THE ORIGIN OF WRITING
Origin and Development of Script Arts.
(Extracted from the book, Reminiscence)
I grew up in the part of the world where everything said by the mouth or scribbled by hands on the ground is attached great importance because, as the elders would say; they all have meanings. By this reason, as children, we became fixated and attracted to the several body artistic designs and marks on different walls, admiring them with the wishes that we had known how to scribble them like those people who are older than us. This formed the fundamental relevance I developed from childhood for scripts and the arts in them. The relevance of scripted art is not just the beauty it carries. Of course, one that is overtaken by the beauty in any scripted art as we were those day as children will never take notice or understand the underlying meaning in it. For, as commonly known, every scripted art is designed for the sole purpose of bringing information across to other, and by so doing, the script would be preserved beyond time.
The reason for writing is for proper documentation and sustenance of whatever language and information the script may contain. Scripted writings give the oral grandparents sustainable proof. The purpose therefore, is that what had been spoken should be held the way it was spoken for generations since the brain thinks of so many things and would not recall all its involvement with speech exactly as the previous ones, after a longer period of active engagement. Delicate documents like the oral tradition and myths, folklores and other culturally and traditionally endued knowledge could not have been so accurately sustained without certain aspect of them being influenced by such factors as interest and favour. This apart, certain mystic knowledge would have lost without the assistance of scripting.
On the other hand, scripted art is not devoid of its own imperfection. At list, translations and transcriptions into the preferable device can hardly be perfected without tampering with certain important material. Translation and transcriptions are often riddled by this form of imperfection or inadequacy. Through this means, several relevant parts of many people’s oral tradition had been adversely affected this all important art. Communication of human thought, in general, can be achieved in many different ways, speech being only one of them. And writing, among other uses, is only one form of conveying human speech. Nevertheless, modern society appears to have exalted this distinctive form of communication. Perhaps this is partly because, as a representation of external realities, communication through graphic art seems more objective, more substantial, than linguistic communication. Even abstract notions can be transcribed graphically through this “solidifying symbolic system”. The roots of this system are to be found in human beings fundamental need to store information in order to communicate, whether to themselves or to others, at a distance in time or space. Since one knows writing only for what it is now, it is difficult – perhaps even pointless – to provide a definition of it that presumes to include all past, present and future meanings. Whether it is of utilitarian advantage to see in full writing a “system of graphic symbols that can be used to convey any and all thought” is a moot point.
Just as valid would be the equally unspecific definition of writing as “the graphic counterpart of speech, the fixing of spoken language in a permanent or semi-permanent form”. Yet this, too, seems to miss so much of what writing is about. One might accept that it is indeed the sequencing of standardized symbols (characters, signs or sign components) in order to graphically reproduce human speech, thought and other things in part or whole. This might, in fact, be the most general definition of writing possible at present. How well each system then accomplished this in the past was determined by the relative need of each society as it grew more complex. But this definition, too, remains just this: a limiting definition of something rather special that appears to resist limitation. Writing is writing, it does not matter the language which it is done, done by hands or machines with the primary intention to sustain the oral language. Through writing many nations of antiquity with evidence of ancient civilization were reckoned with without writing their activities and contribution to global civilization would be lost.
Origin of Writing
The first time, in my childhood, I involved myself with the western education, we were made to know the issues connected with the pharaohs of the ancient Egypt; their mystic strength which was not comparable to that of any other nation as we were told, their enslavement of the Israelites and their earlier involvement with scripted art (even when our teacher could not tell of the nature writing Egypt had had in those promising days of her civilization), it was apparent – not only to me but all of us, students – that Egypt holds the history of writing in he world. In the later days, I heard about the form of writing that flourished in the ancient Babylonia society, known Coneiform my thought began to change a little.
