THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Endangered archives blog

9 posts categorized "Writing"

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).

Group photograph in front of the West African Research Center in Dakar

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

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

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

Photographing manuscripts from the Abdou Khadre Cisse collection

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

Interviewing manuscript owner Abdou Khadre Cisse

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.

Manuscript page.

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)

Manuscript page.

Mandinka healing document (Abdou Karim Thiam Collection)

Manuscript page held up to the sunlight to reveal the watermarks.

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.

10 May 2018

Endangered Urdu Periodicals

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This blog post has been written by Mr Nasir Javaid, grant holder for EAP839. The material has just been submitted to the EAP Office and it will be online later in the year.

EAP839 produced digital images of rare Urdu periodicals from the 19th to the first half of the 20th century in order to preserve and make them available to researchers. During this period the project team has successfully produced 3,832 issues. Urdu journals played a significant role in the development of Urdu literature, especially fiction, religion, history, poetry and culture of the South Asian region as a whole, particularly in Pakistan and India. If someone wants to write on the development of fiction or religious literature, they should refer back to these rare periodicals. Literature on Urdu criticism also flourished through these periodicals. Numerous books that were published later also drew content from these periodicals. Some of the best novels available in Urdu were first published in parts in Urdu journals. These periodicals also remained the primary source of advertisements for all major trade brands of that time. A large number of prominent writers and society figures gained popularity through these periodicals.

Cover page for Humayun May 1935

Humayn, May 1935

Advertisement for Johnson's talcum powder.

Baby Powder advertisement, August 1951

Unfortunately, the highly acidic paper used has made this literature highly vulnerable. It is rare to find complete runs of even the most important Urdu periodicals. Some of the publications have vanished; others are on the verge of extinction. Through digitisation and online presentation it becomes possible to access the publications, overcoming obstacles of location.

Cover page for Taj, October-November 1924

Taj, October - November 1924

Urdu language, now spoken by more than 60 million people worldwide, was the lingua franca of 19th century northern India. It was a common medium of mainstream communication when mass printing culture began. It was also the primary South Asian language used by colonial rulers for administrative purposes during the early British Raj. Previously it was very difficult for researchers to find full runs of the first Urdu periodicals. Further, tensions between Pakistan and India have made it very difficult for scholars to complete their research in topics requiring materials published across the national borders.  Making the rare Urdu periodicals accessible online will help improve scholarship on both sides of the border. During this project we have received many requests for copies of these digitised journals from India. The Endangered Archives Programme is making a major contribution towards the preservation of cultural heritage in countries, such as Pakistan, where the governmental support of such initiatives is not a priority.

Cover page for Humayun, January 1945

Humayun, January 1945

This project has enabled staff in Pakistan to develop professionally and to attain levels of performance in the field of technology never before attained within a Pakistani library. Project staff have not only learned to preserve and digitise, but also have become expert in the listing and cataloguing of periodicals. It was our fortune that while scanning these journals we had a chance to see and learn a lot of interesting articles and advertisements on different aspects of social life. Through this project the Mushfiq Khwaja Trust for the Advancement of Knowledge and Culture has developed exceptionally strong and close working relationships with the contributing institution in Pakistan and shared knowledge and skills with those partners.

Cover page for Ismat, May 1928

Ismat, May 1928

The Urdu literary journals have a long publication history some of these have been published continuously for more than a hundred years. It was not an easy task to locate the issues, even family members of the founder, editor and publishers of these journals have only limited numbers. When we digitised these journals they were incredibly pleased that we have preserved the legacy of their ancestors. On occasion, when they need an article they would contact us and also referred other people to us.

Political cartoon showing a man putting bags of money onto an elephant.

Political cartoon, Avadh Punch 1886

The Mushfiq Khwaja Library and Research Centre was also the archival partner on EAP566 resulting in 8635 issues of rare Urdu journals with total number of 615000 images having been digitised. No other institution in South Asia has extensively worked to preserve Urdu journals to this extent.

