Aims and objectives
For centuries, Ajami, the modified Arabic scripts used in writing African languages, have been deeply embedded in the history and culture of many Islamized societies of Africa. Ajami has played an important role in the spread of Islam in Africa and continues to be used by the speakers of more than ten major African languages for everything from poetry and historical writing to road signs and advertisements. Nevertheless, Ajami is little known outside the communities where it is used. Many of the oldest Ajami manuscripts are in danger, and few of those with a scholarly interest in these materials have access to them.
The Mandinka Ajami manuscripts to be digitized in this project are precious. Ajami texts in Mande languages (including Bamanankan, Eastern Maninka, Western Mandinka (or Mandinka), Jakhanke, Jula, and Susu) are among the least documented. Only a few Mandinka Ajami texts are available to scholars compared to the rich collections of Hausa, Fulfulde, and Wolof Ajami texts recently made available to scholars thanks to the support of the EAP. This project will enable scholars to have access to thousands of pages of Mandinka Ajami texts largely unknown to Western-trained academics. The manuscripts deal with astrology, divination, Islamic education, talismanic protective devices, religious and didactic materials in poetry and prose, elegies, jurisprudence, traditions of Prophet Muhammad, Sufism, code of ethics, translations of the Quran and Islamic liturgical texts from Arabic into Mandinka, legends about Mandinka jihad leaders and mythical figures, secular writings such as commercial record-keeping, family genealogies, records of important local events such as the founding of villages, births, deaths, weddings, biographies, traditional treatment of illnesses, medicinal plants, environmental subjects, incantations, local history, local cosmology, customs and ancestral traditions, and Mandinka social institutions.
We have assembled a uniquely qualified team for the project. The team consists of eight members. Four members already have expertise in digital preservation of endangered manuscripts. The four other members are trusted individuals from the Mandinka communities of Casamance. Professor Ngom (Principal Applicant) led project EAP334: Digital Preservation of Wolof Ajami Manuscripts of Senegal, which resulted in the creation of the African Ajami Library at Boston University. Eleni Castro will serve as the project’s technical expert and will provide a four-day training in best practices in digital preservation of manuscripts to the fieldwork team at the West African Research Center (WARC), our local partner in Dakar, Senegal. WARC is the overseas branch of the West African Research Association (WARA), which has its US headquarters at Boston University. WARC has agreed to serve as the umbrella organization for this project and to support it through its network of scholars and
services. WARC will provide office space in Dakar throughout the project. Eight people in total will be trained in the best practices in copying and listing digital materials following EAP guidelines during the workshop. Five key members of the project’s team will be trained along with the following three staff members from WARC: Abdoulaye Niang (Administrative and Finance Director), Amadou Dieng (IT and Logistics Manager), and Aliou Badara Sarr (Assistant Librarian). These individuals represent WARC’s digitization team. The training will enhance WARC’s capacity to pursue its digital preservation plans.
Eleni Castro will also participate at the outset, during, and concluding phase of the fieldwork to ensure that the EAP copying and listing guidelines are fully implemented. Mr. Diakité, a Mandinka linguist who was pivotal in the success of project EAP 334, will serve as the project’s Local Project Manager. He will ensure that the EAP copying and listing standards are strictly adhered to throughout the fieldwork. Mr. Diakité has served for years as a research assistant and a contractual overseas project coordinator in Senegal for the projects of Boston University’s African Studies Center. He has overseen intensive summer language programs in Senegal for Boston University.
The fourth team member, Ibrahima Yaffa, is a highly respected Mandinka elder from Casamance. He is educated in both the Western (French) and Mandinka Islamic traditions. He will serve as the project’s General Field Facilitator. Professor Ngom has successfully worked with him since the 1990s. Mr. Yaffa will coordinate the team’s field trips to manuscript owners. He will work closely with three other local Mandinka notables who will serve as fieldwork facilitators in Ziguinchor, Kolda, and Sédhiou. The eighth team member, Mr. Ibrahima Ngom, will serve as the digital photographer of the project. Mr. Ngom served as a photographer in the digitization team of the MRP Jan 2017 project Africa’s Sources of Knowledge Digital Library (ASK-DL) based at Harvard University, which digitized about 400 pages of Ajami texts from Senegal in 2010.
With this well-prepared team, we will digitize endangered Mandinka Ajami manuscripts from 20 archives in Ziguinchor, 6 archives in Kolda, and 45 archives in Sédhiou. Mr. Yaffa has already contacted 100 manuscript owners in Kolda, Ziguinchor, and Sédhiou, and they are enthusiastic about this project. They have agreed to make their materials available for digitization by our team so that they can be made accessible electronically to scholars worldwide without restriction. We anticipate that the fieldwork team will spend five months in Ziguinchor, two months in Kolda, and eight months in Sédhiou to digitize at least 12,000 pages of endangered Mandinka Ajami manuscripts. The team will preserve approximately 3,380 pages from Ziguinchor, 1,015 pages from Kolda, and 7,605 pages from Sédhiou. Overall, the team will spend 15 months (1) digitizing endangered Mandinka Ajami manuscripts from Kolda, Ziguinchor, and Sédhiou, (2) creating the appropriate listing and metadata following strictly the EAP guidelines, and (3) making three copies with one to be deposited at WARC, one at the British Library, and one at Boston University.
The project initially planned to preserve 12,000 pages of endangered Mandinka Ajami manuscripts in the southern Casamance region of Senegal. However, our fieldwork team found on the ground when the project began that the endangered manuscripts were richer than initially anticipated. The endangered archives we found on the ground encompass four major types:
1) Arabic texts; 2) Arabic texts with glosses in Arabic; 3) Arabic texts with glosses in Arabic and local languages (Soninke and Mandinka); and 4) a variety of Mandinka Ajami texts. Because all the manuscripts are equally important and document the preoccupations and intellectual traditions of the Mandinka people of Senegambia and beyond, we expanded the project beyond its original focus on Mandinka Ajami texts to include all endangered manuscripts (including multilingual ones written in Arabic, Mandinka, and Soninke, and a few written in Wolof and Fula) that we found in the collections and were allowed to digitize. Most of the endangered manuscripts we have digitised were written between the 19th and the 20th century. Most are in advanced stages of destruction due to poor preservation conditions.