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Founded and led by Dr. Fallou Ngom (Professor of Anthropology and former Director of the African Studies Center at Boston University), the African Ajami Library (AAL) is a collaborative initiative between Boston University and the West African Research Center (WARC) in part funded by the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme. The AAL is envisioned as a continental open access public repository of aggregated Ajami texts from non-Europhone Africa. The first step in building the AAL took place in the summer of 2011 when Professor Ngom and late Mr. Roger Brisson, former Head of Metadata Services of Boston University Libraries traveled to Senegal to lead a workshop at WARC focused on digitization techniques of endangered Wolof Ajami manuscripts.

Although written records are rarely regarded as part of sub-Saharan Africa’s intellectual heritage, important bodies of Ajami manuscripts have existed in Oromo, Somali, Tigrigna, Kiswahili, Amharic, and Malagasy in East Africa, and Bamanakan, Mandinka, Kanuri, Yoruba, Berber, Hausa, Wolof, and Fulfulde in West Africa for centuries. In South Africa, Muslim Malay slaves produced the first written record of Afrikaans in Ajami. The neglect of African Ajami archives is due to a number of factors, including the lack of an Ajami public depository, the limited number of individuals with the linguistic skills and cultural background required to analyze Ajami documents, and a lack of recognition of the cultural value of Ajami texts, as many Europeans and Arab scholars with the linguistic competence to study these materials have often deemed them of little scholarly interest. Yet, Ajami traditions of Africa are centuries-old and are quite varied, consisting of satirical, polemical and protest poetry, as well as biographies, eulogies, genealogies, talismanic resources, therapeutic medical manuals, family journals, business transactions, historical records, speeches, texts on administrative and diplomatic matters (correspondence between Sultans and provincial rulers), texts on Islamic jurisprudence, behavioral codes, grammar, and even visual arts. The primary goal of the AAL is to ensure that these materials are no longer treated as insignificant vestiges, but rather as major sources of African knowledge, without which a holistic and in-depth understanding of Africa will remain elusive.

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