Workshop 1: The Islamic Manuscript Tradition of East Africa: Textual Traditions and Context

Please be informed that the Arabic-Script Manuscripts in Africa conference will not be held in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The organizers and their partners will share an update on the future of the event in due course.


The Islamic manuscript tradition of East Africa is rich and varied and spread throughout the Swahili cultural zone, including Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, and the Comoro Islands. Although much research has been conducted in past two decades, the East African tradition has still received less scholarly attention than its West African counterpart. One reason is that the extant corpus is smaller, and significantly more recent, dating mainly to the 19th and 20th centuries. Another reason is that many collections remain in the ownership of families or mosques.

This workshop will first present the known manuscript tradition in East Africa, mainly with reference to Kenya and Tanzania, but also the Comoro Islands and Mozambique. The intellectual influence of Yemen/Hadramawt and Oman on textual production, circulation, collection, and usage (especially in teaching) will be discussed, combined with the emergence of the Swahili literary tradition. Secondly, the workshop will present the main repositories of Islamic manuscripts in East Africa and the state of mapping/cataloguing some sites that has yet to be fully investigated.

Finally, this workshop will discuss various initiatives to make collections available and the important relationship between private custodians and national institutions to maintain collections. Here, emphasis will be on the shared Islamic tradition of East Africa, alongside the shared challenges facing the actual collections. The aim is to discuss ideas about how the East African tradition can best be mapped, digitized, conserved, and studied on a regional level, taking into account the shared tradition on which it is based and which is still very present.

Workshop Instructor