Safeguarding the Ethiopian Islamic heritage (EAP401)


It is nearly 1,500 years since Islam was introduced to Ethiopia. Ethiopia is one of the few countries where ancient civilisations developed and diverse religions were practised during the same period. The significances of identifying ancient culture and documenting indigenous knowledge gained considerable attention worldwide and particularly in developing countries. Rapid world globalisation processes and their subsequent impact on local cultures and heritages make it a necessity to mitigate these impacts.

To this end, this project intends to conduct a survey to identify the most endangered Islamic manuscripts and archival sites in functioning and abandoned mosques as well as in private holdings in North Shewa (Goze, Husiso), South Wello (Gedo Toleha, and Dodota) and Gacheni. The project will also provide basic manuscript conservation training for selected local people who are involved in handling public manuscripts and hold awareness raising meetings with elders, community leaders and individual scholars.

The chosen project sites are located directly along the old main trade route, which leads to the Red Sea Coast, and were also centres of Medieval, Adal and Yifat Sultanates. The area is one of the few traditional Islamic study centres which are still functioning. This ultimately positioned the area to be one of the richest manuscript producing centres among scholars. Currently these rare Islamic manuscripts are being threatened on two fronts, becoming a prime target for domestic and foreign smugglers and also rapidly deteriorating as a result of natural and human impact.

The project identified six abandoned mosques in the towns of Cheno, Dera and in South Wallo, and 21 manuscripts were listed. Some manuscripts in a poor condition were relocated to the Gaceni District Culture and Tourism Bureau. Ten manuscripts have been digitised and copies deposited with the Institute of Ethiopian Studies, Addis Ababa University; Ethiopian Islamic Affairs Supreme Council; National Archive & Library Addis Ababa, and the British Library. 15 people attended a week’s training in Manuscript Preservation.

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as: