Fidelis Ekeimo, Ndi Igbo and their communities, Umuohiagu-Ngo Okpala, Imo State as case study. (Owerri: Benstel Enterprises, 2011)216 pages
Book Review by Ozodi Osuji
Africans under the Sahara, especially Igbos did not have written history; they are a preliterate people. Because they did not have written history most Igbos are at a loss about their background. The only thing they know for sure about their past is what has been written down since the advent of the British in their world; that encompasses the late nineteenth century and the twentieth century. Anything that happened in their world before the coming of the white man to their part of the world is pretty much unknown and what is now said about it is, more or less, conjectural.
Igbos are currently motivated to understand their past. Human beings are history making animals and want to understand how their ancestors lived. As they say, the past is the prelude to the present.
Understanding the mistakes our ancestors made in the past enables us to learn from them and, hopefully, not repeat the same mistakes. History helps people to live well in the present.
Alas, there is no written record about the Igbo past. To change that shameful situation, many Igbos are making admirable efforts to understand their past. One can think of Elizabeth Isichii’s various efforts at writing Igbo history. However, the only part of her writing that passes muster as history is what transpired from the advent of the white man in her world (that began around 1851 when Christian missionaries set up shop at Onitsha). Much of the rest of her writings on Igbo history is her views, interesting but not really history.
History is supposed to be documented facts of past events not mere conjectures of what may or may not have happened in the past.
Fidelis Ekeimo’s book is very interesting. I do not, however, know that we can call it history. It is more like conjectures and speculations as to what he thinks the Igbo past are all about. Some of the conjectures are really degrading to Igbos. Why?
He made every effort to root Igbos in the Jewish world. He said that Igbos are Jews who thereafter went to Egypt and from Egypt migrated south. He speculated where they may have settled for a while on their journey southwards, somewhere in Sudan, then Bornu area of Nigeria and then to Ife (now part of Yoruba land).
He called the Igbo state in Ife, Ado Empire. There is not a single shred of evidence that there was such a historical empire that flourished in the 800s AD.
He gave what one might call fictional narratives of how the Yoruba came and settled with Igbos in Ado (Ife) and somehow managed to out maneuver Igbos and the Igbos left and crossed the Niger River to go live in the East. He indicated the various places he believed that they settled on their way to living where they now live.
Having posited these interesting fictions he then came to his primary subject, Umuohiagu. He told us that the people of Umuohiagu must have settled where they are now around 1620 AD (he said that they left Ado in the 1500s).
This story does not add up for if Igbos left Yoruba land that late Igbo language and Yoruba language would not be as distinct as they currently are. It takes a lot longer than that for languages to completely diverge. Igbo and Yoruba are probably related but they probably have diverged for a lot longer than he told us.
His speculation that Yorubas came from Saudi Arabia, that they left because of persecution by Mohammed and his followers (around 675AD), that Yorubas were Christians before they left Arabia and migrated southwards does not add up.
If Yorubas were Christians how come they were not Christians when the white man came to their world? What happened to the Yoruba religion that Yorubas are very proud of?
On a political note, I am sure that Yorubas would not appreciate him, an Igbo saying that prior to Yorubas coming to live where they now live Igbos lived there; that is, Igbos own Yoruba land. This seems like an aggressive statement that would alienate Yorubas and sow the seed of enmity between the two groups. A writer ought to be a bit more careful in making outrageous claims. Words do matter, you know. There is such a thing as fighting words. Mr. Ekeimo declared war on Yorubas with his fighting words!
Why do Igbos have a need to claim to own Yoruba land, anyway? Are Yorubas claiming to own Alaigbo?
I should also observe that Mr. Ekeimo said that when Igbos left Ado that they for a couple hundred years lived with the Edo (Idu). The implication is that Igbos are related to Edo people.
Perhaps another Igbo writer would soon come along and tell us that Umuohiagu people came from Edo and are Bini people!
Nnamdi Azikiwe told us that his ancestors are Edo even though he called them Umu Eze Chima and Chima is an Igbo name not Edo name. (See Azikiwe’s autobiography, My Odyssey.)
This raises the question of why Igbos are not satisfied with their own people and land, why they are always rooting their people in other people’s lands: Edo, Yoruba, Israel, and Egypt.
The Ikwere Igbo shamelessly deny their Igboness and tell us that they came from Benin, whereas Bini people do not tell them that they came from Ikwerre!
Why are Igbos so ashamed of Alaigbo? Why not be proud of Alaigbo and let other people envy Igbos and claim relationship with Igbos.
