THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Endangered archives blog

41 posts categorized "Religious records"

28 October 2015

New images online - October 2015

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This month we have had four projects go online. The first photographed temple murals in Tamil Nadu (EAP692). This is the first time that EAP has funded a project to preserve architectural art.  These exquisite paintings were vulnerable for a variety of reasons, including the recent use of sand-blasting in temples. The pilot project digitised murals at five sites, four of which are Hindu: Alagarkovil Kallagar Temple (with art dating from the 17th Century);  Madurai Meenakshi Sundareswara temple (16th Century murals); Narasingampatti - Chitrachavadi  and Adiyamankottai, Chenraya Perumal temple (all 17th Century). The last location is a Jain complex at Tirumalai.

These paintings come from the east ceiling of the Alagar kovil Kallalagar Inner Mandapa and depict the continuous narration of the Ramayana.

Image of the RamayanaEAP692/1/1/2 Alagar kovil Kallalagar Inner Mandapa Ceiling East [17th Century]

Image of the Ramayana
EAP692/1/1/2 Alagar kovil Kallalagar Inner Mandapa Ceiling East [17th Century]

The next two images come from cave 1 at Tirumalai and probably date between the 15th and 17th centuries.

Faded Jain image
EAP692/5/2 Tirumalai Jain Cave. Room 1 [16th Century]

Close up of faces of people.
EAP692/5/2 Tirumalai Jain Cave. Room 1 [16th Century]

The second project to go online was EAP759, a pilot project that digitised manuscripts from Sundarban Anchalik Sangrahashala, a regional museum housed in an abandoned part of Jadunath Nandi Hospital, in the South 24 Parganas District of West Bengal, India.

This illustration from EAP759 shows a page from another Hindu epic, this time the Mahābhārata.

Torn page of a manuscript.EAP759/1/2 Mahabharata [19th century]

Madagascar was the location for the next project (EAP856), with the digitisation of archives of the nineteenth-century prime minister, Rainilaiarivony (1864-1895). The journals are written in Malagasy using Latin script that was introduced in 1823. The archives have been inscribed on UNESCO’s Memory of the World Register since 2009. They have never been systematically studied and now that this invaluable resource is online, it will be of huge benefit to researchers.

Photograph of Rainilaiarivony seated and inspecting a row of soldiers.EAP856/1/1 Photo Album D

Page from the diary.
EAP856/1/2  Journal du Premier Ministre Rainilaiarivony - Relations de diverses affaires traitée par le Premier Ministre [1866]

 EAP698 was the last project to be made available this month, a major grant that digitised Cham manuscripts. An important cultural group within Vietnam, the Cham once had their own kingdom called Champa, which lasted from the 7th century to 1832. There are about 162,000 Cham people living in Vietnam today, concentrated in Central Vietnam and the Mekong Delta region.

The project digitised manuscripts from 25 private collections and below is a taste of what the manuscripts contain.

Manuscript page in Cham script.EAP698/15/6 Cham manuscripts collected by Ms. Dong Thi Hang, No.06

Illustrated page of a Cham manuscript.
EAP698/1/11 Cham manuscripts collected by Mr. Sam Van Tanh, No.11 [Latter half of 20th century]"

I am sure we will have some more interesting projects to share next month, but if you can’t wait until the next blog to hear our latest news, do join our Facebook group.

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.

  Late 19th century photograph of a party having a picnic in a wooded area.EAP164/1/2/3 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.

  Illuminated Ethiopic prayer scroll.

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.

  Page in Arabic script.

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.

  Drawing of a sari wearing deity standing on a lotus leaf.

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

  Advertisement for slipper shoes.

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.

  Photograph showing the construction of a bridge.

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.

  Stereograph images of a dam.

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.

Page from the archive.

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!

  Typewritten page.EAP541/1/1/88: Salaga-Site for septic Tank Laterines [1952-73]

15 July 2015

New images online - July 2015

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This month three projects have gone online, EAP080, EAP660 and EAP769.

The first of these projects, EAP080, microfilmed Serbian musical collections from the Craftsmen choral society in Zemun. Choral societies were a prominent part of Serbian musical culture in the 19th century. Between 1834 and 1914 over 150 Serbian choral societies were founded. Some of them had extremely rich musical libraries, with thousands of scores and choral parts. Unfortunately, only a few of them preserved their full musical collections, which often included original manuscripts. Numerous collections were lost, divided or even destroyed. 

