You may not know who the Igbo people are, but what I have found among them shows a people who are highly committed in changing the course of history. A brief story of the Igbo people will help you know who they are, and why they are one of the most respected and highly regarded people of Nigeria. The earliest records on the Igbo are to be found in Igbo-Ukwu Archeological artifacts dated 9th Century.
The bronze head and other objects found in the excavations indicate indigenous technology of highly developed nature. They had an early knowledge of complex metallurgy and weaving of complex clothes which remains today as “Akwete”. Experts learn and match their weavings with partial success and acknowledge with admiration the achievements of the Igbo in these directions. There is also an early knowledge of iron smelting and foundry to be seen in guns, swords, etc., from Awka, Abiriba and other areas in Igbo land. This knowledge, experts say, can only be compared to that of the northern part of Nigeria i.e. the NOK CULTURE in the Plateau.
The history of the Igbo after the 9th Century to the late 19th century, the era of European colonialism, is scanty and highly speculative because of lack of records. The much that could be known is that yam, indigenous yam cultivation, is believed to have been achieved first in Nigeria and probably West Africa by the Igbo. It is therefore not surprising that yam has a special place in Igbo culture. The “IRI JI” or “IWA JI” which is a very important cultural event in Igbo land may have been derived early as a way of celebrating this major agricultural breakthrough. Pottery culture also had early records in Igbo land and is dated earlier than 9th century.
Politically and culturally, Igbo are republicans and organization of communities was done in small village units. Governance was by elders – gerontocracy, in some ways highly democratic, although the advent of slave trade destroyed a lot of this culture. The Igbo suffered a great deal from the trans-Atlantic slave trade. The enterprising young adults were carted away. The specialists bronze metallurgists, iron smelters, and manufacturers, the business elite from Arochukwu, the big farmers of Ezza and the neighbourhoods were prey to the slaves, and their enslavement cost the Igbo a great deal and truncated their society and the rule by elders (gerontocracy). Adventurers, the dreg of society and mercenary soldiers had a hey-day and their actions devastated Igboland.
The Igbo were involved in the quest for independence of Nigeria and their illustrious son, Zik of Africa (Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe) left a record that will be difficult to beat. However, the “Owelle of Onitsha” (as he is known globally) is no more; there are other prominent anti-colonialist fighters in the Nigerian scene with new English coinages like juggernauts, men of timber and calibre, etc. The most characteristic ability of the Igbo is his adaptability. He is enterprising, hard working and individualistic.
Nigeria, and indeed the whole world, without the Igbo can never be complete. The Igboman is there in the remotest village contributing his quota to the economic development of Nigeria, Africa and the whole world. The Igbo are true Nigerians who constantly pray that never again will brothers be locked in senseless wars. They have actually tested themselves and know their own weaknesses and strengths and hopefully have learned from their past mistakes. The Igbo are a dynamic people. It is to be noted here that for Nigeria to develop into a world power, or move forward from her present quagmire, the contributions of the Igbo is a must, otherwise the follies of the rest of the other tribes that constitute Nigeria may continue unchecked to the detriment of the whole people.
The Igboman is the pride of Nigeria. His talents are formidable; his contributions all encompassing. The rich culture heritage of the Igbo contributes in making them great. The recognition of titled men like NZE, OGBUEFI, OGBUAGU, etc., is among the prominent cultural heritage of the Igboman. It is recognition for tremendous ability and achievement. It confers one with a pride of place when discussions and decisions in community are being taken. The Igbo is presently made up of five States: Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo. Though the Aniomas of Delta State, the Igbo people in Rivers and Cross Rivers States are among the stocks of the one and indivisible Igbo community, no matter the variants in their culture.
However, the “IRI JI” or “IWA JI” is a common reoccurring decimal that you will find in all Igbo states and culture. The NRI even till now are still believed to hold the link in the evolution of Igbo Culture. When we talk about the Igbo, we talk about industry, development, unity, peace and progress. It will be an exciting experience to have a handshake with an Igboman one day. When next you are in Nigeria, Africa, make sure you don’t leave until you have stepped into the African Heartland: Igboland, the emerging great nation!
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by Vitus Ejiogu