Celebrating Sub-Saharan Arabic Manuscripts

Introduction 

page of west-African manuscript

This is a page from Professor Stewart’s manuscript collection.

In April, the University Library celebrated the preservation of the Charles Stewart Mauritanian Arabic manuscripts, which is the most extensive collection of Sub-Sahar manuscripts in North America. Prof. Charles served for 35 years in the Department of History, and for half of that time held administrative posts as Director of African Studies, Associate Chair, then Chair of History, Executive Associate Dean in the College of LAS and Interim Associate Provost for International Studies, before his retirement in 2006.

According to Stewart, the collection has 10,000 manuscripts, and it covers topics such as jurisprudence, devotions, science, Quran, history, langaugestics, Sufism, politics, and economics.

The celebration of the collection also had an exhibit that was created by Atyeh (Ati) Ashtari and an online LibGuide created by Lauryn Lehman.

Laila Hussein Moustafa, Assistant Professor, Middle Eastern and North African Studies Librarian

The Exhibition

panels about the west-African Caliphate

Panels about the Caliphate are on display in the IAS Library through mid-May.

“Working on an exhibition to showcase Caliphate of Hamdallahi exposed me to many challenges. In order to create a successful exhibition, you need to come up with highly visually pleasing graphics to make the intended audience interested in the work. However, this particular topic did not have any easily accessible visual materials such as photos, images and manuscripts. Therefore, we had to spend hours digging up the relevant information. Moreover, we had to be very innovative to come up with ways of visualizing the gathered data in a way that is both interesting as a text and much more fascinating as a graphic. This is very well indicated in our poster presenting the challenges of studying the Sokoto Caliphate. We wanted to convey that the two most challenging part of this study was that the material was diffused all over the world and that the data was in many different languages. To visualize these amazing facts, we ended up building layers of graphics on top of a world map to depict such challenges.”

Atyeh Ashtari, Graduate Research Assistant for Urban and Regional Planning

The Online LibGuide

screenshot of library guide about west-african manuscripts

This library guide will be available online soon from the International and Area Studies Library.

This semester, we have been in the process of developing a library guide to aid researchers in locating West African Arabic and Arabic-script resources to use in their research. The initial focus was on finding as many open-access resources as were available, though the scope has expanded outwards to include any relevant resources that could be found. We were able to successfully locate a number of digitization projects that have made resources openly available, as well as an extensive list of physical archives, both domestically and internationally, that researchers may visit. Additionally, we are in the process of creating an interactive map, to further aid in the finding of resources. We look forward to adding new materials as further projects make them available.”

Lauryn Lehman, master’s candidate for African Studies and Library and Information Sciences

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‘Black Panther’: A Realistic Africa within a Fictitious Wakanda

Black Panther theatrical poster

Post by Ashley Adams

For months now, people have been raving about Marvel’s Black Panther movie. It has received some criticism, but also overwhelming support and love from people all over the world.

Marvel produces superhero movies that are fascinating to watch, and sometimes have brief historical and realistic components, but this is the first time when fiction and reality combine in this specific way. Not only is this movie a first of its kind, with an almost entirely black cast, but it sets out to provide its viewers with a connection. For the first time, there is a black superhero who takes center stage. And although this story is based in fantasy, the filmmakers took the opportunity to fuse fantasy with real African concepts, cultures, and histories.

Wakanda is a fictitious Central East African nation that has not yet been discovered, let alone exploited by outside colonizers. It directly counters many common perceptions of Africa as being a dark, poor continent. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, a Nigerian author, comes to mind when considering this perception and “the danger of a single story”. In reality, however, Africa is so much more. It is a continent rich in so many ways, and equally rich in diversity. This movie provides some insight into the diversity that is present throughout the continent, while it can also be seen as promoting a sense of identity, a sense of pan-Africanism.

