This study is concerned with what specific materials are used in fabricating the inks used in the surviving, largely undated Northern Nigerian manuscripts written in Arabic script. These manuscripts belong to the West African tradition of Islamic culture and scholarship, of which Timbuktu, Mali, was a key center. The manuscripts themselves, and 4500 km of road travel throughout Northern Nigeria, suggest a local tradition of dye, ink and pigment fabrication rather than one derived from the Mediterranean and the Islamic heartlands. Technical materials analysis, recipes from ethno-cultural studies, and replicative experiments revealed a reliance on local plants and materials. Botanical research uncovered a possible linkage between inks and medical treatments through the creation of charms in which ink was washed from the paper and drunk, or used as a body wash. They reflect a sustainable, durable and flexible tradition that overcame challenges of execution, using indigenous materials, astute observation, trial and error—a tradition documenting that people traveled as well as goods and ideas.