What writing could the Mende, a West African people, have had in 400BC?
I do not mean to be condescending towards the idea of ancient
I found a reference to a book by Saki Mafundikwa, a Zimbabwean graphics artist, "Afrikan Alphabets: The story of writing in Afrika". I was skeptical, afterall, there was writing in Egypt. The Egyptian writing that could not migrate across the Sahara. Even though I recall reading a book long ago (title I cannot recall) that claimed that Yorubas migrated from Egypt, I will maintain the assumption that writing did not migrate with them. But I digress...
Sample pages from "Afrikan Alphabets: The story of writing in Afrika" provide a clue as to what I may find in the book.
The commonly held belief is that most graphic symbols in Afrikan societies are merely decorative. In fact, in Afrikan culture, symbols fill an important communication role. There are stories to be found in the rock art of the San people in southern Afrika; the carvings on the calabashes of the Kikuyu of Kenya. There is information stored in tally sticks like the Ishango Bone from The Congo, the knotted strings of Nigerian Aroko, and the scarification found in many Afrikan societies. The meaning attributed to these symbols and artifacts qualifies as proto-writing, or forerunners of writing. Most of these symbol systems are several thousand years old, suggesting that Afrika has a much older tradition of writing than some have recognized.
I am one of those who believe that graphic symbols on calabashes, wooden statues, rocks are decorative. Knotted strings of Nigerian Aroko? Is that the iroko tree? Well, I'm ready to be educated, or re-educated about the history of writing in West Africa.
Once I read the book, I'll be back to share my thoughts and new learnings.