What is Nsibidi/Nsibiri?
Nsibidi is an idiographic symbol system that has been in use for centuries in South Eastern Nigeria. Its origins can be traced back to around 400 AD/CE and it is used by several indigenous peoples including the Igbo, Ibibio-Efik, and Ejagham.
The Significance of Nsibidi Symbols
Today, the most well-known Nsibidi symbols are related to love, conflict, and family. These symbols are written in two forms: a public, practical one and a secret, spiritual one. The public symbols are more widely recognized and are used in everyday communication. On the other hand, the spiritual symbols are used for mystical purposes and are kept secret by initiates.
Nsibidi in Everyday Life
Before the outbreak of the Nigeria-Biafra war, Nsibidi was commonly taught in schools and was used as temporary tattoos. This widespread use of Nsibidi allowed for communication between different ethnic groups in South Eastern Nigeria, despite language barriers.
Deciphering Nsibidi Symbols
Nsibidi symbols are written in a code of ideographs that communicate concepts and ideas rather than sounds or words. This allows for ideas to be shared by speakers of the different languages within South Eastern Nigeria. These symbols are interpreted as a collective, and the narrative is deciphered by observing symbols in the context of each other.
Nsibidi in Art
Nsibidi symbols are not only used in communication but also in various art forms such as Ukara cloth and Uli, which are mainly created by women. These art forms are traditionally used for body decoration, clothing, and even household items.
In recent times, efforts have been made to preserve the Nsibidi system, which was in danger of being lost due to its declining use. These efforts include the establishment of Nsibidi studies in schools and the documentation of Nsibidi symbols by scholars.