What are responsible for Igbo and Jewish higher intelligence?
I would aver that the Jewish people have exhibited remarkable intelligence in many more areas of endeavor; more than any other group of people in our world.
On the position that the Jewish people have demonstrated what I chose to identify as higher intelligence, some other persons seem to have an opinion similar to mine. The Economist of 4th June, 2005, has a story that presents the Jews of Eastern and Northern Europe (the Ashkenazi) as having shown more intelligence than their peers (the non Jewish population), on the average.
Quoting the story briefly would help: ‘Ashkenazim generally do well in 1Q tests, scoring 12—15 points above the mean value of 100, and have contributed disproportionately to the intellectual and cultural life of the West, as the careers of Freud, Einstein and Mahler-affirm.’
The above is part of a study by Gregory Cochran, Jason Hardy and Henry Harpending of the University of Utah; in which they sought to prove not only that some ethnic groups are more intelligent than others, but the process through which that become possible.
In the story the scholars averred that while the Jews generally succeeded by using their brains, their non Jewish peers generally achieved success by engaging in activities like conquests and colonization of other peoples, brigandage, and wars, etc.
Thomas Cahill, Christian scholar, and author of The Gifts of the Jews sums up the mental acuity of the Jews with the following words: ‘The Jews started it all-and by “it” I mean many of the things we care about, the underlying values that make all of us, Jew and gentile, believer and atheist, tick’.
I am interested in studying the possible reasons why the Ashkenazi (Jews), and peoples akin to the Jews have shown more intelligence than their peers.
According to the above-mentioned authors, ‘persecution and marginalization’ of the Jews in Europe; might have enabled the Ashkenazi Jews to become conspicuously intelligent.
I will try to find out if what the above-mentioned authors listed can contribute to higher intelligence; by discussing Jewish and Igbo intelligence, and comparing both from the prism of their experiences, and other variables. The Igbos who are also widely seen as ‘Jews’ are observed to be a very intelligent people too. I will look at other things which I feel that they could be possible contributors to higher intelligence. Things like ‘culture’. I feel that culture, and other factors, may even have been more crucial in making the Jews formidable; perhaps more than ‘persecution and marginalization’.
Before continuing I would like to show some statistics which depict the Jews as an intelligent and brilliant people:
Though the global Jewish population is approximately only Fourteen millions (14,000,000m) i.e, about 0.02% of the world population, yet, from 1910 to 2000 the Jews won the following Nobel Prizes: Literature:1910 - Paul Heyse1927 - Henri Bergson1958 - Boris Pasternak1966 - Shmuel Yosef Agnon1966 - Nelly Sachs1976 - Saul Bellow1978 - Isaac Bashevis Singer1981 - Elias Canetti1987 - Joseph Brodsky1991 - Nadine Gordimer World Peace:1911 - Alfred Fried1911 - Tobias Michael Carel Asser1968 - Rene Cassin1973 - Henry Kissinger1978 - Menachem Begin1986 - Elie Wiesel1994 - Shimon Peres1994 - Yitzhak Rabin Physics:1905 - Adolph Von Baeyer1906 - Henri Moissan1910 - Otto Wallach1915 - Richard Willstaetter1918 - Fritz Haber1943 - George Charles de Hevesy1961 - Melvin Calvin1962 - Max Ferdinand Perutz1972 - William Howard Stein1977 - Ilya Prigogine1979 - Herbert Charles Brown1980 - Paul Berg1980 - Walter Gilbert1981 - Roald Hoffmann1982 - Aaron Klug1985 - Albert A. Hauptman1985 - Jerome Karle1986 - Dudley R. Herschbach1988 - Robert Huber1989 - Sidney Altman1992 - Rudolph Marcus2000 - Alan J. Heeger Economics:1970 - Paul Anthony Samuelson1971 - Simon Kuznets1972 - Kenneth Joseph Arrow1975 - Leonid Kantorovich1976 - Milton Friedman1978 - Herbert A. Simon1980 - Lawrence Robert Klein1985 - Franco Modigliani1987 - Robert M. Solow1990 - Harry Markowitz1990 - Merton Miller1992 - Gary Becker1993 - Robert Fogel Medicine:1908 - Elie Metchnikoff1908 - Paul Erlich1914 - Robert Barany1922 - Otto Meyerhof1930 - Karl Landsteiner1931 - Otto Warburg1936 - Otto Loewi1944 - Joseph Erlanger1944 - Herbert Spencer Gasser1945 - Ernst Boris Chain1946 - Hermann Joseph Muller1950 - Tadeus Reichstein1952 - Selman Abraham Waksman1953 - Hans Krebs1953 - Fritz Albert Lipmann1958 - Joshua Lederberg1959 - Arthur Kornberg1964 - Konrad Bloch1965 - Francois Jacob1965 - Andre Lwoff1967 - George Wald1968 - Marshall W. Nirenberg1969 - Salvador Luria1970 - Julius Axelrod1970 - Sir Bernard Katz1972 - Gerald Maurice Edelman1975 - Howard Martin Temin1976 - Baruch S. Blumberg1977 - Roselyn Sussman Yalow1978 - Daniel Nathans1980 - Baruj Benacerraf1984 - Cesar Milstein1985 - Michael Stuart Brown1985 - Joseph L. Goldstein1986 - Stanley Cohen [& Rita Levi-Montalcini]1988 - Gertrude Elion1989 - Harold Varmus1991 - Erwin Neher1991 - Bert Sakmann1993 - Richard J. Roberts1993 - Phillip Sharp1994 - Alfred Gilman1995 - Edward B. Lewis Physics:1907 - Albert Abraham Michelson1908 - Gabriel Lippmann1921 - Albert Einstein1922 - Niels Bohr1925 - James Franck1925 - Gustav Hertz1943 - Gustav Stern1944 - Isidor Isaac Rabi1952 - Felix Bloch1954 - Max Born1958 - Igor Tamm1959 - Emilio Segre1960 - Donald A. Glaser1961 - Robert Hofstadter1962 - Lev Davidovich Landau1965 - Richard Phillips Feynman1965 - Julian Schwinger1969 - Murray Gell-Mann1971 - Dennis Gabor1973 - Brian David Josephson1975 - Benjamin Mottleson1976 - Burton Richter1978 - Arno Allan Penzias1978 - Peter L Kapitza1979 - Stephen Weinberg1979 - Sheldon Glashow1988 - Leon Lederman1988 - Melvin Schwartz1988 - Jack Steinberger1990 - Jerome Friedman1995 - Martin Perl
Even though we know that certain people who have shown exceptional intelligence have not been awarded the Nobel Prize, we can still say that the Prize is more or less won by people who demonstrate above average brilliance, intelligence and achievement.
Discussing Igbo Intelligence
The Igbos were observed to be on the average; exceptionally intelligent. Nigerians have recognized the uncommon and unusual Igbo intelligence in the coinage “Igbo sense”. In the recent past if a person in Nigeria displayed uncommon intelligence he was said to have Igbo sense. A witty Bini (non Igbo Nigerian) musician; Joseph Osayomore; had in his album entitled ‘Igbo no be beggars’ rhetorically questioned why there is no Yoruba or Hausa sense. The Yoruba and Hausa peoples are the other big nations that are in Nigeria.
