SOAS University of London

Early Nigerian Qur'anic Manuscripts

AHRC/SOAS research project: early Nigerian Qur’anic manuscripts: an interdisciplinary study of the Kanuri glosses and Arabic commentaries

Early Nigerian Qur’anic Manuscripts (ENiQMa) is an interdisciplinary project exploring a unique resource on Kanuri, an important West African language, and investigating the history of Islamic/Qur’anic studies in the Kanem-Borno Empire, which originated in the 9th century A.D. to the northeast of Lake Chad. Kanuri, together with its related variety Kanembu, is spoken by over four million people in Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Cameroon. The main study areas covered by ENiQMa include linguistic analysis of Old Kanembu data and examination of the Islamic manuscripts in this same language.

The microfilm and digital collection of Borno manuscripts (the SOAS Library, MS. 380808) contains photographic copies of the Qur’an with extensive glosses in Old Kanembu and commentaries (tafsīr) in Arabic, believed to have been written in the old Borno capital city Birni Gazargamu. This corpus, donated to the SOAS Library by Professor David Bivar, consisted of four manuscripts represented by 230 folios in photographic and microfilm form, all subsequently digitised in 2005. In 2005-07, in the course of fieldwork conducted in northern Nigeria by Dr Dmitry Bondarev and Dr Abba Isa Tijani, the corpus of digitised manuscripts was substantially increased to more than 3,200 folios, including three more copies of the Qur’an  and seven other bilingual (Arabic and Old Kanembu) manuscripts. The collection now spans a period of about 500 years, from the oldest manuscripts found by Bivar (late 16th to early 18th century) to the manuscripts of a later period (18th to late 20th centuries), produced in different places in northern Nigeria.

During the same research visit (2005-07), an important and exciting discovery of a previously unreported form of Old Kanembu (Tarjumo) was made. To date, we have collected about 20 hours of audio material in Tarjumo, part of which has been transcribed and is ready for further analysis. The digital counterpart of the collection is being added to the material deposited in the Special Collections of the SOAS library and will be available on the project website.

This project was funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.