Brief history of the Igbo people you probably didn’t know.

Igbo people

The ancient Igbo people are a meta-ethnicity of present-day south-south and southeastern Nigeria. Large Igbo communities can also be found in Cameroon, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea.

Eri, the god-like creator of Nri, settled in the Eastern area of Nigeria about the year 948AD. Around the 13th century, Eri was swiftly followed by other similar Igbo civilizations to settle in the Eastern area. Nri is the ancestral name for the ancient Igbo people.

According to Nigeria Igbo oral tradition, Fikuánim succeeded him and ruled as the first Eze Nri in 1043AD. Eri’s roots are unknown, although he has been characterized as a “sky god” sent by Chukwu (God).

The ancestral Nri had seven types of taboos which included:

  • human taboo (such as the birth of twins)
  • animal taboo(such as killing or eating of pythons)
  • object
  • temporal
  • behavioural
  • speech
  • place taboos.

The rules regarding these taboos were used to educate and govern Nri’s subjects. This meant that, while certain Igbos may have lived under different formal administration, all followers of the Igbo religion had to abide by the rules of the faith and obey its representative on earth, the Eze Nri (king).

Archaeological and Scientific evidences

Archaeological evidence suggests that Nri’s influence in Igboland may go back as far as the 9th century.  It is believed that the Igbos are descendants of Gad, a son of Jacob.  He was among the 10 tribes of Israel forced into exile in the eighth century when the Assyrians invaded Israel’s northern kingdom.   

There are also claims that Eri claimed the Igbos were Jews, a descendant of one of Israel’s lost tribes.  

In the book of Genesis, Gad is the first son of Jacob and Zilpah. He is also the seventh of Jacob’s overall, and the father of the Israelite tribe of Gad. His children are Ziphion, Haggi, Shuni, Ezbon, Eri, Arodi, and Areli.   

Eri, Arodi and Areli as mentioned in the book of Genesis, are said to have fathered clans, established kingdoms and towns in present day south-eastern  

“There are scientific evidence, that the Igbos descended from the people that evolved in Israel,” says Remy Ilona, Abuja-based researcher.  

“When I grew up, I heard, from virtually every Igbo here, that the Igbo people came from Israel,” Remy says. His fieldwork in Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Mali led him to conclude that Igbo and Jewish cultures are not only similar but “identical.”  

In his latest book, Ilona draws parallels between Igbo rituals and customs and those practised by Jews.   

He noted the shared traditional practices included:  

  • circumcising male children eight days after birth  
  • refraining from eating “unclean” or tabooed foods  
  • mourning the dead for seven days  
  • celebrating the New Moon  

Some historians also noted that the Igbos were practising these customs before the Christianity exposure.  

Another scholar, Daniel Lis, says there has been a clear continuity of Jewish identity among Igbos. “It’s didn’t just happen yesterday,” he says. Daniel Lis is a foremost researcher on Jewish identification among the Igbos. 

Traditional society

Traditional Igbo political organization was based on a quasi-democratic republican system of government. In tight-knit communities, the system guaranteed citizens equality, as opposed to a feudalist system with a king ruling over subjects.

The Quasi-democratic republican system was witnessed by the Portuguese who first arrived and met with the Igbo in the 15th century. With an exception of a few notable Igbo towns such as Onitsha, which had kings called Obi, and places like the Nri Kingdom and Arochukwu, which had priests as kings; Igbo communities and area-governments were overwhelmingly ruled by a republican consultative assembly of the common people. Communities were usually governed and administered by a council of elders.

In spite of their talents and abilities, titleholders were not treated as kings, but rather fulfilled particular tasks assigned to them by such assemblies. This system of governing was different from most other communities in Western Africa and only shared by the Ewe of Ghana.

Umunna is a form of patrilineage maintained by the Igbo. Law starts with the Umunna which is a male line of descent from a founding ancestor, whom the clan is sometimes named after; to groups of compounds containing closely related families headed by the eldest male member.

“The Umunna can be seen as the most important pillar of Igbo society. It was also a culture in which gender was reconstructed and performed according to social needs. Gender and sex did not coincide, instead, gender was flexible and fluid, allowing women to become men and men to become women”


The Igbo indigenous calendar

A week had 4 days, a month consisted of 7 weeks, and 13 months made a year. In the last month, an extra day was added. This calendar is still used in indigenous Igbo villages and towns to determine market days. The Igbo new year starts with the month Ọ́nwạ́ M̀bụ́, which occurs on the third week of February. Although the traditional start of the year for many Igbo communities is around springtime in Ọ́nwạ́ Ágwụ́ (June).

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