Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Igbos: A Lost Tribe of Israel?

Transcript of a seminar delivered by Adeyinka Makinde as a special Black History event for the Jewish Museum on Monday, October 22nd 2007 at Cecil Sharp House, Camden Town in North London.

Good evening everybody. What I hope to do first is to give us a general introduction into the Igbo people who are from the south eastern part of Nigeria. The Igbos came to world attention in the middle part of the 20th Century; in the 1960s to be precise, when they attempted to secede from the federation of Nigeria, and in doing that, prompted a large scale interest in them. 

Contemporarily, at the time, you already had these expressions of the Igbo being 'The Jews of Africa' and in a sense, those analogies tended to be superficial. They were based on their (commercial) acumen, the way in which they had risen during the era of colonialism.

And I say superficial in the sense that by same token, you might as well have compared the Igbos to the Armenians. You might have compared them to the Chinese Diaspora. But (after) we go through that, we'll come onto to the archaeological and historical evidence that says there is an actual link. And we'll look at them in terms of history, culture and linguistics.

So in other words, our enquiry relates to the Igbos being more than merely LIKE the Jews and that they may in fact be OF the Jews. I will do it in two halves. The first thing to do in the introduction is we'll look at the history of the Igbo in the 20th Century and at various junctures compare their experiences with the experiences of Jewry. 

At the time they [Igbos] fought the Biafran Civil War, they'd just concluded the Six Day War in the Middle East, and there was a connection even then between Biafra and the state of Israel. Then after that, we'll look at the history of how there is that link which goes beyond observations.

How did I get to do this presentation? I should tell you that I'm Nigerian but I'm not Igbo. And I'm not Jewish. But, I grew up in Nigeria—we're going to look at an excerpt of the tragic events of Nigeria due to the inter-ethnic rivalry—but even as a child, you'd have these arguments. 

I come from the Yoruba side of Nigeria and often times as young men or adolescents, we'd have these arguments and I would probably say something like "You know that the Yoruba people came from Egypt; from the Nile Valley", and there's all that evidence (such as) the hieroglyphic-like designs, the bronzes of ancient Ife and the political systems of the Yorubas.

Then the Igbo person would say, "Do you know that we are of Jewish lineage?" We wouldn't necessarily be listening to each other. And then somebody would interject—because the face of Jewry as many would admit is of a white Caucasian—and so people would say, "Why are you trying to link yourselves to what essentially are 'foreign' people?" And then the other drift would be: "Hang on, that part of the world was once black or at least brown." I don't want to go into deep seated arguments of that nature because there's a lot to go through, but that is the starting point.

I posted (notice of this event) on the Internet and one particular gentleman, his name is Rocky Alkazoff, he's Armenian-American, he pleaded with me—he was a young man in the 1960s, and he was very moved by the plight of the Igbos. He feels a kinship with them. He actually feels that they have more in common with the Armenians than the Jews. In other words, that they were a Christianised people who were put to the sword by Islamic political entities and the world stood by and did nothing.

And he profoundly feels that way. I sent him a copy of my book on the late world (boxing) champion, Dick Tiger, and he (told me): "Look, I read that book three times." It really meant something to him. Although he followed the news in the 1960s, he was astounded by what he considered to be the parallels between the way in which the Igbos were persecuted in Nigeria in the 1960s and what happened to the Armenian nation in the early part of the 20th Century.

This aspect of African Judaic claims: the Igbos are not the only ones in Africa to make such claims. There are a number of ethnic groups in Africa, such as the Sefwi of Ghana. Some of you might be familiar with the Abuyudaya who are part of the Buganda (people of Uganda). 

Now the Abuyudaya don't profess to have any sort of blood links with the ancient Israelites. They became Jews simply because one of their elders converted and there was a mass conversion. And I think that we are all familiar with the Falasha people of Ethiopia, and they were recognised by the rabbinical authorities as being Jewish in 1975, and they came to prominence again in 1984 with 'Operation Moses' to airlift them to Israel.

And there's also the case of the Lemba of Malawi. There was a trade route from the Arabian Peninsula and the Middle East with the eastern part of Africa. So they've done these genetic and chromosomal tests which demonstrate that they have a genetic link to the Semitic peoples of the Middle East. So there is more or less some acceptance that there might be a connection there. And it is that sort of connection with the Igbos that I'd like to explore this evening.

