N.I.G is a socio-cultural and the umbrella organisation of all Igbo associations in Germany

THE ORIGIN OF THE IGBO PEOPLE: A BRIEF SURVEY

By Rev. Fr. Dr. Tobe Nnnmani, Honrary Member, Igbo Union Freiburg

Introduction

How did the different ethnic groups in Nigeria come to occupy the present place where they live now? Or have they always lived there from the beginning of creation? It is believed that they came from somewhere either because they were driven away or fleeing as a result of war, natural disasters, in search of fertile and conducive environment or were enslaved by others. The absence of written historical records makes the answer to these questions very difficult as practically, nothing was written about the different peoples of Nigeria before the coming of the white people. However, there may be traces of myths or legends about the origin of some of these peoples - these stories can only give indications but not concrete reliable information which can be compared to historical record as we know it today.
The purpose of this write-up is to trace a brief profile of the history of the Igbo people of south-eastern Nigeria. This includes the location, population and a description of some archaeological findings which enabled historians to guess the origin of the Igbo and how long they may have occupied their present location. It also describes the pre-colonial political system of the Igbo and the danger facing their language and culture and the need for unity in order to survive in present day Nigeria. I used standard spelling of some Igbo place names which were wrongly spelt during the colonial time as a way of recovering what was lost in the past. These correct spellings have been widely accepted by Igbo intellectuals with the hope that government would adopt them in official documents.

Location

The majority of Igbo people live in the south-east geo-political zone of Nigeria which is made up of five states namely, Abia, Ebonyi, Enugwu (Enugu), Imo and Omambala (Anambra). There are also a large number of Igbo people in Rivers and Delta states of the south-south geopolitical zone. Because the Igbo like travelling in search of better life and adventure, they are scattered in so many parts of Nigeria and many countries of the world. Igboland covers an area of about 15,800 square kilometres with a population of over 30 million people (See, Arthur Nwankwo, 1993, 4)

Origin of the Igbo people

The origin of the Igbo people is a controversial topic because of the lack of written historical records. There are about three different versions of how the Igbo came to live where they are today namely, (1.) oriental (2.) Niger/Benue and (3.) Igbo homeland. Eze A. E. Chukwuemeka Eri (Ezeora 34th & Akaji ofo Igbo The oriental school of thought states that the Igbo originated from Israel or Egypt and wandered till they settled at their present location. The reason, according to this school, is that the Igbo have a lot of cultural similarities with the Jews such as naming ceremony, circumcision, sentence structure, religion and ritual symbols (J. O. Ijoma, 2002). The Niger/Benue version states that because of language similarities, cultivation of yam and the presence of NOK findings of archaeology, the Igbo were among the big KWA family of the Niger/Benue zone which includes the Igala, Edo, Yoruba, Idoma and Nupe. The Igbo homeland version states that the Igbo have always lived where they now live and did not migrate from anywhere. This version further states that the primary core settlement of the Igbo could have been Omambala/ Aguleri, Nri/Oka, Olu/Owere and parts of Okigwe from where they spread to other parts of present day Igboland. 
Coronation of Eze-Eri 34th, Eze Chukwuemeka EriThose who propose the homeland theory say that some archaeological findings found in places like Ezi-Ukwu Ukpa Rock shelter near Ehugbo (Afikpo) has shown that human activities in this area date back to 15 centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ. They estimated the date of a pottery found in that place - using carbon-dating to about 4,500 years. Carbon dating is a process whereby a machine can be used to determine the age of an object. There are surprising discoveries by some Jewish Anthropologists at Enugwu-Aguleri (Obu-Gad), where many believed, Eri (the progenitor of Igbo race and the father of Eri descendants such as Nri), first settled. For Instance, today, the “Eze Aka Ji Ofo Igbo”, i.e the Custodian of the “Ofo-Eri”, the Igbo highest symbol of Authority resides at Obu-Gad in Aguleri. He is the one who gives “Ofo/ Blessing” to whoever that shall be king among Eri descendants.