The musical collection of the Craftsmen choral society from Zemun contains 27 large boxes of material: manuscripts, handwritten and printed scores, mostly choral music, stage music as well as some documents on the history of the society. The compositions are written by Serbian, Russian, Czech, German, Austrian and Italian composers.

This collection is an excellent example of the typical musical taste of a growing citizen class. Judging by stamps and signatures, it seems as if other choirs' libraries were added and came from the Serbian Orthodox Choral Society and the Academic Choir, both from Zemun, and the Cathedral Choir from Novi Sad.

Scan_0026EAP080/1/8/3/4: Image 12 - Unknown author, Ukoricene crvene, plave i zelene sveske [Music note books with red, blue and green covers]

The second project this month, EAP660, digitised copies of Nur-i-Afshan, a periodical published by the Presbyterian Mission in the Punjab. Sometimes published weekly, and other times bi-monthly. Nur-i-Afshan, was a multifaceted news magazine and carried local and international news summaries, government postings, commodity prices, and advertisements, but also opinion articles, essays, proverbs, and poems.

This periodical is one of the very few primary sources originating locally in pre-partition India, which shows Christian missionary work in the Punjab. In addition to being a religious publication, Nur-i-Afshan also forms part of a large and growing corpus of Urdu periodicals published in the nineteenth century and gives the researcher invaluable insight into the thinking, concerns, and ideas of nineteenth century Indians and enables a better understanding of the social, political and religious forces at play during this period. Furthermore, the study of such periodicals is of interest to scholars engaged in linguistics and language development. As the nineteenth century was a key age in the development of the Urdu language, the styles of prose, grammar, and diction used in this publication are important research materials. The role of a missionary society in taking up a local vernacular for discourse at that time makes the importance of Nur-i-Afshan even greater and its study more significant.

EAP660_Nur-i_Afshan_December_1900_v28_no52_001EAP660/1/26/60: Image 1 - Nur-i-Afshan December [1900 volume 28 no.52] [1900]

The final project this month is EAP769, a pilot project which looked at archives and records from the Caribbean island of Montserrat, a country that has suffered from harsh environmental conditions and natural disasters. Inappropriate storage and handling has resulted in material being lost or rapidly deteriorating, creating an urgent need for proper preventive conservation care. Recent volcanic activity destroyed many of the previous storage facilities.

This project identified archival material held throughout Montserrat, assessed its condition and prepared a long term plan for its safe storage, digitisation and increased public access and awareness of this endangered resource.

The pilot project worked on the collections of original material held by the Montserrat National Trust (MNT). This comprises of 18th and 19th century estate plans and deeds; 20th century letters, newspapers, land deeds, wills, receipts; and collections of slide photographs from the 1980s, including a 1986 historic buildings survey which show many buildings no longer standing after the 1995 and 1997 volcanic eruptions.

EAP769_MNT_HSS_Pg_00EAP769/3/3/1: Image 1 – Historic Building Survey 1986

In addition, the project worked on some of the 18th century records held at the Central Library, a collection in private ownership, and material held by the Government Registry Office.

Sample digitisation of selected material was undertaken and is now available to view online.

EAP769_MNT_EST12_069_1EAP769/3/1/12: Image 6 - Sale of Champion Jones Properties [1910]

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.

16 March 2015

New online collections - March 2015

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This month we have had three collections go up online EAP153, EAP460, EAP714.

EAP153 surveyed and digitised private collections of documents in the Riau Archipelago.

The Riau Archipelago spreads over a vast geographic area in the triangle between Sumatra, Singapore and the Borneo. During the nineteenth century the area was part of the Dutch East Indies and was considered to be the core area of Malay language and culture. In their endeavour to standardise the Malay language, Dutch officials collected manuscripts from the archipelago; these manuscripts became the basis for a standard grammar and dictionary of the Malay language. This collection process not only resulted in several large repositories of Malay manuscripts, but also kindled a renaissance of Malay writing at the court of Riau and beyond. The remnants of this manuscript and book culture can still be found in the private collections that were surveyed.

Thirteen collections on four different islands in the region were digitised, amounting to approximately 8,000 photographs of 450 items. These comprised handwritten manuscripts, printed archival materials (forms, receipts, grants) and a few printed books.