Well, who are the Igbos? I thought that it would be good to introduce you to who the Igbos are. This is a map of Nigeria. Nigeria's a very large country in West Africa. It was colonised by the British and like most modern African nations, it was created by imperial draughtsmen who divided up the spoils and regardless of ethnic tongue or shared history, they just divided up the African continent. The Igbos are one of the three major tribes of Nigeria. You have the Hausa-Fulani in the northern part; largely Islamic and feudalistic.

Then in the west, you have the Yorubas and in the east, the Igbos. Now, these are the three major ethnic groups, but they are by no means the only ethnic groups because you have at least 250 different ethnic groups in Nigeria which as you know is a recipe for 'tough governance.' Who are the Igbos? They are black African people. And when we talk about Africa, as being synonymous with black; certainly in regard to 'sub-Saharan' Africa. But Africa is composed of diverse elements.

Just like when we speak about Asia; the Chinese, the Indians, the Turkic peoples all inhabit Asia. So the same way in Africa, you have black people as well as Caucasian people; particularly in the northern part, and in regard to Caucasian people, I am not necessarily referring to Arabs, but to the Berbers for instance. But essentially a black African people; this is what the Igbos are.

They had an oral tradition which meant that there wasn't a developed system of writing although among the secret societies they had, and this is also true of the Yoruba aristocracy, the Igbos had what was called the N'sibidi Script, which was something only those involved with the priesthood could understand. Linguistically, they are part of what is called the 'Kwa' language group. This is important, because later on, I am going to go through a list of words in the Igbo language, and compare it with what you find in Hebrew and assess the similarities.

So we'll look at that and see whether it is just by happenstance, by chance or whether there is something more substantive to it, but essentially it is of the Kwa language, that means that it is of the same language group as other West African nations such as the Ashanti of Ghana, as well as the Yoruba and the Bini. 

They also consist of a disparate group of communities united by language and customs. The thing to mention here is that when we later start talking about how the Igbos may be composed of some elements of Jewish migration, a lot of the time when you talk about people migrating in history, they often come, whether it is males or females, and then intermarry with a so-called indigenous group. Nothing is ever 'pure.'

So even among the Igbo people, the word 'Igbo' to some people from the Northern part of Igboland, they consider it a derogatory term. I'm referring to people from a place known as Onitsha and Asaba. These people are said to have migrated and are said to have had connections with the nearby kingdom of Benin. And so they met the indigenous Igbo people and although they speak the same tongue and same language, there's a little bit of a distinction between them culturally.

The same thing with the Yoruba people. Whether they say they came from the east, they also met an indigenous people who they also called 'Igbo.' The other thing about the Igbos is that they tended to have ruled themselves autonomously in their village enclaves, so they didn't have traditions of kingship. It was more of a meritocratic set up. Although, as I said, the northern Igbo are slightly different. They had chiefs and they also did have kings.

So very multifarious in their origins. One final thing to mention is that when the British conquered Nigeria, they tended to disregard the Igbos when it came to matching the different ethnic groups, because they were impressed by materialistic things. In the Benin Empire, they had roads, underground water systems. And these are things that were documented by the Portuguese when they met the Binis. Before the era of colonialism and imperialism, they actually exchanged ambassadors and dealt with each other as equals.

And they were also impressed by the Yorubas and their complex system of governments and religious rites. With the Igbos, they couldn't make much out of them. But that changed in the 1930s when they discovered a site which they called Igbo Ukwu. And Igbo Ukwu, which I'll make another reference to when I start exploring the link between Jewry and the Igbos, what they found were these cemeteries in which they found these ornately designed bronze ornaments, which appeared to be associated with the burial of a ruling priesthood. So they were probably operating a sort of theocracy.

They are an African people and they had traditional religions. They believed in a supreme god whose name is Chukwu, but there were also subsidiary gods: god of the forest, god of yam—yam is the staple diet, and interestingly, they also believed in the concept of destiny; that each one has a personal god they called a chi, which basically determines your good fortune or lack of fortune in your life. So we'll bear all of these in mind when we come on to the links with the Hebrews.

When we talk about Jews, we are not necessarily talking about one people—even though that is the tendency, because we all know that there are Sephardic Jews, there are Ashkenazi Jews. Are we talking about Zionists or non-Zionists. In another instance, we could be talking about secular Jews and talking about Orthodox or Ultra-Orthodox Jews. So even within Jewry itself, there is that disparateness in a sense. But there is that unity of cultural norms and a shared sense of history.

