IGBO-ISRAEL: ORIGINS, HISTORY AND CULTURE.
CHUKWUKAODINAKA (REMY) ILONA
This brief survey introduces the Igbo people, traces the origin of the Igbo people, and talks about why the Igbos must invest all their energy, strength and resources to know who they are, and reconnect to their source.
Presently the Igbos are a sub-Saharan African people numbering up to 40 millions that are autochthonous/indigenous in the territory that is currently called the South East of Nigeria. The term ‘South East’ is a political designation. The South East in Nigeria means the area called the ‘core’ Igbo states. These are Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo. These states are also regarded, and referred to as the Igbo heartland.
There are also Igbos that are autochthonous/ indigenous in Edo, Delta, and Rivers states of Nigeria.
The Igbos are Igbos today, but what were they before they became Igbos? The word ‘Igbo’ is helpful in the quest to answer the question.
The tribal/national name of the people in discussion ‘Ibo; or ‘Igbo’ is derived from Ibri. Interestingly a foreigner dropped the hint which helped me to unravel the puzzle, in my opinion.
According to the foreigner; one of the missionaries who worked in Igboland: ‘All my attempts to trace the origin of the name Ibo have been unsuccessful. My most reliable informants have been able to offer no other alternative than that it is most probably an abbreviation of a longer name connected with an ancestor long since forgotten.’3
Abraham is the ancestor of Israel. And Abraham was specifically referred to as ‘Abram the Hebrew’ (Gen.14:13). Many Igbos have suggested that the word ‘Ibo’ which virtually all non Igbos use to address the Igbos is a corruption of ‘Hebrew.’ I know that they mean Ibri or Ivri which are the Hebrew language equivalents of Hebrew which itself is a Greek-Latin-English translation of Ibri or Ivri.
If as Genesis 14:13 posited, Abram is the Ibri. And his descendants from Isaac and Jacob went on to retain the name ha-Ibri (the Hebrews), we do not have to go far to know where the name/word ‘Igbo’ came from. The people known as the Jews today were known as the Israelites, and also as ha Ibri (the Hebrews), after their ancestors Israel and Abraham. All that we have seen in Igbo culture indicate that the Igbos emanated from the twelve tribes of Israel. Logic tells the rest of the story. It is a tradition for the Igbos to bear the names of their ancestors. All Igbos are from one clan or the other, and all the clans or most of them bear the names of their ancestors/founders, or at least names formed from those of the founding fathers or in a few cases mothers. One could ask; why won’t the Igbo people as a whole assume the name of their ancestor- ha Ibri? Listening to a modern Jew pronounce Ibri, you would conclude that he/she is saying Igbo. With all the aforesaid we can say that the Igbos simply retained the earliest name of/designation for the people of Israel, and the name that all the tribes would feel comfortable with. Perceptive modern Jews have observed that Igbos may feel more comfortable if identified as Hebrews rather than as Jews, because they didn’t all descend from the Jews (from the tribe of Judah). This deserves more talk though. The term ‘Jew’ is also used to represent the Israelites and the Hebrews presently, just as England stands for Great Britain, and the United Kingdom. And the U.S.A., and Russia respectively stand and stood for the American continent, and the defunct U.S.S.R.
So the above having been said and done with I repeat that the Igbos are of Hebraic descent. 99.9% of the Igbos know that the Igbos came from Israel. One would be right to wonder about why 0.1 % of the Igbos would not know about their origins. The explanations would be multifaceted. One could say that all the Igbos know that the Igbos were Hebrews a few years ago, because the knowledge of who the Igbos are was more in previous years, and in fact it recedes year by year. Knowledgeable Igbo elders who did not have the benefit of the European type education that became fashionable after the British conquest and colonization of the Igbos knew that the Igbo people are ha Ibri (Hebrews), because their fathers told them. I talked with some of them at Nri clan, and preserved their testimonies for posterity in the Igbo Israel Video Interview series. Today the knowledge is receding because Igbo history as a subject of instruction has been absent from the curricula of all the educational and religious institutions that have ‘catered’ to the ‘needs’ of the Igbos, since the Igbos were defeated and colonized. A close reading of the earlier works of Chinua Achebe, John Munonye, Chukwuemeka Ike, and Remy Chukwukaodinaka Ilona will reveal that the Igbo people began to develop feelings of inferiority, and self-hate, after the colonial authorities had intervened, and branded Igbo culture pagan.
The event or process that I described above led to severe losses. The same can be said about most of the mass media that have sold their products to the Igbo people. Save the National Times newspaper, no newspaper in Nigeria talks about Igbo history and culture. And Nollywood! The film industry which was built up with Igbo sweat and money but which the Igbo builders have virtually handed over to people from the competing peoples of Nigeria, because the Igbo film marketers/producers as they are called want to make money. Nollywood has excelled! It has excelled in distorting Igbo history, and ridiculing the Igbos! Even though Omenana has room for egalitarianism and republicanism only, Igbo film-makers specialize in making ’Igbo films’, which portray this Igbos as corrupt feudalists with still more corrupt monarchies. And interestingly as the film producers stray they get more destructive. Presently they use non Igbo film actors to play the roles of Igbo ‘kings’. So would anybody be surprised if a few Igbos do not know that the Igbos are Israelites. And a great majority of those that know that the Igbos are Israelites do not know that Omenana 9Igbo culture) is Israelite culture, i.e, their knowledge of their origins is not really meaningful, because they do not know what Omenana is, and that the Hebrew Bible is extracted from Omenana. However there is a minority that retain the knowledge that the Igbos are Jews, as the modern Hebrew is more regularly addressed, in a meaningful way, i.e, they know that the Igbos are Jewish, and that that sets them apart as people of God, and gives them the responsibility to live differently from their neighbours; i.e, demands that they live according to the dictates of the Written and Oral Laws of God (the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud, the Mishna and the Gemarra). This minority is the Igbo-Israel.