Yet, with the dominance of English language which overshadowed every other languages in Nigeria (spoken or written), my idea of this history began to change gradually. I thought that what may be regarded as the mother of script would be the English language since its studies reveals the presence of the lexicon of many other languages. Unfortunately, research proved me wrong. From the book entitled, Before the Pyramids, Emily Teeter made the following observation,
The world’s earliest known writing systems emerged at more or less the same time, around 3300 BC, in Egypt and Mesopotamia (today’s Iraq). At that time, both societies reached out far beyond their borders through overland and maritime trade networks, forming common frontiers of exchange around the Levantine coast and the shores of Arabian Peninsula (P.99).
The excerpt above is bold enough; at the beginning of chapter eleven, with this assertion on the history of script. It is however obviously complicating for Teeter to assert that writing system developed simultaneously within the northern boundary; probably via trade along the coast or other forms of relationship mentionable by reason of proximity among the nations stated. Could Teeter have spoken the mind of the global population, such that hieroglyphics with it earliest presence in the scripted wall of the ancient world would be accepted as the mother of scripted art? I think not. History, of course, revealed that Nubia civilization predates Egyptian civilization, and in being of ancient reckoning, Nubia was known for Miroitic scripting. According to Diop Anta, Nubia civilization was the earliest in North Africa.
Again, Teeter had written here with certain lapses left uncovered. This is the danger of judging things holistically. A holistic approach to things put writers in a hasty conclusion about the very thing concerned. It then calls for the demand to watch one’s back. Teeter here made a very hasty conclusion, and by such, opened rooms for personal combat. At the very first line and first paragraph of this chapter (Eleven) he made the assertion that almost all the paragraphs down pages has information conflicting. The discovering in Abydos made by Flinders Petrie explained Egypt as a colony of the population which Ivan Van Setimar revealed that they had come from “Inner Africa”. Among the same set of civilizers were scribes who were believed to have deposited an earlier form of writing that is older that the hieroglyphics; a system of writing made of lines different from the over flocked pictures in the hieroglyphics. The excerpt below revealed another form of writing different from registered lines as the chapter reveals.
Especially important for the history of writing is a corpus of signs – painted at a large scale onto ceramic vessels, and incised in miniature onto perforated labels – that represent a formative stage in the emergence of the hieroglyphic writing system (P.102).
In my little thought, I do not think that such a fully developed form of painting “that represent a formative stage in the emergence of the hieroglyphic writing system” should be the offspring of hieroglyphic rather than the mother script. Therefore, if Teeter judges and proved himself wrong, it means that Egyptian script art form is not the origin of writing.
The attempts to interpret the earliest writing system found on stones in the British Isle entertained different suggestions for its origin, Done Luke said thus,
Script may have originated in Africa and been taken northward by early adventurers… this same script can be found along the Niger in West Africa because there appears to be a possible West African Scandinavian link in our findings.
Don Luke in the article, “African Presence in the Early History of British Isles and Scandinavia” published in the 1985 African Presence in the Early Europe (edt) Ivan Van Setima, was the first researcher to stressed the point that Ogam might be a West African language and contrary to the North African Basque language suggested by Barry Fell. Barry Fell, in America B.C., 1983 also suggested a similar origin for scripted art. Ogam is the earliest form of writing and communication known in the British Isles and in Scandinavia, where ancient traditions insist that it was introduced by the Druids, who, according to the indigenous traditions of the Isles, were Black African dwarfs and magicians. Research conducted by Marija Gimbutas has linked Ogam with the "Old European Script" dating back to 5,300 B.C. By this date, it is now apparent that Ogam was older ten. Example of ogam is shown below.
Associating the origin of Ogam with the Black African Dwarfs shades a little light on deciphering the original home of Ogam scrip writing. Ogam’s origin began to become clearer when similar types were found at Okigwe in the Igbo heartland and other ones among the Ikom monolith. Here in Nigeria, Ogam was the earliest form of writing in the Igbo settlement. It was ogam that gave birth to Nsibidi which is today used by the Efik and Ibibio family grouping as the language of their masquerade. But in the Igbo tribe, Ogam is not called the same name; the Igbo call it Akala, Marks. The ancient Igbo society used Akala to keep documents of their affairs with people. They used it to keep record of certain recompense either from the gods or from man. On the other hand, it was used to keep document of debtors and creditors. We can see this in Achebe’s book.
