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Nsibidi Writing: Teach Me Tuesdays

Hello All! Today we will learn about Nsibidi writing. Now, there is this blog post, and there is another article I’ve written specifically for those interested in a deeper knowledge. This is my website, but, the deeper knowledge is something I want to share with people who have an actual interest in doing something with that information, that said, check out this post on ancient Nsibidi writing, and use this password to access the deeper knowledge post, the password is “Nsigbo”…. Anyway, read below and tell me what you think!

Nsibidi (also spelled as nsibiri, nchibiddi or nchibiddy) is an ancient writing that uses symbols, also known as pictograms to communicate and tell stories amongst many other purposes. Nsibidi is a form of writing found in the Southeastern region of Nigeria, Cross Rivers region of Nigeria and what is known as modern day Cameroon; all regions associated with Igbo’s – a major ethnicity in Nigeria today, with many Cameroonians having root in Igbo culture. Check out this write up on Nsibidi from the African Museum of Art, although the article misrepresents the role of women in Nsibidi, it is a pretty straight forward description. History notes Nsibidi as being first used as early as 400 AD, and due to barbaric colonialism. the use of Nsibidi was significantly reduced. Enslaved Africans in the Caribbean, such as Cubans and Jamaicans used Nsibidi to communicate with one another and avoid being caught by the barbaric slave owners. Enslaved Africans even sometimes communicated with Nsibidi through hairstyles that made it even harder for barbarians to figure out what they were communicating. *Text continues after picture*

Photo courtesy of The Guardian Nigeria

It is said that the western world was built using the various Nsibidi symbols. Granted, there are other forms of writing and communication from various ethnicities such as the Sankofa writing of Ancient Ghana, so I am sure that the building of the western world was a combination of all the enslaved Africans superior work (check out this article about West African writing forms), which makes sense, enslaved Africans were the ones doing the work, and who else but them to so eloquently carry out what was in their brains! I always say that we created the blueprint with our brains and our labor, we had a blueprint for society, it was just robbed from us before we could create it for ourselves.

Nsibidi has over 1000 symbols, they are used to decorate calabashes (see photo below), clothing, walls, metal sculptures, swords, and tattoos. According to Nigerian magazine, Pulse.ng, It was also common with the Ekpe society, which is found in present-day Abia state, NIgeria, where they were often seen wearing clothing which had the Nsibidi logographic inscribed on for formal events. This clothing is also called the “Ukara Ekpe”, and Igbo cloth of the Ekpe secret society.

Calabash

Historically, in the Cross Rivers regions, women used Nsibidi to decorate younger women’s bodies for various reasons. First reason being, the “fattening house” ceremony which physically and psychologically transforms women to be ready for marriage. Another ceremony, for postmenopausal women is where stones are painted and ritually fed with pounded yam and palm oil at the New Yam Festival, through “reinscribing”, that enables the community to connect with the ancestors. A third ceremony are women’s masquerades, which are non-existent from conversations discussing Igbo Masquerades, as they have always been associated with men. It is my belief that with patriarchy through colonialism came the erasure of women, as many elder Igbo women have personally told me precolonial traditions of Igbo women holding chief titles, and the importance of women throughout Igbo history that make me question this new found Nigerian patriarchy, but I digress, I am here to talk about Nsibidi.

Picture courtesy of Wikipedia

In some scripts I’ve read, many scholars have claimed that Nsibidi and Egyptian Hieroglyphics shares some of the same symbols, I cannot find these symbols, however, I’m sure they’re stored in some Jstor article for college students, inaccessible to anyone else, like most information (in my experience).

Nsibidi has proven to be an artform that has stood the test of time. It speaks to the sophisticated and carefully crafter nature of Ancient African writings. A form of communication that transcends generations, and kept us alive to even speak about today, I think we should all take the time to appreciate it for the legacy that it is. Symbols are more than just drawings, they tell stories far more articulate that a simple A, E, I, O, or U can tell, one Nsibidi symbol can literally tell a whole entire story. for more information, please use the links I referenced in this article to draw a clearer analysis and find out what it means to you.

Best,

~Ndidi Love~

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