Nolwazi Mpofu

Uhlola kweNdebele

Bachelor of Design Publication Typography Inter-cultural Vernacular

Uhlola kweNdebele is an exploration of the Ndebele culture through the visual and symbolic cues of the adinkra symbols (from the Akan people of Ghana and Cote d’Iviore); it delves into the symbolic thinking and meaning without the use of cultural appropriation. Uhlola kweNdebele is formatted into a typeface design that is inspired by adinkra symbols and its meanings and is inspired by the Bantu symbols for the secondary glyphs.

This project explores the themes of symbolic thinking, the abstract concepts and ideas that symbols, specifically Bantu and Adinkra symbols, have and the substantial significance that these symbols have on the people themselves. Despite the difference in cultures, both have a social impact on people of the culture whether that's through clothes, furniture, jewellery or in paintings/decoration.

This project forms a social commentary towards the tokenism in the representation in how Africa is viewed through the “Africa” fonts online, considering the continent has vast amount of countries that have their own cultures and values, something that is very difficult to replicate or condense. While this is social reflection on how representation is shown, this is also an educational opportunity to learn two different things at once and appreciate both simultaneously.

Uhlola kweNdebele is roughly translated to “explores Ndebele” or “exploration of Ndebele” from the Zulu language, (Zulu and isiNdebele are essentially the same but differ in some contexts). This project is an exploration of the Ndebele culture, from the art culture to the traditions and customs, that the designer could not experience themselves when they were younger. The cultural significance and values of the Ndebele culture have influenced the direction of type design and influenced the secondary glyphs, whereas the cultural and symbolic meanings of the Adinkra symbols influenced the visual outlook of the main type design. Uhola kweNdebele uniquely combines two different cultures and values into one, to inform, educate and immerse into an engagement of symbols, concepts and aphorisms that are rich in the Ndebele and Akan culture.

As well as educating on the special and spiritually-connected cultures, this Uhlola kweNdebele project is a commentary on the lack of genuine African fonts, that represents Africa without the usage of tokenism that is most often shown when search results are shown on “African fonts”. Despite that, it is extremely difficult to condense 54 different countries cultures and values and beliefs into a single font that can represent the area, this typeface design negates that you do not have to use all the cultures nor do you have to resort of cliche façades to create a typeface that not only is graphic but also appreciates and uplifts the culture that was benefited from.

Uhlola kweNdebele focuses on the symbols and the symbolic thinking of adinkra symbols and the Bantu symbols (Bantu symbols originate from Southern Africa and predominantly used by the Ndebele and Zulu ethnic group). It looks at how abstract concepts, ideas and meanings can be used through modalities such symbols, art and pictographs. Within this type design, I used five different adinkra symbols taking into consideration the meanings and sayings behind the symbols that will influence the type design. The outcome of the typeface was to be futuristic but be simple and experimental, I wanted it to be able to recreate the visual details of the symbols and also create new noteworthy ways to represent a symbol through a letter. I used the adinkra symbols: UAC Nkanea, Hwehwemudua, Nea Onnim, Nkyinkyim and Woford dua Pa A. The secondary glyphs were created in secondary to the primary type and were inspired by the Bantu symbol-language and a newly-created writing system called Ditema tsa Dinoko, both have lots of shapes, figures to help those Bantu languages. The goal with the Bantu glyphs was to showcase a different side of the Bantu languages and culture and to also do a typeface that does not necessarily have to follow routine conventions of typography.

Uhlola kweNdebele is a cultural exploration of African type, specifically looking at the cultural immersion of Ndebele culture through the usage of typography. It is another way of how we can use cultural symbols to create meaningful type design that informs, educates and challenges a way of thinking.