Origin of the Igbos: Do we belong to a certain race or do we have ties to different communities?

Posted by: Anthony-Claret Onwutalobi - Posted on:

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Origin of the Igbos: Do we belong to a certain race or do we have ties to different communities?

Recently, many Igbo individuals have been delving into questions about their origins, asking, “How did we get here?” and “Who were our ancestors?” Do we belong to a certain race, or do we have ties to various communities?  People have been striving for solutions like these since the birth of civilization, roughly 300 BC, until the time of the Bible and Epicurus. This curiosity dates back to the dawn of civilization and is fueled by the human desire to understand our roots. Throughout history, cultures have used etiological myths to explain their origins, blending history with mythology.

Before the rise of foreign religions, anyone from any country would gladly tell you the etiological origins of their people. An etiological myth is one that is created to provide an etymological explanation for a name or to provide a mythical background for a certain area or family. Many etiological myths are similar to folk etymology in that they have a narrative structure that reads as mythical, legendary, or imaginary, and they frequently appear reasonable and cognitively sophisticated for what they are. Despite the fact that neither science nor history has proven any of these current legends,. The need to understand where man comes from will never be satisfied.

Some African diaspora groups are working hard to rewrite their own histories, or rather to connect missing nuts in their genealogical trees, using the histories of other groups to fill in the gaps. This is akin to how Copernicus and Darwin reshaped the worldviews of their respective societies 450 and 150 years ago.

Some of our Igbo friends, however, are desperately trying to fit themselves into the Jewish mythological narrative of their creation, having only recently awoken to join the adventure of locating their origin and forefathers. Just as Copernicus revolutionized how people regarded themselves and the world 450 years ago and Darwin did again 150 years ago, so Sasselov argues we are approaching close to another revolutionary moment with the resurgence of the Biafran cause for independence under the leadership of Nnamdi Kanu.

The recent surge in exploring Igbo origins, ranging from potential Jewish connections to migrations from ancient realms like the Nri kingdom and the Nok civilization, serves as a commendable effort to unify their diverse heritage. The Igbo, among Nigeria’s largest ethnic groups, have a history shrouded in both tangible records and folklore. While precise details about their ancient past remain subject to scholarly debate and oral traditions, several theories offer insights into their origins.

Migration Theory: One prevalent theory posits that the Igbo people migrated to their present homeland in southeastern Nigeria from areas further north, possibly around the Niger River basin. This migration likely occurred over several centuries, with different waves of migration contributing to the diversity within the Igbo ethnic group. This movement wasn’t instantaneous but occurred gradually over several centuries, characterized by distinct waves of migration. Each wave brought its own unique contributions, infusing the Igbo ethnic group with a rich diversity of cultures, languages, and traditions. This theory underscores the dynamic nature of human migration and its profound impact on the development of ethnic identities and cultural diversity.

Nri-Awka Migration: Another theory focuses on the migration of the Igbo people from the ancient Nri kingdom, located near present-day Awka in Anambra State, Nigeria. The Nri kingdom was renowned for its religious and political influence in the region and significantly influenced the broader Igbo culture, shaping settlements and practices. It’s believed that migrations from Nri played a significant role in shaping Igbo settlements and cultural practices.

Ancient Civilization Connections: Some scholars suggest connections between the Igbo people and ancient civilizations, such as the Nok civilization, which flourished in what is now Nigeria between 1500 BCE and 200 CE. These connections imply a long history of settlement and cultural development in the region. This link suggests the Igbo’s ancestors were part of a complex web of early settlements and cultural exchanges, highlighting a sophisticated level of social and cultural development long before recorded history. Such connections point to a rich, interconnected history, underscoring the Igbo’s deep roots in the ancient history and cultural landscape of the region.

Mythological Origins: Igbo oral traditions and mythology provide rich narratives about the origins of the Igbo people. These myths often involve ancestral figures and supernatural beings, and they vary across different Igbo communities. While they may not provide concrete historical evidence, these myths offer valuable insights into the cultural identity and world view of the Igbo people.

The exploration of Igbo origins, challenging and redefining traditions akin to Hobsbawm and Ranger’s discourse on the invention of traditions, highlights the complexity of tracing roots in a world of evolving narratives. Biblical stories, though sacred, are often viewed, interpreted through mythological, historical, and cultural lenses, illustrating the intricate task of identifying origins amid changing societal narratives. Such inquiries into Igbo origins mirror broader human quests for identity, influenced by external narratives yet deeply rooted in unique cultural heritages.

Ultimately, the notion of a Jewish connection to the Igbo origins, despite cultural similarities, does not provide conclusive answers to our ancestry. The reality is that, like many ethnic groups, the origins of the Igbo people remain a blend of speculation, historical migrations, and etiological myths. Our journey to understand our roots is a rich tapestry of investigations into ancient myths, potential migrations, and connections with past civilizations. This quest reflects a universal human desire to trace our lineage, using a blend of history, mythology, and scholarly research to form a comprehensive view of our heritage and its influence on our identity and future.

Driven by the mission to preserve the Igbo heritage, I’ve spearheaded the creation of the first Igbo genealogical website, https://www.igbopeople.org/, over the past eight years. This initiative aims to document the lives of the Igbo people dating back 500 years, providing a platform for future generations to understand their roots without uncertainty. The website has seen significant growth, thanks to contributions from scholars and genealogy enthusiasts, evolving into a comprehensive repository for tracing Igbo ancestry. This call to action invites everyone to contribute, ensuring that our history, including those lost in the Biafran war and ancestors from a decade ago, are remembered and honored. Unlike in the Western world, where graves from 150 years ago remain, our tradition of record-keeping starts now, preserving the legacy of both the living and the deceased for posterity. 

Anthony-Claret Onwutalobi

Anthony-Claret is a Software Engineer and has worked at varied roles like Business Analyst, Software Web Developer, Digital Marketing consultant, Graphic Design/ Web Designer, Education Counsellor/ Recruitment officer and a software tester. Mr Claret publishes and manages the content on this website. He's also a writer, Activist, Humanitarian, Pan Africanist, a proponent of Social Justice, Equality & Human Rights, a great administrator, technology enthusiast, social media lover and an all-around digital guy.

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