Alaezi J.G.C, in his book: “IBOS: Hebrew Exiles from Israel,” stated that “Aguleri was the oldest of the Eri descendants in Nigeria. Eri himself was the Fifth son of Gad and Gad the seventh son of Jacob or Israel (See Genesis 46:15-18; Numbers 26:16-18; Exodus 1:1-5). Nri was the most Prominent, but the last-born.” Nri (as they say) was the Priest in the House of Eri, and he performed priestly and spiritual functions throughout the Igbo settlement.
Hence Nri (Agukwu-Nri) has been identified for now, as the traditional headquarters of the Igbo people. For instance, in 1938, 1959 and 1970, Archaeologists discovered at Igbo-Ukwu - a town near Nri, copper, bronze, tin and lead which dated back to the 9th century B.C. (M. A. Onwuejeogwu, 1981, 22). These findings included a pictographic system of writing known as Nsibidi. This system of writing consisting of 36 alphabets has most, if not all the parts of speech obtainable in the English language. Unfortunately, the British stole and hid it in their museum in London and thereby consciously prevented its development. Prominent Igbo historians such as A. E. Afigbo, V. C. Uchendu, Elizabeth Isichei, M. A. Onwuejeogwu etc. indicate that the Igbo are related to their neighbours such as the Igala, Edo, Ijo and Idoma (Ejiofor, 1982: 45).

System of Governmen

Before the coming of the Europeans, the Igbo operated a republican and highly democratic system of government. This means that there was enough opportunity for wide consultations and discussions and citizens freely expressed their opinions on issues affecting them. Every adult male who has been initiated into the society had his own onu okwu - an opinion and no one could stop him from expressing his views in any assembly. Eze Nri Obalike (Wikipedia)There were no kings such as the types among the Yoruba (Oba) and Hausa-Fulani (Sultan) where a single individual had absolute powers and decided on behalf of the people. This is probably why it is said that the Igbo have no king - Igbo enwe Eze. However, there are also some riverine Igbo areas that have some form of kingship such as in Onicha, Oguta, the Iseles (Isele Ukwu, Isele Mkpitime, Isele Azagba) of Delta state etc. (Ikenna Nzimiro, 1972).The basic political unit was the Umunna - kinsmen and the eldest man had the responsibility of calling meeting and presiding over it. A number of extended families made up a village community and a group of villages made up a town. Each of these three levels had administrative autonomy (Humphrey Nwosu, 2002). However, when the British arrived, they dismantled this wonderful system and appointed and imposed Warrant Chiefs on the people. Warrant Chieftaincy was very unpopular in Igboland because they abused their powers and oppressed the people to the extent that up till now, the Igbo have not recovered from this disruption because it was the beginning of corrupt leadership and abuse of power. The Igbo have their own calendar, religious belief systems, a reliable banking system and a strategic betting game called okwe. In the indigenous calendar, a week has four days comprising Eke, Orie, Afo, Nkwo. A month consists of seven market weeks and thirteen months make a year. disruption because it was the beginning of corrupt leadership and abuse of power. The Igbo have their own calendar, religious belief systems, a reliable banking system and a strategic betting game called okwe. In the indigenous calendar, a week has four days comprising Eke, Orie, Afo, Nkwo. A month consists of seven market weeks and thirteen months make a year.

 Conclusion
The Igbo have suffered more than any other group in Nigeria. Since the end of the Biafra war, the Igbo lost their position in Nigeria and have been victims of violence and marginalisation. While it is true that external factors played a vital role in the marginalisation of the Igbo and the shameful neglect and absence of basic amenities in Igboland, many are also of the opinion that the Igbo themselves are partly responsible for their many problems. According to Uzoigwe (2011), “the Igbo have been traditionally disunited, and since the fall of Biafra - the Igbo have been more disunited and have even become quite destructive of themselves.” The Igbo must unite and work together to protect themselves and their children. Part of this protection is to revive the dying Igbo language and hand it over to the next generation. It is the responsibility of all Igbo people to speak the Igbo language to their children at home and teach them Igbo culture because a person without culture and language is a nobody and is like a fish out of water. Making money and enjoying good life is a noble idea but it is also very important not to lose one’s identity and personality in a foreign land. It is absolutely important that Igbo children born in Europe must know how to speak their different Igbo dialects first before speaking central Igbo. They should also know the names of their extended families, villages and towns and a brief history of their towns. This vital information is what they will also hand over to their own children when the time comes.
NDỊ BE ANYỊ YA GAZIE NUO. IGBO GA-ADỊ NUO!