4 July 2012


>Andrea Brigaglia

Dr Andrea Brigaglia,
University of Cape Town

Hand-Written Qur'ans in West Africa: The Tradition of Qur'anic Calligraphy in Nigeria

The Arabic calligraphic style used by Kano scribes for the production of hand-written copies of the Qur’an and other religious texts is one of the most original and aesthetically intriguing styles of West Africa. It develops out of a script that has been characteristic of Borno (Northeastern Nigeria) for centuries. This script, both in its Borno and its Kano variants, has preserved some of the oldest features of ancient maghribi (Western Arabic scripts), after these were lost in North African hands. The Kano variant has also developed a characteristic boldness that is reminiscent of the oldest forms of Kufic scripts.

Despite the introduction of various modern technologies of printing, and the introduction of new Islamic schools where the Qur’an is taught in copies printed in Eastern fonts, the Kano calligraphic tradition has not been completely discontinued. In some instances, on the contrary, some skilled calligraphers have been able to take advantage of the modernization of the book market, and to acquire a greater visibility than they used to have before, when the scribes were usually kept anonymous. New professional calligraphers trained in the traditional script produce handwritten samples, which are then reproduced in many copies by a publishing company and marketed for the use of the readers who, educated in the traditional qur’anic schools, still prefer to read the Qur’an in the local style.

This paper will focus on aspects related to the transmission of a tradition of literacy that is centered on the Qur’an ( wooden slates, pens, inks, folios, binding techniques etc.), as well as on some decorative and calligraphic aspects of a selected sample of hand-written Qur’ans from contemporary Kano.