Friday, August 29, 2014

Trouble at the library

"How to be loved"  is the matter dealt  with in these manuscripts dealing with magic . Maybe I need to consult them?
There is not only trouble at the hotel, but the contagion has spread to the manuscript library... The staff is back from their holiday and work has resumed this week. I have been finishing off an article about the Djenné Manuscript  Library’s collection and the digitization project for a jubilee publication for  the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme. I needed certain  informations from Garba, one of the archivists.  I asked  him to  work with Mohammed, the young man who translates from Arabic into English to gather this data for me.  And Garba  refused!  My request  once more concerned  that  old bone of contention:  manuscripts written in a local African language but using Arabic script. I  have had habitual run-ins about this subject over the last few years: I want it entered into the database  what language is used, but Garba and Yelpha have been trained in Timbuktu where they were told to write just ‘local language’. After many fights I finally had my way and these manuscripts are now listed as witten in ‘Fulfulde’ Songhai’ ‘Bozo ‘ or ‘Bambara’ etc.

I had instructed Mohammed to give me a list of all such manuscripts not written in the Arabic language and he gave me a database of about 70 manuscripts including one in Hebrew!  That was of course quite an extraordinary discovery if it was true, and added to this there was apparently a version of the erotic Pre- Islamic poet Imroul Kiss, (known to readers of this journal) in Fulfulde! I swooned at such a discovery, certain that it would send  the entire world of manuscript scholarship into  raptures. But when I saw two manuscripts written  in Songhai on the theme of ‘Grammar’, I started having doubts: Now, hold on here: the grammar of which language ?Arabic or Songhai? So I decided to delve a little futher into this before claiming any major discoveries.. and it turned out, to my disappointment, that it is a question of explanations in the margin normally, and it is perhaps never a whole manuscript written in the local language.  But I wanted to know: did we have any manuscripts at all written entirely in a local language?  I wanted each manuscript to be properly described:  i.e. ‘a section of Bamabara in the beginning’ or ‘some clarifications in Songhai  in the margins’ etc. And this is where Garba refused to help! He said he had already done his job and he had other things to do. And in any case I didn’t understand! He had been taught in Timbuktu that he only needed to write ‘local language’..... and here he started again on our old battlegorund. ‘Garba’ I said, slowly , calmly and icily ( I was so pleased with myself.  I did not shout even once.) ‘You are going to do what I ask you to do. You are going to work with Mohammed and you will give me the information I need so that I can write my article!’ But the stubborn Garba got up and said he was no longer working for the project. He would work for the library but no longer  for me or the project. Then he stormed off.
This is of course very silly . He is paid by the project and he will of course have to do what I ask him to do.  But it is very tiring nevertheless, and I am now late with the article!


Blogger Laurent said...

I do enjoy reading your journal on your adventures in Mali. Very exotic really and those manuscripts so very interesting. Your hotel often reminds me of my days in Egypt around 1990 when I would visit the oasis of Siwa. There was a german lady who had an hotel in the 1960 to 1980. A very nice place in the old style large rooms etc..
A friend of mine was the Canadian Amb to Mali not long a go Virginie St-Louis. I think she may have moved on now.

1:31 AM  
Blogger toubab said...

Hello Laurent- thank you for reading the blog! I have not met the Canadian Ambassador here, although there was a very nice Canadian Military attaché staying at the hotel a couple of months ago: apparently to try and gather information about the security situation, and whether they could consider taking Djenne off the red area for travel advice. I have not had any Canadians since so maybe he didn't take us off after all...

2:52 PM  

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