). It still operates today at the same address. Ferenczy Lukács and Kováts István Sr. were not only photographers, but also amateur historians and ethnographers. They documented with passion and attention for detail the life of the small rural communities, mainly of Hungarian and Székely ethnicity, around Székelyudvarhely (Odorheiu Secuiesc).

Kováts István Sr. was also a photographer in the army of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during the First World War, and he was dispatched throughout Europe on the Romanian, Galician and Italian battlefields. He brought back around 400 negatives with images from the trenches, portraits of fellow soldiers, and daily life of his company – a personal view of a war that re-shaped Europe and changed the life of millions of its inhabitants, a view that offers to any military historian precious documents. Living for most of his life in Székelyudvarhely, Kováts István Sr. documented everything – social life, architecture, traditions, and his studio was a central point in the life of the city.

Over 5000 photographs can be viewed here.

EAP1262 - Preserving the History of Indian Cinema through Digitising Early Urdu Film Magazines

Eap1262/1/1/1 image 88

This project aimed to preserve the rich record of cinema history in India through digitising Urdu film magazines and periodicals from the early twentieth century. Shedding new light on South Asian film journalism and readership, this material highlights aspects of local engagement with film that have remained unexamined so far and are under threat of being lost forever. Given the scarcity of Urdu material that survives today, the digitisation of rare film magazines makes a significant contribution to future scholarship on the subject. This material constitutes an invaluable resource for early Indian film history and Urdu writing on cinema.

While Indian film journalism has not been widely studied, this is all the more concerning for Urdu materials that are less accessible and less widely read than those in other languages, especially English. The production triangle of Hindu-Urdu cinema that spanned Bombay, Calcutta, and Lahore changed irrevocably with partition, and many publications and films from Lahore are believed to be lost forever. The periodicals surveyed and digitised under EAP1262 were largely published in Calcutta, with the exception of one very rare publication from Lahore, and represent a valuable record of an undivided Hindi-Urdu film culture. While Bombay became the major centre for Hindi-Urdu film production, and a more important site for Urdu publishing than Calcutta, these publications offer an invaluable off-centre vantage point of colonial-era Hindi-Urdu film culture and journalism.

The archives can be viewed here.

EAP699 - Safeguarding of the intangible Romani heritage in the Republic of Moldova threatened by the volatilisation of the individual unexplored collections

EAP699 sample image

This project digitised the personal archives of several Roma families in Moldova. The archives mostly consist of individual photographs and photo albums. The albums are notable for their use of illustrations and collage alongside the photographs of loved ones.

During the project the team were able to discover and digitise material from the families of some well-known Roma personalities from the past, as well as material from ordinary Roma families. The digitised material is now publicly available in the Moldovan National Archive as well as the British Library, and is an important source of information for Romani studies.

The project digitised 2557 images from 36 individual collections dating from between 1925-2013. They can be viewed here.

EAP1268 - Personal Manuscripts on the Periphery of Javanese Literature: A Survey and Digitisation of Private Collections from the Javanese North Coast, its Sundanese Hinterlands and the Fringes of Court

Eap1268/3/3 image 3

The project highlights the periphery of Javanese and Sundanese literature. It covers tales written by scribes residing near shrines, notebooks scribbled by commoners, and works produced by courtiers on their own behalf without apparent patronage from nobles or sovereigns. The grant holder came across these sources while doing fieldwork in places like Gresik, Yogyakarta, Surakarta and Tasikmalaya. Their vernacular provenance increases their obscurity and simultaneously limits their preservation due to a lack of patrons. Thus, it also allows for an interesting survey on the more personal sides of Javanese and Sundanese writing.

Other than surveying and digitising these sources, the project team also used them for Natural Language Processing (NLP). The diversity of the writing styles and vernacular languages found within these manuscripts is expected to contribute to the development of a comprehensive Javanese handwritten text and entity recognition model called Gado2.

399 digitised records can be viewed here.

07 January 2022

East African Life-Writing and Colonial History: New Perspectives from EAP Tanzanian Church Records

Among the many fascinating sources from the Endangered Archives Programme’s EAP099 project, which conserved and digitised records of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania, is a set of Swahili-language essays, written in 1913 by young men at a German-led teacher training school.

