Forerunners of writing were descriptive pictures of people, animals, and objects. Among the earliest interior Black Africans, picture art was done with a great deal of individual variation.
Intricate patterns engrained on bits of stone found in a South African cave and dated at 77,000 years ago (L.A. Times, 01/11/02) are comprable to modern abstract thought and complex behavior.
Besides producing art writing (e.g. carve painting), they made bone tools, developed the fairly complex technology and organizations needed to catch food (e.g. fish) and created various kinds of counting devices (e.g. sticks, pebbles, clay tokens, strings, and knots tied into rope at intervals). Certain picture writings related to identifying devices.
For example, an Ewe proverb: The thread follows the needle (i.e. like father, like son) is symbolized by a picture of a needle and thread.
According to Diop, (The African Art in a Civilization), it was during the Upper Paleolithic (Stone) Age (70,000 to 20,000 years before the modern era) when the Aurignacian Negroid civilization was continued by the Capsian Negroids.
Centered in Tunisia, this Capsian civilization spread into North Africa, Spain, Portugal, Sicily, Southern Italy, Libya, Palestine, Egypt, the Sahara, and Central and South Africa.
During this time, pictures about concrete things expanded to include the abstract by way of symbols (e.g. ideas and feelings) -- all to communicate a message, comment on an event, or tell a story.
When placed in a series of action pictures that told a story, this became the first Pictograms. The abstract Capsians artistic flowing style in combining two or more picture symbols was said by Diop to be the origin of writing.
Many of their picture signs had a metaphorical value (e.g. the sun representing brightness). Because this schematic stylization of figures stood for ideas as well as for objects, the term Ideographic Writing was used.
It is popular today as traffic markers, like two curved lines indicating slippery when wet. In other words ideographs are drawn or written symbols (ideograms) that stand directly for things or notions instead of the sounds of words in the language of the user.
Readers are free to choose their own words in putting together the symbols meanings.
Chancellor Williams (The Destruction of Black Civilization) stated that Interior Africans went on to develop an alphabet whereby signs represented single sounds.
Writing in which all the symbols are used to represent the sounds of language -- (i.e. its alphabet) -- is called Phonetic. He states that there were 23 characters or letters in the interior African alphabet -- 4 vowel signs, 17 consonants, and 2 signs of the syllable.
This transformation of art to writing is a supreme human achievement -- so difficult, in fact, that few peoples have done it on their own. Fortunately, these African left traces of their writing on statues, altars, and tomb stones.
However, Williams states that one of the most tragic losses ever suffered by a whole people was, because of their constant migrations, the vanishing of interior African writing.
Yet, as they migrated and populated the same areas mentioned for the Capsian civilization as well as Mesopotamia, China, India, the Aegeans (e.g. Crete), Oceanica, and the Americas, they carried writing with them.
This would account for several ancient peoples being said to have independently discovered writing in one form or another.
Joseph A. Bailey, II, M.D
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