Old kanembu Project

By Ari Awagana

Since the discoveries of A.D.H. Bivar in the early 1950s, the ancient use of Ajami is attested for northern Nigeria, especially through the interlinearized coranic glosses, and considered as one of the first evidence of writings in an African language. In the recent years Dmitry Bondarev, to whom we owe the name “Old Kanembu”, has conducted several studies on the subject

This sub-project is devoted to the existence of old Kanembu in western Bornu, i.e. Manga, Damagaram, Damergu and the surrounding areas in order to contribute to the knowledge of this ancient language. Following our first investigations, this tradition of “old kanembu” has been practiced and continues to be practiced in this part of Bornu. A first document was discovered in August 2018 in Kribitoa, a Manga village in the Diffa district

Old Kanembu from Kribitoa

Our most important discovery on the “old kanembu” is the one we made in December 2018 in the Birni of Zinder in the Chetima family private archives. Beyond the interlinearized Qurans, this collection holds several other texts including Fiqh’s documents.

Old Kanembu form Zinder private collection of the Chetima family

This subproject also aims to make a dialectological comparison between the “old kanembu” and the Western dialects of Kanuri, namely Manga and Dagara. Indeed, the first systematic comparisons between forms of “old-kanembu” and of Manga and Dagara data show striking similarities on the phonological and lexical level as well as in the pronominal forms. This study will contribute to understanding the dialectological history of Kanuri based on a body of written data. The existence of written data constitutes a methodological exception in African descriptive linguistics.

The Langarchiv team is collaborating with the AjamiLab from Hamburg, including Dmitry Bondarev on this sub-project, as well as colleagues from the Arab Manuscripts Department of of the Institute for Social Sciences of Niamey IRSH and those of Abdou Moumouni University of Niamey. It remains open for collaboration with all Ajami research groups, including those interested in the history of Central Sudan.

Language as archive: European linguistics and the social history of the Sahara and Sahel in the eighteenth and nineteenth century

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