Igbo culture and Jewish Origin
By HENRY AKUBUIRO
Saturday, January 28, 2012
Perhaps no other ethic group in Nigeria has been sold to acculturation than the Igbo people of southeastern Nigeria. With great pride, they have imbibed western culture, relegating theirs to the background.
The book, Igbo Kwenu, by George Ojingwa, the 70-year-old elder, is a compelling research on the Igbo people, covering a variety of interesting subjects peculiar to his people, including the history of the Igbo, their family life, customs and tradition, local administration and cultural dresses.
With great finesse, the author delves into the contentious issue of Igbo/Jewish connection with biblical references to lend credence to his contention that, indeed, the Igbo are an offspring of the Jewish race. Adding fresh insight into the issue, he equally quoted from relevant Igbo scholarship on the Semitic genesis.
Going through the book, many post-war Igbo would ashamedly come to the realization that they have lost touch with their traditional heritage. While not glamorizing outlandish shibboleths, the author draws attention to the Igbo matrix in a bid to educate the Igbo on the beauty of their traditions and, ultimately, stir their Igboness.
In the first chapter “The Igbo, a Brief History”, Ojingwa goes back in time to about 2000 BC, quoting Stigmatist Okorie, who traced the origin of the Igbo to the clan of Shechnigbo domiciled in the northern tip of Negev desert, south of Jerusalem, in ancient Israel. Ojingwa adds that Shechnigbo was precisely located between Bethlehem and Hebron.
According to him, in 740 BC, when King Shalmaneser of Assyria began a three-year siege of the city of Samaria, which eventually led to its downfall and Israel’s exile, the Schechnigbo fled the north for safety. But they were part of the two faithful tribes –Benjamin and Judah –who retained their traditional worship of God.
Eventually Schechnigbo moved south to Ethiopia. Dissatisfied with the life of Ethiopians, many of them, according to the book, joined by the exiles of the Nabatea Province called the Efikdonealis, under the leadership of a man called Jabborigbo, continued moving southward into southern Sudan to the area now called northern Nigeria, arriving around 600 BC. The book details how they settled finally in southern Nigeria.
“They were light in complexion, tall and possessed knowledge and intelligence typical of the Jews. Not long after settlement in what is now Nigeria, they were joined by people from various parts of the Middle East and Africa,” writes the author (p. 3). How did their complexion change? Ojingwa provides the answer in this seminal publication. He equally provided some linguistic, spiritual and cultural evidences to drive home the Igbo-Jewish affinity.
The “Family Life of the Igbo”, which occupies the second chapter of Igbo Kwenu, addresses various subtopics such as The Family (Ezi-na-ulo), Marriage (Alum-di-na-nwunye), Child marriage (Di Nwanta), Aesthetics (Iru Mgbede), Suitable Bride (Icho Nwunye), Consent (Nkwekota), Pathfinding (Mmanya Ajuju), Confirmation (Mmanya Nlalezi), Ripe for Marriage (Nwam Etola), Requirements or Lists (Ihe Ogugu), Recognizing the Dead (Nludu Nwanyi) and Mother’s Rite (Ivu Efere).
The chapter also includes all the rites in Igbo land associated with traditional marriage, child birth, multiple births, new baby reception, circumcision, naming ceremony, divorce, celebrating motherhood, birth control death, burial requirements, among others.
The third chapter “Customs and Traditions” details more aspects of the Igbo ways of life. Issues covered here include the gods of the land, Shrine, Mbari, Sacrifice, the Osu Caste System (what makes man an osu, the discrimination against them, as well as the Igbo and the osu challenge in contemporary society), Slave, Ume (class of the untouchables), Kola nut Presentation, Hunting, Age Grade Feast, Truce, Farming, New Yam Festival, End of Harvest Celebration, Harvest, Achiever’s Dance, Masquerade Festival, Trapping, Moonlight Life, Sexual and Social taboos, etcetera.
Before the coming of the European imperialists to Igboland, the people had an established form of local administration. This forms the nucleus of the fourth chapter. Issues treated here include the staff of office, the ofo holder (oji ofo) the King, Igbo Title Holder (Nze-na-ozo), the Governing Council, Democracy, Age Group, Land Ownership, the Calendar (Igu Afor), Market Days, Public Maintenance, Palm Fruit Harvest Control, Livestock Control, Meetings, Conferences Consultations, and stuffs like that.
The various cultural dresses associated with the Igbo are treated in the fourth chapter –from post-natal cover cloth to Igbo national dress. In the “Epilogue”, which is the concluding chapter, Ojingwa emphasizes Igbo unity. According to the author, “Separatism founded on siege mentality that erupts in confrontation with everything non-Igbo is no road. It will lead to isolation, political arthritis and, hence, defeat” (p. 148).
For every Igbo man and those in Diaspora, Igbo Kwenu is a must-have. Besides, it is a most useful book for those interested in cultural studies of Nigerian peoples. George Ojingwa has done an astounding work on the Igbo nation, which will surely reverberate across scholarship.