FEATURE ARTICLE

Michael NnebeSunday, February 23, 2014
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ARE IGBOS REALLY JEWS?

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laudah Equiano, an Igbo slave who bought his freedom in the eighteenth century and became a prominent abolitionist in the UK, was the first known Igbo person to allude to his Jewish ancestry. Mind you that back then the word Jewish did not necessarily connote respect or prestige, as Jews with no country of their own, were generally mistrusted across Europe, and largely segregated to ghettos, much like the Gypsies of Romania, Bulgaria, and Armenia are treated in Europe today. Ever since I was old enough to remember, there has always been a quiet whisper by some, and loud proclamation by others that Igbos are Jews. These assertions have persisted to the point I have come to believe them. In one of my novels "Blood Covenant" I explored the Jewish origins of Igbos in what was clearly a work of fiction. But like me, most Igbos' belief of this claim is based on faith and conjecture, but hardly on any atom of evidence.

There are Jews settled in just about every part of this globe. There are Chinese Jews, Indian Jews, Ethiopian Jews, and the more recently discovered Lemba Jews that live in complete isolation in the Zimbabwean hills and in rural South Africa. Most of these migrations probably happened after the exile of the Jews, but there are those who might have been at their present location long before the exile. Researchers like Catherine Acholonu contend that the Jews actually were Igbos and came from Igboland, the Igwe of Nri (Chief Onyeso) claims that the inscription on Jesus' crown of thorn was only a mere misspelling of NRI kingdom where Christ came from. Some of these outlandish claims take away from the seriousness of the subject. There had been artifacts uncovered during archeological digs in Igboland with Hebrew inscriptions. But it is worth mentioning that the Israeli government had through the years sponsored several archeological digs at places like Igbo Ukwu, and Arochukwu, without any tangible findings.

This belief is not only coming from the Igbos, it is also there on the minds of Israeli governments dating back many decades otherwise they will not be sponsoring archeological digs around Igboland. Even presently the Israeli government continues to finance several organizations promoting Igbo Israeli heritage. During the Biafran war, many of the mercenaries, especially the pilots that fought on the side of the Igbos were Jews, and although Israel was in the middle of their own 1967 war against the Arabs their government found ways to funnel arms and other help to Biafra. Ironically those who played the most positive role towards Biafra have link (whether presumed or real) to the Igbos. For example, the first country in Africa to recognize Biafra was Tanzania. Although I have no prove of actual link but Tanzania shares more Igbo names like Okoye, Chukwurah, etc, than any other African country. The second country to recognize Biafra was Haiti, and we know for sure that most in the northern part of Haiti are mostly Igbo slaves. Even the Haitian people and government know of this link.

Those who promote the Igbo Jewish heritage are quick to point out the similarities in our cultures. I have examined those similarities and found them credible. But the Igbos do not have a monopoly in these similarities, as several other cultures share some similarities with Jewish culture. Now, even if those similarities between Igbo and Jewish cultures are overwhelming, there remains one problem; all those Jewish communities in various areas of the globe have kept their Jewish faith through the Jewish orthodox religion and way of worship. The Igbos have not done this. There had however been some very isolated Jewish practices in Igboland but largely limited to a family or a handful in a community. Mr. Amakaeze, otherwise known as Musa Nnobi founded the Sabbath back in the sixties, but unlike the Jewish Sabbath, Musa's own was really a church that recognizes Jesus Christ, contrary to Jewish faith. Men like Hyde Onuaguluchi have operated real Jewish synagogues in Igboland dating back over four decades. There was also evidence of men like Chief Onwuesi Ibe who practiced their Jewish faith in Igboland about a hundred years ago. Even today, there are those in Abuja, Lagos, and elsewhere who are now operating orthodox synagogues though I suspect some of these characters have other motives outside of adhering to their faith and heritage. All it takes is for one synagogue to be adopted by another in the US, and you have made a killing in the high seas as they say in Igboland.

