Igbo 101: Facts Little Told
Ogaranya Uju Nkwocha Afulezi, Ph.D., Duru
Akwukwo III Ndi Umuohiagu
It is amazing that the kind of education or information that
were handed to us by our teachers in school or even the mass
media in Nigeria regarding who we are, or are not, is often
short of the living facts or reality on the ground. What we
were taught, not in science or arts, but in sociology and
anthropology, do not stand as facts that can be verified and
certified as truth, and nothing but the truth. Methinks, we
know, that the mission of education is to seek truth and propagate
same undiluted, unembellished, and convincingly proven at
all times. If it is a fact, then there is no "ifs"
or "buts." Nobody can truly claim to be educated
who doctors the truth, or manipulates facts in order to suit
his or her whims and caprices. Fact is not like history said
to be largely subjective, that can be doctored or manipulated.
When you have arrived as a truly intellectually liberated
person, is when you call facts and figures as you see them,
no matter who it may concern. Besides, truth is very exhilarating
and bubbles like champagne wine. If you try to stand it on
its head, it quickly reverts to its natural form - truth.
And if you try to force it into your mind, it tastes sour.
Truth is easier to manage, falsehood shifts like quicksand.
For many of us, it took coming to America, and devoting significant
time, aside from our normal engagements, to dispassionately
study our own native societies and where we fit in the larger
world in which we all inhabit. And, didn't we know that it
took coming to America for people like Mbonu Ojike, Zik, Nkrumah
and others, to educate themselves that Africa was a great
continent, that Europe had no right to colonize Africa, that
the black man was part of the great civilizations of the world
contrary to the bleak picture painted of the place of the
black person in the sun. Consider how much you knew about
the slave trade when you were in Nigeria. Very little, I must
say, at least for me. What did you know of Egypt, the pyramids,
African civilizations, and the fact that man started his journey
on earth from Africa? Who ever knew that there are more pyramids
in Sudan than in Egypt? We were taught British Empire History,
European History, History of the World, and American War of
Independence. We were never taught the making of our society,
the ancient and modern accomplishments of our people. We were
not taught our culture, our spirituality, our trade and commerce.
In this piece, I intend to focus on the Igbo as a people.
The Igbo, their culture, civilization, and their contributions
to world greatness, are, perhaps, among the most little understood,
taught, publicized and recognized of all human knowledge.
What is sometimes upsetting is the little the Igbo themselves,
including their educated sons and daughters know about themselves.
Or, more bafflingly, how the educated Igbo parrot, and hold
fast, without taking a second look at the false information
about the Igbo, which they heard or read from scantily informed
or biased sources, foreigners and natives, and, of course,
the ever busy Igbo detractors.
I decided to write this article after the now familiar surprise
look I get from many an educated Igbo when I begin to discuss
Igbo factoids and misrepresentations. What embarrasses most
of them is that certain incontrovertible, and some would say,
elementary facts about the Igbo, which were always self evident,
now suddenly hits them like a thunderbolt and it becomes crystal
clear to them that their previous beliefs which they parroted
were false. Here are a few facts in question and answers:
Question: Is Southeast and Igboland the same thing?
Answer: Not at all. Southeast is only about 3/5th of Igboland.
Igboland covers the whole of Southeast, parts of Rivers, Delta,
Benue, and Akwa Ibom states.
Question: Why were we taught in school that Igbo people
Answer: It is both an unfortunate parroting by teachers and
careless adoption by Igbo educated class. Igbo people come
from Southern Nigeria and not Eastern Nigeria. It may be correct
to say that the Igbo are found predominantly in eastern Nigeria.
However, by saying that the Igbo are easterners, the implication
is that the Igbo in western Nigeria, numbering about 2.5 million
(Agbor, Ogwashi Ukwu, Ibuzo, Okpanam, Asaba, Orimili, Ndokwa,
Anioma, etc) are not Igbos. The best known Igbo anthropologist
Professor Mike Onwuejeogwu is from the western part of Nigeria,
Chukwuma Nzeogwu, Dennis Osadebe, Okonkwo Adibe (the famous
musician), Sony Odogwu, etc. are all from the western part
of Nigeria. They are no less Igbo than those who live in the
eastern part of Nigeria. The correct answer to your question
is "the Igbo come from Southern Nigeria."
Question: Why do some Igbo refer to themselves as "core
Answer: That is clearly arrant nonsense. Nobody is core and
others peripheral. All Igbo are the same. It is both arrogant,
thoughtless and insensitive for anybody to regard others as
Question: Is Igboland landlocked?
Answer: Not at all. Igboland stretches from Igwe Ocha (Port
Harcourt) to Agbor. The Atlantic ocean washes the shores of
Igboland. Africa's second largest river - River Niger, traverses
Igboland with one part of Igboland in the east and another
part in the west of Nigeria. Uguta Lake has the potential
of accommodating large ships and could be made a navigable
port. If Igboland is landlocked, then all Nigeria is landlocked.