A map of regions in Africa

One of the most visually exciting components of this movie is the fashion. Ruth E. Carter was the costume designer for the film, and she created a combination of traditional African attire with hi-tech Afropunk influences. Carter had the goal of creating attire for a fictional African nation that was completely original, but that also represented and honored both African history and African-American history. She took several trips to Africa and drew inspiration from those visits. Some of her specific inspiration came from the Dogon people of West Africa, the Turkana people in East Africa, the Hemba people in Congo, the Suri tribe in Ethiopia, the Tuareg people in Western and Northern Africa, along with several others, totaling over 10 different tribes and groups of people from throughout the continent (Giles, 2018). She combined these inspirations with an Afro-futuristic edge to create the original attire for the film. Check out a brief red carpet interview with Carter here when she talks about some of her favorite inspirations:

Throughout the film, characters are sometimes seen speaking to each other in another language. What is even more interesting, however, is the fact that this is a real African language. The filmmakers decided to incorporate isiXhosa, a South African language with over eight million native speakers, into the story line (Eligon, 2018). This language was not chosen at random, but was suggested by one of the actors in the film. John Kani, who plays T’Chaka, the father of T’Challa, in the film, is a native of the Eastern Cape in South Africa, and a native isiXhosa speaker. He suggested that the directors should incorporate some isiXhosa into the film’s dialogue to increase the African authenticity of the film. The filmmakers loved the idea, and the film’s director, Ryan Coogler, “wanted to make it a priority to use Xhosa as much as possible” throughout the film (Eligon, 2018). The usage of isiXhosa, however, was not random or sporadic throughout the film, but rather was strategically used during what would be considered natural or authentic situations. An example of this would be when two Wakandan characters wanted to discuss something privately but were in the presence of an outsider. The language itself is very difficult to learn, and because none of the cast were native speakers of isiXhosa, the filmmakers hired several dialect coaches, including Mr. Kani and his son. If you’re interested in hearing a bit about the pronunciation of isiXhosa, check out this video:

This film has definitely paved the way for new narratives about Africa. It has inspired viewers to consider more than a single story, and has increased pride for African culture, language, and history.

For more information on African Studies resources, visit the International and Area Studies Library’s African Studies Collections & Services page, or contact:

Atoma Batoma, PhD
African Studies Bibliographer
323 Library
batoma@illinois.edu

Search for African language resources: https://www.library.illinois.edu/ias/languageresources/

News Sources:

Eligon, John. (2018, February 16). Wakanda Is a Fake Country, but the African Language in ‘Black Panther’ Is Real. The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/16/us/wakanda-black-panther.html.

Giles, Chris. (2018, February 19). A journey into Wakanda: How we made Black Panther. CNN. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2018/02/16/africa/black-panther-behind-the-scenes-marvel/index.html.

Ashley M Adams
MS in Community Health Candidate, MA in African Studies Candidate
Department of Kinesiology and Community Health
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

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Walk of Faith: Camino de Santiago, Spain

Before beginning this alluring journey to walk on the sacred path towards God, I had various concerns regarding how the journey would be like? Being a solo traveler, what kind of people would I meet? With just a handful of words from Spanish vocabulary, how would I communicate with the local community? Even though I expected my whole journey to unravel beautifully at different instances, I couldn’t stop asking myself these questions. After finishing my journey, I can positively say that it has been one of the best trips I have had so far, and, one day, I am definitely going back to walk on the path of Camino de Santiago again.

El Camino de Santiago, in English is called ‘The Way of St. James’. It is a 100-year-old ritual. It is believed that the body of St. James, the Apostle was discovered by a shepherd in a field in Galicia in 9th century. The name of the route comes from the St. James’ name Camino de Santiago meaning Walk of St. James.

My curiosity to explore the journey began with my research on the walking pilgrimages of India. After studying the sacred landscapes in India, I wanted to experience Western pilgrimages, specifically Europe and build a study of contrast and similarities between the pilgrimages of both the continents. Camino de Santiago was on the top of my list because of its worldwide popularity and enriching walking experiences as described by pilgrims.

I attempted to walk the last 120 kms of the pilgrimage, from Sarria to Santiago de Compostela. I reached Santiago by a flight and then took a bus that took about 4 hours to reach Sarria. It is a picturesque village in the arms of Galician mountain range. I stayed at a small Albergue that was 5 min walk from the Cathedral. After lunch and a stroll in the village square, I decided to attend the evening mass in the cathedral. The whole mass was in Spanish and everyone around me in the Cathedral seemed to be in their 40s-50s. Though I don’t understand Spanish at all except “Hola!” and “Gracias!”, it was quite captivating and the aura of the place felt quite spiritual. My objective was also to talk to as many people as I could and learn about their journey, intentions of this pilgrimage and how did walking through these sacred landscapes evolve and affect them. I met a 25 year old man from France, named Florlan Ernesto, who had begun from France and been walking for 10 days to reach Santiago. He mentioned that this was his second time coming for this journey and that he was quite close to his deceased mother who had been doing it for about 50 years. He wanted to continue her tradition as a legacy and thus had started to walk on the pilgrimage a year ago. He also was a godfather to his son’s daughter and wanted to pray for her well-being that had inspired him to walk on this journey.

