In 2002 I began to seriously investigate the origins of the Igbo people of Nigeria who have also been known as the “Ibos”, and during the Nigerian Civil War as the “Biafrans”. I began by studying the lore of the Igbo people. Their lore is intriguing. Most of them talk about droughts, famines, hunger, and relief when the rains began to fall, in ancient times. This is abnormal and unusual for a people who are thought to have ‘always lived in the rain forests of Nigeria‘, where the real worry is about flooding and erosion. Most parts of Igbo-land have heavy rainfall for up to ten months every year, and irregular rainfall for the remaining two months. Presently (at the time that I am writing this story) large parts of Igbo-land are submerged by flood water. Accordingly, that droughts and famines have become ingrained in the collective memory of the Igbo people certainly raises questions. And careful examination of the stories of droughts and famines lead a researcher to observe that the stories are intended to teach a lesson. One can safely surmise that the Igbo people must have passed through experiences that were remarkable and compelling enough to make them to save stories of droughts, and famines in their lore. Based on the foregoing, and other issues which I will bring up soon, we can say with a certain degree of certainty that those experiences that made such an impact on the Igbos were not experienced in the Igbos present location, but in a place where droughts and famines occur. After making this observation I decided to take a closer look at the oral traditions of the Igbos.
Taking a closer look I saw what could be seen as an Igbo version of the “had gadya”; a rhyme sung by Jews on the Passover Night. Every Igbo child learns the nursery rhyme which begins with ?o gini mere nwa aniga, nwa aniga o nwa aniga?.?. At this stage I began to think that perhaps the Igbo claim of an Israelite origin might have some substance.
We began to work in earnest. The first fruit of our labor was entitled “Uri’s Travels”. The book is a compilation of many Igbo traditions centered around a legendary Israelite soldier called Uri who migrated to what is now Igbo-land, and produced the Igbo people. This book will be published soon, and a screen play of it is been written by an American Igbo- Israel activist. Encouraged we began to look at the cultural similarities. The results came out, and are still coming out. While working on my second book “The Igbos: Jews in Africa”, I visited Nri, the premier religious clan of the Igbos which I had mentioned before. I interviewed many of the priests and elders. I asked them questions about the origins, history and culture of the Igbos. Their answers were very enlightening.
All the interviewees who were very old men said that the Igbos were Hebrews. Importantly, they were not lettered in Western education, and they had never been Christians, so their testimonies are very valuable, because some non Igbo persons have suggested that because there are no records (that they know of) that mentioned Jews migrating to the rain-forests of West Africa, that the Igbos might have learnt about Judaism from the Bibles that the missionaries brought, when they colonized the Igbos. This of course ignores the salient evidence which is that many important Jewish customs which are Igbo customs are not only not in the Tanach, but also that many which are, are not discussed at length in the Tanakh. A topical example is celebration of marriage under a huppah. This is not prescribed in the Tanakh, but it is a long-standing Jewish practice. Igbo marriages only take place under an?okpukpu?(canopy). I recorded some of the sessions with the priests and elders on DVD. During one of the sessions they enacted some Igbo practices which observers have noted that they are Israelitic.
By Remy Ilona