A Djenne Manuscript dealing with Astronomy or Astrology
-the border line is quite fluid... I love the drawing of the stars!
This is to introduce the article that Jerome just sent to me in text only. It appeared yesterday in the Times. Unfortunately I still cannot make any breaks in the text. I don't know what is wrong!
Mali’s ancient lore of love and magic that al-Qaeda would like to destroy
Jerome Starkey, Djenne
Published December 1 2012
To make a woman fall in love, dip your nib in a cockerel’s blood and write a prayer across your palm. Then wipe that hand across your face and grasp the lady’s arm. It is, according to one of Mali’s ancient and endangered manuscripts, a certain way to win her heart.
“She will love him and follow him forever,” insisted Alphamoye Djeite, an archivist and holy man charged with preserving thousands of Islamic scrolls in the adobe city of Djenné.
The paper and parchment documents, which date from the 14th century, chronicle a mystical strand of Islam that is totally at odds with — and under threat from — the extremist views espoused by al-Qaeda and their allies, who captured the north of the country earlier this year.
Militants from al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb destroyed two 15th-century shrines in Timbuktu this summer, claiming they were un-Islamic. Djenné, which is linked to its more famous cousin by 500 miles of the Niger river, rivalled Timbuktu as a centre of medieval scholarship, where Islam fused with traditional animist beliefs idolatrous to al-Qaeda.
“There are many things in the manuscripts: history, geology, astronomy, even magic,” said Mr Djeitie, in a room overlooking Djenné’s Great Mosque. “We want to save them for future generations.”
The mosque, which is the largest mud structure in the world, drew 15,000 tourists in 2008 but a spate of kidnappings further north and a coup in March has put the country off-limits for most travellers.
Staff at Djenné’s Manuscript Library have collected and photographed more than 120,000 handwritten pages since last year. Some are adorned with illuminations, others with swirls and elaborate shapes. Some include grids filled with numbers that resemble Sudoku squares that only the holy men can explain.
The documents include poems about the Prophet Mohammed, tips on interpreting dreams, copies of the Koran and various kinds of spells.
“We have found a high percentage of esoteric manuscripts, which is surprising because these matters of magic are normally kept secret,” said Sophie Sarin, a local Swedish hotelier who manages the Endangered Archives Programme, which is bankrolled by the British Library.
The manuscripts were usually written by Islamic holy men, known as marabouts, who to this day prescribe an extravagant blend of animal sacrifices and talismans to solve all manner of everyday ills. Some of the manuscripts in Djenné’s Library claim to search out missing relatives. Others ward off danger and illness.
Aboubakar Yaro, a fellow archivist, said that only the most complete manuscripts were accurately dated. Most were kept in people’s homes and passed from generation to generation. Many of the manuscripts’ current owners were reluctant to part with them for fear of relinquishing their magic powers, so the library only ever takes them in on loan.
The instructions on winning a woman’s heart belonged to the Niafos, a family of fishermen who have lived in Djenné for generations.
Like most residents, the Niafos were concerned about the threat from al-Qaeda and their fellow Islamists, who have captured an area larger than France and imposed strict Sharia. So the marabouts in Djenné convened a secret summit and did what marabouts do best.
“All the marabouts . . . got together and we have done a lot of magic,” Mr Yaro said. “So the city is protected. God is between us and them. They can never come to Djenné.”