Does a Mysterious Manuscript Describe a Forgotten Malian Mausoleum in Brazil?
Almost 300 years ago Brazilian bandits stumbled upon a ruined city. It was such an intriguing site that the city was eventually described in ink. This text became known as Manuscript 512 – a document steeped in mystery and legend.
In ‘Mysteries of Ancient South America’ Harold T. Williams published several ancient inscriptions found in Brazil by Portuguese bandits. Some of the most interesting examples come from Manuscript 512. This manuscript was found in Rio de Janeiro’s Brazilian National Library and was written in 1753. It details the discovery of a ruined city made of stone and located in eastern Brazil.
Manuscript 512 from Jason Colavito, 2014. (Author supplied)
Manuscript 512 was first translated and published in Richard Burton’s book ‘The Highlands of Brazil’ (Volume 2). It has also been translated by Wilkens and Jason Colavito. Although Colavito believes that Manuscript 512 is historical fiction, the inscriptions can be read in the Vai script and may date back to Malian colonies that formerly existed in Brazil.
Colavito is a sceptic of the possibility of reading Manuscript 512 because of Barry Fell’s attempt to translate the document using Ptolemaic Egyptian. This translation was unacceptable because the Brazilian signs do not resemble any signs from Egyptian script.
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Identifying Vai Script
Although the symbols from Manuscript 512 do not resemble Egyptian hieroglyphics, hieratic, or demotic scripts, they are identical to signs found in the Vai Script. Most researchers believe that the Vai script was invented in 1831. But they are wrong, Vai writing has an ancient origin.
In 1899, Maurice Delafosse, a French Anthropologist and colonial administrator, mentions that he consulted many literate Vai who claimed that the Vai script was ancient. These Vai informants also told him that the Vai system of writing was still being used in mountains to the north. Delafosse did not believe this claim, but he does mention the Vai asserting an ancient origin for Vai writing.
Maurice Delafosse. (Public Domain)
The informants mentioned by Delafosse were correct. Many marks like those contained in the Vai script were found in mountains at Oued Mertoutek, in the Grotte de Goundaka, and even in the Sahara at Oued Mertoutek - which point to the ancient origin of Vai inscriptions.
Inscriptions at Chariot Route (top) and Oued Mertoutek (bottom). (Author supplied)
Malian/Vai Signs in Brazil?
Inscriptions on Manuscript 512 were found at Piracicaba, Brazil. These inscriptions were written in the Vai script by Malian colonists. Malian inscriptions were left in areas suitable for settlement.
Once a safe place was found for settlement, the Malian colonists built stone cities or mound habitations. One of these lost cities was found in 1753 AD by bandits.
Wilkins reported that inscriptions were found engraved over a mausolea in the State of Bahia, Brazil by Padre Tellesde Menezes, in Marajo near the Para-oacu and Una rivers. They suggest that the personage buried in the tomb was named Ba Kafe.
Example of a Marajoara burial urn, American Museum of Natural History. (Public Domain)
The inscriptions on Manuscript 512 match Vai inscriptions recorded by Delafosse. The majority of Malian/Vai signs on Manuscript 512 were single signs, but others were compound signs composed of two or more Vai signs.
Ancient Brazilian and Vai Signs. (Author supplied)
The Malian Inscriptions on Manuscript 512
Below I will discuss the Malian inscriptions on Manuscript 512. I will use the Colavito text translations. There are five sections of Manuscript 512 that are associated with Malian inscriptions. I will cite the text and then translate the symbols.
1.“Above the main portico on the street is a raised figure carved from the same stone and naked from the waist up, crowned with laurel: representing a person of a few years, beardless, with girdle about him, and an undergarment open at his waist; under the shield of this figure were some characters partially effaced by time, of which however we made out the following”:
The symbols under the shield read from right to left is: “A Na we fe ngè”. Translated, the inscription says “He is the heir to the throne”.
2.“On the east of this cataract we found several underground hollows and hideous pits, and we tried their depths with many ropes; but for all our attempts, we were unable to plumb their depths. We also found some broken stones, and on the surface of the earth, thrown down, silver, as if taken from the mines, and abandoned at the time. Among these caves we saw some covered with large slabs, and the following figures carved on the same stone, which suggest a great mystery. They are”:
Reading the symbols from right to left we have: So ta ba Kafe gyo gbe le. The translation of the text is “Offer libations this place to Ba Kafe, the cult specialist in front of the entrance (of the cave)”.
3.“Above the portico of the temple we saw besides these forms as follows:”
Reading the inscriptions above the Portico, we read from right to left: Gbe fe-mu mbe yu I Kafe pe gbe ta fi gyo I se ta. The translation is the following: “The favorable subject (of the cult) at present in the sepulcher, he Kafe pe (in an) unblemished place the priest of the cult makes Good, this place”.
4.“Away from the city about a cannon shot is a building like a country house, two hundred and fifty feet across. One enters by a large portico, within which rises a stone stairway of various colors, leading up to a great chamber, and after this are fifteen small rooms all with doors to said great chamber, and each having for itself a waterspout .............. which water gathers ........... in the outside courtyard ............ colonnades on .................. squared and fashioned by hand, hung over with the following characters:”
This inscription is quite interesting. Reading from right to left we have: Se kye gbe ku ma fo ma fe du. The translation is “The Superior estate at the zone of inundation the Ruler, the eminent countenance of the Master (of the estate) is carved (here)”.
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4.“Suppose that from our party one of our company went forth with a different pretext…... he may, doing great harm to your Honor, drop his poverty and use these great things for himself, taking pains to pay off the Indian, and undermine his purpose and thus lead your Honor to these treasures……… They will find in the entrances ........... slabs ………”
The inscriptions on Manuscript 512 make it clear this ‘ancient city’ was a mausolea. The final inscriptions are explaining that the caves were gbe Yu, “unblemished tombs”, inhabited by elites. The most common sign in the last inscriptions in addition to ‘yu’, is ‘gbe’, ‘pure, white, clear, unblemished’.
It appears that the principal mausoleum was that of a Governor or King called Kafe. The inscriptions make it clear that the city was a principal city of the Malians - where citizens could make libations - and that the caves in the vicinity were used as tombs by the ruling elites. The inscriptions agree with the descriptions of the city found in Manuscript 512.
Askia’s Tomb – a mud building in Mali. (CC BY SA 3.0)
Top Image: A mausoleum in the northern region of Mali. (UN Mission in Mali/CC BY NC SA 2.0) Background: Detail of Manuscript 512 from Jason Colavito 2014. (Author supplied)
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