EAP 153_DAIK_MUSEUM_42_001EAP153/10/42: Wafak Mandi Safar - Image 1

EAP460 digitised Shui manuscripts from private manuscripts in South Guizhou. Shui manuscripts (spelled as lesui in the Shui language) are ritual texts for the Shui people, a native ethnic group in Southern Guizhou. The earliest manuscripts can be safely dated to the 16th century. The contents of the Shui manuscripts cover knowledge on astronomy, geography, folklore, religion, ethics, philosophy, art and history. Therefore, the manuscripts are not only the key and irreplaceable materials to understand the unique culture of the Shui people, but also constructive for studying history, anthropology, folklore and even palaeography in general.

The project was successful in digitising 216 manuscripts. These are now available to view online.

EAP460 DDA_002_025EAP460/1/2: Shui Priest manuscripts, Duyun, Guizhou - Image 25

EAP714 assessed the state and extent of church records in Malawi dating between 1861 and 1964.

Malawi, formerly Nyasaland, had been a predominantly oral society. The arrival of British missionaries in the early 1860s led to the generating of written records. Between 1861 and 1891, before the establishment of the Colonial Administration, different Churches were established in Malawi and influenced people in many ways.

The Churches generated important records in the form of accounts, correspondence, day books, deacon’s diaries, manuscripts, maps, minutes, minute books, miscellaneous, nominal rolls (communicants, baptismal and catechumens rolls), photographs, registers (birth, death, expelled members and village schools), reports and statistics. These records are unique in that they are the earliest written documents in the country and they illuminate Malawi’s pre-colonial past more than any other records. 

The project successfully surveyed the records of seven different mission stations. The project digitised a sample of records from each church; this sample can now be viewed online.

EAP714 LM_Communion_Roll_011EAP714/2/1: Communion Roll [1892-1908] - Image 11

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.

A courtyard of a monastery with monks digitising outside.
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.

Inside someones home, the walls are med from reeds. Three men smile and look very happy. Two of them stand by a metal trunk.
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 of the book From Dust to Digital

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. 

Three men look directly at the camera, they stand next to three large piles of Ethiopian manuscripts.
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.

  The Chief Executive of the British Library, with Ambassador of the Lao Embassy and the third Secretary.Roly 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.


Piles of the book 'From Dust to Digital' with two people browsing through one of the copies.
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”

11 February 2015

New online collections – February 2015 – Part 1

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This month we have had seven new projects go online with over five hundred thousand images. These are EAP164, EAP171, EAP387, EAP505, EAP566, EAP638 and EAP684 and include rural records from the Ukrainian Steppe, parish records from Brazil, endangered Urdu periodicals and the archives from a publishing company in Argentina. This blog will focus on four projects EAP171, EAP387, EAP505 and EAP638. Another blog will feature the final three projects in a couple of weeks.

EAP638 follows on from the work of EAP375, digitising material from the Haynes publishing company archive in Argentina. The company was created by Albert M. Haynes, a British citizen who went to Argentina originally to work for the Buenos Aires Western Railway. After his retirement he founded the Haynes Publishing Company in 1904, it remained active until its closure in 1968.

The project digitised the most significant articles on specific subjects published by Haynes and other newspapers. As they offer an extended coverage of events from all the main newspapers of the region they present a fantastic resource for researchers. The material contains marvels such as photographs, painted illustrations, memoirs, statistical data, personal letters, and even film. The image below is a photograph of the acclaimed Argentine lyrical soprano Isabel Marengo.

F00019_0198_0000.00.00_0002EAP638/1/1/198: Isabel Marengo – Image 3

EAP387 digitised 93 manuscripts of Fulfude jihad poetry. The bulk consists of 43 poems by Usman dan Fodio and 26 poems by his daughter Nana Asma'u.

In Northern Nigeria the tradition of reciting religiously inspired poetry is supported by the existence of written copies of these poems. These manuscripts are sometimes hundreds of years old and they have been handed down as precious treasures from generation to generation. The poems in this particular collection are all written in Fulfulde, and in Ajami, the Arabic alphabet adapted for African languages. Below is a page from the poem Shi'irut Tawbati about forgiveness and repentance.

