Wolof

Wolof ʿAjamī, or Wolofal, can be found in limited forms in early 19th century Senegambia, but its main development and expansion occurred with the Muridiyya Sufi movement pioneered by Amadu Bamba Mbacké (1853-1927) at the end of the 19th century. The form developed in close conjunction with the expansion of the Sufi order itself, thanks to the work of a generation of scholars and poets linked to the founder, imbued with his vision of Islamic practice and familiar with the main events of his life. We think the development of Wolof ʿAjamī in Senegambia may parallel the expansion of Hausa ʿAjamī in Northern Nigeria under the Sokoto Caliphate, and have some analogies to the growth of Arabic and Islam in the 7th century CE. Our research will probe these questions.

While there are some Wolofal documents written by members of the Tijaniyya Sufi order in Senegal, most Wolofal material uncovered to date consists of manuscripts written by the members of the Muridiyya. These include official letters attesting to the birth of new Murid organizations, bilingual newspapers (written in French and Wolof ʿAjamī), and genealogies of important local families. We have also found manuscripts for teaching Arabic grammar to users of ʿAjamī. We can identify four categories of ʿAjamī scholars trained in Murid schools: 1) historians, genealogists and biographers; 2) those who are engaged in research and dissemination of esoteric knowledge; 3) writers of religious and non-religious poetry for recitation by specialized ʿAjamī singers; and 4) scribes who translate Amadu Bamba’s Arabic poetry into Wolof, copy important ʿAjamī manuscripts, and write letters for non-literate customers who want to communicate with their literate friends and relatives.

The evidence indicates that the Murid recitations have greatly facilitated the spread of the Muridiyya and ʿAjamī literacy. We can see this, for example, among second language speakers of Wolof such as the Seereer population of the Baol area, the core of the Murid zone, who acquired literacy in Wolofal as they joined the Muridiyya. To accomplish this expansion, Murid leaders have made a considerable investment in studios, audio recordings and publishing presses, and disseminated their materials in market centers throughout Senegal.

 

Our team is in the process of collecting and digitizing 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.