Healing and Esoteric Ajami (Type 5)

Manuscripts rich in ethnobotanical and ethnomedical data

This is the sixth and final post in a series on types of Ajami. Read the initial introduction here and find all of the posts here.

Unlike the previous three types of Ajami (Type 2 – Type 4), the Ajami in such manuscripts is not used for translation of Arabic, but rather has its distinctive function of providing metadata about the uses and benefits of the texts written in Arabic. The predominant subject matter in this type is esoteric protection and healing.

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Occasional Ajami (Type 4)

The sporadic translation of some Arabic words in a text’s margins

This is the fifth post in a series on types of Ajami. Read the initial introduction here and find all of the posts here.

Type 4 refers to the occasional and random translation of some Arabic words in the margins of the main text. Such “Occasional Ajami” is found in manuscripts that usually reflect a more advanced level of Islamic education; when Arabic is the sole scholarly language and there is no need to use local languages as props as in intermediate phases of learning.

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Systematic Interlinear Ajami Glosses (Type 3)

Ajami phrases written above or below corresponding Arabic phrases in the space between the lines.

This is the fourth post in a series on types of Ajami. Read the initial introduction here and find all of the posts here.

In “interlinear” Ajami manuscripts, annotations in Ajami are systematically applied to the source Arabic text in order to explicate its grammatical structures and render accurate translations.1

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  1. Here I use the notion of annotations as a cover term for “glosses” and “commentaries”. The distinction between the two in the context of West African Islamic manuscripts is discussed in Bondarev 2017: 121. []

Intralinear Ajami (Type 2)

Manuscripts where Ajami phrases follow Arabic phrases on the same line.

This is the third post in a series on types of Ajami. Read the initial introduction here and find all of the posts here.

“Intralinear Ajami”, in the strictest sense, refers to African language phrases following Arabic ones written on the same line. Similarly to Type 1 (which I reviewed in my previous post), such Ajami, which I call Type 2, is written in a continuous act of writing.

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Ajami primary manuscripts (Type 1)

Ajami documents that are exclusively or predominantly in an African language.

This is the second post in a series on types of Ajami. Read the initial introduction here and find all of the posts here.

“Ajami primary” refers to manuscripts that are predominantly or exclusively written in an African language. They are the best studied and until 2010s they were the only focus of Ajami research.

Single Ajami texts can roughly be subdivided into three subtypes: poetry, history and correspondence.

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Types of African Ajami

Welcome to a series of posts, exploring types of African Ajami manuscripts

This is the first post in a mini-series on types of Ajami manuscripts. See all the posts here.

What forms do “Ajami manuscripts” actually take?

This post, the first of a mini-series, seeks to answer this question by giving a general description of Ajami types along with some hints as to how they change across time. Subsequent posts will be more in-depth looks at each individual type with specific examples and discussions of their relevance for research.

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The Revelation: The earliest known use of ʿajamī as a label

The interlinear glosses written in African languages of West Africa often have a descriptive metalinguistic marker, asserting the presence of an Ajami segment.

Our blog has the acronym A-LABEL: we deal a lot with the African languages between the lines. But why “label”? This is because the interlinear glosses written in African languages of West Africa often have a descriptive metalinguistic marker, asserting the presence of an Ajami segment. This marker is typically a graphic variation of the word ʿajamī (عجمي – the form written on our logo) or ʿajam. Another way of the metalinguistic labelling of the Ajami glosses found in the manuscripts is the Arabic phrase fī kalāminā ‘in our language’ (في كلامنا) and its variations (for the use of ʿajamī and fī kalāminā in Soninke and other Mande manuscripts see Ogorodnikova 2017: 122-125).[1]

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Fur Ajami: an invisible tradition

More on “invisible” Ajami from our colleague Nikolay Dobronravin who already wrote for our Ajami Lab a piece on invisibility of Ajami writing in Nigeria, Chad and Sudan. This time he takes us to Darfur (‘the land of the Fur’) to explore a history of Ajami writing in Fur, a Nilo-Sahran language spoken in the west of the Republic of the Sudan.   

Read his fascinating account of Fur Ajami: The Fur (For, Fūranq bilī, Poor’íŋ belé) variety of Ajami: an invisible tradition.

Following Nikolay’s lead outlined in the above paper, I am heading to London next week to consult Kītāb Dālī , the mysterious Fur law book. Who knows, maybe we are just a short flight from another Ajami discovery.  

Updated abstracts and presentations from Ajami Lab Workshop, 31 Oct-1 Nov, 2018

Presentations and slides from the Ajami Lab’s Nov 2018 workshop

While preparing some new material on types of Ajami manuscripts and specific approaches to study them (based on this talk),  I post here an updated programme of the last year’s workshop. A big thank you to all participants and presenters! Here are the links to slide presentations (following the order of the talks in the programme):

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Identifying languages of Ajami commentaries

Identifying an African language written in Arabic script may be problematic even for speakers of the language. It is especially challenging when the Ajami items are represented by isolated words in the margins of an Arabic manuscript. Moreover, if the Ajami item is not visually linked to the intended Arabic phrase or word, it is almost impossible to tell what the Ajami item means and in which language it is written.

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Welcome to A-label!

This blog is a companion to the research of the Ajami Lab within the Centre for the Study of Manuscript Cultures at the Universität Hamburg. Focused on historical and modern instances of Ajami—that is, sub-Saharan African languages written in Arabic script—we aim here to share updates, anecdotes, and conceptual and methodological tools as we work to catalogue and analyse African Islamic manuscripts. In doing so, the blog will serve both other scholars of Ajami as well as a wider audience of scholars interested in the insights that can be gleaned from these understudied documents and literacy practices.