RECOVERY OF IGBO-ISRAEL
Many Igbos are beginning to realize that the Igbo people will only be happy and fulfilled when they do teshuvah, return, and begin to practice Igbo-Jewish culture, which in asusu Igbo (Igbo language) is called Omenana.
We already have a large body of literature about how the Dispersion, the Exile, and the relocation of the Igbo-Jews to the forests (ime ofia) of West Africa isolated the Igbos from other umu Yisrael (children of Israel). And how the Slave Trade and colonialism devastated the Igbo society, and paved the way for the colonialists to demonize Omenana, and attempt to replace it with the colonialists’ culture which is at best very strange to the Igbo-Jews and thus unworkable. We also have information about how some Igbo-Jews thought erroneously that Omenana could be discarded, the colonialist’s culture adopted, and the Igbo-Jews still thrive. Evidence exists that many Igbo-Jews entertained such thoughts, and even took steps to jettison Omenana. However the effort only resulted in disappointment, misery and unhappiness, because the Holy One of Yisrael, the God of Abraham, known by the Igbo-Jews as Chukwu Abiama made it clear in Deuteronomy 28, that happiness and well-being for Israel lies in practicing the culture embedded in the Tora(Omenana), and unhappiness and ruin, in jettisoning the Tora.
It is the realization of many Igbo-Jews that the Igbo society can only be happy if and when it practices Tora/Omenana that we want to talk about here.
Since some decades this realization that the colonialists’ stories and models couldn’t be absolute truths nor good for Igbo-Jews has been with many Igbo-Jews. And many have taken steps to return to Tora/Omenana. We can’t pretend at this stage that we have a complete record of all the Igbo-Jews who have taken steps to do teshuvah, and how they have tried to achieve the return. Accordingly we’ll discuss only the most high profile cases here.
The Igbo Sabbatharians
Some three to five decades ago, some Igbos who had pass through the indoctrination of the colonialists just like other Igbos somehow realized that the Laws, regulations, etc of God-set out minutely in what they know as the ‘Old Testament’ couldn’t be a shadow of things to come. That for a people (the colonialists) who brought laws when they came to Igboland to teach that the era of the Laws (of God for that matter) has passed is grand fraud. To head back to Law, and its observance they began the Sabbatharian movement. This movement believed that the Laws of God are alive, and that their observance will give the Igbos order in their society. Definitely what they began was a return to Tora/Omenana. After all what is Omenana? Omenana if translated to English is: doing (keeping) on the ‘Land’ the commandments that God gave Israel. Our work on the Sabbatharians could be found at …………………….and to purchase the hard copy of the monograph in Nigeria contact: 08065300351, 08022237028.
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This is another interesting movement. This relatively new religion which we can say that it is an Igbo initiative was ‘founded by His Highness and Chief priest, Chief Kalu Onu Kalu Onyioha.’
Because Godianism as it is called has produced only few literatures we have managed to do only a little study about it. However we can say that what motivated the founder to start it is a desire to go back to Omenana. According to Nze Ifeanyichukwu Obimdike-Chukwuka, a Godianist, “Godianism is the direct worship of the supreme God according to the good traditional and cultural beliefs and practices of every race.”
This definition instructs us that the Godianists would worship God with Omenana which the good traditional and cultural beliefs and practices of ‘the Igbo-Jewish people’. The Godianists’s beliefs are in many respects in accord with the beliefs of the Igbos. Examples of such beliefs are-Belief that there is only one self-existing supreme God, who must be worshipped. Belief in reincarnation and in retributive justice. I would not be able to go deeply into the Godian position on this belief which they adhere to, but the Igbos believe that “ife onye metar’ oburu na isi ya” (what you sow you reap). Godianism also canvasses respect for ones ancestors.
Another thing that we think that it is an impetus that might have contributed to the birth of Godianism is the desire to save and preserve what is left of Igbo-Jewish artefacts.
We count the Godianists among the Igbo-Jews who are keen to salvage the Igbos because of their positive interest in Igbo ideas and history.