It's an important point to mention—harking back to these adolescent arguments I had that some people are uncomfortable among Igbos or black people who feel, "Well, so what?" Whether or not there is that link. I got something off the Internet. There was this argument by this Igbo person, and his words were, "Why indulge in such brazen expressions of inferiority complex and self devaluation?" It's as if to say: "Do you want to force yourself on to them?" So it brings up these issues of identity and who determines who is who. And what happens if someone feels they are been ostracized or have not been accepted?

I mentioned the Falashas as an example of Jews and in more recent times the Menashe of India have been accepted. And that took a long time. Some people feel that it is only a matter of time before the Igbos are accepted in this way, but when I come to our conclusion, we'll see that they are probably some misgivings about that, for instance given the political context in which Nigeria is. But this whole idea of lost tribes and lineages, I'm sure we're all familiar with through our history.

You've probably heard of the Israelite societies here in Britain who believe that the Anglo-Saxon 'race' was descended from these lost tribes of Jews. Just to remind people—I don't need to remind most of you, but some of us; you had 12 tribes of Israel plus two others. The twelve tribes were the sons of Jacob, and two of Joseph's sons were also given the status. And what happened was that when the Assyrian Empire conquered the northern state of Israel, they had this dispersal and they were never together again.

So ten tribes roamed the earth and to this day, nobody probably knows where they are. But there are always people in the four corners of the earth staking their claim. One of them was the Anglo-Saxon race. It's not just a question of the lost tribes of Israel but also people who've 'lost' that lineage. In other words, they were Jews but, what happened was that through forced conversions, and other situations, they've 'lost' that connection to Judaism. I think in recent years, there was this issue in Latin America of those—they must have been Sephardic Jews—who went over to the New World and due to the Inquisition didn't retain their Jewish faith.

Some of them did it in secret (retained their faith) over long periods of time, it must be said and that is why some can trace it hundreds of years later. A number of them are re-discovering their lost lineage but they've been layered with Catholicism. Is that the same thing with the Igbos? A Jewish people now identified as being Christian.

So those are the issues raised. Before I show you a clip, I just want to say how we going to look at the Igbos. I put it in six different headings. First thing I'll look at is a belief in being a special people and having a special mission. Secondly, the Igbos had this drive in academic, professional and commercial endeavours. What was the perception, thirdly, of the host communities or their neighbours. Fourthly, the suffering of pogroms, fifthly, genocide, and finally the issue of nationalism and war. And through that, I'll be linking them with Israel in modern times as well as with the Jews in history. 

So I just want to first of all show you an eight-minute clip of a BBC documentary Timewatch called 'Biafra: Fighting a War without Guns." What this does is it gives you an idea of Nigeria and how it was created and we'll stop it when we get to the creation of the state of Biafra.

Audience watches an 8-minute video clip.

The first point that I mentioned before we showed that clip was this belief in being a special people and having a special mission; I think that when that is the case, it is almost like a double-edged sword in the sense that you are praised for being a hardworking people. You are very adept at creating things etcetera, but then there's the other side of people being envious, or people feeling that you are being too prideful—and the Igbos suffered that. I'll give you a number of quotes.

Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe was Nigeria's first president—an Igbo—but he was mostly associated with Nigerian nationalism and I remember quoting this to a man who is now fairly elderly. He was the in-law of 'Zik', and he was surprised that he had ever made a statement like this. What Zik said in 1949 was that "it would appear that the God of Africa has specifically created the Igbo nation to lead the children of Africa from the bondage of the ages."

And then Chinua Achebe, I don't know if you've heard of him. Any one heard of Chinua Achebe? The writer of Things Fall Apart, probably the most famous African novel. He said the following: "Unlike the Hausa-Fulani, the Igboman was unhindered by a weary—that is a Moslem—religion. And unlike the Yoruba, he was unhampered by traditional hierarchies. This kind of creature, fearing neither god nor man was custom made to grasp the opportunities of the white man's dispensation."

So that was Achebe's explanation for why the Igbos rose. As I said, remember the attitude of the British. And their attitude wasn't that good whether it was to their Celtic neighbours or to the French or Continental Europeans or the black or brown peoples who they conquered; in the hierarchy of things, the Igbo were right at the bottom there. But this was Achebe's explanation of why they rose up in the era of colonialism.

