Nsibidi: A Deeper look at its Origins and Mystery (Episode 11)
Nsibidi has been challenging to study, to say the least. Every path I take always seems to leave me with more questions than answers. It is only reasonable to expect that learning a language on one’s own would be difficult given that it was long controlled by the Ekpe’s secret society.
Nsibidi is regarded as a contradictory language. When it was at its best, it united people from different backgrounds while separating the elites from the common people. The phrase “language of dread” is the source of the word’s name. It’s fascinating to learn that most of the writings from that era tell stories of romance, friendship, relationships, intimate scandals, and humor.
The language was reportedly first spoken by women, but it was primarily a language of a male secret society. In this article, I’ll explain what Nsibidi is, what I’ve discovered about how it operates and is applied, and the spiritual revelation that reveals how its secrets can be revealed.
What is Nsibidi?
The Nsibidi communication tradition is shared by a variety of cultures in the regions of Southsouth and Southeast of Nigeria, as well as in the Southwest of Cameroon. Some of its earliest artifacts are found in the more than 1500-year-old Ikon Monoliths. Even today, its origins remain a mystery.
Gesture-based communication, also known as Nsibidi sign language, spoken Nsibidi, and written Nsibidi makes up the three components of the Nsibidi communication culture. The emphasis, however, is on the written code because it is a universal form of communication.
Written Nsibidi: Nsibidi as a system of writing
The writing system for Nsibidi is an ideographic one. Ideographs, as opposed to the phonetic systems of writing that we use today, are symbols that represent ideas and concepts. As a result, ideographic languages like Nsibidi are universal and do not require translation when moving between languages. Nsibidi offers two benefits in this regard. The first is that it is not read in a single structured format. It is not written from left to right, up to down, or vice versa. Instead, pictures are studied as a whole, and the story is decoded by relating all the symbols and contexts.
This makes the language perfect for arts, decoration, and the construction of manifestation signals, as well as for shrine decoration and clothing adornment. The symbols do not need to be altered to correspond to the speaker’s language, which is the second benefit. This eliminated the need for translation between an Efik speaker and an Igbo speaker.
These advantages allowed Nsibidi to develop into its own language, which it did by moving from the Crossriver area to the southwest of Cameroon and across the southeast of Nigeria.
Compared to a pictogram, an ideogram is more abstract. In the sense that each ideogram unit is connected to ideas rather than form.
The images in a pictogram are either exact or very close translations of what they mean. In other words, a bird represents a bird, and a person represents a person.
Also in ideographic writing, these concepts become a loose abstraction of themselves, though often loosely based on the appearance of the concept.
Forms of Nsibidi
The majority of the Nsibidi that is currently known is about love, conflict, family, and friendship. This is because of the language’s dual writing system. The first is a visible, practical form, and the second is a hidden, spiritual form.
When I learned that Nsibidi was not only available but also fully utilized and even taught in schools prior to the Nigerian civil war, it surprised me. What the students learned was public-practical Nsibidi, which included symbols that conveyed narratives about social interactions, professional interactions, and formal addresses for everyday use. Over 500 publicly visible Nsibidi symbols have been identified, providing additional context for the use of the language before the war.
As Nsibidi made its way to Uli, it was used by both men and women, with the women using it as a symbol art form to adorn their homes, shrines, and temporary tattoos that lasted days.
It is quite interesting to note that the Idiok first revealed all forms of Nsibidi to women and that men did not control its most powerful components until later in history when they created a secret representation of the language.
The Ekpe Society
To understand the sacred Nsibidi, one must first comprehend its sacred guardian. The Igbo, Efik, Ibibio, Orun, and other cultures were all under the control of the secret Ekpe (Leopard) Society. This was an esoteric brotherhood of initiated men.
In the societies they controlled, the Ekpe Society chose priests, elders, and judges. They created law enforcement agencies, trade guilds, and courts. You also needed to belong to their secret society in order to participate in their system.
Ekpe is a masquerade society that oversees and puts on events like Ekpo, Ekpe, Akata, and Ekon. These masquerades doubled as community police and entertainers.
The Ekpe Society expanded to Cuba, where it evolved into the Abakua. The rights, knowledge, and social structure of the Ekpe Society were revived in the Cuban town of Regla during and after the transatlantic slave trade. The Ekpe Society’s traditions continue through the Abakua, even though they have changed in form over time due to regional influences but have remained essentially the same.
Most significantly, the Nsibidi language has been preserved by the Abakua in the form of la firma. It is kept secret for only initiated members, much like the script of their Southeast Nigerian brothers. Using the rites of divination as a means of establishing a spiritual bond, for meditation, transcendence, and for manifestation.
Download the Nsibidi dictionary HERE
The New Writing System – The Aneke Script
The Aneke Script is a different writing system that developed in Southeast Nigeria. Before he died in 1991, a man by the name of Nwagu Aneke wrote the equivalent of 100 textbooks’ worth of esoteric works and anti-colonial scripts in the 1950s. Aneke, however, wrote in a distinctive style. He was an accomplished diviner and a Dibia.
In order to use scripts to reveal the world’s secrets, his quest on his journey to self took him into the forest in his hometown of Umuleri. The community feared for his mental health when he ventured into the wild. According to legend, the spirit gave him instructions to look at the underside of leaves and create the symbols for the new type of writing based on the patterns he would notice.
Aneke emerged from the Umuleri forest after completing his task there. He committed his life to sharing the knowledge that had been revealed to him through his new script. It’s important to note that by mastering the Aneke script, one can access the great diviner’s esoteric knowledge. He also wrote essays about the liberation of Africa and neo-colonialism.
My humble curiosity rages on unrelenting. As I learn, I share, taking you along this journey with me. Be sure to return next week to continue this adventure, as we learn more about Nwagu Aneke and the Aneke Script.
Download the Nsibidi dictionary HERE