WHO IS IGBO?
CHUKWUKAODINAKA REMY ILONA
When I ponder over this question what comes to my mind is principally; what is the origin of the Igbos? For certain reasons which I will mention later I have always tried to solve puzzles by first of all looking at the history of the puzzles.
An Igbo as understood presently is someone from the following Nigerian states: Anambra, Enugu, Imo, Abia, Ebonyi. And some indigenes of Delta State. I would also say that the Igbos also include some people that are indigenous in Edo and Rivers states. The Igbos in all the mentioned states inhabit a contiguous territory. I do not think that some people in the Rivers, Edo, Delta States, and even a tiny minority from Anambra State will view my submission agreeably. This is because huge numbers of people who bear Igbo names, speak the Igbo language, and practice Igbo culture in the afore-mentioned states have openly declared that though ‘we speak Igbo, bear Igbo names, we are not Igbos’. These people actually speak Igbo. Close examination of their cultural practices reveal that Omenana; the Igbo culture, is also their culture. And clearly culture, and language which is an aspect of culture determines what or who one is; i.e, ones origins. So why do we have people who are Igbos disowning their identity?
I would need a book to answer the question, but because this is a newspaper I’ll try to compress my answer. I will get back to the question later, but for now I will try to work on what the tribal origin of the Igbos is, with the objective of trying to discover why there is so much complications with the issue of the Igbo identity.
The Igbos have generally not taken their tribal identity serious.
Igbo laxity has created room for certain people who do not know the importance of history, to introduce dangerous and mischievous distortions, and even fabrications into Igbo history.
Presently we have Igbo “historians” who have without a shred of evidence “proven” that the Igbos existed before the biblical Adam did. And they were scholarly, and bold enough to admit that they got this information from Ile Ife. And that they were motivated by Afro-centrism, and black-colour pride. We also have some who say that the biblical Melchizedek was Igbo, and that it was he who taught Abraham, the Hebrew patriarch the importance of monotheism. Even though some of these scholars lack the basic skills (knowledge of the Hebrew language, Hebrew culture and history); that one requires to understand Hebrew sources, among which is the principal book (the Tanakh), that talked about Adam, Melchizedek, and Abraham; they have rushed to the press with their ‘great discoveries’. Some Igbos have also claimed that they originated from Bini. A cursory comparison of the claimants’, and the Bini cultures reveals that the claimants were motivated to make the false claim purely by the desire to make mischief, and inferiority complex.
Distortions and fabrications should be kept out of history. Many of the conflicts that have shocked the world, and cost humanity dearly; especially the religious ones, wouldn’t have arisen if recorders had written exactly what happened. Many chroniclers have written what did not happen, as what happened, and have led many gullible people into basing their faith on empty lies, and emotions.
So, if the Igbo people have not treated their history as something that is sacrosanct, should it be surprising that some of the Igbos from Edo, Delta, and Rivers, deny that they are Igbos today?
It shouldn’t be surprising for many reasons, among which is the one that the groups that deny, do so because they are confused. And the second one which is that they learnt the fine art of self-denial from their kinsmen-those that admit that they are Igbos today. I will throw more light on what I’m getting at with the following illustration by talking about two episodes that were narrated in Things Fall Apart, and No Longer At Ease; two seminal works by that most clever Igbo; Chinua Achebe.
Okonkwo; that great Igbo freedom fighter who stood against desecration of the Igbos through desecration of Omenana, and seizure of the Igbos’ freedom by the invading British, died in the struggle. And his first son, Nwoye who had joined the enemies, refused to attend his funeral. And when Nwoye’s wife died, the son, Obi, repeated what Nwoye did, by not attending the funeral of his mother, Nwoye’s wife.
The Igbos from Edo, Delta, and Rivers, are simply repeating what the Igbos as a people have been doing. The Igbos generally act as if they feel that where they came from is not important. The self-denying Igbos from the afore-mentioned states say that they are not Igbos. In other words; just as the Igbos generally do not attach much importance to their Israelitishness, so do some of the Igbos of Edo, Delta, and Rivers, whom I regard as self-denying Igbos feel that they are not Igbo, and say so.
So at last who are the Igbos? Two Igbos; Peter Opara and Gavriel Ogugua, had after attending a meeting of the World Igbo Congress, visited the officials of the American Jewish Committee, and had told them that: ‘…. Igbos feel a spiritual bond with Jews because, Igbos have not been able to trace their origin back to anywhere else other than Israel”1.
If sharing of a similar culture is indicative of a common origin, I would agree with Opara, and Ogugua, and I agree with them. Credible and authentic research about Igbo origins have pointed only at Israel, as the place of origins of the Igbos.
If this is an established fact, and I say that it is; because studies and comparison of Igbo culture (Omenana), and Judaism (the culture of Israel), asusu Igbo (the Igbo language), and Ibrit (Hebrew language), the Igbo and the Jewish DNA’s, and Igbo history, have all indicated that the Igbos and the Jews were originally one people, and that the Hebrew culture which is the basis of their culture evolved in ancient Israel, why haven’t the Igbos done the proper thing? The proper thing should be to introduce into the curricula of the schools and other institutions that impart knowledge to the Igbos the information about the Igbos origins. But in the curricula of all the schools, and the programmes of all the other institutions that cater to the Igbos educational needs such as the churches, which have existed for decades, and the synagogues which have started growing among the Igbos, information about the Igbos origins is totally absent. This is also what obtains in most of the print and electronic mass media. Save the National Times newspaper which has been impressive, and the Sun which reports on the subject occasionally, a follower of news is not likely to get enough information about where the Igbos originated from. And the Igbo organizations! Only the Igbo Israel Union (Society), and the Igbo Origin and Culture Research Society have prioritized the very important subject of the Igbos origins.
So in the final analysis I say that the Igbos are the descendant of Israel that migrated from the Holy Land, through North Africa, the Sahara desert, and resettled in the rain forests of what became the South-East of Nigeria.