And other cheerful news include that the British Library have invited me to produce a detailed financial plan by the end of January for the proposed 'pilot project'for the Djenne manuscript library! That, as far as I understand it means that we are well on the way to get the sponsorship from the Endangered Archives Programme at the British Library.
Now, if I hadn't been a blogger, this may never have happened! For the beginnings of this idea, see blog in the beginning of April 2008 on the Djenne library. Having written about the manuscript library of Djenne, I was contacted by email by several readers of my blog who told me about a conference held in London in June 2008, by the Endangered Archives Programme at the British Library.
I went to this conference when I was on holiday. When I returned to Mali I went to Timbuktu- see late August blog I think- to meet Abdelkader Haidera and Alida Boye of the University of Oslo, which has been sponsoring the Timbuktu manuscript projects.
This is what I wrote in the proposal:
This pilot project would aim to survey the scope and extent of the existing Arabic manuscript s of Djenne, Mali, a town which has historically equalled Timbuktu in importance as a centre of Islamic learning and sub-Saharan trade since the foundation of both towns around a millennium ago.
The Djenne manuscripts include those written in situ by individual Marabouts, and also many purchased from elsewhere by Djenne collectors.
There has already been a brief survey made of the manuscripts of Djenne by the Malian scholar Abdel Kader Haidera, the Director of the Mamma Haidera Library in Timbuktu. He estimates that there are in the region of 10 000 manuscripts in Djenne, some dating back to the 11th and 12th centuries. Most of these manuscripts are kept by individual families, and only a very small portion has been deposited in the newly built Djenne library.
The manuscripts are, according to Haidera, similar to those of Timbuktu, i.e. the main part consists of transcripts of the Koran, many illuminated and some bearing comments in the margin. There are many other types of manuscripts too, including material treating subjects such as mathematics, medicine, geography, law and astronomy
The historical manuscripts include information on economic connections between Timbuktu and Djenne. In addition there are manuscripts transcribing the oral history as handed down by the ‘griots’ , or the ‘minstrels’ of West Africa. There may well be differences between the Djenne and Timbuktu material as yet not discovered. Although the two towns are linked and often called ‘twin cities’, their geography and populations are very different. While the population of Timbuktu is overwhelmingly made up by the light skinned nomadic desert Tuaregs, the town of Djenne, situated in the heart of the Niger inland Delta, counts amongst its population the Fulani, the Bozo, the Bambara, and the Songhai; a darker-skinned population descended from the ancient Malian kingdoms to the south, a population for whome animist traditions have remained strong, running alongside their Muslim faith. These cultural differences are likely to be mirrored in the Djenne manuscripts and may well throw new light on aspects of West-African history.
There are approximately 200 manuscripts held by the Djenne library. These are not in any immediate danger of decay. The vast majority of the manuscripts kept by individual families however suffer numerous environmental threats such as from termites and also water damage during the rainy season when the mud roofs of Djenne often leak.
During the four months of the pilot project, there are plans to include a programme of information aimed at the individual Djenne families to reassure them that their manuscripts will be well taken care of if housed in the Djenne library. They will also be kept intact as collections bearing the name of the family.
The pilot project would be carried out by a Malian Arabic scholar and archivist, trained in Timbuktu, working with a Djenne Arabic scholar who would at the same time be receiving training. The project would be supervised by Abdel Kader Haidera, who has given his full support. At the end of the four month’s pilot project an International specialist would be invited to come and advice on the material, and on putting together the proposal for the Major Project.
Apart from the invaluable support of Abdel Kader Haidera, the project has a small advisory panel which includes Professor Philip J. Jaggar of the Africa Department, SOAS, Dr. Dmitry Bondarev , SOAS; Professor Jan Retso of the University of Gothemburg and Alida Boye from the University of Oslo.
The British Library Panel wrote, when inviting me to submit a detailed proposal:
'This is a well-designed project proposal which clearly demonstrates the urgency to undertake a well thought-out survey to identify and locate these historical manuscripts'.