About the Catalog | Cataloging Conventions

Because the entries in this catalog were created by four different catalogers over a span of two decades, there are some inconsistencies in the way the data has been entered, particularly between the two collections that were cataloged first (Paden and Falke) and the more recently cataloged collections (Hunwick and Ghana). In addition, because the cataloging fields have been changed and refined over time, not all the entries contain the same fields. Standardizing the data within all the collections is a longer-term project. For the moment, however, we have striven to be as internally consistent as possible within each collection.

Click here for a list of abbreviations used in the catalog.

Dates When two dates are listed (e.g. 1412/1991), the first refers to the Hijri calendar, and the second to the Gregorian calendar. When only one date is reported, it refers to the Gregorian calendar.

Brackets [ ] have been used for information which does not appear explicitly in the original item. Examples: a) to indicate an author and/or title which has been suggested by an external information source (such as an oral source) or by tentative internal evidence that needs to be verified; b) to correct misspellings occurring in the document; c) to attribute a tentative title to an untitled document

Below is a description of each cataloging field and the conventions used, along with relevant search advice.

LOCATE + REQUEST Each item has been assigned a unique identifier (e.g. Falke/23/MS, Hunwick/393/ME). It consists of:

  • The collection name (Falke, Paden, Hunwick, or Ghana).
  • Item number. Numbering starts with 1 for each collection. In some cases, an item may be divided into sub-items (e.g. Falke/83.1/MS).
  • Type of document, indicated by: MS (original manuscript), ME (market edition), or PE (printed edition). Photocopies are indicated by the suffix X. For example, MSX indicates a photocopy of an original manuscript. For a fuller description of the document types, see Abbreviations

To search for an individual item by its number when you do not know the document type, select the “ID” search field and enter the collection name/item number/*. For example: Falke/23/* or Hunwick/393/*.

AUTHOR (English and Arabic). The English spelling of an author’s name may vary between entries, since the same author may be known by different names or spellings in different regions. In general, we have adopted the spellings of author’s names found in the Arabic Literature of Africa, volumes 2 and 4 (Leiden: E.J. Brill). Variations on the author’s name are listed in the “Known As” field. It is thus recommended that when searching for a specific author you search not only by “Author” but also by “Full Text,” since “Full Text” will also search the “Known As” and “Nisba” fields.

TITLE (Arabic only). The fullest known title of the work is given, even if the title page has only an abbreviated form or is missing. For poems that have no commonly used title, the first verse has sometimes been entered as the title, or the poem may be named by the rhyming letter (e.g.: Qasida mimiyya, Qasida ra’iyya).

SUBJECT (English and Arabic). This is usually in two or more parts, separated by a colon. The first part indicates the principle subject rubric to which the item belongs, while the second indicates the sub-field (examples: Jurisprudence: inheritance or Sufism: Tijaniyya). The search engine is sensitive to individual words no matter where they are placed in the field. Click here to view a complete list of subject headings. The subject heading system used in this catalog is the same one employed by the AMMS/West African Arabic Manuscript Database (see Project History). For more information on AMMS subject headings, see http://www.westafricanmanuscripts.org/documentation.html#subject.

Included in the Subjects is the Form (English and Arabic). Indicates whether the item is in prose or verse, followed, in some cases, by the specific form (e.g prose: book or verse: kasida).


  • Known as (English and Arabic). Indicates alternate spellings and versions of an author’s name.
  • Author’s nisba (English and Arabic). The form of the author’s name that refers to geographic location, kinship group, or occupation (e.g. Kawlakhi, Fudi).
  • Copied at (English only). The location where the manuscript was copied or, in the case of market (ME) or printed (PE) editions, published.
  • Composed (English only). In the Hunwick and Ghana collections, this field indicates the date of composition of a work. Many of the items in this catalog are copies — produced in West Africa — of classical works of Islamic learning. In these cases, this field is used to indicate the date when the work was originally composed. Thus it does not necessarily represent the age of the document. If the copying date is the only one available, it is indicated in the “Composed” field, preceded by “cop.”
  • Condition (English only). Indicates the general physical condition of an item. In the Paden and Falke collections, this field is also used to describe types of paper, watermarks, and even rubrication, vocalisation, and type of script.
  • Miscellaneous (English and Arabic). This field in English contains useful information, including notes on the author; description of the contents; relations to other items in the catalog; and references to standard bibliographical works (such as the Arabic Literature of Africa) that contain information on the work or author. In Arabic, this field typically contains different information from the English field such as, for example, the names of poems contained within a collection of poetry.


  • Copyist (English only). The name of the copyist, when known. For market (ME) or printed (PE) editions, this field may also contain the name of the publisher as it appears on the front or back cover.
  • Owner (English only). When the item is a copy, this field indicates who owns the original manuscript (see, for example, Hunwick/395/MSX).

CREATION DATE (English only). In the Falke and Paden collections, this field indicates the date when the manuscript was copied. For the Ghana and Hunwick collections, this information is usually found in the “Miscellaneous” field. When the copying date is the only one available, it is indicated in the “Composed” field, preceded by “cop.”

LANGUAGE (English only). In the Falke and Paden collections, this field appears only when the language is something other than Arabic (e.g. Hausa) and notations on script, when they appear, are found in the “Miscellaneous” or “Condition” fields. In the Hunwick and Ghana collections, this field indicates the language followed by the type of script (e.g. Arabic: sudani).

No standardized labels exist for the styles of Arabic script that have been used by most copyists south of the Sahara. Some of these styles (especially those of the Western Sudan: Senegal, Timbuktu, etc.), are more similar to the classical Maghribi script, and have been identified as such here. Other variants, which have been in use especially in Nigeria, and which derive from an older form of the Andalusian script (see A. D. H. Bivar, “The Arabic Calligraphy of West Africa,” African Language Review 7 [1968]: 3-15), have been identified in this website collectively as Sudani or West African. No reference has been made to their sub-variants, for which no unanimous labels exist to date. Naskhi and Sharqi are the labels used in the catalog to identify “Middle Eastern” styles of writing, modeled upon the form commonly used in modern printed Arabic books. Ajami has been used here with reference to the writing of local languages in Arabic (usually Maghribi or Sudani) script. For more on scripts, see Historical Context

While the majority of the items are in Arabic, one can also find items in Hausa, Fulfulde, Wolof, Gonja, Dagbani, and Mamprule in the Arabic script, as well as Hausa, English, and French in the Roman script.


  • Pages (English only). Refers to the number of pages in a Market or Printed edition, or to leaves of a loose-leaved photocopied document or a manuscript. In the first case, they are identified as “pp” and in the second as folios: “ff”.
  • Dimensions (English only). Length and breadth of the item, measured in inches or centimeters.