THE IGBO OF
Sources in References)
The Igbo, sometimes referred to as Ibo, are one of the largest
single ethnic groups in Africa. Most Igbo speakers are based in southeast
Nigeria, where they make up almost 17% of the population; they can also be
found in significant numbers in Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. Their
language is also called Igbo. The primary Igbo states in Nigeria are Anambra, Abia, Imo,
Ebonyi, and Enugu States. The Igbos also are more than 25% of the population
in some Nigerian States like Delta State and Rivers State. Traces of the Igbo
Culture and language could be found in Cross River, Akwa Ibom and Bayelsa
States. Igbo language is predominant in such cities like Onitsha, Aba,
Owerri, Enugu, Nnewi, Nsukka, Awka, Umuahia, and Asaba, among others.
There have been postulations of
different origins of the Igbo; however, serious studies based on testable
facts clarify that the Igbo have lived in their country for tens of
millennia. The archeological finds at Ugwuele Okigwe make an insightful proof
of human activities in the theatre of Igbo civilization more than two hundred
and fifty thousand years ago. Evidence of man-made tools like axe, pottery
and carved stones dug up at the present day Enugu and Ebonyi states establish
the credibility of the habitation of Igbo for a very long time. In other
words, traditions of Igbo origin favor Igbo genesis in Igboland.
According to Professor Oriji as
well as Forde and Jones, the Isu group of the Igbo nation would appear to be
the largest in population and seem to occupy a contiguous stretch of land
from the center of Igboland expanding to all directions. This implies that
the initial Igbo cultural and structural ideas likely evolved from the Isu.
Their spread has helped to harmonize the features of the Igbo Cultural Area.
In the Orlu section of Isu that claim autochthony for instance, a
primogenitor was recollected of the name Igbo Ngidi, who
was spiritually and scientifically advanced. He founded Ama Igbo [The home of the Igbo].
From Ama Igbo in Orlu, he
instituted various blacksmithing centers, agricultural practices, commerce
and religious oracles. He further established his ideas at a place he called Igbo Ukwu [Igbo
the Great] in praise of his success. It was from these places of initial causes
(Ama Igbo and Igbo Ukwu) that the Igbo multiplied and occupied the
present-day Igboland. It is recollected that Igbo people called themselves
Umu Igbo Ngidi [Children of Igbo Ngidi], which was shortened to Umu Igbo.
Today, Igbo means the people, the language and the land. Etymologically, the
word "Igbo connotes "human community.:
With regard to the genesis
of the Igbo in relation to their original population stock and areas of
initial settlements and dispersals, four views are worth mentioning:
THE AMAIGBO VIEW OF IGBO
There exists the speculation of settlement from antiquity among the
Orlu and Isu group. Within this zone, Amaigbo stands out with complex sophistication that ushers valid insight
into Igbo settlements of old as well as the evolution of the cultural,
linguistic, behavioral and psychological patterns that give the Igbo a
distinct outlook. Some historians noted that with population explosion,
people from this region spread rapidly and founded other parts of Igboland.
The axis in question constitutes the upper half of the "Southern
Igbo" involving the Isu, Orsu, Orlu and Ihiala group.
THE OWERE VIEW OF IGBO ORIGIN
This is shared by both indigenes and foreigners alike, who see the Owere region as the archetype
originality of Igbo. Critical insights into the height of linguistic and
cultural evolution attained here attest this standpoint. This region covers
the stretch of land from Urata surroundings to Umuahia areas. This view is
held by Elizabeth Isichei, who suggests that Igbo origin has its root
somewhere in Owere-Umuahia axis. Hence, from here, there skyrocketed the
outward radiation of Igbo characteristic elan. In other words, the original
population stock from this region expanded north, south, east and west.
THE AWKA VIEW OF IGBO ORIGIN
It suggests an earlier habitation of the Awka and Nri axis, whose people
emerged as the first and original Igbo group. After elapsing series of
internal evolution, there was the need to expand due to population pressures.
