Early Ceramics from Calabar, Nigeria Towards a History of Nsibidi Christopher Slogar All photos by Christopher Slogar except where otherwise noted ecent excavations in the region of Calabar, Nigeria, have brought to light an important corpus of archaeological ceramics, including vessels, headrests, and anthropomorphic objects. Interpretation of these ceramics bears upon our understanding of the graphic system known as nsibidi (or nsibiri), a central and defining characteristic of Cross River visual culture still employed by men and women throughout the region today. Considered one of the indigenous African scripts, nsibidi records, transmits, and conceals various kinds of information using a wide, fluid vocabulary of geometric and naturalistic signs placed on objects including calabashes, brassware, textiles (figs. 1â2), masquerade paraphernalia (fig. 3), and wood sculpture, and on surfaces including the ground, the walls of buildings, and even human skin. Yet little is known of the history of nsibidi prior to the early twentieth century, when it caught the attention of colonial officials.1 The Calabar ceramics, incorporating such a great variety of discrete motifsâincluding arcs, arrows, chevrons, concentric circles, crosses, lozenges, spirals, and starsâevidence an iconography readily comparable to nsibidi. Moreover, the decoration found on the anthropomorphic figurines suggests that
African Arts – MIT Press
Published: Mar 1, 2007
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