The essays, written by 32 different authors on the subjects of their childhood and conversion to Christianity, are valuable examples of African life-writing during the era of European colonialism. Some of the authors went on to become leading church ministers and teachers. Others are unknown beyond the information left behind in these essays, which provide insights into early experiences of German colonial rule, reasons for conversion, and the impact of missionary activities on indigenous communities.

I came across the texts while conducting research for a three-month PhD Placement, in which I have been exploring the British Library’s collections for new perspectives on German colonial history. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of Tanzania evolved from the Leipzig Mission, one of several German missions active in the region after it became the colony of German East Africa in 1885. The British Library has digital copies of Leipzig Mission sources, mostly produced between 1895 and the 1930s, which are held in the archive of the Northern Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Moshi, Tanzania.

The role of Christian missions in European colonial projects is the subject of continuing debate. Missionaries’ goals sometimes conflicted with those of settlers and colonial administrations, and they occasionally helped to expose colonial atrocities. However, almost all missionaries supported European colonialism in principle, and missions were involved in various labour and educational initiatives to ‘elevate’ supposedly backward indigenous populations.

Students entering the school for teachers in Marangu
Students entering the school for teachers in Marangu, ca. 1927-1938. Photograph by Wilhelm Guth, provided courtesy of the Leipzig Mission

Around 95 percent of schools in German colonies were run by missions. As the school system in German East Africa expanded, it became necessary to train local people to become teachers, and to this end the Leipzig Mission opened the Marangu training school for teaching assistants in 1912. Among the first entrants were the young men who, in December 1913, were given the task of writing two essays: one about their early life, and another about their process of conversion.

The texts do not reflect local experiences of colonialism in all their variety. Most subaltern works of life-writing from the colonial era were produced in missionary contexts, and memoir material from those who refused to convert to Christianity is much more seldom. Furthermore, the students at Marangu came from various linguistically diverse parts of Tanzania, and had learned Swahili only upon joining mission schools. We do not know how far the challenge of writing in a second language affected the authors’ ability to tell their stories in the way they would have liked.

The essays nonetheless provide remarkable insights into life in Tanzania during the colonial era. We learn, for example, of the brutalities of German rule. Elia Tarimo’s essay on his childhood recalls the German army’s defeat of Chief Meli, the leader of the town of Moshi, in 1892, and the catastrophic consequences for Moshi civilians. ‘When the Europeans had defeated the Moshi people, they chopped down our banana trees, burned our houses and stayed on our land’, he writes.

An essay by Nderangusho Kimaro shows the effects of the ‘hut tax’, introduced by the German colonial authorities in 1898. Designed in part to make local people work on European plantations to raise the necessary money, the tax was enforced ruthlessly: failure to pay often resulted in askari (East African soldiers in the German colonial army) confiscating cattle. The local chief was sometimes held hostage until those in his village paid the tax.

Handwritten page
EAP099/1/2/5/2 Nderangusho Kimaro’s essay ‘The beginning of turning to God’, in which he writes about the hut tax and its consequences for his family

When Kimaro’s mother could not afford to pay, her chief sold her livestock in order to gather the funds. Kimaro was then sent to work as a child labourer on a German plantation, and writes that he was beaten whenever he did not go to work there.

We also find out more about the authors’ reasons for converting to Christianity. Initial motivations for visiting the missionaries included the desire to learn to read and access to material benefits. An acquaintance with Christian teaching usually followed only later. Furthermore, the essays describe the strains on the authors’ relations with their family, friends and community in greater detail than most of the ‘conversion’ accounts by Africans which were published in Europe.

For many of the essay-writers, becoming a Christian meant ceasing to venerate one’s ancestors. This led to conflicts with friends and relatives. Elia Tarimo describes vividly the sense of fear as his family warned him that the spirit of his father, who was killed by the German forces in 1892, would in turn kill Tarimo if he embraced European culture. His teacher, however, told him that he would be condemned to hell if he did not convert before he died.

While some authors write of estrangement, others were eventually welcomed back by their families once they had been baptised. In some instances, the authors were not the only converts within their household. Filipo Njau’s decision to embrace Christianity was made easier by the fact that other family members had already done so. The essays thus hint at a variety of responses within communities to the changing circumstances caused by the European colonial presence.