24 February 2017

The Textual Heritage of the Ural Old Believers

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In the second half of the seventeenth century, Patriarch Nikon reformed Russian church ceremonies and a range of traditional texts. The purpose of the reform was to merge Russian, Greek, Belorussian, and Ukrainian cultures. However, it led to a rupture with old Russian traditions. Russian society was split into two camps: the supporters of the reforms, ‘Nikonians’, and their opponents, the Old Believers. Old Belief was the largest opposition movement to emerge in Russia before 1905. They were cruelly persecuted by the state and the official Orthodox Church: they also suffered from repression during the Stalin era. However, despite all of the persecution, the Old Believers not only maintained Russian culture, but also developed and adapted it to new conditions.

Group of men wearing religious robes.

The texts maintained by the Old Believers belonged to a tradition formed over many centuries: it was based on Byzantine books that appeared in Russia along with Christianity. Russian scribes added their unique composition style to the Byzantine textual tradition, creating thematic collections (sborniki) based on both canonical and apocryphal Christian books. During the dispute with the official Orthodox Church, Old Believers reinterpreted many of the essays of early Christian writers, producing a great mass of original literature.

A selection of manuscripts.

From the end of the seventeenth century, the Urals became a centre of Old Belief; many fled there from central Russia to evade persecution. A group of researchers from the Historical Department of the Ural State University (now the Ural Federal University) organised archaeographical expeditions to Old Believer settlements spread across a huge territory stretching from the Volga to Western Siberia. These expeditions took place between 1974 and 2002.

A group of young people standing by a truck.

After decades of field work, almost 6,000 exemplars of this textual tradition (dating from the fifteenth to the late twentieth centuries) were collected. A wide range of manuscripts and printed books featuring all the elements of the old Russian textual tradition can be found in this collection.

The collections gathered by these expeditions include Old Believer textbooks (uchitel’nye sborniki), prayer books, polemics, eschatological essays, late Russian annals, items of a demographic and scientific character, and music sheets containing the old Russian form of musical notation (so called hooks).

Selection of manuscripts.

There is also a collection of archival documents: these include materials from local Old Believer councils, correspondence by outstanding twentieth-century leaders of Old Belief, and photos from the last decades of the imperial regime. All of these documents are extremely important for studying medieval culture, the adaptation of that culture to modern conditions, and its influence on Russia’s social and political history. They give us the opportunity to study local cultures surrounded by hostile authorities and can also be used to train specialists in history, philology, theology, and the arts.

A woman in her home. Her head is covered by a shawl.

Presently, the collection is kept at the Laboratory of Studies in Archaeography of the Institute for the Humanities and the Arts (Ural Federal University). Here, a number of experts with experience of working on rare books and manuscripts are employed.

The condition of these collections requires comment. The age of these books ranges between 100 to 500 years: many arrived at the Laboratory in a very poor condition. They were damaged by fungus and were incredibly dirty: the paper was collapsing from oxidation. 90% of our collections need conservation and restoration. The staff of the Laboratory do their best in this regard.

As part of EAP556, we digitised 35 old books and manuscripts. We were able to take more than 20,000 digital photographs. You can find these copies both on the EAP site and the new site of our Laboratory.

Operating a high-tech scanner

This has resulted in several important books and manuscripts being made freely available. These include:

The liturgical books known as Triod’ postnaya and the Gospels (Moscow, 1550s): these were some of the first printed books in Russia.

Cover with embossed brass lozenges showing depictions from The Gospel. 

Example of a Gospel cover

Illustrated manuscript.Example of a Triod’

2) The first fully printed copy of the Holy Bible in Church-Slavonic (Ostrog, Rzecz Pospolita, 1581).

Illustrated page from The Bible.Ostrog Bible

3) An illuminated apocalypse with commentary by St Andrew of Caesaria. Tsar Peter the Great, his main assistant Alexander Men’shikov, and his wife Catherine I are pictured at the head of the Antichrist’s army.

Illustration of the Apocalypse

The Old Believer manuscript tradition was not extinguished by Soviet persecution. A brilliant example of this tradition is an eschatological essay written by a Ural Old Believer called Iradion Ural’skiy (late twentieth century).

Page of handwritten text.

Black and white photograph of an illustrated page.