1. Christopher Ejizu, In: T. I. Okere, ed., Religion in a World of Change: African Ancestral Religion, Islam and Christianity (Owerri: Assumpta Press, 2003) 194.
2. Godianism in Practice, July 2002, Lagos, p.3.
Igbo rabbinic Jews
Rather than refer to Godianism as a revived form of Omenana as some Godianists would like to think I will refer to Rabbinic Judaism as the modern model of Omenana.
Judaism is the culture of the people of Israel. God began to give it to Israel when He called Ibri (Hebrew) Patriarch Abraham, and gave him monotheism. Abraham handed over what God gave him to Isaac, and Isaac, Jacob, and Jacob, the 12 sons, who in turn handed them to the multitudes of Israel. And at Mount Sinai God gave Moses the full complement of the Israelite culture. Christian writer, Mcdowell Stewart, in essence agreed with us. He observed thus; ‘Judaism had its origin when a man named Abram received a divine call from the one true God…
Today what God gave Abraham is called Judaism. Rabbinic Judaism. Judaism is derived from Judah, the name of Israel’s 4th son, the son who survived the vagaries of Dispersion, Exile, persecutions, etc, better than his brethren, as that Patriarch, and ‘prophet’ Israel, their father prophesied as he was about to rejoin his ancestors.
Millions of Igbo-Jews found themselves outside this culture, due to the Dispersion, Exile, isolation caused by the forests of West Africa, the destruction of the Igbo-Jewish society by the Slave trade and colonialism.
Today Igbos are returning to Judaism. For obvious reasons I say ‘returning’ to Judaism, and not ‘becoming’ Jews. Many synagogues have been set up, and more are going up by the day. In the synagogues the Igbos study Israelite culture and practice the ones that must be practiced communally. For what Igbo-Jews, and Jews generally believe in browse in www.derushapublishing.com
The Igbo Jews and Christians Organization
This organization was spawned after a serious discussion of the deteriorating condition of the Igbo-Jews by Remy Ilona, the executive director of the Igbo Israel Union, and Nestor Nzeribe, an avid Igbo-Jewish scholar, and Christian minister. Nzeribe requested to meet Remy after reading Remy’s latest edition of The Igbos: Jews In Africa. Apparently Nzeribe who has been disturbed for a long time about the plight of the Igbo-Jews saw too many verities in the book. And from Remy’s analysis, too many things that could be used to heal the Igbos too. At the meeting both men agreed that as the book recommended that as a matter of urgency that the mass of the Igbos must be re-educated that they are Igbos; children of Israel. That restoring Igbo pride in the identity which is being forgotten, and shed off, will prepare the people for enlightenment about their duties, responsibilities, and rights as Children of Israel.
Igbo-Jews, Jews and others who contribute through scholarly efforts and opinions
Almost every honest Igbo-Jew acknowledges that the Igbos lost so much, because much was not written down, nor preserved on easily transmittable materials. Many have began to try to recover lost ground. Set out hereunder are some Igbo-Jewish efforts:
In his book, Nri: The Cradle of Igbo Culture and Civilization, a notable clan head in Igboland, Chief Chukwuemeka Onyesoh also suggested that the Igbos from Nri clan are descendants of Eri son of Gad, son of Jacob, son of Isaac, son of Abraham.
Another Igbo gentleman, P. J. O. Nwadinigwe, in his books, Umu Nshi Royal Stool and The Origin Of The Igbos, also maintained that his own findings are that the Igbos are Jews.
Similarly, prolific Igbo author and academic, O. Alaezi, while writing on the subject states much the same in his book, Ibos: Hebrew Exiles From Israel -Amazing Facts And Revelations. He cited on page 30 of the book other Igbo writers who have suggestions in their writings that the traditions of the Igbos and of the Israelites are similar. The list includes Arinze; Catholic cardinal, who vied with the present pope, Benedict, for the headship of the Roman Catholic church, and Ilogu, Njaka, Oraka, Ezeala and Ononoju.