The Igbos have been observed to have a certain genius which is not common. I will try to elaborate with the following illustration. Between 1999 and 2007 Nigeria’s president was Olusegun Obasanjo. This man took over from the military who had ruled the country for many years, and had in the estimation of many Nigerians ran the country aground. When Obasanjo came there was a sort of consensus to rebuild the country. Many of the ‘best’ Nigerian brains were sought out and invited to come and man strategic places in the country. Without fear that I would be contradicted, I would say that most of the Igbos that were invited stood out. They introduced and implemented revolutionary and successful changes in their various domains. A young Igbo, Chukwuma Soludo became the Central Bank governor, and stabilized the Nigerian banking industry which had been in shambles. It is generally agreed that if Soludo had not stabilized the Nigerian banking sector, that the Nigerian economy would have collapsed completely when the global economic malaise started. Another, Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala, a young woman called back from the World Bank became Nigeria’s Finance Minister. While in that position she devised strategies that enabled Nigeria to get debt relief. Before Iweala came and presented an articulate Nigerian position on the need for debt relief Western donors had shunned all entreaties for Nigeria to get relief. Another, Dora Akunyili tamed the menace of fake drugs manufacturing and importation into Nigeria. Before Akunyili a Nigerian suffering from diarrhea would more likely than not get talcum powder as ampicillin from many of Nigeria’s pharmacies and hospitals. Still another, Ngozi Ezekwesili was able to introduce ‘due process’ which is an euphemism for orderliness and discipline, into the Nigerian government business. Remarkably before these Igbos stepped into the positions from which they did so well, Nigerians from other Nigerian nations with equivalent formal education have been in the positions, but as we say in Nigeria they ‘didn’t perform’.
A British colonial officer, Robert Collis, was clear in his comparative study of Nigeria’s peoples that the Igbos had sufficient nutritious food in the era when whole populations starved to death due to inadequate knowledge of farming techniques and occasional droughts. That the Igbos achieved the feat of self-sufficiency in food production, and knew the right and proper things to eat in the period that Africa was described by outsiders as the ‘Dark Continent ‘(which Africans have not risen to deny) are in themselves evidence of high intelligence.
The same Robert Collis, the author of Nigeria In Conflict, was clearly hostile to the Igbos in his book. In fact because of his clearly demonstrated hatred for the Igbos I drew close to labeling him an anti-Semite in another write-up of mine: The Igbos: Jews In Africa. It is interesting that even though he couldn’t hide his hatred for the Igbos, yet he mentioned the following repeatedly:
‘(The Igbos) Being more hardworking and energetic by nature than the other Nigerians………But there is no doubt that Ibo men are the hardest workers in Nigeria, and their women among the most charming and the most intelligent. They are neither mentally nor physically lazy, and have shown themselves to have IQs as high as any race or group anywhere in the world’………..Many expatriates have found the Ibos easier to work with than the men of other tribes in Nigeria. I, myself, found them very pleasant work companions. They had a greater capacity for hard work than most and could grasp the significance of what they were doing very quickly. They often made first-class research workers’.
The author was British and quite hostile I repeat. So his opinion can be relied upon.
Also, after the British left Nigeria, the Igbos, still new to Western methods of life, were still able to set up the rudiments of a modern state in their Eastern Region in Nigeria. This Eastern Region’s economy was the fastest growing economy in the world in the period- 1950-1966. And during the Nigeria-Biafra War-1967-1970, in which the Igbos as the Biafrans tried to protest against genocide by attempting to secede from Nigeria, they achieved unimaginable feats; scientific and otherwise. Even though there was clear evidence that genocide was attempted and carried out against them, the whole world with the exception of four African states and Haiti turned their backs on them. Blockaded by Cameroun and other neighbors, and isolated, while their foes were supported by most of the World powers, they fell back on their intelligence, and so acquitted themselves that they were variously described as the Israel and the Japan of Africa, because of their ingenuity and resilience. During the ‘War the Igbos were able to conquer science and technology; the bogey-man of Africa.
In support of the foregoing are other evidences that the Igbos are a highly intelligent people:
One of their own, Chinua Achebe, the author of Things Fall Apart is definitely always mentioned as one of the icons of literature for all times. His book is listed by the British Broadcasting Corporation as one of the greatest one hundred books of the twentieth century. He is acknowledged to be the ‘Father of African literature’. Many believe that his greatest contribution to the peoples of Africa and the rest of mankind in extension, is that he first saw that political independence, not coupled with cultural independence for Africa’s peoples, amounts to nothing. In other words that the resources, human, material, aid, etc that is available in Africa will not improve the lot of the African peoples until the people look inwards; at their own history, and culture, and from them fashion out the systems and institutions that will work for them.
