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Jody Butterworth and Paul Young on histories in peril

15 January 2015

New online collections – January 2015 – 4 million images now online!

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Happy New Year from the Endangered Archives Programme. As we welcome in the New Year we are also celebrating reaching over 4 million images available in our online collections. The three new projects online this month have moved us over this milestone.  These are EAP532, EAP584 and EAP676. They come from Nigeria, India and Nepal.

The first project is EAP532, it preserved and digitised two collections of records from the Benue valley in Central Nigeria. The first of these collections is the transcribed oral and written records in the private collection of the late renowned scholar of Central Nigeria, Charles Creswell Jacobs. The second is the Methodist Mission’s ecclesiastical records in Otukpo.

The CC Jacobs collection is significant in several respects, apart from being the largest individual archival collections on the Central Nigerian region and its peoples, it is also the most systematic and detailed. It contains copies of some files that are currently missing from the National Archives, Kaduna, which deal with the customs and cultures of the largely non-Muslim communities of Central Nigeria.

The Otukpo Mission’s collection contains individual and institutional narratives on late nineteenth and early twentieth century anti-slavery efforts of Christian groups to combat the relics of slavery and convert people to Christianity. They also contain commentaries on colonisation and colonial society in Idomaland that are unencumbered by the strictures of colonial bureaucracy. Missionary records are invaluable materials for reconstructing colonial histories beyond the formulaic style of standard colonial archives.

The project created a digital archive of documents from these two collections. Approximately 100,000 digital images of documents were created.

EAP532_CCJBSU_THE_LOCUST_INVASIONS_0001EAP532/1/2/21: The Locust Infestations [November 28, 1934] – Image 1

EAP584.  digitised palm leaf manuscripts from Kerala, India. It carries on the work done by the pilot project EAP208

950 palm leaf manuscripts have been digitised in this project, creating approximately 200,000 images. Kerala is a region rich in traditional knowledge and these manuscripts include material from diverse disciplines such as history, the sciences, mathematics, architecture, philosophy and scripture. Most of the manuscripts are around 300-400 years old though some are around 600-700 years old.

A major portion of the manuscripts were held by private collectors in repositories that were old and dust-ridden. They were under threat due to a lack of knowledge for preservation. Until recently, consigning manuscripts into the sea or river on auspicious days was considered the best practice to preserve them, to avoid the sin of witnessing their decay. Workshops on preventive conservation were held for owners, so that they may better safeguard them for the future.

EAP584_FL0184_0074EAP584/1/182: Dharmaśāstraṃ [17th century] – Image 74

EAP676 carried out a survey of Buddhist Sanskrit manuscripts owned by Vajrayana Viharas (Buddhist Temples) and Newar Buddhist families in Lalitpur, Nepal.

Due to the significance of the Buddhist Sanskrit manuscripts of Nepal being the only original sources of Mahayana Buddhism, Buddhist scholars and monks around the world have collected and studied them. Most efforts to date have been focused on researching institutional holdings. However, the prevailing manuscript culture led individual Buddhists to store and preserve them in Viharas and individual Buddhist families. No official information is available on such holdings. Consequently, the manuscripts are gradually decaying. This project surveyed Viharas and individual collections, and provided detailed information about their collections. Important and vulnerable texts were digitised and preserved for future use. This created around 10,000 images of manuscripts which are now available to view online.

002EAP676/2/25: Maṇḍapa Vāstu Cakra – Image 3

Check back next month to see what else has been added!

You can also keep up to date with any new collections by joining our Facebook group.

12 December 2014

KNOW YOUR CULTURE! OR ELSE…

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Kenya Jamhuri Day, 12 December 2014

The Riyadha Mosque in Lamu, Kenya, is home to a collection of Islamic manuscripts that documents and preserves the teaching traditions of the Lamu archipelago from c.1850 to 1950. In the EAP online collection, under the unassuming name of EAP466/1/18, can be found a 241-page compilation of prayers, litanies and invocations. It is prefaced by an inscription, framed by an ochre and black geometrical pattern, which reads, somewhat ominously: “This book, what is in it, is in it. Whomsoever does not know what is in it, may the dog pee in his mouth.”

EAP466_RM25_002
EAP466/1/18

When they were copied some time in the mid-19th century, these texts had been handed down through generations, and were well known in the wider Swahili world - indeed in the Islamic world as a whole. In the volume, we find for example the Mawlid Barzanji, authored in the 18th century, and widely recited in East Africa to this day. It narrates the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, including the “heavenly handmaidens” who according to popular tradition attended his mother Amina. Knowledge of this type of text constituted what it meant to be a member of coastal Muslim community in 19th-century Lamu, through a “core curriculum” that regulated individual and collective practice of Islam. In short, knowing these texts made you part of mainstream culture. Failure to acquire this knowledge could mean social exclusion – or, more often, non-inclusion if you were an outsider to Lamu society. The consequences, as indicated by the inscription, could be dire.

A first assumption here is to interpret this threat as an eccentric liberty taken by the copyist, perhaps a poke at a madrasa (Islamic school) teacher who may have used these exact words during class. However, unusual though it may be, a similar worded warning can be found in at least one other manuscript from the Swahili coast, again cautioning against unwanted attention from dogs. The message is clear: Know you culture, your religion – and your identity – or else face exclusion.

