BLACK, HISTORY, Rafineque,

Tozzer, A, Winters, Leo, Wiener






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Olmecs, Mayan, Mande, Manding, Libyco-Berber, Writing

Figure 1

The view that Africans originated writing in America is not new. Scholars early recognized the affinity between Amerindian scripts and the Mande script(s). By 1832, Rafinesque noted the similarities between the Mayan glyphs and the Libyco-Berber writing.


And Leo Wiener (1922, v.3), was the first researcher to recognize the resemblances between the Manding writing and the symbols on the Tuxtla statuette.


In addition, Harold Lawrence (1962) noted that the "petroglyphic" inscriptions found throughout much of the southern hemisphere compared identically with the writing system of the Manding. Rafinesque (1832) published an important paper on the Mayan writing that helped in the decipherment of the Olmec Writing. In this paper he discussed the fact that when the Mayan glyphs were broken down into their constituent parts, they were analogous to the ancient Libyco-Berber writing.




Figure 2

The Libyco-Berber writing can not be read in either Berber or Taurag, even though these people use an alphabetic script similar to the Libyco-Berber script which is syllabic CV and CVC in structure.


This was an important article because it offered the possibility that the Mayan signs could be read by comparing them to the Libyco-Berber symbols (Rafineque, 1832). This was not a farfetched idea, because we know for a fact that the cuneiform writing was used to write four different languages: Sumerian, Hittite, Assyrian and Akkadian. The Mande people often refer to themselves as Sye or Si 'black, race, family, etc.'.


The Si people appear to have been mentioned by the Maya (Tozzer, 1941). Tozzer (1941) claimed that the Yucatec Maya said that the Tutul Xiu (shiu), a group of foreigners from zuiva, in Nonoualoco territory taught the Maya how to read and write. This term Xiu agrees with the name Si, for the Manding people (also it should be noted that in the Manding languages the plural number is formed by the suffix -u, -wu).


Winters (1979, 1997) was able to read the Libyco-Berber signs because they were analogous to the Manding or Si signs recorded by Delafosse (1899). These Si people , now centered in West Africa and the Sahelian region formerly lived in an area where Libyco-Berber inscriptions are found (Winters, 1983, 1986). Using the Manding languages Winters (1983) was able to decipher the Libyco-Berber inscriptions.

Olmec, Tuxtla, Statuette, Writing, Script, La, Venta, Celts

Olmec Script

The second clue to the Manding origin of the Olmec writing was provided by Leo Wiener in Africa and the Discovery of America (1922,v.3). Wiener presented evidence that the High Civilizations of Mexico (Maya and Aztecs) had acquired many of the cultural and religious traditions of the Malinke-Bambara (Manding people) of West Africa.


In volume 3, of Africa and the Discovery of America, Wiener discussed the analogy between the glyphs on the Tuxtla statuette and the Manding glyphs engraved on rocks in Mandeland.


In Table 1, we show a comparison of the Libyco-Berber, Vai syllabic signs, and Olmec signs from selected sites to test the hypothesis of Lawrence (1961), Wiener (1922) and Winters (1979, 1983), that the Olmec writing is of Manding origin . The phonetic values of the Olmec signs are the phonetic values the Vai syllabary, which is analogous to the Olmec writing (Winters, 1979, 1997). Progress in deciphering the Olmec writing has depended largely on a knowledge of the Malinke-Bambara (Manding) languages and the Vai writing system (Delofosse, 1899). This language is monosyllabic.


The terms in the Manding languages explain the characteristics of the Olmec civilization. The Olmec inscriptions are primarily of three types 1) talismanic inscriptions found on monuments, statuettes, vessels, masks, and celts; 2) obituaries found on celts and other burial artifacts; and 3) signs on scepters denoting political authority.

Tuxtla statuette

The Olmec script has two forms or stages : (1 syllabic and 2) hieroglyphic. The syllabic script was employed in the Olmec writing found on the masks, celts, statuettes and portable artifacts in general. The hieroglyphic script is usually employed on bas-reliefs, stelas (i.e., Mojarra, and tomb wall writing. The only exception to this rule for Olmec writing was the Tuxtla statuette.


Olmec is an agglutinative language. Olmec had mixed syntactic constituents because of its use of affixes. The basic word order for Olmec was subject (S), object (O), and vowel (V) in simple declarative sentences. Due to the use of several prefixes in Olmec there are some VO sentences in the corpus of Olmec inscriptions


In the Olmec script the consonants k, m, and n, was often placed in front of selected Olmec words, e.g., be : mbe, ngbe; and pe: Kpe. In these instances the nasal consonant can be dropped, and the monosyllabic word following the initial consonant element can be read , e.g., Kpe= pe ' spacious, pin down, flat lands, etc. Thusly, the appearance of CCV or CCCV Olmec forms are the result of the addition of initial consonantal elements to monosyllabic Olmec terms. Olmec Syllabic Writing. The famous inscribed celts of offering no.4 LaVenta, indicate both the plain (Fig. 1) and cursive syllabic Olmec scripts (Fig. 2).