Another one of them Philip Emeagwali is referred to as the ‘Father of the Internet’, because of the revolutionary work he did in that field.
Also recent research is revealing that an Igbo, Olaudah Equiano, was one of the real beginners of the anti-slave trade movement (the Abolitionist movement). Now what he did may seem quite common-place and ordinary, but when he did it, it was quite revolutionary. It can be averred that he used his brains well by initiating the battle to eradicate an aberration like slavery which I can make a case that the average person in the middle of the 18th century might have thought of as natural.
While all that I have enumerated above may show that the Igbos are a brilliant people, they may not prove that the Igbos have shown as much intelligence as the Jews. My opinion is that expecting the Igbos to have achieved as much as the Jews would be unfair, because of the following reasons: While the Jews in discussion live in Europe-the continent that has moved the world more than any other since at least the last five hundred years-the Igbos live in Africa-the continent that has been most upset and moved by the Europeans. In addition the Jews in discussion have never lost control of their affairs to the extent that the Igbos have. Since the advent of the Europeans in West Africa the Igbos have lost control of their affairs to the extent that even the educational curriculum available to the Igbos was not designed by the Igbos. An Igbo has to give more attention to learning English language, than his own language-Igbo. European history and culture have been presented to the Igbos as more important to the Igbos than Omenana-the Igbos culture. Yet in spite of all these the Igbos have managed to find meanings in things that are strange, and to thrive. But the people’s best can’t be expected to come out, because much of their time and resources is spent in trying to understand things that really shouldn’t be important to them. From all the foregoing we can see that the Igbos have used their brains well, even though they haven’t done as well as the Jews.
Now as to what could have contributed to the intelligence of the Jews and the Igbos: The above-mentioned Economist report suggests persecution and marginalization for the Jewish case. We have overwhelming evidence that Europe mistreated the Jews of Europe for centuries, and that the Arabs though not as cruel as the Europeans, were nevertheless not paragons of tolerance to the minority Hebrews in their midst. Because of some factors which I will talk about soon I can accept, though with reservations that persecution and marginalization contributed to Jewish intelligence. With reservation; because it could be argued that the intelligence existed before the persecution and marginalization. That in fact the intelligence of the Jews helped to make the conditions that aroused the jealousy of their neighbors. We can argue that the persecutors and marginalizers of the Jews were plainly evil men and women who were out to loot a vulnerable minority community. We can also argue that the Jews would not have been singled out for special persecution and marginalization if they had behaved like, and had believed in what their neighbors believed in. We can argue that clearly they were different, and they had a higher (more decent standard/not necessarily materially) standard of living which they were ready to fight to preserve, so they were perceived as a threat that had to be checked. We can argue that the checking was the ‘persecution and marginalization’. All the foregoing hints that the Jewish way of life was unique, better and superior. And what, if it is not higher intelligence that would have enabled the Jews to have a better way of life? And that it is the Jewish way of life that created the condition that excited their neighbors jealousy. And that their neighbors paid them back with persecution and marginalization. From this point we can go on and aver that the persecution and marginalization helped to sharpen the already existing unique intelligence of the Ashkenazim.
Evidence that may be regarded as ‘empirical’ has not been thrown up that the Igbos suffered extraordinary persecution before their contact with Europeans, to the extent that the Jews of Europe suffered. Perhaps this is because very little is known about the Igbos prior to their contact with Europeans. But there is evidence that they suffered more persecution and suffering than their neighbors since they made contact with Europeans. Their odyssey during the trans-Atlantic stave trade was quite harrowing. The following taken from A Hundred Years of the Catholic Church in Eastern Nigeria, 1885-1985, more than illustrates the extent of suffering that befell the Igbos during the trans-Atlantic slave trade:
‘…… it is strange and humiliating that West Africa received the true Faith in the
context of colonization and a dehumanizing phenomenon like the slave trade
……The inhuman trafficking in human lives went on for over three hundred
years during which a large population of black Africans was transported into
Europe, the United States and Central and South America. At the end of the
18th century, Eastern Nigeria alone supplied 20,000 slaves a year. It is equally
on record that the Igbo as a race, suffered most during the slave trade’.
