The ʿAjamī 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 ʿAjamī developed earlier than the others, perhaps even in the 14th century CE, and around the oral pedagogies which teachers developed for instruction in the Qur’an and the Arabic language. A written form would better preserve the pedagogies across the generations. We will explore this hypothesis in our research. While Ajamī traditions of Mande languages appear to have developed very early; they remain the least well documented.
The existing Mandinka ʿAjamī 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 ʿAjamī manuscripts include secular as well as religious texts. In Senegal, we have found an ʿAjamī chronicle of the state of Kaabu (which encompassed portions of the Gambia, Senegal and Guinea Bissau from the 16 th 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 ʿAjamī.
Our team is in the process of collecting and digitizing Mandinka Ajami text files with transcriptions, English and French translations and related video material, which will be published on this web page. Analysis of the material will follow in a separate section of the website.