Another Igbo academic and former government minister, Miriam Ikejiani Clark, who even by Halakhah (Jewish Law) is Jewish, because she has a Canadian (rabbinic) Jewish mother, and an Igbo father said the following: ‘You know I’m from Nri (an Igbo clan) and there are similarities between the customs that we have and the Jewish customs’ (Daily Sun, Monday, July 18, 2005, p.15).
And still another Igbo man, the clan leader of Igbo Ukwu, one of the more traditionally minded Igbo clans, HRH Martin N. Eze, told the world through the Daily Sun newspaper of Friday, May 27,2005, on page 29, that ‘….Igbo Ukwu, as has rightly been said, came from Israel.’
And an Igbo, Evangelist Iheanacho, who heads an ‘Evangelical Outreach’ in Obi Ngwa, Abia state, speaking to the Saturday Sun of October 29, 2005, on page 3, described ‘the people of the Old Eastern Region (predominantly the Igbo people) as part of the Lost ten tribes of Israel, that got lost around 722 B.C.E.’
A very popular musician, and an Igbo man, called Ozoemena Nsugbe took it upon himself to ask questions about the origins of the Igbos. He conducted a tour of Aguleri, Igbo Ukwu, Arochukwu, and Ibuzo clans, and talked to people that would know. His findings continued to point to Israel. He released his findings in the form of a song. These findings and his obvious conviction on them further inspired his second album which he authoritatively entitled Give Power to Nigerian Jews.
Another Igbo man, a Christian pastor called Pastor Okwey undertook a similar mission, and using names that are similar in sounds and spellings, historical narratives and ‘visions’, he arrived at the conclusion that the Igbos are descendants of ancient Israelites.
Another Igbo pastor; Charles Ujah, wrote and published a booklet; entitled The Origin of the Ibos, from Linguistic and Cultural angle. In the monograph he concluded that the Igbos are Jewish.
Still another one; Chidi Nwaehie MacJossy, an Igbo, had also in a largely polemical piece entitled; God’s Covenant with the Igbo race-A Memoriam of the Revelation, which was endorsed by the National Council of Igbo Christian Ministers, regularly pointed out that the Igbos are Jews.
Also Chukwuma Okoye; an Igbo writer, had in his book entitled Tale of a Jewish State in Africa concluded that the Igbos are Jews.
And Matthew O. Orji had in his The History & Culture of The Igbo People which I consider a very good book made allusions that Igbo and Hebrew cultures are similar.
In the same vein, F.C. Ogbalu who started the documentation of Igbo culture in writing in Igbo language did suggest in his Omenala Igbo that Igbo and Hebrew cultures are similar.
In the Daily Sun newspaper of Wednesday, June 1, 2005, on page 15, we find an Igbo ‘Sabbath’ leader, Cohen Amakeze Aaron, the leader of the ‘Community of Y-hweh Worldwide’ declaring: ‘Saturday is the Scriptural day for the Jews….’ His group has a magen David. But he did not clarify his opinion on the Igbos ‘Israelite origins.’ His opinion is presented here because many members of the religious organization that he leads regard themselves as Jews, and because he is an Igbo leader. Like Jews his religious group believes that the Scriptural Laws in the Hebrew Bible must be obeyed. My work on the Sabbatharian movement among the Igbos is progressing.
The situation gets more interesting when non Igbos also start to opinionate and affirm that Igbos are Jews.
Scholarly efforts and comments by non Igbos
One writer, Evangelist Daniel Dele Ekpah, an Igala by tribe, (Igalas are a different ethnic group from the Igbos but they live to the north of Igboland as neighbors) also wrote a booklet which he entitled Igbo-Israel Relationship: the Great Discovery—Biblical Reasons for Their Success Above Their Fellow Men. Evangelist Ekpah also cited Olaudah Equiano's book and went on to say with some conviction, based on his interpretation of the Bible, that the Igbos could be nothing other than Jews. He raised an interesting argument which is very rife in some scholarly circles, namely: that the Igbos and the Jews share spiritual, sociological, territorial and other similarities. This section will not adequately serve me for narrating these similarities in details. I will mention some of them in the more appropriate portions of this monograph.
