Ancient Africans Were Writers


Farouk Martins Aresa


Ancient Africans had artists that were prolific writers on almost everything they could get their hands on including human bodies, slate, rock, caves, potteries, trees, mud and sand. Though the knowledge was confined to some classes and royal houses passed down along those lines, enough record and evidence remain that survived unstable nature of the rain forest until today.  

Many African scholars find it hypocritical that while some colleagues and Africanists have been forced to acknowledge Iwo Eleru 10,000 B.C, ancient iron, terracotta, 8000-year-old ancient boat of Dafuna and black Pharaohs of ancient Egypt, they still hold on to the misconception that the ancient black Africans were not “sophisticated” enough or even meet their criteria to put down their civilization in writing. It is one thing to be ignorant of what you cannot read, another to deny it completely.  Is it logical that ancient Yoruba counted in thousands but could not read!

While Africanists diffidently accept Meroe writing most cannot read or understand, there are many more writings on the staff of Oranmiyan, Idi, Ifa in Ile-Ife Western Nigeria and Nsipidi among the Efik of Eastern Nigeria. We see some of the most striking African writings on arms, bellies, backs and faces to relating back to the place of origin or to identify classes of the nobles and warriors. They are derided as less than hieroglyphs or expression of thought and process.

Differences are made between pictures, signs and writings. If they stand alone as structures they pass as pictures but when crowded together, they can pass as writing. Anyone ignorant of Arab or Chinese writing may wonder if they are pictures when separated. The same is true of musical writing or other writings some are unaware of. A writer of these letters or languages may put them together easily while others may see them as pictures, individually.

What many call tattoos on the bodies are scarification to others and if they convey thoughts and processes, they are writings many cultures used to communicate. Over the centuries, many of these different forms of writings have been simplified on materials that do not fade or are not easily destructible. The ease of writing numbers in Roman figures or Arabic figure is a case in point. Indeed, living language are still being shortened to make it easier and faster to write.

It is interesting that archeologists and anthropologists interpret African artifacts into modern form of writing but missed the interpretation of its original writings, no matter how crude they find them to translate. It is much easier if these are found in signs and pictures than to interpret some musical or Greek alphabet they cannot understand when scribbled together. This is why it is surprising that in the year 2000, we are not devoting enough research to African writings.

Senegalese-born Cheikh Anta Diop (1923 – 1986) is an exceptional scholar without whom many African cultures could have been lost forever. The blame must start with African scholars. Some spend their whole academic life studying other cultures and languages except theirs. While it is true that funds and research grants are harder to get for Africa’s study, we must remember scholars like Diop that used his foreign training to advance African cultures and languages.

Professor Babatunde Fafunwa (23 September 1923 – 11 October 2010). A Nigerian advocated that school children should be educated in their native language first in order to facilitate their thought processes making it easier to learn other languages and subjects. Their thinking and logic become easier to adapt for invention and discoveries locally. This is how children that cannot speak a word of English or French become great scientists and Nobel prize winners.

Most of the mineral or oil rich countries in Africa, export foreign currencies they do not print or mint. Whatever is paid to them in foreign currency for their crude diamond, gold, oil or uranium is exported back to those paying countries to acquire gadgets, cars and mansions they hardly live in but kept for their families and friends while foreign taxes are paid to maintain schools   they ignore in their home countries. More foreign currencies legally leave Africa than come in.

These are funds that could benefit research, discoveries, inventions and infrastructure at home. Funds that could be used to improve schools so that gifted children with God-given talents that lack the opportunities children of the rich have, could use to benefit their communities. African politicians would rather donate U.S dollars to foreign universities in return for award they could showcase. This is how we stifle our culture and deny future generation of their place in history.

African children today can hardly speak their native languages. The rich, famous and politicians train their children outside Africa. Actually, many of the children at home speak English, French or Portuguese as their first language and communicate with their parents in those languages. It shows class and prestige in Africa. Those that do their best to make sure their kids speak their languages have a daunting task. Many of their children answer them in foreign languages.

If we are losing a whole generation of African speakers and many of them are highly educated, who are going to interpret ancient Africa writings? Indeed, many Nigerian colleges do not teach history anymore despite the plea of informed Africans that the repercussion on our life, culture and language will be devastating. Aiyelala, Chi and Nemesis will catch up with us.

Let us face it, some African countries have been lucky and blessed. It is not enough. What we do with what we have, no matter how small or great in that limited time will dictate the future of the next generation. As we squander their future endeavors, Aiyelala is watching. This is why we always say that until Africans clean up their act and help themselves, nobody will help us. Indeed, no African will be respected anywhere until Africans make their own progress at home.

Oil, diamond, gold or uranium may be located in certain part of a country, within one or more ethnic groups, it will not matter much to the next generation of African children. The country, group or people that squander our resources will be held responsible for shaming African children around the world. After all creation of boundaries and countries were made for the benefit of colonial masters not for the benefit of the local African people.

Yoruba of the Western Nigeria lead the world in civilized co-existence among people regardless of their religion by the old definition of civilization and they do have ancient writings. Some will continue to deny ancient Africa writings until more scholars like Diop rise up everywhere.