The Igbos are definitely not practicing their Jewish faith and way of worship, unlike most other Jewish communities all over the world. What is even more problematic for me is that some of our practices downright contradict the very Jewish culture that we claim to be part of. For example, the Igbos in some villages till today, after killing their animals in line with Kosher methods, would collect the blood, cook and eat the blood. This is a cardinal rule for all Jews; they must abstain from blood, period. When I finished editing my above mentioned novel and passed it on to a Jewish American friend of mine (who is a Rabbi) to critic, he complained bitterly about a scene and asked me to take it out. I had a scene where some men used their own blood to seal a covenant (Igba ndu) as was common in Igboland. Even as a Christian I know from reading the scriptures how serious this issue was to even the early Christians; how Peter and James the brother of Jesus had given abstention from blood as a prerequisite to Paul in his attempt to convert the gentiles. Of course, I left my scene intact, only because I wanted to keep my story authentic. But such practices in Igboland present deep problem to this Jewish claim.

In my opinion, this debate has gone on for too long, and in this age of modern science there is no need to continue the same debate endlessly. Remember the Lemba tribe that I mentioned earlier, their Jewish origins was irrefutably confirmed through a DNA sampling done by researchers from Oxford and Cambridge Universities. The Lemba not only maintained their Jewish faith, they also restricted their rabbinic office holders to the original descendants of Aaron and Cohen. Not only did their DNA match with those taken from a sampling of Jews that remained in Palestine, those of their Rabbis also matched the ones taken from the Cohanim. All it will take is for Ohaneze Ndigbo to liaise with the five Igbo state governors and come up with a simple plan, collect blood samples of about a thousand Igbos mostly from those ancient towns, and carry a DNA sampling that can be compared with the databank that now exist at Oxford and Cambridge. They need not worry about bringing the white man to do those tests; there is a digital lab here in Enugu that can easily handle the DNA testing and comparison.

I have privately put forward this suggestion to those who are busy promoting this Jewish heritage thing, but it appears that some of these people are more interested in milking the Israeli embassy and other Jewish organization that sponsor them. As for me, I'd rather find out the truth. There is a part of me that wants to know out of curiosity, much like how I have traced and visited my Igbo ancestry in Agulu Umana that dates back to 1,200 years. I have a soft spot for the Jews through my personal experiences in life, as Jews at various levels have helped me at one point or another. As an adventurous young man I traveled from London to Israel in the early eighties to visit a Kibbutz, but have refrained from showing up in that part of the world ever since. Successive Israeli governments have failed in my expectation of them on many levels. How can I forget how they became the last and remaining only friends of apartheid South Africa, and how can I forget their continued treatment of the Palestinians.

It is unlikely that people like me would bother to visit even if some DNA sampling affirms what we have suspected for long. And to those who may think that their entire problem would be solved with such affirmation; be forewarned, the Israeli government remains perhaps the worst in the world in handling African refugees. They simply treat African refugees as dogs. Even the Ethiopian Jews who were airlifted between 1986 and last year remain second class citizens. The So called Falasha Jews of Ethiopia were direct descendants of King Solomon through the queen of Sheba, whose lineage ruled Ethiopia uninterrupted till Haile Selassie in 1974. These people never lost their Jewish faith or practice, yet they are forced to go through proselytization upon arrival, unlike their Ashkenazi counterparts who have long lost their Jewish faith in Russia and elsewhere in Europe.

I would surely like to know the outcome one way or another, and I won't be surprised if all the talk had been only an empty hype. But at least we will know for sure and conclusively. My suggested method of going about this would cost only a fraction and Ohaneze Ndigbo can control and supervise the entire process on behalf of all Igbos. But I'm sure that they will probably be more occupied with Nigeria politics and things like National Conference though in my own opinion, they cannot render a greater service to the collective mindset of the Igboman than this.

Michael Nnebe is a former Wall Street Investment Banker and the Author of several novels, including; Every Dream Has A Price, Riverside Park, Blood Covenant, Gloomy Shadows, Passing wishes, Prime Suspect, and others.

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