As the volume stands today in the Riyadha library, it is owned by the mosque but forms part of the heritage of Lamu Muslim society, and that of the wider Swahili world. It is also part of the national heritage of Kenya. As Kenya celebrates its 50th Jamhuri (Republic) Day, it is sadly not in an atmosphere of tranquillity. The Westgate attacks in Nairobi in 2013 brought the world’s attention to Jihadist-style terrorism within Kenya’s border, but also to the looting by the security personnel in the wake of the killings. However, the mistrust between the coastal population and the authorities has simmered for years, and caused rifts between sections of the costal Swahilis. Religious leaders have been assassinated, attempts at cultural and religious dialogue have stalled under the threat of violence. Couple this with large-scale foreign and domestic investment, land-grabbing, corruption, the continuing turmoil in Somalia and the expansion of al-Shabbab on the coast, Kenya is facing challenges that threatens its stability and – ultimately – even its unity.

As has been shown in recent studies, access to, and use of heritage (including scientific research), is often unequally distributed and represented in the national narratives when new nations are formed. Jamhuri day is a nationwide day of celebration of Kenya’s freedom, but also of its diversity, its multiple and parallel pasts. As coastal Kenya struggles to express its perceived marginalisation, it can look to its own rich past, and to the various ways in which it incorporated new populations into Swahili society. From this vantage point, the coast may find new ways to represent itself in the national narrative of Kenya in the coming 50 years. The message from a 19th-century copyist can still be relevant. 

Click on the link if you would like to read more about the manuscript collection at Riyadha Mosque 

Dr. Anne K. Bang, Chr. Michelsen Institute, Norway

Grant holder EAP466

 

 

08 December 2014

New online collections – December 2014

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For the final month of 2014 we have had four collections go up online: EAP160, EAP220, EAP449 and EAP571. These collections come from Bolivia, Ukraine, Mali and Nicaragua.

EAP160 digitised records relating to the indigenous population of Bolivia during the 19th century. The records they preserved are called padrones; these documents are testimonies of an old tributary system associated with land tenure. Bolivia has the largest indigenous population in Latin America. Most of the indigenous population has lived since the Colonial period in the high plateau, known as the Altiplano boliviano, at 4,000 meters above sea level.

After Bolivia's independence and throughout the 19th century, only a small amount of Bolivians lived in the urban area. The bulk of the population was concentrated in the department of La Paz, specifically the rural area.

The indigenous population that lived in the communities and in the haciendas (large private estates) continued paying, as in the Colonial period, a state tax known as the indigenal contribution, amounting to as much as 40% of the state total income. For tax purposes, the government registered all the indigenous population in the communities and haciendas, the information was collected in the registers called padrones.

These registers are still an important legal source for present day land tenure consolidation. Many indigenous communities and individuals use these records as proof of their community membership and land tenure.

This project successfully created 92,000 digital images from 441 books containing the padrones.

0002_ALP_Cp_1848_009_002_f0001EAP160/1/1/2/2 Image 2 - Matricula General Que Manifiesta El Total De Familias Indigenas Contribuyentes En El Año 1848 [1848]

EAP220 was a pilot project that searched for and catalogued all archival material from the archaeological studies carried out at the ancient Russ hillfort Rajki in Ukraine. These surveys took place between 1929-1935 during the archaeological expeditions led by T.N. Movchanovskiy. The project surveyed records held in the archive repository of the Institute of Archaeology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, where these materials were stored in various collections. The project also searched for documents in Rajki village, as well as in a range of other archival institutions in Kiev, Berdychiv, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Odessa and Zhytomyr. A survey was produced which lists all the discovered archival documents and states the repositories where they are held. Digital samples of the collections were created.

EAP220_07_NEGATIVE_097EAP220/1/7 Image 1 - Photographic Negatives on Glass [1929-1935]

EAP449 digitised the archives of two professional photographers from Mali, Abdourahmane Sakaly and Mamadou Cissé. They were among the earliest professional African photographers in Mali. The collections contain rare historical documentation of traditional Mali life (rural, ethnic-based customs, ceremonies, and artefacts) and show the processes of urban development. Dating from the 1940s-1960s the photographs show an era of great change in Mali’s history. Employed by colonial and national governments, as well as operating private studio enterprises, each collection houses unique archives including personal and family portraits, military activities, visits of foreign dignitaries and images of the coup d’état that toppled the regime of the nation’s first president Modibo Keïta.

These images are significant for the social history and cultural heritage of Mali, as well as the artistic legacy of these locally, and internationally, celebrated photographers. They are important for scholarship on colonial and post-colonial histories in western Africa, and studies of local art and culture.

EAP449_Cisse_0916EAP449/1/10 – Image 16 - Mamadou Cissé's Photographs numbers 901-1,000

The final project that went online this month is EAP571. It digitised newspapers from Nicaragua dating from the first half of the 20th century.

This collection of newspapers represents a primary resource for research and analysis of this turbulent period for national and regional history in Nicaragua. They contain details of the conflicts and political debates of the period, as well as cultural and economic transformations, coffee production and the nation state building process. These newspapers are unique sources to study the US military intervention and the dispute with Great Britain over the Nicaraguan Caribbean Coast. This collection stands as a unique source for studying the first half of the twentieth century in Nicaragua.

The project successfully digitised 5,874 newspaper issues, totalling 31,505 TIFF images.

EAP571_El_Liberal_1935-1936_005EAP571/5/1 Pt1- Image 5 - El Liberal

I hope you have a Happy Christmas and will come back next month to see what else has been added to our collections.

You can also keep up to date with any new collections by joining our Facebook group.