There are claims of autochthony here, where migrations are just remembered to
be a few miles from the present abode. Igbo cultural thoughts could have
developed by this region around the Omambara and Ezu river basins being among
the important elements of civilization. Factors that fuel this view include
the Awka smithery and the emergence of Nri ritual functions.
THE OWERE-AWKA VIEW OF
The fourth satisfies the result of archaeological studies that noted
the continuous inhabitation of Igboland from prehistoric period. Regarding
the complex dynamism involved in the question of Igbo origin, K.O. Dike and
P.A. Talbot argue that Awka and Owere form the focal foundation of early Igbo dispersal. Chikezie
Uchendu also holds this view that the area stretching from Awka to Owere form
the Igbo heartland belt. Botanical and anthropological evidence confirm a
continuous settlement of the Igbo in Igboland with a cultural continuum from
the lithic periods to this day. Uchendu elaborates that "the belt formed
by Owerri, Awka, Orlu and Okigwe divisions constitute this nuclear area"
of Igbo evolution. People in this area have no tradition of coming from
anywhere else. Within this belt, villages are small in area but are very
densely populated due to internal sub-divisions over long period of
habitation and group autonomy. Communities lying outside this core belt make
a sharp contrast, where villages are large in area but are scantly populated.
In summary, the Igbo are African people who have occupied their land for many
millennia, splitting off from other Africans and evolving a distinct system.
Pre-colonial Igbo political
organization was based on semiautonomous communities, devoid of kings or governing
chiefs. With the exception of towns such as Onitsha, which had kings called
Obis, and places like Nri and Arochukwu, which had priest kings known as
Ezes, most Igbo village governments were ruled solely by an assembly of the
common people. Although titleholders were respected because of their
accomplishments, they were never revered as kings, but often performed
special functions given to them by such these assemblies. This way of
governing was immensely different from most other communities of Western
Africa, and only shared by the Ewe of Ghana. Igbo secret societies also had a
ceremonial scriptcalled Nsibidi. Igbos had a calendar in which a week has
four days. A month has seven weeks and thirteen months a year. The last month
had an extra day.They also had mathematics called Okwe and Mkpisi and a
saving and loans bank system called Isusu. They settled law matters by oath
taking to a god. If that person died in a certain amount of time, he was
guilty. If not, he was free to go, but if guilty, that person could face
exile or servitude to a deity.
After The Colonization
The arrival of the British in the
1870s and increased encounters between the Igbo and other Nigerians led to a
deepening sense of a distinct Igbo ethnic identity. The Igbo also proved
remarkably decisive and enthusiastic in their embrace of Christianity and
Western education. Under British colonial rule, the diversity within each of
Nigeria's major ethnic groups slowly decreased and distinctions between the
Igbo and other large ethnic groups, such as the Hausa and the Yoruba became
The novel Things Fall Apart by Igbo
author Chinua Achebe, is a fictional account of the clash between the new
influences of the British and the traditional life of the Igbo.
Instability and Biafra Seccession
In 1966, a failed coup d'Ã©tat by Nigerian army officers led by an Igbo—Major Kaduna
Nzeogwu—resulted in the death of Sir Ahmadu Bello, the Sardauna of Sokoto, a
prominent northern Nigerian of the Hausa ethnic group. Although the coup was
foiled primarily by another Igbo, Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, the belief prevailed
in northern Nigeria that Hausa leaders were singled out for death. This
situation gave rise to a retaliatory pogrom in which tens of thousands of
Igbo were murdered in northern Nigeria, which led to the headlong flight back
to the Eastern Region of as many as two million Igbos.
Eventually, the crisis
reached an apex in May 1967 with the secession of the Igbo-dominated Eastern
Region from Nigeria to form the Republic of Biafra headed by the
aforementioned Colonel Ojukwu. The secession quickly led to civil war after
talks between former Army colleagues, Yakubu Gowon and Ojukwu broke down. The
Republic of Biafra lasted only until January 1970 after a campaign of
starvation by the Nigerian Army with the support of Egypt, Sudan and the
United Kingdom led to a decisive victory.
