I always thought that the Egyptian hieroglyphs or the yet undeciphered Meroitic alphabet were not the only signs of ancient writing in Africa. I also always thought that there were other forms of writing throughout Africa, and not just in the northern part. So I was happy to hear Saki Mafundikwa, the founder of Zimbabwe‘s first graphic design school and new media, talk about his book Afrikan Alphabets: The Story of Writing in Afrika, which is a comprehensive review of African writing systems throughout centuries. Mafundikwa left a very successful career in New York to return to his home country and open this school, so as to inspire the newer generations of African designers to look inward (to their own rich cultures) as opposed to outward (toward Europe) as they have done in the past decades. He sums it up so well in his favorite Ghanaian glyph, Sankofa, which means “return and get it” — or “learn from the past.” It is refreshing to learn about these systems, from simple alphabets to secret symbols, from the Adinkra of Ghana, to Mende, Vai, Nsibidi, Bamum, Somali, and Ethiopian scripts which date back centuries.
It is above all refreshing to realize that Africans have their own way of thinking which can be perceived in their designs, and that ultimately graphic designs date as far back as the ancient Egyptians and can be observed throughout Africa. Take the time to read Saki Mafundikwa in his own words. Enjoy Saki Mafundikwa’s speech at one of the TED conference.