On the West Coast of Africa and in the rain forests to the north, several indigenous African writing scripts were invented by individuals for their native languages.

  Further inland, in the Sudan, the great belt of grassland that crosses the continent, the Africans had long been in contact with the Arabs and many African societies had accepted Islam. Arabic became a language of scholarship and in time some African languages were written in Arabic script. Further east, Semitic scripts like Ge'ez and Amharic in Ethiopia developed from Egyptian demotic and Phoenician, much as the Hebrew and Arabic scripts in the Middle East did.

   The West African indigenous scripts for African languages, such as those for Vai, Mende, Bassa, and others, were developed in the early 1800's when European colonization of the West African coast was beginning.  This parallels the situation in the United States of America at about the same time, where the great Cherokee genius Sequoyah was in close enough contact with the white man to know about his writing and to believe that much of the white man's power lay in his ability to write his spoken language.

   E. Jefferson Murphy, in  The History of African Civilization, Chapter 9, "States of the West African Forests", states,  "Despite an almost complete absence of Islamic influence, urban and court life was as rich and civilized, in its own way, as it was in the great states of the Sudan [the belt of grassland across the continent just below the Sahara desert]. There was no knowledge of writing, yet priests and intellectually curious men often debated religious and philosophical questions" (p. 154). He is speaking of the time before colonization started in the early 1800's.

   The Bibliothèque nationale de France page, African Scripts: Identity Card, notes, "The principal alphabets that are properly African (Vai, Mende, Bamoun, and Bassa) were born in the 19th century. They drew upon millenary traditions for their symbols... The majority of these systems gave way to Roman transcriptions at the beginning of the 20th century, except for Vai which is still in use." The loss of the native scripts was undoubtedly due to the brutal imposition of colonialism over nearly all Africa after the Berlin Conference of 1884.