Njau’s candid essay provides details on the early life of a long-serving representative of East African Christians. From 1926 until 1954, Njau worked as a teacher at the Marangu school at which he had been trained, and stood up for the dignity of Africans within the Church. He opposed, for example, the attempts by some white missionaries to uphold racist clothing distinctions by prohibiting black parishioners from wearing shoes.

Portrait photograph
Filipo Njau, during his time as a teacher at the Marangu school. Photograph by Wilhelm Guth, provided courtesy of the Leipzig Mission

My analysis of Njau’s text, and those of the other authors, relies upon German translations published in three volumes by Klaus-Peter Kiesel, who adds rich contextual information. Swahili speakers, however, will be able to read the digitised copies for themselves, and I hope that the essays will find wider audiences. Together with the church registers, parish council minutes, diaries and other source material digitised as part of the EAP099 project, they offer great potential for further research into the colonial, religious and social history of East Africa.

My thanks go to Professor Adam Jones for giving me permission to use the photos from the Leipzig Mission’s archive, and for providing further information about the historical context and the Endangered Archives Project EAP099.

 

Rory Hanna, PhD Placement Student, German Collections

References and further reading:

Klaus-Peter Kiesel (ed.), Kindheit und Bekehrung in Nord-Tanzania. Aufsätze von Afrikanern aus dem ehemaligen Deutsch-Ostafrika vom Anfang des 20. Jahrhunderts, 3 vols (2005-2013) [https://ul.qucosa.de/landing-page/?tx_dlf[id]=https%3A%2F%2Ful.qucosa.de%2Fapi%2Fqucosa%253A32377%2Fmets]

Sebastian Conrad, German Colonialism: A Short History (Cambridge, 2012), YC.2011.a.17036

John Iliffe, A Modern History of Tanganyika (Cambridge, 1979), X.800/27820

Gabriel Ogunniyi Ekemode, ‘German Rule in North-East Tanzania, 1885-1914’. PhD thesis (1973) [https://ethos.bl.uk/OrderDetails.do?did=1&uin=uk.bl.ethos.817253]

Klaus Fiedler, Christianity and African Culture: Conservative German Protestant Missionaries in Tanzania, 1900-1940 (Leiden, 1996), YA.1996.b.5134

Robert B. Munson, The Nature of Christianity in Northern Tanzania: Environmental and Social Change, 1890-1916 (Lanham, MD: 2013), YC.2014.a.2048

Majida Hamilton, Mission im kolonialen Umfeld. Deutsche protestantische Missionsgesellschaften in Deutsch-Ostafrika (Göttingen, 2010), [https://library.oapen.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.12657/32525/610325.pdf;jsessionid=C76FC24EAFEA6E388577C3D60DB600FC?sequence=1]

Thomas Spear (ed.), Evangelisch-Lutherisches Missionsblatt. Extracts on Arusha and Meru, 1897-1914 (Madison, WI: 1995), YA.1996.b.4628

Thomas Spear and Isaria N. Kimamba (eds), East African Expressions of Christianity (Oxford, 1999), YC.1998.a.4866

Simon Gikandi, ‘African Literature and the Colonial Factor’, in Francis Irele and Simon Gikandi (eds), The Cambridge History of African and Caribbean Literature (Cambridge, 2004), pp. 379-397, YC.2005.a.268

Gareth Griffiths, African Literatures in English: East and West (New York, 2000), m00/27805

17 December 2021

Updated Equipment List for Round 17

EAP has revised and expanded its recommended equipment list, which now includes DLSRs and mirrorless cameras. The information is split between two documents, both available on the EAP website. The first part compares these two types of camera so that you can judge which kind is best suited for your digitisation project. It also provides a comprehensive list of full-frame and APS-C cameras, suitable lenses, tripods, copy stands and lighting etc. Part two focusses on appropriate mirrorless cameras for an EAP project.

We hope this updated information will be of help, not only to applicants to EAP, but also anyone carrying out a digitisation project of their own.

Frog perched by the lens of a vintage folding camera

EAP755/1/1/35/5 Frog on Camera