Day 194: Ingenuity and elegance in ancient African alphabets.

It’s a little known fact that Africa has a long history of the written word, so Saki Mafundikwa wrote a book about it. ‘Afrikan Alphabets’ lists a number of types of writing. There’s proto; the writing system of the secret society of the Nigerian Eghaham people, as well as Adinkra symbols developed by those of Ghana and Ivory Coast some four hundred years ago.
Music notes of a sort have also been written. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, men pound out a cloth of a special tree, while women paint interweaving patterns which are the same in structure as the polyphonic structures used in their singing. These symbols are used by Ndebele women in South Africa to paint their homes in different colours, and by Zulu women in the beads for their jewellery.
The longest tradition of writing comes from Ethiopia, where script was developed in the 4th century AD and is used to write Amharic, spoken by over 24 million people. The Vai people of Liberia also had a long literary history before their first contact with Europeans.
Mafundikwa tells us that the problem with African design isn’t so much the lack of talent, but the fact that Africans look for outside influences. Yet Africans of antiquity created civilisation and their monuments are testament to their greatness. Examining the ingenuity that existed in ancient alphabets, it becomes apparent that Africans should look to their own past, and heart, for inspiration.


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