The next day, I stepped out of the Albergue with confusions as to how to move forward in the journey. The warden of the Albergue told me that the yellow arrows, scallop shell and a couple of other symbols mark the clear legibility on the way and GPS or any map is not required to reach the next destination which was a village named Portomarin. The scenic path towards Portomarin was through a dense forest, rolling grasslands with beautiful mountains around and meandering roads. I met a German woman, Wiebke, who must have been in her early forties. After introducing myself, I couldn’t stop myself but ask her about her reasons for doing the walk. She mentioned that her friend had done it a couple of years ago on the route that goes right outside her house in her hometown. She had seen the movie “The Way” and was also reading about personal experience of a man who had done the walk. This all inspired her a great deal that motivated her to give it a try. She had a family in Germany but she decided to walk by herself. She was a lovely companion. The journey was also made interesting by a group of young Spanish men I came across while walking, and who were singing lovely Spanish songs.

Portomarin is a beautiful village on a hill near the river Minho, 15 miles from Sarria. After walking for 15 miles, I was exhausted and drained with energy but the approaching view of Portomarin was profound. I met a Chinese girl in the Albergue who told me she had a few days off from work and this walk sounded adventurous to her that’s why she had been walking for 15 days and had planned to walk even further for 20 days. She wasn’t religious or soul searching, this was just a fun trip to her. A quick lunch and short nap later, I went to explore the village. It had an interesting spatial design with a big open square in the center and the cathedral, shops and restaurants around the square. The topography was a little steep with streets going up the hill towards the square.

Departing from Portomarin next morning, I began walking towards Palas de Rei, my next destination for the journey. This time, the route led me towards hill top and the view from there was breathtaking. The hill top was surrounded by open tracts of grasslands, trees and other hills with patchy farmlands and clusters of settlement at places. I could gaze at the view for hours if I stayed. Halfway through my destination, I was reunited with Wiebke, the German woman. That’s the remarkable thing about this journey. You see the same faces, who you started the walk with, at different instances of the walk. Apart from the signage that make one feel associated with the feeling of a pilgrim, the wish “Buen Camino” becomes a delightful tradition that you follow whenever you pass a pilgrim/pilgrims on the way.

 

Palas de Rei was a bigger town than the previous two. The evening mass at the cathedral used to be the perfect way to end the day even though I didn’t understand what they said in the mass. I would always see lot of familiar faces showing up at the mass and it became an important pilgrim ritual for me. The next day, I left for Melide that was 12 miles from Palas de Rei. This part of the walk was mostly thorugh forests and farms. Even if I would walk alone, I never felt lonely or vulnerable in my pilgrimage. Beautiful rolling landscapes and Spanish villages felt safe.

Melide was more developed and bigger than all the previous ones. The streets were busier, there were more shops, restaurants, café and a commercial center. There were local markets and streetside vendors for clothes, food, shoes etc. that made the local galician ambience more vivid. I met two Spanish girls in the Albergue as we shared a room. They had come from Seville to walk the last 100 kms as they had graduated and wished to get a job. Through walking, they believed that they are paying respect to God who would fulfil their wish. One of them translated the evening mass for me in the Cathedral. The priest praised the pilgrims and congratulated on their journey so far. He said with each step, we were reaching closer to God. The small town square was enlivened after the mass with restaurants and coffee shops with pilgrims dispersed and explored their options.

The next destination was Arzua. What was surprising about one of the bars on the way was it had a slot machine. After reaching Arzua, I explored the town and local food, highlight of which was spicy fried green chillies. The next morning, I began walking towards Amenal. With reaching closer to Santiago each day, my curiosity was increasing to see the final destination. The spatrial fabric of the landscapes was slowly transitioning into more urban from country as the walking paths became wider, even the ones next to highways. Amenal wasn’t really a village but an extremely small settlement with a hotel for pilgrims to stay at.

