Progress in the transcription of a Mende primary source

In a previous post, “Minding Mende”, I introduced the notebooks of Bokari Kanneh that had been digitized, and were awaiting further processing. A start toward that processing has now begun, within the framework of the Ten Thousand Rooms Project using the Mirador viewer. I have been going through the notebook pages and am inserting readings of individual lines in Unicode, in both transcribed extended Latin script and the literal Mende Kikakui script. Both sets of readings are rough, as there is some variation between the handwritten glyphs and the available typography, but I think the accuracy level is something at or above 80%. It’s not intended to be a perfect transcription, but an aid to the potential translator who has more familiarity with the Mende language than I do, preferably a native speaker.

For now, the words that are easiest for me to find and make sense of are the numbers “yila”, “sawa”, “nãnĩ”, and “lɔlu”:  “one”, “three”, “four”, and “five”, respectively. “Two” or “fele” is not as easy to find, unless I am missing seeing it in the data.  I learned from Abu Goday from Kenema, a participant in the Shared Histories program of the Gilder Lehrman Center at Yale, that “pawa” means “pay” and “mahu” means “top”.  Other words that show up with relatively high frequency that I haven’t translated include “siwopu”, “pɔni”, “nãwomã”, “buwaka”, and “nyãdeyamã”.

To view the transcriptions directly on your own from the resource requires making a few adjustments.  The steps listed here should work for Windows 10 and Mac machines, on the Chrome browser if you have permission to install a font locally.

1) Download and install the font ‘Noto Sans Mende Kikakui’ from here:

2) Navigate to:, using the Google Chrome browser.

3) In the far right upper hand corner of the browser window frame, click on an icon of three vertical dots with a mouseover that says “Customize and control Google Chrome”.

4) In the dropdown menu that appears, click on “Settings”.

5) In the “Settings” screen, scroll down to “Customize fonts”.  Click the rightward-facing arrow on this line.

6) In the next screen, scroll to “Standard font”, and pick “Noto Sans Mende Kikakui” from the drop-down menu.

7) Return to and navigate the notebook pages.  If you mouseover a blue box and click on the resulting text, the application will open a window of transcriptions for the page you are viewing.

Screenshot of a notebook by Bokari Kanneh in the Mende script, viewed with provisional transcription in the Mirador viewer.

If you have knowledge of Mende and would like to contribute to the online annotation, transcription, and/or translation of the resource, leave a comment below and you will receive information on how to register on the Ten Thousand Rooms Project site as a contributor.

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