Ajami sources and knowledge production about Africa in the 21st century
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Citation (published version)Fallou Ngom. 2016. Abstract of: "Ajami Sources and Knowledge Production about Africa in the 21st Century." https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2573-508x.2016.tb00015.x
The emergence of Ajami traditions in Africa mirrors the development of traditions of writing European languages based on the Latin orthography. Just like the Latin script spread throughout the world through Christianity and was modified to write numerous European languages, so too the Arabic script spread through Islam and was modified to write numerous African languages. Many Ajami traditions initially emerged as part of the pedagogies to disseminate Islam to the illiterate African masses. However, their usage expanded to encompass other areas of knowledge, just as the Latin script flourished from the church environment to encompass other secular domains of knowledge of different European communities that had modified the script to meet their written communication needs. Recent discoveries indicate that West African Ajami traditions go as far back as the sixteenth century. The Berber Ajami tradition is thought to have begun at least centuries earlier. The materials that emerged in Ajami traditions represent an important and underexplored source of knowledge on Africa. They are rich and varied and encompass both religious and secular manuscripts. The religious materials include prayers, talismanic protective devices, didactic materials in poetry and prose, elegies, hagiographies, translations of works on Islamic metaphysics, jurisprudence, Sufism, and translations of the Quran into African languages. The non‐religious documents encompass commercial and administrative record‐keeping, family genealogies, records of local events (such as foundations of villages, births, deaths, and weddings), biographies, political and social satires, advertisements, road signs, public announcements and speeches, personal correspondences, traditional treatment of illnesses and medicinal plants, local customs and traditions, and texts on diplomatic matters and history. Pre‐colonial Ajami documents are difficult to find, partly because many have not survived due to poor conservation conditions, and partly because of their neglect due to the enduring emphasis on European colonial archives and Arabic sources. The recently uncovered Ajami materials were largely produced during the colonial and post‐colonial era. They provide fresh insights on various aspects of local histories, cultures, and belief systems. In this paper I will focus on selected West Ajami materials (which include chronograms commonly used to date local events, genealogies, and diplomatic correspondences) to demonstrate their potential to enrich and advance scholarly inquiries on Africa in the 21st century.