During the work on this project, we were able to complete an additional extremely important task: all of the books were placed in non-acidic boxes, thus helping us to preserve them.

We also have a restoration workshop where highly qualified restorers perform their delicate and complex work:

Making manuscript boxes.

  Conservation in action, working on a manuscript.

We are continuing to study and preserve these valuable Old Believer books and manuscripts. Once again, we would like to thank the Endangered Archives Programme. It was real pleasure to work with EAP: there was very little red tape, the team was highly responsive, and much friendliness was offered. Participation in the programme has had a considerable impact on our future plans for digitisation. This year we plan to put another 20,000 pictures on our website Our researchers are disseminating knowledge about the textual heritage of Ural Old Belief by writing articles and monographs. One book about illustrated apocalypses, written by Irina Pochinskaya, the leader of our EAP project, and Natalia Anufrieva has recently been released. The book has a digital appendix containing several of the books copied during our project.

Illustration from the Apocalypse

Finally, we are attempting to popularise knowledge of Russian medieval and Old Believer culture. On our site, there is a special section devoted to essays that we think you will find extremely interesting. We also hope that you will enjoy the example of Old Believer singing: the music sheet was written hundreds of years ago while the singer is our PhD student Anna Mikheeva.

It has been a wonderful experience and we hope that this is only the beginning!

Group photograph of the EAP team.

Written by Irina Pochiskaya and Alexander Palkin

21 February 2017

What does one gift to the Dalai Lama?

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Ever wondered what one would give to the new Dalai Lama if one had the opportunity to attend his enthronement ceremony?

  Cover page of an archival file

This file (1939-40), over 200 pages long, provides a chronological and detailed account of the planning and sourcing of gifts, articulated concerns and queries about culture, customs, and protocol, and vivid travel descriptions of the journey from Gangtok (Sikkim) to Lhasa (Tibet), for the infant Tenzing Gyatso’s official enthronement as His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.  

Recognised as the official reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama in 1939, his enthronement ceremony as the next Dalai Lama was scheduled for 22 February, 1940 in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital. In Sikkim (which had close relations with Tibet, spiritually, culturally, economically, and familial), officials were deciding what gifts to send to Lhasa for the occasion, and who would represent the Sikkim State at this auspicious and once-in-a-lifetime ceremony.

Sikkim’s 11th Chogyal, Tashi Wangyal Namgyal (r.1914-1963), chose to send his eldest son, Crown Prince Kunzang Paljor Namgyal (1921-1941), and the British decided to send Basil Gould (Political Officer, Sikkim), who would have been more familiar with the cultures of the region.

  Type-written letter.

It seems Gould took it upon himself to write to the headmaster of Bishop’s Cotton School (Shimla) where Crown Prince Paljor was studying, informing the school of the Prince’s impending absence – and rather comically, it seems he felt that “…the condition of a boy’s teeth” was a “very important matter”!

  Hand-written receipt.

Meanwhile, the Chogyal’s office set to work brainstorming gifts to offer the new Dalai Lama, sourcing them from various vendors from Darjeeling, Kalimpong, and the Army and Navy Store, Calcutta. The gifts included, among other items: A pair of sporting rifles; a 12ft tiger skin; a clock; a writing attaché case, a silver tea set, a pair of binoculars, and a pair of English ponies — the latter evidently caused quite a bit of trouble in their procurement as the file goes on to illustrate!

Typewritten letter.

The Chogyal’s eldest brother, former Crown Prince Tsodag Namgyal (1877-1942) had been removed from the line of succesion by the British in the mid-1890s and had been living in Tibet ever since. His son, Jigme Sumtsen Wangpo Namgyal, was a big support in the Chogyal’s endeavours to pay respects to the Dalai Lama, and it has been interesting to see how little the political interference and geographical borders seem to have affected the strength of family ties.

On 22 January, 1940, the Chogyal writes to his nephew, Jigme Sumtsen, to inform him that due to Prince Paljor’s young age and the anticipated harsh winter weather, Sikkim will instead send the Pipon of Lachen1.