In the cursive form of the writing the individual syllabic signs are joined to one another, in the plain Olmec writing the signs stand alone. The cursive Olmec script probably evolved into Olmec hieroglyphics. The inscriptions engraved on celts and batons are more rounded than the script used on masks, statuettes and bas-reliefs. The pottery writing on the Los Bocas and Tlatilco ware are also in a fine rounded style.


In this chapter we will use the inscribed celts found at La Venta in 1955, at offering No.4, the inscribed jadeite celt from near El Sitio, and the Black Stone Serpent Scepter of Cardenas, Tabasco as examples of the Olmec writing. All the translations of Olmec artifacts are based on the Manding dictionary of Delafosse (1921). The celts of La Venta offering no.4, were discovered by Drucker in 1955.


La Venta offering no.4

These celts show both the plain and cursive forms of the Olmec script. These inscribed celts were part of a collection of 16 figurines and jade and serpentine found in offering no.4 (Soustelle, 1984). In La Venta offering no.4, fifteen figurines were arranged around a central figure. According to the inscriptions on the celts in this collection, the personage buried in this tomb was Pè. The bold head of Pè suggest that he was their cult leader.


A pit had been dug over the incised celts and figurines, a hole leading from the earth's surface down to the burial cache suggest that this was used for pouring libations on the figurines. This view is supported by the fact that the inscriptions written in the plain Olmec syllabic style ( Fig. 1), mentions the fact that Pè tomb was to act as a talisman or protective shrine for the faithful.


The six celts found in La Venta offering no.4, were arranged in a semi-circle. Four of the celts were engraved. The first and last celts in the semi-circle were not engraved. Moving from left to right two engraved jade celts when joined together depict an Olmec priest wearing an elaborate headdress and holding what appears to be a torch or baton in his hand.


This figure probably represented Pè. It is analogous to the figure engraved on a jade Breastplate (no. 13:583), now located in the National Museum of Anthropology at Mexico City ( Wuthenau, 1980). The first two Laventa celts probably were originally joined together and served as a symbol of authority for the deceased priest while he was alive. The breakage of this celt into two parts probably symbolized the withdrawal of the priest's physical body, from the physical plane to the spiritual plane.


Languages, Delafosse , African, Pe, Celebrity


The placement in the tomb of Pè's "celt of power" was meant to hold his spiritual power at the grave site.


The third engraved celt at La Venta offering no.4, was engraved in the cursive Olmec script (Fig. 2).


In the text of the cursive script we find Pè's obituary.

  • Transliteration of Symbols on Figure 1


    Fè fè mi pè po gbè


    without breath void consumed Pè pure/holy below (in)


    lu bè ma


    the family habitation lay low the celebrity (the) Lord (in)


    yu ka-pè ba ko


    the big hemisphere tomb Ka-Pè the Great (in) the back of


    se yu we


    (to) possess for posterity the big hemisphere tomb Hence


    ta lu ba i


    this place the family habitation great/strong thine


    gba kyè be po


    fixed in the ground inheritance/estate here pure/holy


    mbe be


    lay low the celebrity lay low the celebrity.



    " Without breath.


    Void. Consumed (lies) the Hole Pè, below the family habitation.


    Lay low the celebrity, the Lord, in the hemisphere tomb.


    The Great Ka-Pè, in the back of the big hemisphere tomb, possesses (this place) for posterity.


    Thine inheritance (is) fixed in this ground.


    Here the pure celebrity lays low.


    Lay low the celebrity".




fè, v. to be void, empty, without breath


mi, v. consumed

Pè, proper name; v. spacious, pin down


po, adj. : superlative of white translated as holy, pure, the good


gbè, v. lay low, below; virtue

lu, family habitation


bè, v: lay low the celebrity


ma, it can be translated as "Great one" or "Lord"; it

can also be a suffix joined to a substantive or a verb

to show intensity.


yu, the big hemisphere tomb


Ka, a title given to Olmec elites


ba, adj.: great


ka, adv.: in the back of


se, possess (this place) for posterity


we, adv.: hence


ta, this place, place, here


lu, n.: the family habitation


ba, adj.: great


i, pronominal particle of the second person: thine, thou, you


gba, transitive v.: fixed in the ground


kyè, inheritance, estate

be, here