“The spoken word, through the vibrations that it sets in motion, activates and propels all things … ” ― Malian Writer and Ethnologist, Amadou Hampâté Bâ

Whether the vibrations are in Yoruba, Igbo, Fula, Akan, Wolof … West Africa reverberates with the sounds of Niger-Congo languages, one of the largest language families in the world.

Garay Alphabet: a Wolof Script

Abstract graphic of the letters and numbers of the Garay alphabet.

or Garay is an alphabet created specifically for Wolof, a language widely spoken in Senegal and parts of the Gambia and Mauritania. Traditionally, Wolof was written with an adapted version of the Arabic script called Wolofal. While this is still a common writing system, the use of the Latin alphabet has steadily risen since Senegal …

The Power of a Name

Black and white lithograph of a family sitting, backs turned, on a bench. There are three small children, and four adults. They are facing a woman who is embracing them all. The image is reminiscent of an African naming ceremony, where a child is given a name or several names.

To the Shakespearean question “What’s in a name?”, West Africa’s answer is “Everything”. In a world where even the act of speaking is infused with power, birth names ― whether protective or emboldening, proverbial or predictive, exalted or even seemingly indelicate ― are of the highest traditional significance. So, too, the ceremonies that surround them. …

The Power of Words

Painting of faces, some listening, some speaking.

The ‘word’ in West African cultures, once loosened from the lips as if drawing back the strings of a talisman pouch, diffuses a special force, the primal energy of creation itself. To speak is to exhale an active essence, Oro according to the Yoruba of Nigeria and Benin. For the Mande — ranging from coastal …