  EAP880_HHDL-5_DSC00925 resized

The Chogyal asks his nephew to guide Pipon Sonam Wangyal in the elaborate, and oftentimes confusing, protocol of Lhasa aristocracy, and informs him that he is sending a tea set to Jigme Sumtsen in advance, as a token of his appreciation. 

On the 24 January, the Pipon sets off for Lhasa with four orderlies and arrives 13 days later on the 6 February, 1940. 

Meanwhile, the Chogyal accompanied by Prince Paljor and Princess Pema Tsedeun had left for Delhi to attend the investiture ceremony of the Viceroy of India. On their way back they visited Varanasi and Bodhgaya on Buddhist pilgrimage, and the correspondence between Chogyal and his nephew continued despite the hurdles of distance and difficulty of communication deriving from constant travel in early 20th century India. 

  Handwriting in Tibetan with an envelop and a royal seal.

These beautifully articulated, and oftentimes endearing letters, exchanged between uncle and nephew provide windows of insight into both mundane and courtly life of the era. The latter wonderfully illustrated with Jigme Sumtsen reporting to the Chogyal about the ceremony’s success, the reception of the gifts from Sikkim, and reference to the official letters of acknowledgement that are being carried back across the Himalayas by Pipon Wangyal.

Close up of Tibetan writing with seal.

But where does one find a pair of English ponies on the Indian subcontinent in 1940? With the start of summer, the search began in earnest, and queries were sent out to Kalimpong, Calcutta, Bombay, and eventually to the Punjab, requesting information on ponies of a certain height and colour.

The Chogyal’s brother-in-law, a Bhutanese known as Raja Sonam Tobgay Dorji (1896-1953) was based in Kalimpong, and he along with Sergul Tsering (Sikkim’s Vetinary Inspector) travelled to Calcutta, where on the 9 September, after visiting various stables across the city, they found a promising young pony at Dum Dum stable. One down!

From there, on the 13 September, the Veterinary Inspector took a 200 rupee advance and continued on to a firm in Punjab which had a reputation of breeding good English horses, and there he was able to procure the second horse for 1,500 Indian rupees.

  Typewritten letter.

EAP880_HHDL-10_DSC00930 resized

By early October, the horses were sent up to Lhasa, again with the logistical help and facilitation of Jigme Sumtsen, and presented to the Dalai Lama’s office. Jigme Sumtsen’s letters back to the Chogyal indicate that the officials in Tibet were both impressed and very happy with the horses, and that above and beyond, they were the tallest horses in the stables of the Potala Palace!

Photograph album. Top photograph shows four men stand next to two horses, bottom photograph shows the stables.,

Among other highlights, this file illustrates the frugality of expenditures with meticulous financial accounts of the trip, including the Pipon’s monthly payment (70 rupees; plus 50 rupees for warm clothes); the cost of the travels; and his use of the 50 allocated letter papers, 50 envelopes, 1 pencil, 2 penholders and a pocket book. It includes beautifully written letters from Tibet on handmade parchment paper, and gives insight into the workings of the Sikkim Palace’s administration, as well as the nature of their relationship with both Tibet and the British Empire.

So, if you ever find yourself in a position where you need to present gifts at an enthronement ceremony, this archive might be just what you need...

1. Lachen is a wide valley village in North Sikkim known for its unique system of local community governance, known as the ‘Dzumsa.’ The rotating head of the Dzumsa is refered to by the title ‘Pipon’ (and interestingly, this form of local governance is still practiced today with semi-autonomy within the wider state adminstration).

Written by

Pema Abrahams, grant holder for EAP880

20 January 2017

A Royal Proposal of Marriage

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Now well into our digitisation workflow process, team EAP880 all took some time out mesmerised by the contents of one particular file…

Files from the archive.

Caught at the crossworlds of British India, Tibetan Buddhism, and Burmese political transitions, this file captures the furtive and subsequent official engagement between a Himalayan prince, HRH Sidkeong Tulku of Sikkim (1879-1914) and a Burmese princess-in-exile, HRH Teik-Tin Ma Lat (b.1894).

Through first-hand accounts, it provides a rare lens into the emerging internationalism of the era touching upon Britain, Ladakh, India, Sikkim, Tibet, Burma, and Japan. It takes us through the couple’s first meeting, their love letters, their differences, and their wedding plans, and culminates with the Prince’s untimely and mysterious death—three months before his wedding—at age 35.

