Bio: Fallou Ngom is Professor of Anthropology and former Director of the African Studies Center at Boston University. His research focuses on the interactions between African languages and non-African languages, the adaptations of Islam in Africa, and African Ajami literatures (records of African languages written in Arabic script). He seeks to understand the knowledge buried in African Ajami literatures and the historical, social, cultural, and religious heritage that has found expression in this manner. He has held Fulbright, ACLS, and Guggenheim fellowships. His research has been supported by the British Library Endangered Archives Programme and the National Endowment for the Humanities. He is the founder and leader of the African Ajami Library at Boston University, the largest digital repository of Ajami texts in America. His work has appeared in African Studies Review, History Compass, Islamic Africa, Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies, Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, Language Variation and Change, and International Journal of the Sociology of Language. His book, Muslims beyond the Arab World: The Odyssey of Ajami and the Muridyya (Oxford University Press, 2016), won the 2017 Melville J. Herskovits Prize for the best book in African studies.
Abstract: Sub-Saharan African is generally misconstrued as largely illiterate due to the legacy of the Eurocentric tradition that defines literacy as the ability to read and write in European languages and the Roman script. Yet, millions of sub-Saharan Africans have been reading and writing various kinds of religious and non-religious texts in Arabic and their local languages using enriched forms of the Arabic script known as Ajami or locally invented scripts such as Ge’ez, Bamum, Nko, and other writing systems. This lecture focuses on African Ajami manuscripts and shows what scholars and students of Africa stand to gain by studying Ajami texts produced by both the elites and the masses across Africa. In this lecture, I hope to demonstrate how the study of African Ajami manuscripts will enhance research and teaching in the humanities and social sciences and force revisions of various aspects of our understanding of pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial Africa.