By no means an intellectual but a very decent man—I wrote a book about him, Dick Tiger, the world boxing champion in the 1960s. During the height of the Nigerian Civil War, he used his prestige in the United States to support the Igbo in the secessionist cause of Biafra. And he told an American journalist, "Our opponents call the Igbos the Jews of Africa. It is meant as an insult. I interpret it as a high compliment."

So they had that belief in them. And I'll just run through a few facts and figures to show that. In the early 1920s, Nigeria—just a new nation, newly colonised. It had 15 barristers and 12 physicians. Now 20 of these were from the Yoruba ethnic group, and the rest were so-called Native Foreigners. Absolutely not a single Igbo doctor or lawyer. By the middle (1950s), Nigeria had 300 doctors and lawyers. 76 were ethnic Yorubas but the Igbos now numbered 49. So they were gaining pretty rapidly.

In education, the Igbos, prior to the Second World War, only had one studying in the United States: Nnamdi Azikiwe, who I mentioned earlier on was the first president of Nigeria. After the Second World War, half the students in the United States were of Igbo origin. 

One thing that I mentioned in my book was that the Igbos had what was referred to as the 'Onitsha Chapbook Culture.' In other words, the thing that was responsible for their drive; you could see it in this literature that developed. It developed from the market city of Onitsha in the north of Igboland but spread all over to the urban proletariat.

And what that culture was, was a mixture of traditional values, Christian and entrepreneurial precepts. If you struggled hard, remained sober: You could reach for the stars. And so many of them were imbued with this zeal which probably lasted until the shattering events of the Nigerian Civil War. You had these chapbooks (with titles) like 'Determination is the Key to Success', or 'How to become Rich'. People fed of this sort of thing. You'd find it in market places, in bus stations. They were very into self development and the development of the community.

The third point that I mentioned was the perception of the host communities and the neighbours. Well, I don't want to go into the epithets that have been used against Jews, but with the Igbos, there's a name in Nigeria that originated in the North: 'Nyamiri.' And that referred to something akin to being a money lover.' They would do anything for money; sell your mother for money. That was the way in which the Igbos were viewed: as a people with an unbridled lust and love for money.

So there was all this suspicion, envy, antagonism. The other thing we could compare with the situation of Jews, was a certain ghettoization. As the clip mentioned, the Igbos spread across Nigeria. They were in the Civil Service—the higher echelons; the lower echelons. The northern part of Nigeria, I should remind you: Islamically orientated, so they didn't adapt to western education and the professions in the way that southern people like the Yorubas and the Igbos did. When people lived in the North, they lived in what were termed 'Strangers Quarters'; Sabon Garis. Everybody did. But again, when the pogroms started, they knew where to head to.

And on that issue of pogroms, in Nigeria, you could say that there were three pogroms against the Igbo. One in 1945 in the northern city of Jos; or what you'd call the 'middle belt' in Nigeria. In 1954, in the northern city of Kano and in 1966 there was a prolonged series of pogroms. What happened as that clip hinted at was that (in) Nigeria, the six year-old civilian regime was stalemating into absolute corruption and (it was) a mess. There was a coup d'├ętat. That coup was led by middle ranking officers, most of whom were Igbos.

The actual coup did not succeed, but the person who took over, was the army commander who was Igbo. And a lot of the other ethnic groups, particularly the Hausa—because a number of their leaders were killed during that coup—felt that this was the Igbos trying to establish a form of hegemony over the rest of Nigeria. It's part of a lengthy story—can't go into details but that is it. Later on there was a counter coup and the slaughter of many of the Igbo (within the) officer corps. There were pogroms against Igbo civilians.

Now I'm not Igbo. I'm not a propagandist trying to stir up hatred (against) Moslem northern Nigerians or Islam in general, but you saw a few of the propaganda clips (in the T.V. excerpt). We don't have pictures of how Jews were dealt with at the time of the pogroms in Tsarist Russia, but you can imagine how they were punished. These are pictures released by the Biafran secessionists on what was happening. People had their eyes gouged, people were turned into refugees in their own country, this picture which is folded, contains the image of a beheaded corpse, so if you don't want to look at it, don't open it. But that was the whole effect of Nigeria's problems.

