An Ivorian innovation: the Bété script

I write this in memory of Frédéric Bruly Bouabré, who called himself “Cheikh Nadro”, or “he who does not forget”. He was an Ivorian artist who passed away five years ago this month. An exhibition of some of his work is being displayed at Stanford University’s Cantor Museum through March 3rd, 2019. Tombekai Sherman and I met with him in 2009 at his home in Yopougon, a suburb of Abidjan, to work on proofing a font developed by Jason Glavy that would accurately reflect the script Bouabré was inspired to invent in 1956 for Bété and other languages. There is an important body of work that has been published covering his artistic expression, and some unpublished manuscripts can still be found.

A sample from his Quatrième Cahier can be found here:

betesample3detailFig. 1. Detail from a page of Bouabré’s Quatrième Cahier.  (Photo courtesy of Cataloging Africana).



“Gbadɛdjuiɛ, bha bɛkpoe ne-

kpabha. Bɛbri, djipiɛ

gbəbha. Bha bɛkpoe nekpa-

bhou[ór?] kpooila “bɛbouo”.

Djipiɛ, “bʰɛdɛ[ve?]bha”.

A translation for even just this section of the full work will take time to develop.  In the meantime, a friend of the Bouabré family, Hermann Gnepa, is scheduling time to do some return travel to the town of Zépréguhé to meet with former students of Bouabré toward the end of February.  They will be working together on developing some lesson plans for teaching the visionary script to new learners that may be shared.  The script appears, at least from a passing surface resemblance, to have been at least partly inspired by Egyptian hieroglyphs, in the poses that some of the figures take, the parts of the body featured, and the forms of animals chosen. A partial preliminary code chart proposal for the Bété script may be found here


Fig. 2.  Frédéric Bruly Bouabré reading from a work of his at his home in Yopougon, 2009.  (Photo by Tombekai Sherman.)

Over time, hopefully, a new generation will learn how to express themselves in a way, using their own language and characters inspired by their immediate surroundings, that Bouabré dreamed would be beneficial to understanding their world.

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