Thuistezien 281 — 30.05.2021

Emily Aurat
Missing Script: Afaka

In 1916 Cornelis Bonne, government doctor and teacher, saw a man in the Military Hospital in Paramaribo. He was writing down something 'in signs' that were completely unknown to him. Upon inquiry, he came to know ‘piece by piece' that it was a script that had been invented by Afaka, a man from the Marowijne district. Afaka had known the script ‘for some time when a comet appeared in the sky’. After apparently seeing ‘Haley's Comet,’ Afaka felt compelled to share his knowledge with others. Abena, the man from the Military Hospital, was one of Afaka's students. ‘The question remained how Afaka got his script. Had he learned it from one of his older relatives, so that perhaps they were signs that had perhaps already been used in Africa and had been preserved by tradition? Were the characters perhaps of some Indian tribe?’ Although Bonne has spoken to Afaka himself several times, Afaka insisted that “he invented the writing system by himself. Michael Everson writes about Afaka in the revised version of a Unicode Proposal (2012), that the writing system was indeed invented in 1908 by Afáka Atsumisi. It was meant to write Ndyuja. Ndyuia is an English Creole language spoken by 15,500 people in Suriname and 6000 people in French Guiana. At one time there were only twenty users of the script, but due to the activities of the Senabapeti Foundation, the number of users has increased again. The script is not encoded in Unicode yet.

At the one-day symposium in 2019 on letters, scripts (Alphabetum IV), organized in collaboration with the Atelier National de Recherche Typographique (Nancy), Emily Aurat talks about her interest in Afaka. Since 2018 she has been involved in the Missing Scripts Program. As a type designer, she is particularly interested in typefaces with a sociological context, especially in relation to the aftermath of colonialism. She uses well-preserved letters, administrative documents, recipes and prayers as source material to study the Afaka script. She explains the choices she makes in the design of her typefaces. The project is still under development and the exact shape of its font is not certain. The future of Afaka script is unpredictable but the comet remains an important element in the history of the writing system.

Emilie Aurat (ANRT 2018) designs a typeface for Afaka, a twentieth-century sillabary, for the Ndyuka, an English Creole language of Suriname.

Text: Marienelle Andringa