Wednesday, July 28, 2010

On the one side of the river my new house is springing up, built on my new land. There is also a great new possibility of adding ten new rooms to the hotel in a beautiful traditional great Djenne mud house just behind the hotel (See above) We are repairing the existing hotel for the new season, which has already started, and yesterday a group of Belgians took the whole hotel over.

On the other side of my river we are arriving at a critical juncture with the manuscript library. I feel like conducting a coup d’état. I have only just realized what brings on coups d’état: one or two persons see possibilities of moving forward, but these possibilities are being blocked by the ruling members of the government. If the two or three people agree, and they have powerful partners or funding behind them, then they are going to have to overthrow the government, for the common good, or what they perceive to be the common good…
The conspirators at the moment is Samake, my pal from the Djenne Mission Culturelle, and myself. The government to overthrow is the ruling Djenne Library Committee, who are shooting themselves in the foot and preventing anything from being done.
The Djenne Library Committee is a loosely knit bunch of around 20 Islamic Djenne characters, most of whom are Marabouts and have Koran Schools, and many of whom are owners of manuscripts. They have, on paper, grand sounding titles like President, Vice President, Director of Communications, Director of Information, Co-ordinator of Funds etc. The problem is that almost noone speaks or reads French. That would not in itself be such a problem, if they had good Arabic and a high level of education from a Madrassa- the equivalent of a French Lycee but in Arabic. If that were the case one would be able to communicate with them although in my case an interpreter would be needed. Unfortunately this is not the case. Most of them barely read at all, apart from the verses they have learned by heart from the Koran, which they are now teaching in their turn to the little talibe boys in their Koran schools. It is quite possible to study at a Koran school for 10 years and copy verses of the Koran down all day in Arabic, without being able to read an Arabic news paper at the end of the education.

I went once to a meeting of the Library Committee, when I explained that there was money coming for a project with the British Library. I said what I had to say, it was interpreted, then I sat listening to a great argument erupting in Saurai accompanied by wild gesticulating and tearing of beards going on for several hours without anyone attempting to interpret or tell me what was going on. Later I gathered that the reason they were angry was because the money was to be paid to the Mission Culturelle, a government body, and not directly to the bank account of the Djenne Library. This had been a wise stipulation by the BL. It meant of course that there was no way of using the available money in any other than the prescribed manner. It could not be distributed amongst the Library Committee for other purposes, such as the acquisition of new wives or cattle for instance.
After this experience I decided it would be easier to deal only with Hasseye Traore, the President, whose French is OK and who would become the spokesman for me during the project, informing the members of the library committee what was going on.

During the project we encountered no problem with the members of the committee. We managed quite simply to circumnavigate them, since despite their grand titles their functions at the library are only ceremonial and they are never there. Samake from the Mission Culturelle paid the archivists and we got on with what needed to be done.
It is very possible that the British Library’s Endangered Archives Programme will fund the major project of digitization we are seeking with a new proposal which will be submitted in November. If the money from the BL arrives, it will be administered in the same way as before, through the Mission Culturelle., and it is possible that we would again be able simply to get on with our work without too much friction with the library committee.


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