Topic: Africa/Nigeria

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Africa Writing systems Igbo Africa/Nigeria

Nsibidi (also known as nsibiri, nchibiddi or nchibiddy) is a system of symbols indigenous to what is now southeastern Nigeria that are apparently pictograms, though there have been suggestions that some are logograms or syllabograms. The symbols are at least over 4,000 years old. Early forms appeared on excavated pottery as well as what are most likely ceramic stools and headrests from the Calabar region with a range of dates from at least 400 AD (and possibly earlier), to 1400 AD. Nsibidi was used to decorate the skin, calabashes, sculptures, and clothing items, as well as to communicate messages on houses.“ There are thousands of nsibidi symbols, of which over 500 have been recorded. They were once taught in a school to children. Many of the signs deal with love affairs; those that deal with warfare and the sacred are kept secret. Nsibidi is used on wall designs, calabashes, metals (such as bronze), leaves, swords, and tattoos. It is primarily used by the Ekpe leopard society (also known as Ngbe or Egbo), a secret society that is found across Cross River State among the Ekoi, Efik, Igbo people, and other nearby peoples.

Outside knowledge of nsibidi came in 1904 when T. D. Maxwell noticed the symbols. Before the British colonisation of the area, nsibidi was divided into a sacred version and a public, more decorative version which could be used by women. Aspects of colonisation such as Western education and Christian doctrine drastically reduced the number of nsibidi-literate people, leaving the secret society members as some of the last literate in the symbols. Nsibidi was and is still a means of transmitting Ekpe symbolism. Nsibidi was transported to Cuba and Haiti via the Atlantic slave trade, where it developed into the anaforuana and veve symbols.

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