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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Old Ethiopian (?) Book

This is the book we acquired in an Ouagadougou antiquities shop during our 2007 West Africa trip. As I said at the time, we really don't have any idea what we acquired:
"... lost among the carved wooden doors, masks, fetishes, and beaded jewelry, on a shelf in a glass case, I spot a short stack of dusty old manuscripts. We purchase the smallest book - hand written text on yellowing parchment, bound between covers of wood. No idea of age or origin, but are told it is Ethiopian. An ancient traveler's prayer book? Maybe. A desert trader's ledger? Could be. A forgery to scam tourists? All are possibilities."
Since we were told it was Ethiopian and we are about to embark on our Ethiopia adventure, I thought I would scan the pages and post a few here. Perhaps through the miracle of the intertubes somebody may run across this who can read it and tell us what we've got.

Some sample pages (probably not in order and may not even be right side up): 


Rick said...

I don't know about all the other pages, but the last one looks like very old, very fat butt cheeks. With a tattoo on the left one.
I lean toward the "scam the tourist" theory.

mw said...

Hmmm - so you are saying this is sort of an Ethiopian Butt "Shroud of Turin"?

An Expert in Timbuktu Manuscripts said...

A nice tourist keepsake, but sorry to day your book is a forgery.

mw said...

Thank You Mr. Ex Manuscript for your pithy comment. I had already received a similar judgement from my brother, who spent a few days photographing ancient Timbuktu documents. With this post I was seeking a second opinion, not soliciting a rerun of the first. I already know that one.

If you would be so kind as to validate your credentials as a expert by providing a translation of the first page or two, I would be more inclined to accept your bona fides.

Hmmm - so you are saying this is sort of an Ethiopian Butt "Shroud of Turin"? November 1, 2012 3:17 PM AnA Different Expert in Timbuktu Manuscripts said...

It can't be translated, because it isn't a language.

Cain said...

"it's not a language"

And you know this how?

Aural Stein said...

I think your brother spent more than a few days in Timbuktu. Actually about ten weeks over three years. Of course, I've never met him, but his reputation in the area is renowned. (I believe you learned that first hand).

Google Islam Akhun.

This book is a wonderful example of a local artisans work. As such it is a very nice piece. It is not an ancient manuscript.

Dimitri Karamazov said...

While my good friend Aural may be correct that this book is crafted by local artisans in relatively modern times, he has likely nevertheless leaped to an incorrect conclusion, as he did so amusingly over so much of his academic career.

This appears to be an example of Ge'ez script: Ge'ez (ግዕዝ Gəʿəz), is a script used as an abugida (syllable alphabet) for several languages of Ethiopia and Eritrea but originated in an abjad (consonant-only alphabet) used to write Ge'ez, now the liturgical language of the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Church. In Amharic and Tigrinya the script is often called fidäl (ፊደል), which means "script" or "alphabet". The Ge'ez script has been adapted to write other, mostly Semitic, languages, such as Amharic in Ethiopia and Tigrinya in Eritrea and Ethiopia.

In my own studies, I have seen similar examples of this script on display behind glass counters in an Annex to the Coptic St Georges Cathedral in Addis Ababa Ethiopia. Photography was prohibited, but a local deacon in the Church doubling as a tour guide said he was trained to read the script for church services. Unfortunately, the Kindle had not yet been invented yet, so I could not test his skills against the copies of this script that would otherwise be on the Kindle - If I only had the Kindle with me that day.