And F.K. Buah noted on page 138-9, of his History of West Africa that:
“….Iboland and the states in the Niger Delta suffered more from the slave trade
than did many other West African states. Every year thousands of able men and
women were carried away across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World. Bon-
ny became the chief port for this inhuman trade. At the peak of the trade no fe-
wer than 20,000 slaves were sold in Bonny every year for transportation to the
Americas. Of these more than three-quarters were taken from Iboland. In a mat-
ter of twenty years, over a quarter of a million people passed through the port
And on how they were treated Buah noted:
“When the slaves were captured, they were put in chains and dragged along
down to the coast, to start their journey in misery to the unknown world. As well
as being chained, the slaves had to carry heavy loads of other goods which the
agents had bought for re-sale to the European merchants. This made their
journey more unbearable. Special overseers, who treated the slaves very
harshly, were employed to bring the captured slaves down to the coast”.
Writing about his travel in West Africa in search of the true course of the Niger, Mungo Park described the sad scene of a slave caravan in these words:
“The slaves greatly fear a journey toward the coast, for the slave traders keep
them always fastened together and watch them very closely to prevent their
escape. They are commonly fastened by the right leg of one to the left leg of
another. They can walk, though very slowly. Every four slaves are also fastened
by the neck with a strong rope. In the night their hands too are tied up.
Those who complain have fastened to one leg a heavy piece of wood three
And how much were they sold for? In most cases not more than a mere £20!
But the hardship which these poor people suffered on the journey from their
homes to the coast was slight in comparison with the hardships which lay ahead.
While awaiting shipment, they were kept in dark dungeons in a castle built
specially for this purpose. They could see very little or no light, and were given
just enough food to keep alive. When the ships arrived, the slaves were packed
on board so that no space was wasted. Under such hardship, thousands of them
died on the voyage before the slaves ship arrived in the New World.
In the plantations, the slaves were sold by auction. Then their dismal life of
hard work started. They were forced to work on the plantations and in the
mines from morning until dusk, and were allowed just enough food to keep
alive. They looked forward to death –the end of their miserable lives. In their
misery, they found some solace in what is now called ‘Negro spirituals’.
They were songs with religious theme, and were often sung by the slaves as
they worked. This explains why most of these songs are so heart-rending”.
We have gotten a taste of what the primary victims; the captured, passed through. Horrible! is the softest word that we can find to describe what happened. History is yet to beam its search-lights on the situation in the lands where the primary victims were captured from. Where the slave raiding wars, the kidnappings, etc, took place, for over three hundred years.
Also even though history has not really seen Africa as very important, and has accordingly not given some events the attention they deserved, yet we have manifest evidence that the Igbos were among the groups that bore the real brunt of British imperialism and colonialism, because they were among the few groups that challenged the imperialists for extended periods, some say, due to religious reasons.
In addition the Nigeria/Biafra war was pure agony for the Igbo people. Millions died slow agonizing deaths because of starvation. Millions more mourned painfully.
Also after the war, just like before it, the people have been killed needlessly in ethnic cum religious conflicts that legally and morally should not have affected them.
Lastly, to use the softer term; marginalization: the Nigerian state’s marginalization of the Igbos has brought suffering and deprivation too.
So we can say that Igbos have suffered more than their peers. But can suffering release the juice of intelligence? My mother ’Amaka Ilona, nee Nwosu; used to say that ‘afufu na eme ka mmadu mar’ ife’ (that suffering induces people to become sensible). Suffering can actually lead to innovativeness, to a bursting of the barriers. Certain types of suffering can lead to inventiveness. Here I will still rehash what I mentioned before. There are subtle suggestions that the Igbos were targeted. Why? The answer is that they were unique. Higher intelligence made them unique. The uniqueness aroused the ire of their neighbors, and antagonists.
At the end of the day one may be wrong to just dismiss the argument that persecution, marginalization and oppression may release the juices that give rise to high intelligence. However one would in my opinion be on surer ground if one also looks at other variables that could give rise to higher intelligence. In my opinion ‘culture’ is one such variable.
