Sixty Letters in Arabic Script from the Mozambique Historical Archives

16 February 2012

This book contains sixty historical letters written in Arabic script (Ajami) found in Mozambique Historical Archives in Maputo, with their scanned images, respective transliteration into Latin script, translation into Portuguese (for now), and the description of the historical contexts and lives of each of the authors of the letters. At the end of each section, a list of relevant bibliography is included.

Journey to Timbuktu

4 November 2011

In January, during Mali’s driest season, seven UCT staff members, three colleagues from the University of the Western Cape, and two representatives of the Ford Foundation, arrived in the fabled city of Timbuktu. The week-long visit was organised by the Tombouctou Manuscripts (Mss) Project, led by Associate Professor Shamil Jeppie, senior researcher at the Institute for the Humanities in Africa (HUMA). Since 2002, the project has been working with various aspects of the manuscript tradition of Mali, including research, translation and digitisation of the historical documents. Dr Marilet Sienaert of the research office penned this report.

History, Heritage, Identity: Arabic manuscripts in Cape Muslim Families

22 August 2011

In Muslim households scattered across the greater Cape Town area, sequestered in boxes, cupboards and trunks, there are handwritten books dating back as early as the late eighteenth century. These documents, often aged and dusty, with brittle, yellowing pages, are covered in a script not commonly linked with the “early Cape” – the Arabic script. They were penned by students, schoolmasters, practitioners of mysticism and others in the Muslim community during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and have been handed down and preserved through the generations of Cape Muslim families. These manuscripts are locally referred to as kietaabs, which derives from the Arabic word ‘kitāb’ meaning ‘book’, and are tangible remnants of an active Arabic-based writing culture in Cape Town that lasted until the early twentieth century.

The Manuscript Collection of the Riyadha Mosque, Lamu, Kenya

15 June 2011

The Riyadha Mosque in Lamu, Kenya, is one of the longest continuously functioning and one of the most influential Islamic teaching institutions in the Swahili world. The first time I heard about the Riyadha Mosque of Lamu, was – typically – neither in Kenya nor in East Africa, but in Hadramawt, Yemen. More precisely, I was in the city of Sayun, in a public building overlooking the Riyadha Mosque there, founded in 1879 by Ali al-Hibshi. The Riyadha of Sayun is both the namesake and the model for the Lamu Riyadha and the relationship between the two institutions remained strong. The Lamu Riyadha was founded in the late 19th century by Salih b. Alawi Jamal al-Layl (1853/53-1936), based on the teaching taking place in the Riyadha in Sayun – particularly the mawlid celebrations implemented by Ali al-Hibshi. 

“It exists”: a PhD scholar’s visit to a Timbuktu archive

24 May 2011

In April I spent two weeks in Timbuktu as part of my doctoral research.  It was extremely hot there, 45˚ C on average during the day, however the extreme temperature could not stifle my excitement.  On the one hand, I was there to sign an agreement on behalf of the Tombouctou Mss Project to establish a formal collaboration with the Fondo Ka’ti library.  One the other, I was to begin accessing material for my dissertation’s research.  I did not know what to expect from the visit, or what I would find while there…  However, the outcomes surpassed anything I could have imagined!

The Fondo Ka’ti’s director, Ismael Diadié Haidara and his family and staff, who generously cleared their schedules to work exclusively with me during my limited time in the town, received me with open arms.  We realized that our organizations share similar and compatible goals, which meant that we quickly signed our official collaboration agreement.  This will centre around research and publications, as well as exchanges for skills training in Cape Town.  Watch this space for further details …

In terms of my own research, I gained invaluable insight into my topic and began to scratch the surface of the mountain of material with which I will be working during the next few years.  I am working on a ‘biography’ of the Ka’ti library as an archive, the processes of its construction and the competing projects of knowledge production around the Ka’ti archive over time.