Sunday, April 22, 2007


At the Tate Modern's capacious bookshop, I spotted this gorgeous book on African writing systems. Its not a bad price at 8 quid. If you have children and want them to explore/know more about indigenous forms of writing across the continent, its a good place to start.

Flicking through the book, I came across some lovely illustrations of Nsibidi script. Nsibidi is a semi-hermetic writing system used by the Ekpe (and as the illustration shows, by the Ejagham) as well as by the Igbo apparently. By semi-hermetic, I mean that some symbols (those in the illustration on the left for example) that are public domain, whereas others are secret, known only to Ekpe adepts.

While the Adinkran iconographic system in Ghana has been much studied (see this entry on wikipedia for eg), it seems that little research has been undertaken on Nsibidi. Or is there stuff out there on the internet that someone knows about - or any out of print monographs? The study of Nsibidi should be compulsory for art students in Nigeria, as part of a sankofa process - going backwards in history in order to go forwards in aesthetics and indigenous forms of design.



I like the suggestion of nsibidi being taught to art students.

I have always wondered why there weren't more african languages written in script of some kind. Now, I realize we just haven't searched hard enough for them.

Thanks for spotlighting nsibidi. I am curious about it ....

Anonymous,  10:07 pm  

Nsibidi? Igbo writing?

GirlWifanAttitude 2:58 pm  

I believe this could be the writing of the lost Igbo tribe. I will research more into this script writing.

Mutanda 9:05 pm  

nsibidi isnt igbo. the word isn't even igbo. it is efik

Marcus Garvey Said 3:15 pm  

Thanks for this post Jeremy.

I think Nsibidi should be taught to ALL students. Sankofa is for everybody. It seems that this era of change is becoming something which we are growing in awareness of the true nature of the human race and its destiny as a whole.

My wife is Igbo and she suggests that the actual name is Nsi dibia, meaning "signs of the dibia." If it is Efik Mutanda what does it translate to in Efik. Eli Bentor has documented the Egbe or Ekpe society and what he presents is the notion that the barriers present in Nigeria were not existent in the past. In his opinion it was not secret until recent times, ie. ante-Biafra.

In the book "Foundations of Igbo Studies" by Louis Nnamdi Oraka there are 41 symbols some of which are present on the diagram you show and some which are not. The entire row of symbols with forks, tables, etc. is not listed at all.

Vibiana 1:14 am  

Nsibidi is taught as art at my University.

ventura,  5:31 pm  

Now that is what i have been looking for.
I plan to do more research on nsibidi
and also study it and be adept at it.

Its amazing how little is known about the igbos and other ancient people.

For one what is truly the origin of Biafra?

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