This is a nation and a people; a people of south-east Nigeria, who are persecuted wherever they pitch their tent to sell their goods and services. They are the Igbo people of Africa. They are Jews of Africa. Among them was the great Zik of Africa, they are his people. They are the migrant masses and the pilgrimage people; a people found in every nook and cranny of a country, a continent, and a cosmos.
They have no Moses who could yet strike water out of that rock to quench the thirst of God’s own people; their thirst for freedom, justice and fairness. They are like those proverbial locusts that have no king, yet all of them march in rank. This is the ability of the Moving Majority, the Igbo people of Africa, to organize themselves in the face of persecution and against all odds. This is their ability to converge, diverge, and converge again. They are Igbos, home and abroad, local and foreign, the African Jews.
Watching these pilgrims return and settle in their towns and villages every now and again, one wonders at this “imported” tribe; whether they have returned and settled here following a United Nations resolution to locate them in orient Nigeria after a long captivity in Babylon or an exodus executed by destiny. Whatever it was that brought them here, they are like Jews amidst Gentiles, Capitalists amidst Communists, and Republicans amidst Royalists. Consequently, I am tempted to advise this roaming tribe to return to their homeland because they do not fit in here, because they do not belong to this British-baked nation.
Their history is totally disconnected from those around them. For I could find links between the ancient states of North and South, North and West, and South and West; but I could find none, not even a broken one, between any of those and the East, especially the South East. In both history and heritage, nothing that I found connects the republican states of Igboland with the other states of ancient Nigeria. These republics, the many small independent democracies which made up Igboland, were widely known and acknowledged by historians and archaeologists alike.
Frank Willett, Professor of Art and Director of the Hunterian Museum, University of Glasgow, was an archaeologist for Nigeria’s Department of Antiquities and Curator of the Museum of Ife Antiquities. In Treasures of Ancient Nigeria, he writes, “This exhibition illustrates some of the more important works from the main artistic traditions: Nok, Igbo-Ukwu, Ife, Owo, and Benin. Of these, Nok, Ife, Owo, Benin, and the Tsoede bronzes seem to be linked, while other traditions- Igbo-Ukwu, Esie, and Ikom- seems at present to be isolated in time and space.”
According to him, “The style of the art (Igbo-Ukwu) is most unusual; in fact, it is unique in the corpus of African art. We know nothing of where it came from and almost nothing of what it led to later.” Ekpo Eyo was Director of Nigeria’s Department of Antiquities, and Head of Nigeria’s National Museums. In the same book, he echoes the words of his colleague, “Where and how the Igbo-Ukwu bronzes and the techniques to make them entered this society is still one of the enigmas of Nigerian art history.” In other words, there was no link found between Igbo-Ukwu in the East and any of the rest: Nok and Tsoede in the North, Owo and Ife in the West, and Benin in the South.
Meanwhile, Igbo-Ukwu is one of the main artistic traditions of Nigeria and it is a place located in the present Anambra State. The objects discovered there reflect the wealth of the society and the superb quality of its craftsmanship. Certainly, the people who made these elaborate metal castings were ancestors of present Anambrarians in particular and the Igbo people in general; a people whose organization consisted of many small independent democracies (SIDs) and whose development is “isolated in time and space,” according to Prof. Frank Willett. In A Textbook Of African History, Adekunle Ojelabi writes, “Until the opening years of the 14th century, the Igbo settlements developed somewhat as isolated communities.” Perhaps that is why very little is known of their origins and early history. And that is probably why they are most misunderstood.
However, Prof. Willett clearly outlined the links among the other artistic traditions apart from Igbo-Ukwu in the book. According to him, “The art of Ife seems to have both antecedents and descendents that we know something about, looking back to Nok and forward to Owo and Benin.” “Some Owo pieces show obvious links to Benin,” he writes. Unfortunately, they could not be depicted here in pictures. But if you are interested in the pictorial depictions, then get the book: Treasures of Ancient Nigeria. Also, get any good history textbook to confirm the independence of Igboland’s village democracies. But independence does not mean sovereignty. A state could be independent without being sovereign. In a federal system like the United States of America, the states are independent but not sovereign. They control their own resources with little federal interference, though they do not rule themselves.
That sovereignty was what the independent states of Igboland sought through the secession of Biafra in 1967. It was a war declared by history and discharged by a people who want to rule and govern themselves because they were different. History proposed, Biafrans disposed and Nigeria failed to construct enough canals to check and channel that aggressive flood. And the sea surged and submerged the shores, the dikes were breached, bridges were compromised, and the river which burst its banks will never be neglected again. But this river flowed from somewhere, its history suggest that. It was not grown here, this flower. Perhaps it was transplanted into this kaleidoscopic garden of ethnic flowers called Nigeria.
But from where was it transplanted? From where did this river flow? Was it from Pharaoh’s Egypt or from Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon or from Hitler’s Germany? From where exactly did they return to occupy such an eroded and underprivileged position in Nigeria? Perhaps the forces of the old empires and kingdoms, and the jihad of Usman dan Fodio conspired to lock them up in this enclave of street shops and main markets, this enclave of ohaneze and ikwunibe. Whatever it was that locked them up here in orient Nigeria, history has shown and a civil war has proved that Igboland has been an independent and democratic nation right from the beginning of their tradition and civilization. But will that land of the rising sun ever be sovereign? That is what we all should sit down together and discuss.
Ikenna G. Ikenna - 08063620983