“Look at the wall… look at those lines of chalk” and Okoye saw groups of perpendicular lines drawn in chalk. There were five groups and the smallest group has ten lines… “Each group there represents a debt to someone, and each stroke is one hundred cowries” (Things, 6).
Akala was used up till the days of the colonial master in the Igbo land. My paternal grandmother who died in 1987 has several Akala at one side of her walls. Some were vertical lines and others were horizontal lines stroked on the wall in an organized manner. She also had some that had the shape of two-sided angles in a V-shape. There are some that were of X-shape and others of the shape of a quadrangle. Yet, Akala was not the origin of writing, although it was the earliest adopted scripted system. We have discussed this in chapter three above.
Ogam of Akala, as the Igbo call it, originated from figures that later became the Igbo mystic geometry for cosmological renditions. This is the mystery behind the emergence of writing. The earliest form of writing was composed of figures used to mark certain metaphysical relevance. And among these figures, the first which became prominent in Akala was a vertical stroke written in the manner a learner of the English figures would write one. Among the Igbo, the first figure was the ordinal, Mbu, translated to mean first. Mbu is different from the cardinal Otu, Ofu, Nnake or Nnaa as Igbo general, Igbo Owere, Igbo Onitsha or Nkanu may call it respectively. In all the versions of the Igbo language, one may be dialectically pronounced, but first remains the same and realized as Mbu. This perhaps might be because of its reference to supernatural. Mbu is the symbol for the supreme deity, God in the Igbo cosmology. This forms the genesis of script art earliest used by the ancient scribes in Igbo land in the ancient time before the invention of Nsibidi. In the ancient Igbo, Umudiala were the ancient Igbo scribes. This generation of people has been identified in chapter two above as dwarfs. Their original home is the Igbo heartland from where Bantu travellers emigrated.
Scripted Arts; from Concept to Stones
The marks we have as scripted art today existed earliest as concepts used for metaphysical purposes. As scripted art, the marks were used by the dwarfs to encode activities and the personalities involved in them. As scripted art, the marks were called Akala in the Igbo setting. Our findings show that after the flood, the survived dwarfs carried the marks to the various parts of the world where they found themselves. The adaptation of this same writing form among their survival places around the world remained one veritable means of identifying their place of origin.
Just like hieroglyphics, scholars had given time to the interpretation of Ogams using English alphabets. Initially, Edo Nyland Ibid., 1996) an Ogam scholar, who has done much work transcribing Ogam and even coming up with an Ogam Dictionary, notes that,
Many people have tried to translate the inscriptions using the Celtic language, but without any success. Not a single genuine Ogam inscription is written in Celtic ... The Celtic language did not yet exist at the time these petroglyphs were made.
The label unearthed I Abydos in the attempts towards deciphering the origin of hieroglyphic writing reveals the message below.
The label conveys its message through a combination of writing and pictorial elements, as well as formalized divisions of space. These include the use of register lines, which became increasingly standard for royal display at this time. (Before, 101).
The tablets are shown below.
From Marks to Symbols
We have noted that towards the end the first era before the flood, the Akala/mark script forms changed to a more symbolic form of writing. This form was called Nsibdi. The symbols below are Nsibidi characters. There are many others that the picture below could not contain.
\Nsibidi came of the knowledge of western historian when J. K. Macgregor witnessed a court section in Enyong in Cross River state where Nsibidi was used to document the proceedings in the court in 1909. In the southern Igbo land, he also encountered where Nsibidi was used to write and Igbo name.
The boy’s name was Onuoha. Macgregor related that the first and second letters are corruption of the English alphabets N and A, while the last letter was taken to him as an original Nsibidi. The few letters below have the interpretation labels stated along them.
