Tuesday, 04 April 2017 22:09

Another look at Ikwerre-Igbo issue

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Ozodi Osuji

I am by orientation not interested in African tribal issues. I consider it a waste of my time to talk about tribal matters. To me it is good enough to say that one is African and leave it at that. However, I am a nominal Igbo.

Generally, I identify who is Igbo by those who speak the Igbo language.  Thus, since I see Ikwerre people speaking Igbo language I assumed that they are Igbos.  I was therefore surprised to learn that some of these people who have Igbo names, speak Igbo language and have Igbo culture and, indeed, individually behave as Igbos do tell me that they are not Igbos.

Initially, I thought that they are insane. How can you speak Igbo and is Igbo in every which indices that we classify Igbos and tell me that you are not Igbo?  Someone is pulling someone's legs, I thought.

If you want to reach me talk to me about philosophy, psychology and science and then you are talking but if you talk African tribal politics I say get the hell out of my space.

The below material, which, this morning, I read at Facebook seem intriguing. Essentially, it said that Igwe Ocha (Igbo meaning a place of white folks) was a slave port; that white slave buyers came there to buy slaves. It said that slaves from the African Interior, including from Igbo land, Idoma, Tivi, Bini, indeed from as far away as Chad, Niger and Ghana were brought to Igwe Ocha to be sold to white men.

In 1807 the British Parliament abolished slave trade and thereafter used British naval forces to patrol the Atlantic coast of West Africa capturing ships carrying slaves.

In some instances the British stormed slave markets and scattered the slave dealers, such as what they did at Lagos in 1851 (and at Arochukwu and Owerri in 1902).

The piece said that the slave sellers at Igwe Ocha, fearing British military intervention, disappeared from the scene leaving remnant slaves at Igwe Ocha.

Those left behind slaves then began living at Igwe Ocha as their home (Igwe Ocha, it said, was a prior vacant land transformed into slave camps during the Trans-Atlantic slave trading, 1500-188s).

Since many of them were Igbos and Igbo land was their nearest neighbors they began speaking Igbo language.  Ijaw folks, especially Okrika folks were also their neighbors, so, how come they did not speak Ijaw language?

I am from Owerri; until the early 1970s folks from my area used to use their bicycles to go to markets at what they called Igwe Ocha, what is now called Port Harcourt, a name given to Igwe Ocha by the Briton, Frederick Lugard in honor of the British Colonial secretary when he was in office, Mr. Harcourt. My people went to market at Igwe Ocha thus I assumed that the people there were like them, Igbos.

Well, if the slaves abandoned by their slave sellers (mostly Aro people) came from all over what is now called Nigeria and West Africa I can understand why some Ikwere claim not to be Igbos. May be despite their Igbo names, language and culture they are really not Igbos?

May be Emeka Okala, despite his Igbo name, language and culture is really from Chad Republic? You never know these things!

I grew up inside Isale Eko (inside Lagos Island). My parents were living at Lewis Street when I was born. Many of my play mates were the children of retuned slaves. Many of them had Portuguese names, such as Lopez, Antonio etc. because they returned from Brazil; others returned from Sierra Leone or were slaves in ships bound to the new world when they were captured by the British and emptied at Lagos hence were not necessarily Yoruba.

This motley of people from all over West Africa now speak Yoruba and call themselves Yoruba.  I remember my family friend, the Antonio's; they apparently returned from Brazil.  In my play circle were children whose last names were Davis, Johnson (who probably returned from elsewhere in West Africa, even Britain and the Caribbean).

Listen, if the below piece is true I now understand what had seemed to me Ikwerre self-denial when they claim not to be Igbos. May be some of these folks are really not Igbos?

Be that as it may, a majority of them were probably Igbo slaves (as was the case at Calaba, Bonny, and Opobo etc.)  If that was the case, not all Ikwerre can deny their Igbo origin.

Ozodiobi Osuji

April 4, 2017

(907) 310-8176

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Herbert Emenike Nkwnakwo

Port Harcourt was a board port for slave traders and was created out of a vacant farm Igboland owned by the Owerri people. The people that became known as Ikwere (= "if you agree" in Igbo) people are a multi-ethnic group which includes the Igbo and other people from other coastal inhabitants of Africa along the Atlantic from south to west of Africa. The name "Ikwerre" may have been given to them by their Owerri landlords who may have started hiring/using them as farmhands. Farming became their main immediate employment source of subsistence.

Ikwere which means if you agree may have become the negotiation language used by them to finalize business transactions. So their Oweri neighbors began calling them "Ndi Ikwerre" people. In Igbo trading transactions you will often here Ikwere (if you agree) we do business, you can pay or I will buy. The market points where they met became "Ahia Ikwere" - market where you can agree. Remember that this people never had to agree to anything being slaves in transit. But once free, they found new powers in haven to agree to do businesses like sell their farming skills, buy from others, or sell to others.

They were brought there from the hinter lands of what is today Southeast, South south and as far North as what is today Kogi, Taraba, Chad, Cameroon and Benue, and where gathered in what was a camp hidden from sight but near the ocean front from where slaves were loaded into the boats, then ships and moved to ports in Ghana, and other West African loading ports.

They were supposed to be shipped to the Americas, but where being held for shipment when the news of abolition of Slave trade filtered in. They became abandoned by their sellers and owners. So if the Ikwerre say they are not Igbo, it is half true since they are a mixture of people from various areas from the west Africa region to the central and southern African regions. The Area called Igweocha was uninhabited Igboland, which was being used by various head hunters and slave dealers as gathering ground before the Abolition of Slave Trade.

Given that the dominant trading language was Igbo, the new land occupants who traded with nearby Owerri people must learn and speak Igbo to trade, work and survive. So they learned to speak Igbo if it was not their tribal language, so as to communicate during buying and selling. Over some years Igbo became the main spoken language. The history of the Ikwerre parallel the history of the Bonny and the King Jaja of Opobo who were brought in as slaves from Igboland and other non-igbo kingdoms, such as Bini, what became Yoruba, etc., most of who had Igbo ancestral origins, but have become transformed culturally and linguistically?

They settled on the slave collection land( Igweocha /PH) after their masters took flight to escape the new anti-slavery laws and movements along the coasts, because they did not know how to go back to their respective homelands from where they were sold or taken. The name Igweocha (white heaven), now PH was given the slave trading/gathering ranch-land because that was where Igbo people must go to meet white slave buyers and dealers. As late as late 60 and early 70s people from Igbo hinterland lands still took their sons and unmarried daughters to places like Usoghukpon, Obubara, Bonny, Igwenga (now Opobo), etc., as indentured workers or to marry them out in exchange for money to attend to urgent needs like marry a wife for the first son, or acquire a farm land or build a house or resolve a debt..

Source: Herbert Emenike Nwankwo, at Facebook, April 4, 2017

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Ozodi Osuji Ph.D

Ozodi Thomas Osuji is from Imo State, Nigeria. He obtained his PhD from UCLA. He taught at a couple of Universities and decided to go back to school and study psychology. Thereafter, he worked in the mental health field and was the Executive Director of two mental health agencies. He subsequently left the mental health environment with the goal of being less influenced by others perspectives, so as to be able to think for himself and synthesize Western, Asian and African perspectives on phenomena. Dr Osuji’s goal is to provide us with a unique perspective, one that is not strictly Western or African but a synthesis of both. Dr Osuji teaches, writes and consults on leadership, management, politics, psychology and religions. Dr Osuji is married and has three children; he lives at Anchorage, Alaska, USA.

He can be reached at: ozodiosuji@gmail.com (907) 310-8176