Africa has the world’s oldest and largest written languages known to mankind, a long ancient history of written language and graphic history, which is today part of a broader global history of literacy. The continent has contributed substantially to the global history of written languages of today, which has largely been ignored.
Examples of ancient writing in Africa are the Ge’ez script of Ethiopia, the most ancient African script still in use, the Nsibidi of Nigeria, Adrinka of the Akan people of Ghana, the Tifnagh of the Tuareg people, and Val and Mende of Liberia and Sierra Leone,( evidence of its Liberian/Sierra Leonean age date from Goundaka, Mali, that date to 3000 B.C). Scripts from the Proto Saharan of The Sudan, Aire Soroba of Mali, and many others.
For thousands of years, Africans artists have included writing and graphic symbols into their art, and created some works of art which show genius, in objects dated from ancient times. Even today, African artists still use a diffusion of different forms of letters, words and symbols to create meanings which go back historically and merge ancient with modern.
In art work, politically, socially, and culturally, art work often had scripts/symbols to show how power acquired through the development of specialized knowledge and skills, such as healing with herbal medicine, could assist communication with the spirit world. Artists for example used symbolic materials to show power and to tell stories of ancient times.
Ancient African writing is the oldest system of writing in the world, pre-dating European, Greek, by at least 2000 years respectively. Nsibidi and most other written African languages are known to have developed outside Arab, or European influences.
The oldest written scripts ever discovered are what called Proto Saharan, found by the Kharga oasis in what was known as Nubia in present day Sudan, so called by archaeologists. It dates from about 5000BC. Greek was not fully in use until 1400BC and Asian languages until 3000BC, African languages are several centuries older than Asian written forms.
Ancient Akan of Ghana called Adrinka
The dominance of colonialism and European languages, taught that Africa had no written languages, that African civilization was inferior, less refined, amongst other things, until they, the Europeans arrived on our shores; this is far from the truth. Africa has the world’s oldest and largest collection of written languages, known to man! This also goes to dispel the notion that Africa was uncivilised or barbaric before the Westerner came.
Dr Clyde Winters, the author of the Ancient Black Civilizations of Asia confirms that there was an Ancient civilisation in ancient Africa which pre-dates Asian civilizations, known as the Proto Saharan in Nubia present day Sudan. These languages were very well developed and were often used by priests and secret societies.
Examples of this developed system of writing range from inscribing the body, sacred scripts and depictions of works of art. In sacred scripts, graphic inscription and specialist forms of writing were usually done by highly trained practitioners such as healers who healed with herbal medicine, poets, or orators as Africans know them, scribes and so on.
What I’ve stated above shows that African have a rich history to celebrate and take pride in. Africans have to look to our rich and varied past, not just our art, and oral history to find a source and basis for our development and progress, but also learning from others about how we can reclaim that which has been lost, only then will we form a basic foundation for moving forward.
As the saying goes,” if you don’t know where you come from, you can’t know where you’re going.” “Know a man’s history and you know the man”. Asians have as we all know; a very well developed and continuous written language systems, but African languages as we can see are older than theirs! What does this mean for us, as a people?
Written language is the vehicle for continuous self expression, learning, growth, achievement. It binds people together, breaks down barriers, is a vehicle of communication, and so on and its potential is huge! We can all see the benefits of social media, books, libraries, schools and universities, as sources of knowledge, which can be defended or refuted, as the case may be, and what they achieve.
In order to take pride in ourselves and to truly develop we must investigate our past and teach our children to do the same. We had a well developed ancient medical, social, political, economic, cultural and traditional systems, our ceremonies, festivals, markets, civilizations, social norms, and history all come alive and are truly exciting, so we should investigate them, but have we dug into and used them?.
Look at our ancient medical systems for example, westerners have used and are still using our ancient traditional knowledge systems, and making a fortune from them, something we should be doing, if we had our heads well screwed on. Unless we are willing to make the effort, we will end up going on a merry go round to nowhere, we won’t develop politically, socially or economically, and we will continue to be used/exploited by others.
Men and women of wisdom and true intelligence, (intelligence is not just about book work) will always seek to know about their past and use what they have found to achieve growth as a people.
This is a challenge to all of us Africans! Its time we awoke from our slumber and challenged all those who seek to dehumanize us by insinuating that our history is inferior. They do this because it suits Westerners political agendas of exploitation.