Our new special issue in Islamic Africa examines Ajami literatures and literacies in West Africa and situates African Ajami studies in participatory multimedia and digital archiving approaches. The double special issue of nine articles is titled “Ajami Literacies of Africa: the Wolof, Mandinka, Hausa and Fula Traditions” and is co-edited by Fallou Ngom, Daivi Rodima-Taylor, David Robinson, and Rebecca Shereikis (Islamic Africa, volumes 14.2 and 15.1). It centers around the knowledge generated through the African Ajami research project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
African Ajami literatures hold a wealth of knowledge on the history and intellectual traditions of the region but are largely unknown to the larger public. The history of Ajami refutes the claims that Africa lacks written traditions. The downplaying and devaluing of the significance of African Ajami traditions has long characterized Arab-centric and Eurocentric scholars and administrators of the colonial era, and its legacy persists, perpetuating racial stereotypes, and limiting political and educational participation.
The articles of the special issue make three main contributions. First, they establish important historical dimensions of the role of Ajami literacy in mediating the lives of grassroots communities that have not yet been systematically studied. Secondly, they enable unique comparative perspectives on Ajami use in four major West African languages, contributing to the interpretive and contextual analysis of Ajami literacies and their social role. The special issue articles draw on the materials in our African Ajami collections, analyzing various manuscripts and topics and situating them socially and temporally in their communities of origin. And thirdly, the articles explore the role of digital technologies and methods in studying and preserving African Ajami texts.
The introductory article to the special issue by Fallou Ngom, Daivi Rodima-Taylor, and David Robinson discusses the building blocks and historical development of Ajami cultures in West Africa, outlines the collaborative research initiatives that our special issue draws upon, and explores the challenges and opportunities for participatory knowledge-making that accompany the rise of digital technologies in the study of African literatures and literacies.
Special issue contributors include Bala Saho, Ousmane Cisse, Margaret Rowley, Elhadji Diagne, Gana Ndiaye, Mustapha Kurfi, Jennifer Yanco, David Glovsky, Abubakar Jalloh, Karen Barton, Eleni Castro, Neil Patel, and Mark Jamra.