So you had a political revolution, and once they started the communal violence, the Igbos fled to their own Eastern Region. And in doing that, many of the people who witnessed this made an analogy with the situation of the Jews, because the Eastern Region now began to look rather overpopulated with over a million people coming from all over Nigeria (who) had to be absorbed in one region. This is a statement from Colin Legum of The Observer, October 16th 1966. He wrote for his readers that "after a fortnight, the scene in the Eastern Region continues to be reminiscent of the ingathering of the exiles into Israel after the end of the Second World War. The parallel is not fanciful."

And it wasn't fanciful because what was going to happen was secession and from their perspective, a war of independence, which of course the Jewish people had before the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. From the pogroms, the issue of genocide raised its head. For Jews, the image of genocide is the camps of Belsen, Auschwitz: emaciated figures liberated after the Second World War. For the Igbos: starving children in Biafra. I have two quotes for you that (are) linked to this issue (of genocide). While I read this out, I have pictures of Jews rescued from one of the concentration camps and the rest are (of) Igbos.

Once Nigeria blockaded them during the civil war, that was their means of warfare. They didn't want to do much hand-to-hand fighting; they just blockaded Biafra by land, by sea, by air and basically wanted to starve them into submission. Well, I'd mentioned the boxer Dick Tiger earlier on who did a large amount of propaganda work on behalf of the Biafran cause, and he was interviewed by a Western journalist during the war. And here's a quote from him. He said, "If we don't fight back. If we don't protect our rights, it will be what's the word? Genocide. Like what they did to the Jews. They are out to kill us."

And Frederick Forsyth in his book, The Biafra Story—Frederick Forsyth of The Day of the Jackal fame. Before that he was a journalist who had covered the assassination attempt on General DeGaulle and various other European news stories, then he became a war correspondent, then resigned that to propagate the Biafran cause—this is what he wrote in his book The Biafra Story in 1969. He said, "One can no more explain the present day attitude of Biafrans to Nigerians, without reference to the anti-Igbo pogroms than one can account for contemporary Jewish attitudes towards the Germans without reference to the Jews experience in the Nazis hands between 1933 and 1945."

So yet another analogy being made there. So far we haven't yet spoken about Judaism and the links with Igbos, but this is what I said I wanted to do just to show why there was this analogy been made. And the final thing that I wanted to look at was this issue of nationalism and war, because there's a similarity here in the sense that an horrendous experience was the prompt for Jews to go back to the Middle East; the land of Canaan; of Palestine and form the state of Israel in 1948.

Of course, there was the pre-existing school of Zionism as espoused by Theodore Hertzl, and that had been something that had been there for much of the century and Jews were migrating to Palestine. But the impetus that led to a final resolution to form a Jewish state was the Holocaust. And so much in the same way that the Jews formed the state of Israel, the Igbos reacted to what they felt was the attempt to exterminate them as a people, to form the independent republic of Biafra.

So some similarities there, but I will remind you about the differences, because it looked like a 'David and Goliath' situation. Looking at what is known as the 'War of Independence' to Jews and Israelis but (as) 'The Calamity' to Arabs, you had two more wars; one in 1956 at the time of the Suez Crisis and then the Six Day War in 1967. Now before the Six Day War, it looked like a classic case of David and Goliath. You've seen the map of Nigeria and how small the area inhabited by the Igbos was compared to the rest of Nigeria.

Much the same way people would have looked at things in a superficial sense and seen the state of Israel and look at these large Arab nations: Syria, Egypt and Jordan around them. A lot of people in the world did think that the state of Israel was in peril. Just looking at things it would have taken a swift set of pincer movements, and Israel would be swept into the sea, and God knows what would have happened to the people who were left there. But the reality was different as people know now. The Israeli General Staff were very confident of victory. There are all these stories of the indecisiveness of the Prime Minister, Levi Eshkol and Yitzhak Rabin, the army commander was said to be smoking heavily and had a nervous breakdown.

But the only thing that was perplexing the Israeli state was what would be the nature of their victories. They couldn't take any of the Arab capitals, and it was a question of how much territory they could take and then see if the world could accommodate that. With the Biafrans, same David and Goliath scenario, but the Igbos did not have much in the manner of weapons to fight the Nigerians. So what I was going to show you on the projector: here's a picture of some little Jewish girls in Golders Green holding up a placard saying HELP ISRAEL—but essentially, the Generals, there's General Dayan, Rabin and the Air Force commander; they knew they were going to win that victory.

