We appreciate  your comments on the Djenne Manuscript Library! Below is a letter from a recent PHD student: I am a graduate student from Stanford and have recently arrived in Djenne to conduct archival research for my doctoral dissertation on the Kunta family and their role in eighteenth century West African Sufism. I have only been in Djenne for a week but I have been very impressed by both the manuscript library and the digitalization project. I have briefly surveyed the manuscripts which have been identified thus far and have found several documents which I am sure will be of great interest to scholars of African History, including manuscripts relating to the history of the Empire of Macina, the Sokoto Caliphate, and al-Hajj Umar Tall. Regarding my particular interest, the Djenne manuscript library contains at least three manuscripts related to the Kunta which I have not seen listed in any other catalogue. Moreover, the library contains a wealth of documents relating to Sufism and dating to the eighteenth century or earlier which will be invaluable for clarifying the nature of Sufism in the region during that period. Finally, the commitment of the staff at the library in making these documents available to researchers has been invaluable. The manuscript library at Djenne has the potential to become a central resource for scholars of West African religion and history. I would like to thank you for everything you have done to preserve, catalogue, and digitalize this important collection. Sincerely, Ariela Marcus-Sells Ph.D. Candidate, Islamic Studies Department of Religious Studies Stanford University   studying Comments from Jeremy Dell to: Endangered Archives Programme British Library EAP 488 In January and February of 2014, I spent a total of three weeks at the Djenné Manuscript Library conducting research for a doctoral thesis in the Department of History at the University of Pennsylvania. It was an entirely positive experience. From the start I was impressed with how efficiently the library was run. The facilties were ample and the staff exceedingly helpful. Here I will simply include a brief description of some of the materials I consulted along with a few miscellaneous thoughts on the library itself. Like many manuscript libraries in West Africa (and elsewhere), a significant portion of Djenné’s collection consists of copies of canonical texts found throughout the Islamic world. These texts fit into clearly delineated fields within the “Islamic sciences” (Qur’anic recitation and exegesis, grammar, prophetic biography, hadith, jurisprudence, Sufism, and more). Though not specific to Djenné, they are of great scholarly interest, as they demonstrate some of the kinds of knowledge that were being brought to bear upon religious and social life. In addition to these canonical texts, Djenné’s library also contains many unique items. During my visit I focused on contracts, letters and other pieces of correspondance that often dealt with commerce and inheritance, but could just as well touch on theological matters. Perhaps because they treat local history, and can therefore contain sensitive information, these documents have not been digitized (they are sometimes described in the library’s database as “family secrets”). They reveal the variety of goods that were exchanged, and the ways that families and communities managed resources. I have the impression that these kinds of texts give the most detailed picture of social life in Djenné in the last 150 years. Alongside copies of canonical works and letters about local affairs, one finds a great number of manuscripts that are labeled “esoterics” by library staff. Often containing diagrams, formulas and other images, these manuscripts are used, as far as I understand, in healing, divination and other practices aimed at reducing risk and misfortune. The preceding is only meant to give a small sense of the variety of materials held by Djenné’s manuscript library. The collection itself is looked after by a very helpful and dedicated staff of archivists. Materials were provided efficiently, and when certain manuscripts were in too damaged a state to consult directly, I was able to access digitized images on one of the library’s computers. The library staff and I worked side-by-side every day, which took on added signficance in my case since my research deals with the history of reading and text collecting in the Western Sahel. The library’s staff (and their historical predecessors) were some of the very people I was interested in speaking to, and the library’s physical layout facilitated these kinds of exchanges. I look forward to returning to Djenné for another round of research before completing my dissertation.   Jeremy Dell Ph.D. Candidate Department of History University of Pennsylvania

yelpha and Dima

Djenne Manuscript Library: a note by D. Bondarev (16/12/14)

I spent just a couple of hours randomly browsing through the collections of the Djenne Manuscript Library but even those few manuscripts that I saw inside showed fascinating historical facts. For example, the colophons in the earliest dated manuscripts (one 1060/1659 [erroneously marked 1630 in the inventory list] and the other 1105/1694 [erroneously marked 1675]) , reveal that the manuscripts were copied by the Djenne scholars. (Garba and Yelpha will confirm the names). The annotations that surround the colophon in the manuscript “Maiga family 1/ MS32” betray a complex history of ownership. An earlier statement of ownership was crossed out and replaced by a more recent note about the purchase of the manuscript, dated 1282 AH/1866 CE. The year is written in three different ways: in alpha-numerical system, as numerals and spelled out in full words – possibly for greater clarity. This manuscript is a copy of the first section of the Qur’anic commentary tafsīr Mu’­ālim al-tanzīl by Ḥusayn b. Masʿūd b. Muḥammad al-Baghawī (d. 1117). According to received knowledge, Al-Baghawī’s tafsīr is not often found in the sub-Saharan libraries. However, this work is very frequently referred to in the pre-19th-centruy Qur’anic manuscripts from Borno in what is now northeast Nigeria. The Djenne manuscript may point to a much wider popularity of this work in the pre-19th century sub-Saharan Africa.


The other dated manuscript “Yaro 1 Family / MS 5” (dated 1105/1694) is a copy of the very popular devotional biography of the Prophet Kitāb al-shifāʾ bi-taʿrīf ḥuqūq al-muṣṭafā by the Andalusian scholar al-Qaḍī ʿIyāḍ (d. 1149). There is a note on the inside of the folder of the manuscript which says that the book was exchanged for a slave because the buyer did not have enough money to pay for it.


According to the librarians (Garba and Yelpha), there are many manuscripts with annotations in African languages in Arabic script, such as Songhai, Fulfulde, Bambara and Bozo. I was shown two bilingual manuscripts with commentaries in Fulfulde, one being a popular pre-Islamic poem by Imru’ al-Qays and the other the well known work on lexicology by al-Ḥarīrī (d. 1122) entitled al-Maqāmāt.


Judging by the titles of the manuscripts and the subject matters they cover, it is clear that the Djenne Library is one of the richest written sources in Mali for the history of sub-Saharan Africa which still awaits scholarly exploration.

The families from Djenne and other villages encouraged by the efforts of the librarians and administration are bringing in their collections which turns the central library into the most important repository of the written heritage of the larger Djenne region. However, many manuscripts are so fragile that they cannot be consulted or digitised without prior conservation. Some of the newly arrived collections are in most dilapidated state – a lot of manuscripts have been severely deformed or turned into inseparable bricks of paper due to water and mould damage. Therefore, the library is in urgent need of further conservation measures.