Ingenuity and elegance in ancient African alphabets

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1 min read

From simple alphabets to secret symbolic languages, graphic designer Saki Mafundikwa celebrates the many forms of written communication across the continent of Africa. He highlights the history and legacy that are embodied in written words and symbols, and urges African designers to draw on these graphic forms for fresh inspiration. It’s summed up in his favorite Ghanaian glyph, Sankofa, which means “return and get it” — or “learn from the past.”

About Saki Mafundiwaka

In his book Afrikan Alphabets, Saki Mafundiwaka includes a Ghanaian pictograph meaning “return to the past” This is exactly what he did in 1997 when he cashed in his publishing job 401(k) and left New York to open the Zimbabwe Institute of Vigital Arts (ZIVA) in Harare. (“Vigital” denotes visual arts taught using digital tools.)

As a child growing up in Zimbabwe, Mafundiwaka loved to sketch letterforms he saw in books and magazines, but he didn’t know graphic design was a career option until he arrived in America. “Sometimes you have to leave home,” he says, “to discover yourself.” He opened ZIVA to pay it forward. “The dream,” he says, “is for something to come out of Africa that is of Africa.”

In 2010, he made the film Shungu: The Resilience of a People, a compelling narrative of the strategies ordinary people use to survive in Zimbabwe today.

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