North America
West Africa

The New Invention of Writing

During the first half of the 19th century, native cultures without writing came into contact with European colonists that did have writing.  Native individuals of genius saw that writing gave the white man great power and therefore invented writing systems for their own people.  Rather than copying the white man's writing systems, they used imagery from their own traditions to accomplish this.  This remarkable development took place in at least two areas on two continents, North America and west Africa. 

(Of course, we must qualify "writing" here as symbol systems that represent sounds, rather than morphographic systems such as Chinese which represent ideas. )

To start, let us call the roll of the New Inventors.

SEQUOYAH, of the Cherokee people of east-central North America;
DWAKI BUKELE of the Vai people of West Africa, in what is now Liberia;
DI WIDAH, of the Bassa people of West Africa, in what is now the central coast of Liberia; and
CHIEF GBILI OF SONOYEA of the Kpelle people of West Africa, in what is now Liberia. 

We shall also show the Mende syllabary of Sierra Leone and many samples of other West African scripts, but we do not know the names of their inventors. 

August 26, 2001

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