Photograph of the young prince.
Photo: Prince Sidkeong Tulku Namgyal © Sikkim Palace Archive / Project Denjong

Prince Sidkeong Tulku Namgyal was never destined for the throne: As the second son of Sikkim’s 9th Chogyal (King) Thutob Namgyal and a recognised reincarnate lama he had taken monastic vows of celibacy and was beginning his Buddhist studies in the monastery.

 

Photograph of the Chogyal with two advisers.
Photo: 9th Sikkim Chogyal (King) Thutob Namgyal © Sikkim Palace Archive / Project Denjong

However, his father’s reign had been characterised by waves of aggression from both modern day Nepal and Bhutan, and—in a regional theatre dominated by the Great Game—increasing British interventionism as the latter strove to counter a perceived Russian influence in Lhasa. It was through the Sikkim Himalayas that they saw their greatest chances of success.

Increasingly wary of the scope of Tibetan belligerence, the British sought to exert influence over Sikkim’s politics: On refusing to recall Crown Prince Tsodag from their summer estates in Chumbi (Tibet), the British held the Chogyal and his family, for two years near Darjeeling – ironically, a tract of land leased to them by the 8th Chogyal of Sikkim.

While in captivity, the Chogyal—out of mistrust of British intention and fear for his son’s life—maintained his refusal to order the Crown Prince’s return. He was finally released when the Viceroy of India, authorised the removal of the Crown Prince from the line of the succession, and investing Prince Sidkeong Tulku as heir apparent. And so, began the generous grooming of Prince Sidkeong Tulku Namgyal.

 

Photograph of Lt. O’ConnorPhoto: Lt. O’Connor © Sikkim Palace Archive / Project Denjong

After a brief stint with Sarat Chandra Das and at St. Paul’s School (Darjeeling), the prince went to Pembroke College, Oxford University (1906-08), during which time he was under the care of Lt. Col. O’Connor with whom he became quite close, and John Claude White (Political Officer, Sikkim).

Fluent in Chinese, Hindi, English, Lepcha, Nepali, and Tibetan, the Prince visited New York, European capitals, and Burma keeping a handwritten, large-format diary—in English—of his travels, replete with photos, mementos, invitations, and playbills. He returned to Sikkim progressive and full of energy, advocating for judicial, land, and monastic reforms.

Handwritten letter.
Photo: Letter from Prince Sidkeong Tulku to John Claude White (5th November, 1906)

By 1906, Sikkim’s new Crown Prince decided he should soon marry and began a search for a well-educated woman with a compatible fluency in English, and a shared Buddhist heritage.

Though the Government of India had no objection, the Chogyal of Sikkim, still raw from the treatment he had been subjected to and perhaps moved deeply by his devotion to the Buddha dharma, held the opinion that the Prince—an incarnation of a lama—should refrain from both marriage and activity in worldly affairs, in favour of spiritual practice. The British, in contrast, were only too eager to help the Crown Prince!

second part of handwritten letter.Photo: Letter from Prince Sidkeong Tulku to Curzon Wylie (13th June, 1908)

Prince Sidkeong Tulku—in admiration of Japanese culture—wished to marry a Japanese. During a visit to Japan, the British Ambassador bore the responsibility of inviting Sidkeong to various dances and dinners, but with no obvious match made, the Government of India decided that a Burmese would be preferable, as unlike Japan, Tibet, or Siam, Burma was under British rule.

Pages from a typewritten letter.Photo: Letter from W.H. Hodges to Prince Sidkeong Tulku (9th October, 1910)

It then fell on the Government of Burma to provide a list of suitable ladies, and the respective governments of Bombay and the United Provinces, to provide lists of Burma’s royal lineage ladies whose families were living in exile in India. These were  presented to the Prince in late 1910.

The Prince of Limbin (Limbin Mintha), a grandson of King Tharrawaddy, and his daughters were living in Allahabad, which, in December 1910 was (rather conveniently) preparing to host the the three-month Allahabad Exhibition. This provided the perfect opportunity for Prince Sidkeong to meet Limbin Mintha’s family, while arousing minimal suspician at home.

