The Ajami tradition in Mandinka and other Mande languages goes back to the Empire of Mali that was centered in today’s Mali and flourished from about 1200 to 1400 CE. The empire spread in several directions and implanted colonies of traders and settlers through a considerable portion of West Africa, including Senegambia. We suspect that Mande Ajami developed earlier than the others, perhaps even in the 14th century CE, and around the oral pedagogies which teachers developed for instruction in the Quran and the Arabic language. A written form would better preserve the pedagogies across the generations. While Ajami traditions of Mande languages appear to have developed very early; they remain the least well documented.
The existing Mandinka Ajami texts in Senegambia includes the works of some of the most renowned Mandinka scholars who were pivotal in spreading Islam and training generations of scholars and community leaders in Senegambia and the Bijini area of Guinea Bissau. Mandinka scholars authored important texts dealing with various religious and non-religious subjects, in both poetry and prose forms. They founded over 60 Islamic learning centers in Senegambia, which, according to local oral sources, served as refuge for runaway slaves in the pre-colonial era. Mandinka Ajami manuscripts include secular as well as religious texts. In Senegal, we have found an Ajami chronicle of the state of Kaabu (which encompassed portions of The Gambia, Senegal and Guinea Bissau from the 16th to the 19th centuries), as well as a text calling for the downfall of Adolf Hitler. In the Gambia, we have found missionary translations from Biblical passages and sermons in Mandinka Ajami.