Retro: Interesting things to know about Nsibidi, the ancient Igbo system of writing

Retro: Interesting things to know about Nsibidi, the ancient Igbo system of writing

Before the colonial influence of the white man and the introduction of western forms of communications to Nigeria and other African nation, there were numerous means of written communication that did not include the use of English alphabets. The Nsibidi is one that stands out.

If you are a fan of the much talked about movie, Black Panther, then it is possible you must have sighted it in the throne room of the Wakanda kingdom. While many people were excited to have a part of Nigeria featured in the Hollywood movie, not so many know about the Nsibidi system of writing.

Nsibidi (also known as Nsibiri, Nchibiddi or Nchibiddy) is a system of symbols indigenous to what is now southeastern Nigeria that is apparently an ideographic script, though there have been suggestions that it includes logographic elements.

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Retro: Interesting things to know about Nsibidi, the ancient Igbo system of writing

Names written in Nsibidi/ photo source; Igbo Focus
Source: UGC

According to reports, the symbol of writing is estimated to have been around from 400 to 1400 CE, as the earlier forms of the symbols appeared on excavated pottery, ceramic stools and headrests from the Calabar region.

While there are thousands of Nsibidi symbols, over 500 have been recorded. The symbols were so important that they were once taught in school to children. Many of the signs deal with love affairs; those that deal with warfare and the sacred are kept secret.

The symbols could be found on walls, calabashes, metals (such as bronze), leaves, swords, and even used as tattoos. It is primarily used by the Ekpe leopard secret society which is found in Cross River among the Ekoi, Efik and Igbo people.

Retro: Interesting things to know about Nsibidi, the ancient Igbo system of writing

There are over 500 symbols recorded in history/photo source: The Unknown Nigerian
Source: UGC

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The Ekpe society, which can still be found in present-day Abia state, were often seen to wear particular clothing which had the Nsibidi logographic inscribed on it to formal events. This cloth is known as the Ukara Ekpe.

Ukara Ekpe is said to have been woven in Abakiliki and inscribed with the Nsibidi logographic in some Igbo-speaking towns such as Arochukwu and Ohafia in Abia state. The impressions on the ukara have meanings that range from power to wealth status.

The origin of the word Nsibidi is not known. One theory traces the word to the Ekoid languages, where it means "cruel letters", reflecting the harsh laws of the secret societies that hold Nsibidi knowledge.

Retro: Interesting things to know about Nsibidi, the ancient Igbo system of writing

The symbols are used as wall designs and tattoos/photo source: Pintrest
Source: UGC

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The western world came to know about Nsibidi in 1904 through T.D. Maxwell who first noticed the symbols. In the colonial era, P.A. Talbot described Nsibidi as "a kind of primitive secret writing", explaining that it was used for messages "cut or painted on split palm stems".

J.K. Macgregor's view was that the use of Nsibidi is that of ordinary writing. In his words:"I have in my possession a copy of the record of a court case from a town of Enion (Enyong) taken down in it, and every detail is most graphically described".

Because of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, Nsibidi was transported to Cuba and Haiti where it developed into the anaforuana and veve symbols. Fortunately, those who were taken as slaves to the Caribbean Islands still use this writing.

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