African Alphabets: Ancient Writing in Africa

'Afrikan Alphabets: The Story of Writing in Afrika' by Saki Mafundikwa
‘Afrikan Alphabets: The Story of Writing in Afrika’ by Saki Mafundikwa

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.

The forgotten kingdom of Nubia

Pyramids of Nubia
Pyramids of Nubia

The general public is familiar with Egypt and the pharaohs, but is not so aware that there was a highly important, sophisticated, and independent ancient civilization in Nubia, which is south of Egypt in present-day Sudan.  For over a century, Nubian pharaohs dominated Egypt, and their kingdom extended from Lake Chad and well into the middle east.  The conquest of Egypt started with Pharaoh Piye of Nubia, and continued with Taharqa who launched the most audacious building campaign of any pharaoh since the New Kingdom (around 1500 B.C.).  Under Taharqa, the capitals were Napata and Thebes, and Jebel Barkal the holy mountain.

Black Pharaohs of Nubia
Black Pharaohs of Nubia

Nubia is a kingdom with 3 times as many pyramids as Egypt.  Their language still needs to be decoded, and archaeologists are searching for a Rosetta stone similar to that discovered by Champollion which allowed the translation of Egyptian hieroglyphs.  The Nubians were well known for their military genius, and Egyptian pharaohs will sometime hire Nubian mercenaries to fight their battles.  Theirs was a civilization of strong queens such as Amanishaket, and Amanitore.  One of these queens Candace Amanirenas defeated the roman army of Augustus Caesar.

Pyramids of Meroe
Pyramids of Meroe

To learn more, check out some of these great websites: http://www.thenubian.net/index.php, http://www.ancientsudan.org/index.html. National Geographic also had a series of articles on Nubia: Black Pharaohs, Rare Nubian King statues uncovered in Sudan. The site of Gebel Barkal was added to the UNESCO list of world treasures in 2003… check it out on the UNESCO World heritage website, and the Society of Nubian Cultures.

Please discover Nubia, and revel in African genius!

Don’t forget to watch Part 2-5 .