At this point I will like to bring in a story that will help to buttress my argument that culture is a major contributor to higher intelligence. The Igbo intelligence which I have talked about for a while in this write-up; from my observation; was more manifest when the Igbos were more traditional, i.e, when they lived more like Igbos. In the present era most Igbos have in pursuit of ‘modernity’ became ‘over modern’, and the higher intelligence is not noticed in most Igbos presently. The term ‘Igbo sense’ is hardly mentioned in Nigeria again, because most contemporary Igbos do not display the type of intelligence that moved people to realize that the Igbo intelligence was unusual. And when this higher intelligence rises in this contemporary period it has been noticed that it is in those Igbos who stay close to, and have sympathy for the culture of the Igbos. In other words, there is reason to look into the Igbos culture and traditions (Omenana) as a major contributor to their high intelligence. I can throw more light on my points by relating my experiences with four Igbos who have sympathy for, and are positively interested in Igbo culture, and also by talking about Igbo music. I ran into some Igbo professors recently. Our discussions were based essentially on Igbo culture, the society, its problems, and its prospects. I observed that the gentlemen were interested in Igbo culture and language. In our discussions about the Igbo people they all brought out suggestions which if implemented they will go a long way toward the improvement of the Igbos situation. They were observant enough to see that the Igbos could come together, and be healed when and if they value what they have in common; their language and culture. Truly many an Igbo who is not interested in Omenana would not know that Igbos would not be able to find unity unless and until they treasure their binding instruments: their language and culture. And on the music: Igbo music was extremely fascinating when the Igbos had not absorbed so much foreign customs, and dropped their own. G.T.Basden; an European scholar made the following observation about Igbo music in the early 19th century:
‘Whether the Ibo trace their ancestry back to Jubal-Cain it is not my purpose to discuss, but they certainly have inherited a fair share of the art originated by the “Father of Music”…..The more one listens to native music, the more one is conscious of its vital power. It touches the chords of man’s inmost being, and stirs his primal instincts. It demands the performers whole attention and so sways the individual as almost to divide asunder, for the time being, mind and body. It is intensely passionate, and no great effort of the imagination is required to realize that such music could only have originated from the son of Cain! Under its influence, and that of the accompanying dance, one has seen men and women pass into a completely dazed condition, oblivious and apparently unconscious of the world around them………it lifts men and women out of themselves’
We have a few Igbo musicians like Show Promoter, Ozoemena Nsugbe, Afam Ogbuoto who stayed traditional. They made intelligent music, which has stood the test of time. We cannot say the same about many Igbo musicians of the present era, and we can’t say the same about those that became ashamed of playing music in Igbo language. Presently the majority of those in the earlier category that sing in Igbo language would starve if they don’t praise-sing. And those that sing in English merely imitate American gutter music.
The case we have made about Igbo music, we can also make about every other field of endeavor. In this contemporary period that only very few Igbos still try to live according to Omenana (Igbo culture); fewer and fewer Igbos exhibit the uncommon, the awe inspiring Igbo intelligence and genius. As I have mentioned before, most Nigerians do not mention ‘Igbo sense’ again because most Igbos do not show extra-ordinary intelligence again. So we can say that Igbo culture is a contributor, or contributes to Igbo intelligence.
On what Jewish culture may have contributed to Jewish intelligence I am seriously thinking about what an Igbo scholar; Patrick Ugwuanyi, said about the Jews and Monotheism; the type favored by the Israelites; the imageless type.
‘The Israelites with their practice of focusing their concentration on an unseen, an abstract imageless Deity definitely had higher chances of reasoning and thinking above the ordinary and the mundane, than their peers who could only think of a deity that had physical form’.
I still have a lot of ground to cover on the area of what culture contributes to intelligence, but for now I will sum up by saying that I feel strongly that Jewish culture and Omenana contributed to the Ashkenazi, and to the Igbo intelligence, more than oppression and persecution. And I hope that I have presented convincing argument in support.