TMI05_a1-17EAP387/1/4/4: Shi'irut tawbati [19th Century ] – Image 1

EAP505 digitised parish records from Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil. These include baptism, marriage and death registers from the parishes of Nossa Senhora de Apresentacao, Angicos, Canguaretama, Goianinha and Santana do Matos. These records can help to build a demographic history of those regions. The Catholic Church Records are incredibly useful as a large amount of the Brazilian population was a member of the church. There was no civil registration until after 1850 so baptismal records became the longest and most uniform serial data available for understanding the history of the population in Brazil. Once baptised the person and their descendants became eligible for the sacraments of marriage and Christian burial, thus generating additional records of their lives.

EAP505_Goianinha_Baptism Registers_0007EAP505/4/1/2: Baptism Register. No. 2. Goianinha [1860-1864] – Image 7

The last project, EAP171 was a pilot project which surveyed 18th - 20th Century documents from Nepal. The project digitised a small selection of the material; this is available to view now.

EAP171DSC_9701EAP171/1/3: Record of sale of tax exempt land – Image 1

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.

12 December 2014

KNOW YOUR CULTURE! OR ELSE…

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Kenya Jamhuri Day, 12 December 2014

The Riyadha Mosque in Lamu, Kenya, is home to a collection of Islamic manuscripts that documents and preserves the teaching traditions of the Lamu archipelago from c.1850 to 1950. In the EAP online collection, under the unassuming name of EAP466/1/18, can be found a 241-page compilation of prayers, litanies and invocations. It is prefaced by an inscription, framed by an ochre and black geometrical pattern, which reads, somewhat ominously: “This book, what is in it, is in it. Whomsoever does not know what is in it, may the dog pee in his mouth.”

Cover page of the manuscript
EAP466/1/18

When they were copied some time in the mid-19th century, these texts had been handed down through generations, and were well known in the wider Swahili world - indeed in the Islamic world as a whole. In the volume, we find for example the Mawlid Barzanji, authored in the 18th century, and widely recited in East Africa to this day. It narrates the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, including the “heavenly handmaidens” who according to popular tradition attended his mother Amina. Knowledge of this type of text constituted what it meant to be a member of coastal Muslim community in 19th-century Lamu, through a “core curriculum” that regulated individual and collective practice of Islam. In short, knowing these texts made you part of mainstream culture. Failure to acquire this knowledge could mean social exclusion – or, more often, non-inclusion if you were an outsider to Lamu society. The consequences, as indicated by the inscription, could be dire.

A first assumption here is to interpret this threat as an eccentric liberty taken by the copyist, perhaps a poke at a madrasa (Islamic school) teacher who may have used these exact words during class. However, unusual though it may be, a similar worded warning can be found in at least one other manuscript from the Swahili coast, again cautioning against unwanted attention from dogs. The message is clear: Know you culture, your religion – and your identity – or else face exclusion.

As the volume stands today in the Riyadha library, it is owned by the mosque but forms part of the heritage of Lamu Muslim society, and that of the wider Swahili world. It is also part of the national heritage of Kenya. As Kenya celebrates its 50th Jamhuri (Republic) Day, it is sadly not in an atmosphere of tranquillity. The Westgate attacks in Nairobi in 2013 brought the world’s attention to Jihadist-style terrorism within Kenya’s border, but also to the looting by the security personnel in the wake of the killings. However, the mistrust between the coastal population and the authorities has simmered for years, and caused rifts between sections of the costal Swahilis. Religious leaders have been assassinated, attempts at cultural and religious dialogue have stalled under the threat of violence. Couple this with large-scale foreign and domestic investment, land-grabbing, corruption, the continuing turmoil in Somalia and the expansion of al-Shabbab on the coast, Kenya is facing challenges that threatens its stability and – ultimately – even its unity.

As has been shown in recent studies, access to, and use of heritage (including scientific research), is often unequally distributed and represented in the national narratives when new nations are formed. Jamhuri day is a nationwide day of celebration of Kenya’s freedom, but also of its diversity, its multiple and parallel pasts. As coastal Kenya struggles to express its perceived marginalisation, it can look to its own rich past, and to the various ways in which it incorporated new populations into Swahili society. From this vantage point, the coast may find new ways to represent itself in the national narrative of Kenya in the coming 50 years. The message from a 19th-century copyist can still be relevant. 

Click on the link if you would like to read more about the manuscript collection at Riyadha Mosque 

Dr. Anne K. Bang, Chr. Michelsen Institute, Norway

Grant holder EAP466