The Ancient Egyptians Were Not the Only Africans Who Could Write

The Nsibidi writings of the Ekoi people

Adaeze Sherleen Ilo
5 min readJun 8, 2021


By Maude Wahlman — Maude Wahlman. Signs and Symbols: African Images in African American Quilts, Public Domain,

TThe ancient Egyptians get a lot of publicity for their power and influence on the ancient world, and rightly so. At a point, they were the greatest civilization on Earth. Most notably, they were the first recorded humans in Africa to have a system of writing.

They are famous for their great pyramids, great pharaohs and even have chapters in the Bible dedicated to them and their run-ins with the Israelites. However, while celebrating them, we have overlooked the other sub-Saharan African tribes with a writing system. Many people are not even aware that it exists.

Before the amalgamation of the northern and southern protectorates of what is now known as Nigeria, its people existed in tribes, who frequently traded with one another but were also independent of each other. One of these tribes, the Ekoi people, or ‘Ejagham’ as some prefer to call them, had a system of writing called ‘Nsibidi.’

A brief tale of the Ekoi people

The Ekoi people are an ethnic group scattered around the south-eastern part of Nigeria, extending to the eastern borders of Cameroon. They live in proximity to the Efik and Calabar people of Cross-river state.

Cross-river is a state in Nigeria with various ethnic groups living in it. The state borders Cameroon (the country) to the East, Benue state to the North, and Enugu and Abia state to the west. Benue, Enugu, and Abia are states found in Nigeria. Nigeria is made up of 36 states.

Before western civilization took over, the Ekoi tribe lived in harmony with neighboring tribes such as the Igbo’s and Ibibios. Hence, Igbo’s also adopted the Nsibidi writing, and some people wrongly assume it was founded by the Igbo’s when, in fact, that's not true.

Scholars claim that Nsibidi was used by the Ekoi people from as far back as 400CE. It is the oldest form of writing in Africa after the Egyptian Hieroglyphics.

Nsibidi takes on a pictographic and sometimes logographic style of writing. This conveys broad ideas and…



Adaeze Sherleen Ilo

Adaeze is a social worker in training who recently embraced her writing super powers. Now she writes to make up for lost time.