Accompanied by Kazi Gyaltsen to Allahabad, Prince Sidkeong hosted a dinner party for Limbin Mintha and gifted Princess Ma Lat an image of the Buddha and a basket of Sikkim oranges. After a few meetings, Charles Bell (Political Officer, Sikkim) noted that the prince had not made a decision and that he had instead requested enquiries to be made for potential brides in Siam, Kashmir, Ladakh, and again in Japan.

However, finding a woman in Siam educated in English proved too difficult, and though one Shimchung Gialmon Lhadun of Mathu (Ladakh) was suggested, the Prince disapproved of her illiteracy (despite remarking on her physical beauty).

Again, in 1911, he wrote to Colin J. Davidson (Assistant Secretary, British Embassy in Japan) requesting his help in finding a suitable bride, however, the Anglo-Japan relation was deteriorating and Davidson advised against this, citing in addition that, “The knowledge they (Japanese ladies) acquire is very meagre and as a rule almost useless for practical purposes…”

So it was in 1912 that Prince Sidkeong chose to marry Princess Ma Lat, whose family by this time had returned to Rangoon, despite the fact that on principle, his father—the Chogyal—still opposed any marriage just as he had in 1908.

Two letters.
Photo: Letter from W.H. Hodges to Prince Sidkeong Tulku (30th June, 1913); and Letter from Prince Sidkeong Tulku to Charles Bell (28th July, 1913).

Instead, the Government of India assumed the role of a negotiater securing the consent of Limbin Mintha for his daughter’s hand in marriage. Prince Sidkeong advised that the Chogyal should not yet be informed due to the seriousness of his father’s illness. Yet in the meantime, the Prince made a visit to Rangoon, to fulfill the dual purpose of both pilgrimage and proposal.

09_DSC00605Photo: Letter from Princess Ma Lat to Prince Sidkeong Tulku (22nd November, 1913)

The initial 1913 Rangoon wedding date was repeatedly postponed by the Prince whose concern for his father’s deteriorating health became his priority. However, over the course of a regular correspondence between the engaged, the Prince and Princess exchanged letters discussing designs of the wedding dress and rings, as well as expenses.

Files from the archive.
Photo: Sub-folder of astrological calculations for the marriage of Prince Sidkeong Tulku of Sikkim with Princess Ma Lat of Limbin (Burma)

In June 1914—as per Sikkimese custom—an astrologer was consulted on whose advice the Prince set the wedding for 24th January 1915 in Rangoon. Meanwhile, the Princess Ma Lat had requested Sidkeong to send her a Sikkimese ayah in order to help familiarise herself with Sikkimese culture. (The Prince advises Ma Lat to read more books instead!)

On 10th February, 1914, Chogyal Thutob Namgyal passed away. The prince wrote to his fiancée explaining the Sikkimese custom of one year’s mourning, which was especially important given there was some disapproval of the match in Sikkim. Moreover, he notes that Britain was now at war with Germany and under such situations, officials were busy with war efforts.

Handwritten letter.
Photo: Letter from Princess Ma Lat to Prince Sidkeong Tulku (26th November, 2014)

This was likely the last letter the Prince received from his fiancée for after only nine months on the throne, in December 1914, Prince Sidkeong Tulku died in what the British call “mysterious circumstances” while ill in bed, just one month before his marriage.

 

Written by Pema Abrahams, grant holder for EAP880

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

 

  Manuscript page

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]

Colourful painting of 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.

07 January 2016

Freetown and the transatlantic slave trade

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

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

  Page of writing.
EAP284/4/1: Treaty from 1788

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

Page from a register.EAP284/1/1: "Liberated African Department; Register 1814-1815; Nos 4,684 - 7,507"

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

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

Page of writing.EAP284/1/2: Liberated African Department; Letterbook; 1820-1826; Vol. 1

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

Page from a register.EAP443/1/3/2: Births; District Freetown [13 Apr 1857-12 Apr 1860]

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

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

24 July 2014

Tangut Manuscripts from St Petersburg

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We have another wonderful guest blog, this time by Sam Van Schaik, International Dunhuang Project Research and HE Manager. Sam is also based at the British Library and sits just along the corridor from EAP. His blog is all about the historical context for EAP140 material.