The major reason behind the slow pace of the spread of this form of writing has been blamed on its cultic circumscription. It was used by the dwarfs greater among which were diviners and dibias of their time. It remained within them and was not taught to ordinary people. Good knowledge of Nsibidi language was only taught to members of the cult of scribes. Presently, it is used as designer pattern for Akwete textile among the Igbo, while among Efiks Nsidibe is used as the language of their masquerade. Unlike Akala/Ogam, Nsibidi’s influence on the scripts of the civilization of ancient communities far and near is a sense to note that the scripted form actually lasted longer than the former. Our research shows it influence on the Berber/Tuareg/Hausa Script in the Northern Nigeria and the scripts of the people in the North East and Southern Iberian were very heavy, comparing the scripts below.
The Iberian type of scripts was found in the Iberian Peninsula, in Southern France and in the Balearic Islands. The oldest date of ancient Iberian writing has been dated to the 4th century BC. Due to Roman invasions in the 3rd century BC, the script and the language from which it was written in were replaced with Latin lexicons.
In the later days of the Mesopotamian civilization, after the fall of Babel, some of the Sumerian tablets showed evidence of Nsibidi alphabets in their writings. In Ur (the home of the biblical Araham) for instance, found was the image of the community foundation peg of a female character whose body was designed with different alphabets of Nsibidi. The image is shown below,
In the early part of June, 2019, Chinese scholars eventually stumbled on what seemed to be the original source of the Chinese writing. This discovery shades light on the nature of the ancient culture the Chinese society had had and, it also gives information, thought succinctly, on the background study of what the formative period of the Chines civilization looks like. By this, it is apparent that the Chines must have been either civilized by the people among whom this form of writing unearthed reigned. evidence is so obvious that there was, at a time, when they shared affinity with the people from West Africa. Confusedly, the scholar intoned that the writing unearthed must have been Orgam. This is quite laughable because what the scholars saw is closely related to Nsibidi order than Orgam. The image is shown below.
From Symbols to Pictorial Scripts
The last stage of script evolution before the invention of alphabetical letters was pictorial scripts. Pictorial scripts made use of picture relatively similar with Nsibidi. But unlike Nsibidi, pictorial scripts made use of images of their implied reference. Good examples of pictorial scripts are Coneiform and Hieroglyphics.
Hieroglyphic scripts, developed around 3000 BC., proved real picturesque in its letters. There was also a decimal system of numeration up to a million. Unlike other cultures the early picture forms were never discarded or simplified probably because they are so very lovely to look at. Hieroglyphs were called, by the Egyptians, “the words of God” and were used mainly by the priests. These painstakingly drawn symbols were great for decorating walls of temples. For conducting day to day business, there was another script known as "hieratic". This was a handwriting in which the picture signs were abbreviated to the point of abstraction. Hieroglyphs are written in rows or columns and can be read from left to right or from right to left. You can distinguish the direction in which the text is to be read because the human or animal figures always face towards the beginning of the line.
The history of hieroglyphics is traced directly to Akala/Ogam system of writing. Akala writing system was adopted in Egypt by the civilizers of Egypt. The information uncovered by Emily Teeter (edt) Before the Pyramids revealed the contribution of a writing system that is made up of lines, unearthed in Abydos, which existed earlier before hieroglyphics. The picture is shown above. Above considerations, Egyptian hieroglyphics proves more picturesque than every other writing system used in the civilizations before the invention of modern alphabets such as Greek, French, English, Swahili and Igbo. The English equivalence of hieroglyphics are shown below.
The history of the current letters that formed the alphabets of the languages stated above is traced to the Greece civilization. The civilization of Ancient Greece emerged into the light of world history in the 8th century BC. Normally it is regarded as coming to an end when Greece fell to the Romans, in 146 BC. However, major Greek kingdoms lasted longer than this. As a culture (as opposed to a political force), Greek civilization lasted longer than the date