Another non Igbo of note, Father Hassan Matthew Kukah, the former Secretary of the Catholic (Church) Secretariat of Nigeria and a Kataf from Northern Nigeria also made an instructive commentary on this subject. While delivering a lecture on the state of affairs in Nigeria, he noted: “The Hausas, Tivs, Ikwerres, and so on, would have had nothing to do with this project called Nigeria. The Hausas, Fulanis and others who live within the geopolitical boundaries co-terminus with the Sokoto caliphate say that had the British not forcefully broken down their barricades, they would have been living peacefully in a secular Aljanah. Those in the Middle Belt say that had the British not helped the Caliphate to subordinate them, they would have been living peacefully in a collective cultural Nirvana of sorts. The Igbos say that in the East, they were more than content to live on their own and indeed, had Nigeria with the help of Britain and other countries not conspired to deny them the state of Biafra, they would have been living in an African state of Israel.”
The above commentary by Reverend Father Kukah was published in the Nigerian Guardian Newspaper of Friday, September 6, 2002.
Daniel Dele Ekpah was apparently not satisfied with his assertion in his book referenced above. This Igala-man went on to write a story in a newsletter; Jesus News, still insisting that the Igbos are Israelites.
A popular musician from Benin (traditionally identified as the Bini or Edo people), Joseph Osayomore, was quite intrigued about the characteristics of the Igbos. In his recorded album; entitled Igbo no be beggars, which in formal English means that “Igbos work, that they do not beg”, he sang that Igbos are the Israelites of Nigeria. He made a strong case for Nigeria to appreciate and reward Igbo dexterity, hard work, and contributions to Nigeria. In addition he said that Igbos achieve great feats with no visible government assistance. The Binis are an ethnic group that is different from the Igbos; that live to the west of the Igbos.
Some non Igbo Nigerians have however taken it as a foregone conclusion that the Igbos are Jews, and have asserted it with no logical build up to their conclusions, and when there were little or no reasons to do so, or when the subject wasn't the issue in discussion. Consider the following comment from Mike Awoyinfa, a prominent journalist from the Yoruba ethnic group in the Sun newspaper of September 25, 2004. Mr. Awoyinfa was writing about Igbo traders during a political demonstration in Nigeria. He said about the traders; “These are the “Black Jews” of Africa. These are the children of the “New Jerusalem.”
The respected Newsweek, in its April 16, 2001 edition, on page 48 noted that if Igbo Catholic Cardinal Francis Arinze became the pope, that he would not only be the first black pope, but the first Hebrew pope as well, because the ‘Ibos claim to be descended from the Biblical patriarch Jacob.’
And from the Jewish community we had Israel’s ambassador to Nigeria, at the time I began to write this monograph, Noam Katz, commenting in the Nigerian Sun newspaper of March 28, 2004, that basing on remarkable similarities between Igbo and Israelite traditions, ‘that he was sure that the Igbos are descendants of Jews’.
Two months before Katz’ comment, Orji Kalu, the influential former governor of the Igbo state, Abia, had expressed a similar opinion in the same newspaper.
And from the Jewish community we have Rabbi Capers Funnye, American rabbi writing in the book; In Every Tongue, the Racial & Ethnic Diversity of the Jewish People by Diane and Gary Tobin, and Scott Rubin, with foreword written by American scholar Lewis Gordon, that ‘the connections (Jewish) with Africa is that many of the African peoples who were transported through the Middle passage to the Western Hemisphere were of Hebraic stock, groups like…….the Ibos of West Africa’.
The Igbos were also mentioned in The Colors of Jews, Racial Politics and Radical Diasporism, by Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz as possibly a part of the Jewish Diaspora.
And in The Black Jews of Africa by Edith Bruder, the Igbos Jewish story as related by Igbo scholars, priests and elders was told.
Also in Marc Perelman’s story of Thursday October 2, 2008, entitled ‘The Ibos of Nigeria: Members of the Tribe?, Part of a Trend in Sub-Saharan Africa To Claim Jewish Ancestry’, and published by the Forward Newspaper so many Igbos were interviewed, and they all asserted without hesitation that the Igbos came from Israel.