Question: Is there oil in Igboland?
Answer: Yes, indeed. There is a lot of oil in Imo State,
Abia, Ebonyi, Rivers State and Delta States Igbo areas, and
now in Anambra. Besides, Igboland has many other natural resources,
including coal, limestone, etc.
Question: Are the Igbo a nation or a tribe?
Answer: The Igbo are a nation, and a very large one. There
are many tribes in Igbo nation, just like you have many tribes
Question: Why do some Ikwerre people say they are not
Answer: First, it is not up to them to say what they are
and what they are not. When God created them, He did not ask
them who they wanted to be. He just created them Igbo. The
only way you'll know who belongs to what ethnic group in Nigeria
is the name and what language the name comes from. Anybody
whose name is Amadi or Onyeri, or Eke, or Odili, Wanodi (Nwanodi)
does not need to tell you who he is. He is Igbo, his politics
Question: But they claim that their language is Ikwerre,
Answer: That is politics. Ikwerre is a dialect of Igbo language.
Just like an Ngwa man speaks Ngwa Igbo, Arochukwu speaks Arochukwu
Question: Some people say that Igbo language is not complete,
is it true?
Answer: No language is complete. All languages borrow from
each other. Igbo language is very rich. It has inexhaustible
and rich linguistic features like idioms, proverbs, aphorisms,
sayings, anecdotes, riddles, folklores, etc. Igbo language
is one of the major languages of the world, being spoken by
millions of people.
Question: How many are the Igbo?
Answer: The Igbo are very numerous. There is educated guess
that if Nigeria's census is properly enumerated, the Igbo
could easily be the largest ethnic group in the country. They
may number up to 40 million. Everything right now, is speculation.
Nobody knows the true stratification or ethnic populations
in Nigeria. The Igbo are the only ethnic group found in large
numbers everywhere in Nigeria, and foreign countries more
than any other ethnic group in Africa.
Question: Do the Igbo have a culture of their own?
Answer: Yes, indeed. Igbo culture is perhaps, one of the
richest and all-encompassing cultures in this world. Igbo
culture always observes the temporal and the spiritual aspects
of cosmology. The study of Igbo culture reveals that it is
extremely deep and original.
Question: Why do the Igbo wear Yoruba Agbada and Hausa
babban riga but the Yoruba and the Hausa do not ever wear
Igbo national dress?
Answer: Unfortunately this is the case. The Igbo have very
attractive and resplendent national dresses. And they come
in assortments that are extremely dignifying. The Igbo take
up foreign cultures more readily than other Nigerians, and
they seem not to care that nobody reciprocates their carefree
attitude to life. Most ethnics promote their cultures and
show off what makes them unique. Actually, it is still the
same so-called educated Igbo class who behave in such disgraceful
and the devil-may-care attitude.
Question: Why do the Igbo call themselves Biafrans?
Answer: Great question. Some people have the idea that Biafra
originates from the Bight of Biafra. But that is wrong. There
was the Kingdom of Biafra that ruled most of the ancient world
about 50,000 years ago. Unfortunately, nobody talks about
it, for whatever reason, I do not know. But, it is in the
ancient maps of the world. If you wish I'll make a copy and
send to you.
Question: Were the Igbo also taken into slavery during
the slave trade?
Answer: Yes. The Igbo slaves themselves gave account of their
travails in slavery. Olauda Ekwuano an Igbo ex-slave who bought
his freedom in Britain was the first slave to write about
his experience in slavery. His book has become a classic.
You ought to find it and read it. Also, other Igbos who were
brought to America revolted and some walked back on water
and were said to have returned to Africa. Several books have
been written about them. One of such books is "Ibo Landing."
It is available in bookstores like Barnes & Noble. In
Haiti, the Igbo settled there and refused to be colonized
by anybody. There are many places where the Igbo left their
mark or their signature.
Question: How did the Igbo know days and years?
Answer: The Igbo invented an accurate, if not the most accurate
calendar called "Iguafo Igbo (Igbo Calendar)." In
Igbo calendar, there are four market days - Eke, Afor, Nkwo,
Orie that make one week. Four days make one week, seven weeks
make one month, and thirteen months make one year. There are
28 days for each month, with the last month having 29 days.
Each month starts the same day as the previous. Igbo calendar
forms the perfect astronomical alignment with the cosmos,
and regulates the seasons, agriculture, navigation, astrology,
geography, mathematics, travel, etc.
Question: Did the Igbo have their own alphabets?
Answer: Yes, indeed. It is called "Nsibidi."
Question: How about mathematics; did the Igbo know mathematics?
