BU African Ajami Project: New Resources

The Boston University NEH Ajami project, led by Prof. Fallou Ngom (PI) and Dr. Daivi Rodima-Taylor (Project Manager), is pleased to share resources developed in the course of its three-year research engagement funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities. The project, Ajami Literacy and the Expansion of Literacy and Islam: The Case of West Africa, has digitized a unique selection of manuscripts in Ajami (African language texts written with a modified Arabic script) in four major West African languages (Hausa, Mandinka, Fula, and Wolof), transcribed and translated them into English and French, prepared commentaries, and created related multimedia resources to be made widely available to the scholarly community and the general public. The Ajami literatures that have developed in sub-Saharan Africa hold a wealth of knowledge on the history, politics, cultures, and intellectual traditions of the region, but are generally unknown. The history of Ajami refutes the claims that Africa lacks written traditions.

Photographs of manuscripts with beautifully handwritten Ajami text.
Portions of African Ajami manuscripts used in the ASC Ajami project.

The NEH Ajami project is the first systematic comparative approach of several major African languages written in Ajami, examining the different patterns of Ajami development in these four languages and literatures, and the multiple forms and custodians of Ajami literacy. It also marks the first time that such varied African Ajami documents have been translated into two major European languages (French and English) and made accessible to communities and scholars globally. Our project has also captured the musical traditions that have accompanied the written texts. The project has a unique participatory quality—with the help of our field teams and Ajami experts in Africa and the United States, it aims to facilitate interpretive knowledge about the meaning and purpose of Ajami texts, their social functions, and the voices of the people who have written, own, and use them.

The project provides a unique bridge between archival knowledge and lived experience, as it brings back the digitized texts to their communities of origin to be read, chanted, and interpreted. Ethnographic interviews, conversations with chanters and singers, and collaborative transcriptions and translations of Ajami manuscripts have enabled the team to observe the evolvement of the uses, contexts, and purposes of Ajami. A selection of interpretive essays by the project members has been prepared for academic publication. The NEH Ajami multi-disciplinary team of scholars and Ajami experts in Africa and the United States has digitized, transcribed and translated several thousand pages of texts and prepared selected video and audio files that can be accessed on the NEH Ajami website.

“We hope these resources will help to establish more firmly the field of Ajami Studies globally,” Prof. Ngom and Dr. Rodima-Taylor remarked. “Please feel free to share these resources as broadly as possible. We also welcome your feedback—please see our website for our contact information!”

For additional information on Ajami research and resources available at BU that include the NEH Ajami project as well as other projects, visit our African Ajami page.