     

The final day of my journey towards Santiago was very exciting. I reached a hill while walking from the top of which I could see Santiago de Compostela. Each walking step towards the city was pumping energy into me and my enthusiasm levels were at its best. My arrival was anounced by decorative boards along the roadside that were decorated by embellishments from pilgrims. After reaching the town square, I made my way towards the cathedral through through fervent crowd in the narrow streets. The first sight of the Cathedral was eternal. Beautiful scupltures carved all over on the walls described the story of years and years of pilgrimage the cathedral has witnessed and it stood as a palimpsest of built material and pilgrims’ emotions. The inside was equally beautiful. Main chamber was adorned with glitterinmg gold sculptures of Jesus, angels and other saints. The whole aura was quite heavenly. The evening mass was in Spanish and I could ony understand a handful of words but it still gave me goosebumps and I felt proud as a pilgrim. After collecting my certificate of pilgrimage, I started exploring the town that felt as if it belonged to a different era, with talented musicians giving a wonderful background score on the streets, local ice cream shops and restaurants with authentic flavors and a charming pink sunset sky. I felt light as air, melting slowly in the cool winds, absorbing my journey into my soul.

     

 

Saloni Chawla
Graduate Teaching Assistant
Department of Landscape Architecture
University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

 

References

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Attendees Reflect on TRCCS Opening

Pop-ups and other unique books from Taiwan will be on display through December.

On November 14, 2017, the International and Area Studies Library opened the Taiwan Resource Center for Chinese Studies (TRCCS), with support and material donations from the National Central Library (NCL) of Taiwan. The ongoing collection will include more than 800 contemporary publications from Taiwan, which are available for checkout. The exhibit, which features rare items from the NCL about the history of books and book-making, will be on display through December in the International and Area Studies Library. The opening ceremony included a signing of cooperation agreements, book donation exchange ceremonies, and a lecture from Professor Kai-Wing Chow titled “Printing Technology, Book Culture, and the World of Print in Imperial China.”

Students and faculty reflected on the opening ceremony and on the value they see in the TRCCS:

Representatives from the National Central Library of Taiwan visited IAS to open the TRCCS.

Kezhen Zhang, a student worker in the International and Area Studies Library who graduated from the iSchool in August with a concentration in special collections and archives, both attended the event and helped to coordinate it. She said:

“I was pleased to be an assistant for the TRCCS opening ceremony. During the preparing time prior to the event day, I established a TRCCS page on the Library’s website,  where I added an introduction to TRCCS and the exhibit, and information about the event as well. I also designed a poster for the hallway. When preparing this event, I not only got chance practice various tools, such as WordPress, Adobe Photoshop, and MS Publisher, but I also collaborated with other members in our division. On the event day, I played an administrative role. I loved the atmosphere of collaboration while everyone was trying to make the event great! I was also glad to meet members of the National Central Library of Taiwan, and I appreciated seeing their efforts for a partnership with our library.”

The National Central Library of Taiwan provided more than 800 books for the TRCCS.

Bonnie Mak is an associate professor, with joint appointments in the School of Information Sciences and the Program in Medieval Studies. She teaches courses in the history and future of the book, reading practices, and knowledge production. Her first book, How the Page Matters (2011), examines the interface of the page as it is developed across time, geographies, and technologies. Mak said of the TRCCS event:

“By examining the history of printing from a global perspective, Prof. Chow immediately exposes assumptions around the so-called ‘print revolution’ of the West that is said to have precipitated major social and political change in the 15th century. He usefully reminds us that moveable type was being used in Asia by at least the 12th century — 300 years before its adoption in Europe — and operated in conjunction with the traditions of woodblock printing and handwriting as means of graphic communication. The continued co-existence of all these techniques is worthy of further investigation, and Prof. Chow invites us to consider under what circumstances one might have been preferred over another.”

The TRCCS will be ongoing in the International and Area Studies Library, room 309, but the rare book exhibit will only be available until the end of December. This includes an interactive stamping display, where you can create a layered stamp card to take home. Stop by the IASL to see the exhibit while you can!

Room 309 of the Main Library is now the Taiwan Resource Center for Chinese Studies.

Visit the IAS Facebook page for more photos from the event.

 

LAURA ROCCO

GRADUATE ASSISTANT | INTERNATIONAL AND AREA STUDIES LIBRARY

MSLIS CANDIDATE | SCHOOL OF INFORMATION SCIENCES

UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS AT URBANA-CHAMPAIGN

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