Remy Ilona’s contributions
And Remy has written and published; A short story from Igbo Israel, ‘The Igbos: Jews In Africa Vol 1 which African-American and Israeli Jew Ehav Eliyahu contributed to, The Igbos: Jews In Africa, With Reflections on the Civil War and Solutions to the most critical Igbo problems; the soon to be published: ‘The Igbos and Israel-40 million more Jews’, the following essays, A Brief Study of the Foundations of Ancient Israel: From the Igbo Experience, which is to be published in America as………………., and by Derusha Publishing LLC, and the present work, Introduction to the Chronicles of Igbo Israel, which African-American Hebrew scholar Anthony Edwards contributed to.
And in the newly published Encyclopedia of the Jewish Diaspora Remy’s contribution on the Jews of Nigeria was mentioned.
And we have also done a video documentary of Igbo elders/priests performing Igbo rituals, and discussing Igbo history and culture. This video can be accessed from www.derushapublishing.com
And from the Igbo academic community
Hereafter is a report about the feelings and position of Professor Ifeanacho Orajiaka; the Vice Chancellor of Anambra State University, Uli. According to the report in the Guardian of Wednesday, December 10, 2008, which was anchored by Uzoma Nzeagwu in Awka, ‘Prof. Ifeanacho Orajiaka on Monday called on his counterparts in all the South-East state universities to revive Igbo culture, especially Igbo Language believed to be less spoken.
Orajiaka, who is worried over the way Igbo culture was being relegated to the background for foreign culture, urged Vice Chancellors of state universities in the geo-political zone to explore avenues of adopting an aggressive method in the teaching of Igbo Language in various institutions.
He disclosed that a Department of Igbo Language and Culture has been established in Anambra State University, hoping that within a short time, it would transform into an Institute of Igbo Language and Culture.
Orajiaka, who spoke to reporters at the university's main auditorium noted: "let us start from somewhere to tackle this problem. Let our people know that it is inferiority complex on their part when their children cannot speak Igbo Language, it is our identity," warning that if you deny your language, you have lost your identity’.
And a little before the very important stance of Professor Orajiaka, the Vice Chancellor of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Professor Bonnie Egboka, and the management team of the university had announced that they would be establishing a Jewish Studies Institute in the university. The relationship between the Igbo people and the Jews was one of the motivating reasons advanced for the venture.
Coupled with the growing Igbo interest in Igbo culture and traditions is growing Jewish interest to know more about the Igbos. Several Jewish scholars have started intensive work on Igbo history and culture. To mention just a few: Edith Bruder of the University of London; the author of The Black Jews of Africa, Daniel Lis of the University of Basel, African-American Hebrew Anthony Edwards, Ehav Eliyahu; Jewish scholar; Gil Kobrin, and Elana Allen; Jewish scholars, and directors of Derusha Publishing LLC, U.S.A, have been co-operating with Remy to deepen Igbo-Jewish Studies.
And the Jewish group Kulanu Inc’ considered the Igbo-Jewish project important enough to support research into the Igbos Jewish ancestry.
The Igbo-Israel Union
The Igbo-Israel Union which has Remy Ilona, Caliben Ike Okonkwo, Gil Kobrin, and Elana Allen as its arrowheads has the task to discover more, harness, polish, and make sure that anything and everything that is worthy that all the above-mentioned groups and individuals discover or introduce is put in the right perspective. And those worthy of implementation, implemented
Each person is entitled to find their own reasons for this phenomenon of Igbos choosing to return to what they were, i.e, to resume being Jewish, and to begin to observe the commandments of God again. But as for me I think that what is happening is a fulfillment of prophesy about the return of those that have been dubbed ‘The Lost Tribes of Israel’. The great prophets of Israel made it abundantly clear that the Dispersed and the Lost of Israel will return. Their statements left no room for ambiguity.
what God gave Abraham is called Judaism.
Millions of Igbo-Jews found themselves outside this culture, due to the Dispersion, Exile, isolation caused by the forests of West Africa, the destruction of the Igbo-Jewish society by the