This minority is working to heal the Igbo people, and rebuild Igbo intellectual, spiritual, and material heritage.
I have been privileged to work with this section of the Igbos. That the Igbo people are in trouble is the best kept secret in the world. In Nigeria the catch-phrases for the Igbos today is ‘Igbo problem’, and ‘marginalization’. Where the Igbos live in exile the story is not different. The situation is bad to the extent that it prompted an Igbo intellectual, one of the most productive minds of the Igbos; who lives in the United States to write the following missive:
“Anybody who sees the Igbo situation in simple linear perspectiveeither is ignorant of the profound realities or dishonest. The Igbohas entered an emergency phase, and it requires good old political andsocial organizing to restore it. One of the most critical problems inAla-Igbo today is the nature of its human and ecological environment:social instability - that is, difficulties in the prospects ofsettling has made it impossible for Igbo young men and women now tomarry at the natural age - between 25-35. Young men now marry at theaverage age of 40 years. Many Igbo women are without prospects ofmarriage, having crossed certain thresholds. The implication is that45% of Igbo people are not reproducing a new generation. Those who getmarried are suffering from curious stages of infertility as a resultof environmental degradation and chemical pollution- through oilexploration activities and groundwater toxification. Anepidemiological survey carried out in the whole of Igbo land todaywill reveal a most deadly truth: a huge number of the Igbo are dyingfrom AIDS, new forms of Cancer, and Diabetes - from poor nutrition.These are issues that we must address holistically because they flowfrom the nature of the relationship between the PEOPLE and theirgovernment. The Igbo themselves have not sat down to confront theirelected representatives with an action plan, and with suggestions ofthe means to carry it out, and a timeline and oversight. The problemof insecurity occasioned by new waves of kidnapping only complicatesthis: but to put this simply, our greatest problem is not the problemof this new wave of selective and directed terrorism. It is that theIgbo as a people have learnt to be DEPENDENT on some external factor orfigure whom they expect to solve their problems. I have said thisbefore, WE ARE ALL GUILTY - either by silence, inaction, or directcomplicity.All those who wish to participate in the restoration and rebuilding ofIgbo land must begin to re-think our relationships with that land.Anaghi ano uti agba ntele ukwu. We must get active”.
The situation is as bad, or even worse than as portrayed in the missive above, but only some elements among the Igbo-Israel have really seen the handwriting on the wall. That there is danger! That there is no time to waste! The generality of the Igbos feel helpless, because they are helpless. Disarmed by ignorance, and illiteracy in Igbo studies, Igbos with even post-graduate degrees do not know what to say or do to stem the decline of the Igbo nation. Fortunately Igbo-Israel is growing!
In recognition of the above problems, and inspired by the action plan and road map laid out in books: The Igbos: Jews In Africa-With Solutions To The Most Critical Igbo Problems and Introduction To The Chronicles Of Igbo Israel-And The Connections Between The Afro Americans and the Jews, a group of Igbo scholars, professionals, businessmen, artistes, and bureaucrats have come together as The Igbo Origin and Culture Research Society to contribute to the positive growth and development of the Igbo people, and Igboland. The Society will very likely present its programmes to the Igbo people in the month of October, in 2010. It will use the opportunity to present some of the afore-mentioned books and premiere the Igbo-Israel Video Interview to the Igbo, Jewish and general public. It is also organizing an Igbo summit where solutions would be found to many of the ills that plague ndi Igbo today; such as brother kidnapping of brother which is alien to Igbo culture. In addition it will also appraise ndi Igbo about some programmes that it is working on; such as the preservation of the Igbo migration story in film. And the Igbo-Israel International Music Festival, an initiative of Moore Black Chi Mmadike, an Igbo reggae artiste, and Vice President (International) Igbo-Israel Union (Society), who is based in Australia.
=A Short Story From Igbo Israel
=The Igbos: Jews n Africa; Vol 1
=The Igbos: Jews In Africa: With Reflections on the Civil War and Solutions to the most critical Igbo problems
= A Brief Study of the Foundations of Ancient Israel: From the Igbo Experience and Perspective
=Introduction To The Chronicles of Igbo Israel-And The Connections Between The Afro-Americans and The Jews
=From Ibri to Igbo-40 million More Jews
By Chukwukaodinaka (Remy) Ilona: Lawyer, Jewish/Igbo Studies scholar, and writer.
Kulanu Inc’ Liaison for Nigeria
Founding president: The Igbo Israel Union (Society)
Field Correspondent: International Society for the study of African Jewry (I.S.S.A.J)
Secretary: Igbo Origin and Culture Research Society