Are Igbo from Jerusalem or Ile-Ife?

When the president of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Lagos State chapter, Chief Solomon Ogbonna Aguene, visited the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, the Oba reaffirmed his position on the family ties between Yoruba and Igbo people, noting that the Igbo were from Ile-Ife, and the two major ethnic groups were inseparable members of the same family. 

The Ooni stated further that: “We still have house of Igbo right in this palace till date. We call it Ile Igbo, up till now. Our ancestors are buried and transfigured there. That is where kolanut was first discovered and nurtured. The Igbo are still the biggest consumers and users of kolanut, which is only planted in Yoruba land till date. Can the Igbo do without kolanut?”

This is one of the many efforts being made by the Ooni to forge unity between Igbo and Yoruba, as he harps on things that unite us. Ohanaeze Ndigbo, under the leadership of Chief Nnia Nwodo, has equally been building bridges between Igbo and various ethnic groups in the country, including the Yoruba.

If the Ooni’s assertion is correct, one could describe the frequent disagreement between the two ethnic groups (Yoruba and Igbo) as sibling rivalry.

Some Igbo are excited and embrace the assertion that Igbo are Israelites. However, the culture of the Chokwe and Basange tribes of the Republic of Congo are very similar to that of Ndigbo, there has never been any Igbo family with the names of Ehud and Nethanyahu. Have you ever met an Israeli named Okoro, Ngozi, Umunna, Ogbonna or Aguene? Do we manufacture nuclear weapons and have we any cultural affiliations that are like the Israelis? Furthermore, Israelis practice Judaism, while our original African traditional religion has no relationship with Judaism. Even our adopted religion of Christianity is not exactly same as Judaism. The Israelis mapped out a place for remembrance of their fallen heroes during World War II, but we have no remembrance day or monument for our fallen heroes of the Nigerian Civil War. If, I may ask, being an Israelite, is it just in trading (buying and selling), being industrious, travelling to foreign lands and succeeding, etc? What ancestral trees will the Chinese, Japanese, Lebanese, people of Munich in Germany, people of Ogun State, etc, claim, because they are also progressive?

This imported information, if I may ask, is it from the tomb of our ancestors? We fight and deny facts, but embrace fairy tales. Instead of cooperating with the Yoruba and researching to establish or debunk the family ties, we keep berating people pointing at the facts. I call on Igbo historians and archaeologists to tell us the origin of the Igbo and our family ties, if any, with the Yoruba or any other tribe in Nigeria and Africa.

Unlike the Israeli idea, the Yoruba claim is more convincing with lots of facts and similarities in language and culture.  The Igbo have great respect for kolanut, not just as a fruit, but as one unique fruit that has significant meaning in their lives. The Igbo pray fervently with kolanut  for good health, longevity, fruit of the womb, etc.

All Igbo engagements, including meetings, start with the breaking of the kolanut. Kolanut is the Igbo Holy Communion, even before the churches introduced their holy communion.

The Yoruba and the Igbo share a lot more than similar mythic origins. The two groups have had established trade-links dating to the period before contact with the first Europeans. And they are known to share passion for industry, are convivial, accommodating, peace-loving, respectful to elders and leaders. Though some Igbo are notorious for castigating, insulting, assaulting and disrespecting their elders, their opinion leaders, including Ohanaeze  Ndigbo executives, their titled men and women and their traditional leaders. The modern Igboman (talking of some Igbo) prides himself as a know-it-all, I-too-know and imposing type of person. He tends to verbally, psychologically and physically bully others. He readily asks anybody who tries to lead or direct him if he feeds him, nay, if he is his breadwinner ( I n’enye m nri)? Hence one readily hears such impolite and arrogant parlance as who are you (onye k’I bu)?

Those few disgruntled Igbo should learn to respect their elders and leaders, no matter how foolish you think those elders and leaders are. Leaders at all times are ordained by God who creates all mankind. So, whenever a leader emerges, there is God’s hand in it, and He chooses the leader for a purpose. Leadership is sacrifice, not an enterprise. It is God who gives long life, so we must respect our elders and appreciate the gift of life given to them by God. In respecting our elders, we are automatically praying for long life.

In language, they are both of the Kwa-group of Niger-Congo origin.  The similarities between the Yoruba and the Igbo languages are remarkable, if not uncanny, which point to an identical fount.

Here is a list of some cognate and similar words: Animals: ikwiikwii (Igbo) = owl, owiwi (Yoruba) = owl; ewu (Igbo) = goat, ewúr (Yoruba)= goat; etc. Words Relating to the Body: n (Igbo) = mouth, nu (Yoruba) = mouth; nt (Igbo) = ear, eti (Yoruba) = ear; imi (Igbo) = nose, imu (Yoruba) = nose; etc. Okwute (igbo) = stone, Okuta(Yoruba) = stone.

Despite having so much in common, politics has been a pesky point of dissonance for both groups. Though the Igbo and the Yoruba do not have a romantic political history, they have kept the dagger away from their rivalry.

Most young people trading hate on social media cannot actually say their grievance against those they are tugging with, except to echo the refrain of revised stories handed down to them and to act on stereotypes they have been socialised by.

I, the leader of the largest Ohanaeze Ndigbo chapter outside Igboland, join forces with the Ooni in propagating unity among the two great tribes. If we get it right in Lagos, it will be replicated across Nigeria and the world.

•Chief Aguene writes from Lagos

(The Sun)