Wouldn’t it be nice if Jews claimed to have come from Alaigbo instead of the other way around?
They say that success has many friends and failure is an orphan! The Jews are a successful people and Igbos who want to seem successful therefore identify with them; by the same token, they identify with African groups that had empires such as Edo but run away from their own past because they are said not to have had a glorious history. Igbos must own their past, good or bad and quit trying to seem other people, Jew or Edo; it is really insulting denying ones past and claiming other peoples past just so one seem successful and superior. Other peoples glory cannot give you glory; only you can do what gives you glory.
Mr. Ekeimo gave us what he called the history of Umuohiagu, how the four villages came to settle where they currently are.
Umuohiagu is composed of four villages (each of which is composed of kindred groups). The four villages are: Umuagwu, Eziala, Umuorisha and Umuanyamele.
Umuorisha, for example, is composed of Umuorum, Umuekwune and Umuogi.
He told us his understanding of where these villages came from (Israel, Ado, Ife and Benin etc.) and where they had settled before finally settling at Umuohiagu. It is interesting to be told that Umuanyamele folk came from Ulakwo, Obube and were not part of the other three village original settlers.
He talked about some odd kindred groups such as Egbelu and Egbelubi as out-groups that joined the other three villages. He speculated on why groups leave their people and go join others, may be because of loss at war.
Umuagwu, he told us, used to live where Eziala currently lives but because Umuagwu folks were not warriors, Mbutu Mbaise folks were harassing them and taking their lands and Umuagwu exchanged living space with Eziala, moved to where Eziala used to live and Eziala moved to where Umuagwu used to live and as a warrior people fought the Mbutu people and recovered some of the lost lands that Umuagwu lost for themselves.
What he did is look at names across Alaigbo and if they seemed the same with the names of Umuohiagu or the villages in Umuohiagu he concluded that they must have been the same people and at some point lived together before diverging.
He conjectured that Umuohiagu folk, for example, at some point lived at Nsukka and or Abo Mbaise because both places were in the past called Agbaja; there are also towns or villages with similar names, Umuohiagu in Ngo Okpala and Umuofiagu in Abakalaki; Umuorisha in Umuohiagu and Umuorisha in Ngwa and on that basis inferred that they must have been the same people.
In so far that this book can be called real history it is when it offered us information on the twentieth century Umuohiagu. He managed to give us acceptable information on when the white man came to the area. He talked about the Nnorie- Uvuru expedition to put down Umuohiagu natives restiveness in 1905; he said that the first elementary school at Umuohiagu was established at Umuorisha in 1904. The man even told us the year my own father, Johnson Osuji started elementary school at an Anglican Elementary school in his Umuorisha village (for that piece of information I say thanks to him).
He gave us information on the various schools in Umuohiagu and when they were established. That is useful information.
He talked about the establishment of Warrant chiefs in 1912 and how there was opposition to the appointment of a Mr. Akata as the first warrant chief of Umuohiagu (he did not tell us why he was opposed, although I can guess!). He talked about his replacement.
What is really useful is his narration of when the various schools were established especially Saint Michael’s primary school in 1935.
He offered us some biographies of what he believed are the important men of his town, where they went to school and when they completed their education. He even told his readers when I graduated with a bachelor’s degree. Apparently, that was an accomplishment on my part although I did not know it!
On the whole, this book is partly conjecture, made up fiction and partly useful information on twentieth century events at Umuohiagu. It is part of the genre of historiography written by Igbos in search of their history. In that sense Mr. Ekeimo is to be commended for the effort he made.
However, his efforts to claim that Igbos and Jews are the same people are actually degrading. Do Jews make efforts to show that they are related to Igbos and if not why should it be Igbos who make such efforts to root their history in Palestine?
Such Igbo efforts are probably a product of Igbo inferiority feeling and the wish to seem superior by claiming relationship with an ancient Semitic group, Jews.
Igbos are not Jews. Igbos are Africans for their language is of the Niger-Congo African language family. And even if Igbos are Jews I vigorously deny it for I am an African and proud of it. I do not have any need to claim consanguinity with white folks.
I am tempted to do a more critical review of this book but will not go there for I appreciate the writer’s herculean effort to give us information about his people. For doing that I thank him. That been said, no serious historian would consider the book a book of history.
The book is easy read. I recommend it to you, provided that you understand that you are reading a mix of fiction and twentieth century Igbo history; anything the author said beyond the twentieth century is conjectural.
*Reviewed on September 16, 2013