Answer: Yes, indeed. There are such inventions as "Okwe"
and "Mkpisi" which the Igbo used to resolve figures.
Question: Did the Igbo know anything about banking?
Answer: Yes. Igbo banking was more in the nature of Savings
and Loans. The authentic Igbo savings and loans invention
called "Isusu' in which contributions are pooled each
week and one person, who has the need, collects, is still
in practice. Igbo slaves took this invention to the Caribbean
Islands where they still practise it and call it "Sue
Question: Some people say that Igboland is too small for
the Igbo, that they have no alternative than to live as Nigerians:
is this true?
Answer: False. Igboland is a large country. Do every Igbo
need to stay and work in Igboland? No. Everywhere in the world,
some will stay home while others venture abroad in search
of opportunities. Igboland is large enough for the Igbo. And
it is a very rich and hospitable part of the world. It has
rich soil for agriculture, abundant rainfall, good sunshine,
and table land in many parts. Its land space and population
are more than that of over half of the present countries in
Question: Where did the Igbo come from?
Answer: That question is still being asked. There are very
intriguing theories or histories now being studied. You may
have heard of the Jewish angle, the Egypt angle, and the Origin
of man angle. This twenty-first century, hopefully, will resolve
Question: Why do people say that the Igbo are not united?
Answer: Those who say so, do so out of ignorance. The Igbo
are famous for their unity. In the colonial period and the
First Republic of Nigeria, the Igbo were always envied for
their unity. Under Igbo Union, they accomplished many things.
They were feared by others for this. Since after the war,
the Igbo are gradually recovering and getting rid of the individualism
they developed brought about by their war experience which
enabled them to survive as a disinherited people. Now, there
are vigorous efforts to reunite them and return them to their
old glory which served them well in the past.
Question: Some people say that the Igbo are susceptible
to being bought by some other Nigerians, and that they "sell"
the Igbo in the bargain; is this true?
Answer: The same parroting and recycling of unfounded talk.
When you hear such a talk, challenge the one who is mouthing
it to give you evidence, or to cite an example of such an
Igbo person. He is likely to say "what of Jim Nwobodo?"
Tell him that the Igbo number about 40 million, if it would
be fair for the action of one person to represent the integrity
of the other 3.99.9 million. The truth is that an Igbo is
like any other human being, when he sees where he can take
advantage of a situation, he goes for it. It has nothing to
do with "selling." Were we not told that fish clusters
where the river was deepest or that the dog follows he who
has crumbs? Not long ago in the history of Nigeria, other
Nigerians were also running after the Igbo for crumbs because
the Igbo were in position to call the shots. Things will not
remain as they are today. In fact, things are changing fast.
Question: Why are other Nigerians always persecuting the
Answer: I have always tried to know myself. I am one of those
who believe that the Igbo are among the most peaceful people
on earth. But, because of the fact that they are very hardworking,
ambitious, and not afraid to live anywhere, or take up any
task, they tend to be resented by their less ambitious and
successful neighbors or hosts. When you confront a non-Igbo
to say what specific offense the Igbo have committed against
them, oftentimes they draw blank, or engage in fabrications,
which they insist must stand for a fact. The Igbo believe
in live-and-let-live. It is virtually impossible for any Igbo
to rise against their guests or hosts. It has never happened
in Nigeria, or elsewhere. It is an abomination in Igboland
for a host to cause his guest harm. Instead, a guest is considered
metaphysically and physically under the protection of the
host. All Igbo deities forbid doing harm to a guest. The Igbo
are accused of "loving money." I suppose the charge
is based on the fact that they work hard and acquire money
in the bargain. One would like to believe that the outcome
of hardwork is good harvest and hopefully prosperity. If anybody
takes offense at the prosperity of a hardworking person, then
the Igbo or for that matter any other person or persons, have
no apologies to render.
Question: Do the Igbo have their own system of jurisprudence
before the arrival of the white man?
Answer: Yes. The Igbo had a system of resolving conflicts.
The elders were presented with cases that could not be satisfactorily
settled within the family or kindred. Matters where veracity
must be ascertained, the Igbo resort to spirituality. Oath-taking
is a matter left to the spirits to settle. Those who swear
falsely were expected to be killed by the spirits within a
given period. After the period, he is acquitted and he could
celebrate with public merry-making. The Igbo did not have
any prisons, but they could ostracise a culprit, exile him,
or send him into slavery or to serve to a deity.
Question: Why don't the Igbo teach these things you are
telling me to their children?
Answer: In the pursuit of what they taught was the "new
way" either from Europeans or o Christianity, the Igbo
began to distance themselves from their heritage, and in the
process became lost in the wilderness of a world they hardly
understand. They have learned their lesson the hard way. The
twenty-first century will lead them back home.