Courtesy of Frederick John Lamp, curator emeritus of the African art collection at the Yale Art Gallery, a Baga Tshi-Tem (Sitem) Dictionary is now available online for study. It runs to about three thousand words, containing entries for a few other Baga languages as well. It is the result of several years of research in Guinea by Fred. The group that he worked with also turned up evidence of another Baga language that was not known to researchers before, Tshol. A much shorter wordlist of about 100 words and phrases has been drafted for that language. The numbers have yet to be added in. Pending permission clearance with David Conrad, I will upload it here as well in an update to this post.
Some notebooks have recently been transferred, within Yale, from the Art Gallery to the special collections of Sterling Memorial Library’s Manuscripts and Archives. A snippet of the kind of content contained in the notebooks can be found here. These were donated by Dr. Konrad Tuchscherer of St. John’s University.
In principle, the text should be fairly straightforward to transcribe, following the Unicode code chart here for the Kikakui script of the Mende language. But there is enough variance between the manuscript and the encoding that it will take some extra efforts to ensure that an accurate transcription can be made. Please leave a comment if you have any competence in Mende or familiarity with the Kikakui script; I’d love to hear from you!
In 2005, Dr. Mohamed B. Nyei and Dr. John Singler brought to my attention a manuscript of 180 pages that had been borrowed in Liberia from the family of its author, Boima Kiakpomgbo. With Mohamed’s permission, I digitized the manuscript that year using a large-format scanner. Since last year, Tombekai Sherman has been working to transcribe and translate the manuscript. I am posting here files from the work in progress, as Mohamed prepares to return to Liberia later this year.
Another script that merits further review is the Mandombe script developed by David Wabeladio Payi, a Congolese follower of Simon Kimbangu. Here is a link to the most recent proposal for its inclusion into Unicode. There are at least twenty or so books and one map that have been produced so far using the script, which is technically a little more complex than most in the way its characters combine. All the characters are geometric compositions of horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines. It has a distinctive look, with fourteen combining diacritics and four acute accents that do not combine.
Here’s a sample of a few of the more memorable records I’ve had the pleasure of cataloging. Hope you’ll find them intriguing and maybe worth checking out:
Update #1 (4/14/16): The first two records both use Tifinagh script, which at first wasn’t displaying natively in the Chrome browser; an extension was needed for Tifinagh display support. Now that appears to be rectified; the Tifinagh script should be displaying well across most of the common browsers: Chrome, Explorer and Firefox. I haven’t tried viewing it on Safari yet though.
One of the more interesting artists who I’ve had the pleasure to meet is Frédéric Bruly Bouabré, also known as Cheick Nadro. He passed away in 2014 at the age of 89; his son Olivier called me with the sad news in January of that year. I was fortunate to have met with him in 2009 with the assistance of Francis Tagro Gnoleba and Tombekai Sherman at Bouabré’s house in Yopougon. A small sample of the iconic pictographic alphabet that he was inspired to invent can be found here. A more extensive review of the entirety of his work can be found in this four-volume text, published in 2013. The Yale copy is non-circulating, but scans of chapters may be requested. Other libraries that hold this work in the U.S. include Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Northwestern University. The text includes an extensive bibliography.
Update #1 (4/12/16): I believe the text linked to below has not been published anywhere; it is apparently a continuation from three cahiers written about by Théodore Monod and Denis Escudier. If I am mistaken and it has already been published, please contact me to let me know and I will comply with a request to take it down. I just talked with Olivier Bouabré, who asked me to send him a link, and I believe this is what he is looking for.
Update #2 (5/12/16): Audio recitation of the invented pictographic alphabet by Bouabré in his own voice, part 1:
and part 2:
These texts by Assane Faye were digitized by me (Charles Riley) in Dakar in 2009 at Faye’s house. They are all in Wolof, on a variety of subjects, from mathematics to social morals to animal tales. I think number four is on political philosophy. They merit further study and more attention than what I can give them at the moment.
Update #1 (5/12/16): Audio recitation of the sounds of the invented alphabet by Faye, in his own voice:
And some links to audio of comments made at a press conference given by Faye in 2009:
Recently drafted script proposals for the Unicode Technical Committee and IS0 10646 standard have been posted and are ready for review. These are for the Loma script of Liberia and Guinea, the Garay script invented by El Hadj Assane Faye, primarily intended for the Wolof language, and the Adlam script of Guinea and Nigeria, invented by Abdoulaye and Ibrahima Barry, primarily intended for the Fula language. Enjoy!
Update #2 (4/10/16): More documentation of Loma usage:
LomaJustin (ca. 2009)
Some audio interview material from the field:
And a link to some books in ADLaM:
The ongoing outbreak of Ebola does not seem to be letting up anytime soon. For those who are affected in the region, effective public communication about resources and preparedness appears to be one of the major challenges. Although communicating a message can only go so far, there are efforts being made to serve populations that don’t readily understand English or French. Examples of those can be found here:
Update (10/25/15): Here is a copy of a more extensive article about Ebola, translated from Wikipedia material into Vai:
As yet, there are not enough editors for a fully-fledged Vai Wikipedia to materialize (five are needed), but things are getting closer on that front.