 

The Tangut kingdom is one of the great lost civilisations of Asia. The kingdom, also known as Westen Xia, came to prominence in the 11th century and flourished until the early 13th century, when it was crushed by the armies of Genghis Khan. In that brief span, the Tanguts invented a new script, translated thousands of texts into their language, and pioneered the use of print technology, including moveable type.

Stupas at the northwest corner of Kharakhoto
Stupas at the northwest corner of Kharakhoto, taken in October 2008. (c) International Dunhuang Project.

Until the beginning of the 20th century the Tanguts were only known through a few scattered references in historical texts. That changed with the excavation of the ancient ruined city of Kharakhoto by the Russian explorer Pyotr Kuzmich Kozlov (1863-1935). During two visits to the site in 1908 and 1909, Kozlov discovered thousands of ancient manuscripts in Chinese, Tibetan, and an unknown language that would later be identified as Tangut. Along with other artefacts, including beautiful paintings on silk, Kozlov’s discoveries were taken back to St Petersburg, and are now housed in the Hermitage and the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts at the Russian Academy of Sciences.

There are over eight thousand Tangut manuscripts and block printed books from Kharakhoto in the St Petersburg collection. Most of these are Buddhist texts, found when Kozlov was excavating a stupa (a Buddhist reliquary), dating from the 12th and early 13th centuries. The Tangut state was located between China and Tibet, and was influenced equally by these two great Buddhist cultures. Thus the manuscripts contain texts from China, including the literature of the Chan and Huayan schools, and from Tibet, mainly tantric Buddhist practices from India that had only recently arrived in Tibet.

It is a testament to the commitment of the Tangut emperors to Buddhism that the whole of the canon of Buddhist sutras (scriptures recording the words of the Buddha) were translated into Tangut by the 12th century. As we see from the Kharakhoto collections, many of these sutras were copied by hand and printed in expensive editions on fine paper. The Tibetan tantric texts were translated in the late 12th and early 13th centuries due to the increasing influence of Tibetan Buddhists at the Tangut court.

A copy of the Mahāprajñāpāramitā sūtra in concertina forma
A copy of the Mahāprajñāpāramitā sūtra in concertina format. Tang.334/201 EAP140/1/35

A project under the Endangered Archives Programme (EAP140) has now digitized a significant portion of the Tangut manuscript collections at the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts, St Petersburg. These are manuscripts of the Mahāprajñāpāramitā sūtra, "The Great Sutra of the Perfection of Wisdom", the most numerous single text in the collection. Just like in Chinese and Tibetan Buddhism, this massive text was copied extensively for the religious merit thought to accrue from copying scripture.

These copies of the Mahāprajñāpāramitā sūtra are now available on the EAP website and will also be made available on the websites of the International Dunhuang Project. The high-quality colour images of these manuscripts make it possible to appreciate the variety of writing styles and book formats used in the Tangut kingdom. Book forms include concertina manuscripts like the one pictured above, and scrolls (see below).

A scroll with a blue cloth cover
A scroll with a blue cloth cover. Tang.335/2.

The technology of woodblock printing was being used in China and Central Asia from the 7th century, and the production of both printed books and manuscripts continued in the following centuries. Though printing was a well-established technique in the Tangut kingdom, the great majority of these copies of the Mahāprajñāpāramitā sūtra were written by hand. Many of the manuscripts also have a block-printed frontispiece showing a scene of the Buddha teaching, an interesting combination of print and manuscript technologies. The fact that the same print is attached to many of the manuscripts suggests that they were produced around the same time. The Buddhist dynasties of China and Tibet sponsored major projects of copying the Perfection of Wisdom sutras, and it is likely that the Tangut emperors wanted to show that they could do the same.

A block-printed illustration, the frontispiece to a Mahāprajñāpāramitā sūtra
A block-printed illustration, the frontispiece to a Mahāprajñāpāramitā sūtra. Tang.334/204  EAP140/1/38