Derived from the last wartime speech of Chukwuemeka
Head of Biafran state.
"In the three years of
the war necessity gave birth to invention. During those three years of heroic
bound, we leapt across the great chasm that separates knowledge from
know-how. We built rocket, and we designed and built our own delivery
systems. We guided our rockets. We guided them far; we guided them
accurately. For three years, blockaded without hope of import, we maintained
all our vehicles. The state extracted and refined petrol, individuals refined
petrol in their back gardens. We built and maintained our airports,
maintained them under heavy bombardment. Despite the heavy bombardment, we
recovered so quickly after each raid that we were able to maintain the record
for the busiest airport in the continent of Africa. We spoke to the world
through telecommunication system engineered by local ingenuity; the world
heard us and spoke back to us! We built armored cars and tanks. We modified
aircraft from trainer to fighters, from passenger aircraft to bombers. In the
three years of freedom we had broken the technological barrier. In the three years we became the most civilized, the most
technologically advanced black people on earth."
After the Nigerian Civil War,
Igboland had been severely devastated. Many hospitals, schools, and homes had
been completely destroyed in the brutal war. The Federal government of
Nigeria denied the Igbo people access to all the hard currencies such as
pound sterling they had saved in Nigeria banks before the civil war, and only
allowed them a minuscule compensation of Â£20 per adult bank account holder.
For example, a man who had over Â£450,000.00 savings in one or several bank
accounts could only receive Â£20.00 following this policy.
In addition to the loss of
their savings, many Igbo people found themselves discriminated against by
other ethnic groups and the new non-Igbo federal government. Due to the
discrimination of employers, many Igbos had trouble finding employment, and
the Igbos became one of the poorest ethnic groups in Nigeria during the early
1970s. As an even greater insult, in Port Harcourt, their control was handed
over to their Ijaw neighbours and the Ikwerre (an Igbo subgroup who have
separated and claimed no Igbo origin). Igboland was gradually rebuilt over a
period of twenty years and the economy was again prospering due to the rise
of the Niger Delta petroleum industry, which led to new factories being set
up in southern Nigeria. This recovery, from the depths of the Biafran War, is
an example of the uncanny resilience and resourcefulness of the Igbo. Many Igbos eventually regained government
The Igbo, however, also face
many problems and challenges today. Even today, Igbo people have sometimes
continued to face discrimination from other ethnic groups. Igboland towns,
such as Enugu, Onitsha and Owerri, lack sufficient resources and good
infrastructure for their inhabitants. Also, because the traditional Igbo
homeland was becoming too small for its growing population, many Igbo have
emigrated out of Igboland.
The Igbo Diaspora
After the Nigerian Civil War, many Igbo emigrated out of the
traditional Igbo homeland in southeastern Nigeria due to a growing
population, decreasing land, and poor infrastructure. Not only have the Igbo
people moved to such Nigerian cities as Lagos, Benin City, and Abuja, but
have also moved to other countries such as Togo, Ghana, Canada, the United
Kingdom, and the United States. Prominent Igbo communities outside Africa
include those of London, UK, Houston, Atlanta and Washington D.C USA.
Finland, Malaysia. In fact Igbo’s can be found in virtually any part of the
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Onwutalobi, A. C, History
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Oriji, Nwachimereze J. 1994. Traditions of Igbo Origin: A study of
pre-colonial population movements in Africa. New York:
Slattery, Katherine. 2010.
The Igbo People - Origins & History. MA degree in Modern Literary
Studies, Queens's Univ., Belfast.
Talbot, P.A. 1926. The
Peoples of Southern Nigeria. Vol. 4. London: Oxford.
Uchendu, Victor C. 1965. The
Igbo of Southeast Nigeria. New York: Holt.