‘Nsibidi’ refers to an ancient ideographic script dating back over 1500 years, indigenous to Eastern Nigeria.
As a pre-colonial cultural artefact, Nsibidi is a window into the authentic and independent ideas of ancient Nigerian communities and their surviving cultures. As a script, Nsibidi became a channel to communicate the human condition, cumulatively serving to document the linguistic patterns of Eastern Nigerian tribes, their social institutions, gender relations, legal structures and religious rites. Its pictorial form and gestural articulation allowed for exchanges that scaled the barriers of language and corresponding ethnicities, transcending the confines of spatial boundaries and the present moment.
For us at the Institute, it is symbolic of so much more. As a historic form of documentation, indigenous to the region and formerly incorporated into everyday practices, it challenges the myth that Nigerians are not capable or even appreciative of diligent record-keeping. As Africa’s oldest recorded writing system after hieroglyphics, evidence of its predominant use also calls to question a number of erroneous assumptions made about the exclusivity of oral traditions on the continent. Today Nsibidi is still used as a means to refer sacred messages between the members of the Ekpe Leopard secret society, demonstrating its tenacity and continued relevance to contemporary cultures and ways of life.
There may not be much in a name – but this one resonates strongly with us. ‘Nsibidi’ points to the very essence of our Institute: that of building a repository of knowledge capable of transcending real and imagined boundaries.