Friday, February 17, 2012

This is what I was supposed to post in Segou! So here it is, only slightly past the sell-by-date, courtesy of the internet connection in Djenné which has once more resturned:

Fortunately there are other things than the hotel to keep me here in Djenné, otherwise I believe I would be contemplating a retreat… There are but a handful of visitors here, and today, a Monday in February when we should be fully booked, there is not even one room!

But on the manuscript front there is some good news: we have started to digitize the manuscripts from the private houses. Yesterday a venerable old wooden box arrived at the library from the Marabout Alpha Issa Kanta’s House with its Koran School. We negotiated with him to have his manuscripts brought to the library during the digitizing process, since to photograph them in situ chez lui would probably spell the end for our Nikons:his floors are covered with sand, causing dust clouds to rise every time one of his little talibés pass. The manuscripts are all mixed up, although they were painstakingly put in order and listed by Garba and Yelfa during the pilot project in 2009.

The work on Kanta’s chests marks the beginning of a new stage. It is exciting material where we might find the nuggets I am hoping for: undiscovered Tariqs (history), interesting traditional medicine; literature, and the main part of the esoteric manuscripts. The magic manuscripts of Djenné; the material that no one thought would ever be made available for western eyes.

The material that we have worked on so far ha been made up of mainly orthodox Islamic subjects: the manuscripts which have already been delivered to the library for safe keeping. These have been preselected and ‘sanitized’, that is to say they are unlikely to contain anything unknown or controversial.
So imagine my frustration with my archivist Yelfa, Grand Marabout de Djenné, when I realized that he is in fact also ‘sanitizing’ these new manuscripts when he chooses the ones to be sent upstairs for photography! To my dismay I found the team photographing yet another Koran yesterday. ‘But why did you start with a Koran again?’ I complained to Yelfa, whilst picking up at random another exciting looking manuscript full of interesting figures and drawings from the ancient Kanta wooden chest. ‘Why can’t we do this one, Yelfa?’ He replied that it was because he doesn’t understand that one!
‘Ah, but for goodness sake, Yelfa, we can’t just digitize the things that you understand!’ I exclaimed in disbelief. The problem is, we are rather at his mercy, and I do not know what he is deciding to remove!


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