The origins of the Bassa alphabet are obscure. Its name in Bassa is
Vah, which means 'to throw a sign'. The alphabet fell out of
use in Liberia during the 19th century.
In the 1900s, a Bassa by the name of Dr Flo Darvin Lewis discovered
that former slaves of Bassa origin living in Brazil and the West Indies
were still using the Bassa alphabet. Dr Lewis had not encountered the
alphabet before and, after learning it himself, he decided to try to
revive the alphabet in Liberia.
Dr Lewis obtained a PhD in Chemistry at Syracuse University, then
returned to Liberia via Dresden, where he commissioned a company to
manufacture the first ever printing press for material written in the
Bassa alphabet. In Liberia he set up a school to teach the Bassa alphabet.
Originally the Bassa alphabet was written on slates with charcoal,
and the writing could be easily erased with a leaf known as yan.
People began to write with pencils in the early 1940s. The original
writing direction was boustrophedon (alternating between right to left
and left to right, but the alphabet has been written from left to right
since the 1960s.
Bassa in a tonal language. Tones are marked using a system
of dots and dashes which appear inside the vowel letters.
Used to write:
Bassa, a Kru language spoken by about 350,000 people in Liberia
and by about 5,000 people in Sierra Leone.
Thanks to Rev. Joseph Gbadyu, Varnie N'jola Karmo and Mattias Persson
for information on the Bassa alphabet.
Sample text and transliteration by Peter Gorwor from Liberia
All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They
are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another
in a spirit of brotherhood. (Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights)