The History of African Writing Systems


Writing is the act of marking letters, words, or symbols on a surface with a pen or the same implement. The act of writing has a wide history and over time it has evolved. In modern times, people measure an individual’s literacy level depending on their ability to read and write. Here, we will talk about some of the most ancient forms of writing systems on the African continent.

A Brief History of Africa’s Written Language

The African continent was the birthplace of the written language. Before the ancient Egyptians controlled East Africa and most of the Middle East, there were older languages that blacks wrote and spoke. The most ancient written language on the face of the earth is the Proto-Saharan language dating 5000 to 3000 BC. People who lived close to the Kharga Oasis were the ones who used this language.

Africa’s Writing System

The writing systems of Africa refer to the present and tradition of writing systems in the African region. The African region has the globe’s oldest and biggest set of old writing systems. There are several types of African writing systems. Some of them are Hieroglyphs, Nsibidi writing, Meroitic Script, Proto-Saharan, and Ge’ez writing system.

Egyptian Hieroglyphs

Egyptian hieroglyphs were the writing system that the ancient Egyptians used in the land of Ancient Egypt. Hieroglyphs included logographic, alphabetic, and syllabic constituents with a total of over 980 unique characters.

Ancient people used cursive hieroglyphs for religious work. Hieratic and Demotic Egyptian scripts came from hieroglyphic writing. The employment of the hieroglyphic writing came from proto-literate symbol techniques in the Early Bronze period around the 32nd century BC.

The Egyptian hieroglyphs grew into a mature writing method that people used for monumental writing in the classical writing of the Middle Kingdom era. In the 1820s, Jean-Francois Champollion with the aid of the Rosetta Stone interpreted hieroglyphic writing.


The Nsibidi writing system is a method of symbols native to Nigeria. The ancient forms emerged on unearthed pottery, ceramic stools, and headrests from the Calabar area. People used this writing system to beautify the skin, sculpture, calabashes, and clothes. Besides, people used it to convey messages to various houses. There are several Nsibidi symbols of which people have recorded over 450.

Most of its symbols or signs focus on matters to do with love. People keep a secret of those signs that focus or deal with warfare and the holy. Nsibidi had time to be in both Haiti and Cuba through the Atlantic slave trade, where it grew into the veve and anaforuana signs.


Tifinagh is an abjad writing that people employ to write Berber writings or languages. It is believed to have originated from the Libyco-Berber writing.

Old Nubian

Old Nubian is a nonexistent Nubian language that people have confirmed in writing from the 8th-15th century AD. It is familial to today’s Nobiin and related to Kenzi and Dongolawi. People used it during the empire of Makuria. The language is in preservation in over 96 pages of writings and documents.

Ge’ez Writing

Ge’ez is a script that people use as an abugida for various Afro-Asiatic and Nilo-Saharan languages of Eritrea and the Ethiopian land. People have changed the Ge’ez writing to write other languages in particular Amharic in the Ethiopian state and Tigrinya in Eritrea. Individuals have used the script to write Sebat Bet and Gurage languages. In the Eritrean land, people have customarily used it for Tigre.

Meroitic Script

It comprises 2 alphasyllabaric writings advanced to write the Meroitic language at the start of the Meroitic Era of the Kush Empire. The 2 scripts are the Meroitic Cursive and the Meroitic Hieroglyphics. Meroitic Cursive is the most proven or attested writing.

Other Writing Systems of Africa

Apart from the mentioned writing systems, there are many more in the African region. Some of these writing systems are the Adinkra symbols, Adlam Script, Kaddare alphabet, Luo alphabet, and the Wolofal alphabet.

Adinkra symbols are symbols from the west African state of Ghana that represent various concepts. People use it in fabrics and logos. Individuals use Adlam writing to write Fulani. The Kaddare alphabet is important as it transcribes Somali.

With writing Luo languages, specifically the Dholuo of the Kenyan land, one can use the Luo alphabet. The Wolofal alphabet is a derivation of the Arabic writing to write the Wolof language of Senegal, the Gambia, and Mauritania.



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