More or less; it needed an effort and they did just that. These are battle scenes and famous thing at the Wailing Wall where Israeli soldiers were pictured by a photographer from (Life magazine). This is a picture of Colonel Ojukwu, who led the Biafran secession. Now there was a connection at this time as I hinted in my introduction between the state of Israel and Biafra in the sense that the Six Day War had been concluded in June of 1967.

It would have been impolitic for Israel to recognise Biafra at that stage but what happened was after the spectacular successes against the Arab armies—I have some pictures there of abandoned Egyptian armour from the Mitla Pass—a number of those tanks and armour, well I don't know about tanks, but light weaponry, were airlifted to Biafra. So the state of Israel did send some aid to them. That connection existed. It ended in defeat (for Biafra) so a vastly different situation from what we have with the situation of Israel.

Well, I come on to the aspect of the link between the Igbos and the Jews. So far we've looked at those analogies which were made. People would make these phrases: "The Jews of Africa." Aid workers or people who were flying aeroplanes when Biafra was blockaded in order to bring in food because the Nigerian government wouldn't allow food to pass through unless it was inspected, and the Biafrans felt well they're going to poison it. So the way Biafra was kept alive was through these constellation flights between Sao Tome and Portugal.

So people were making these analogies. But they were just saying that these people were like Jews; analogous to Jews. But we want to look at what this connection is that appears to have transpired. Just to remind that the history of the Jewish people has been one of dispersal. I referred earlier on to how biblical Israel had been destroyed by larger empires: Assyria and Babylon. 

And we know that there were these migrations to different parts of the world: Egypt, southern parts of Europe, the Iberian Peninsula. But what of sub-Saharan Africa? We know of Jews existing in China. And this was as a result of the trade route through the Silk (Road). And the traditions have been suppressed but today they are trying to reinvestigate that past.

I mentioned Latin America before, and why not sub-Saharan Africa? What are these possible routes? There are 3 areas in which we could say that there was a form of Jewish migration. We'll also look at (whether such) migration was just of the Jewish faith or of people with the DNA of the people of the Middle East. 

One would have been through the North East of Africa; through the Nile Valley. Historically, remember there was an Arab conquest of North Africa and southern Europe. There were trade routes, and it is quite possible that some of these conquests and the traders came down via that north eastern element. A second route would have been right up here in North Africa.

Everybody knows where Tunisia is? There was a Jewish community there destroyed in the first-second A.D., but there are still elements of them there (in) Djerba. Remember the Sahara desert wouldn't have always been as vast as it is because it's constantly expanding. It would have been onerous to cross it but there were these trade routes. Also, in West Africa, there were three great kingdoms. Not right down on the coast and not right up at the northern tip. These empires were known as Ghana; and then from Ghana, you had a larger empire called Mali.

In history, there's a famous King of Mali known as Mansa Musa. He made a pilgrimage to Mecca—they were Islamic—and on his way—gold was plentiful in those days—he would make gifts of gold bars as he went along the route. That succeeded in devaluing the value of gold, and I think he was broke by the time he finished his pilgrimage. But he made it back to Mali. And then after the Mali Empire, you had the Songhai Empire. We know about Mali through oral traditions. We also know of it through written testaments.

One of them was through a famous Arab traveller called Ibn Batuta. You have to remember that these were Islamic states—perhaps not in the 'fundamentalist' mould as we would understand it, but rather if you think about the Islamic caliphate; the Islamic presence in Spain before they were pushed out of Spain where it was one of tolerance etcetera. You had Jewish traders and soldiers there at that time. So that would have been another means by which Hebrews; Jewish people might have made their way into sub-Saharan Africa.

Lady in Audience: These are speculations really...

Adeyinka Makinde: We're going a bit deeper. We're going a bit deeper. When you say speculation, it starts off as speculation but it ends up as historical enquiry, because as I said, the (Lemba) people were tested for DNA, and their rites were pretty much congruent to ancient Hebrew rites, so hold your horses madam. We're coming on.

Lady in Audience: Yes, I could walk out or hold my horses. I know that.

Adeyinka Makinde: Much of history is (as) you mentioned speculation. Yes. But the reality of the fact that there were Jewish people, who came along with conquering Arab armies, is not speculation. In fact in Mali which I just mentioned, there is an ancient Jewish community there. And rather as we mentioned Spain at the time of the Inquisition, people were either put to the sword or were forced to convert (to Islam.) And rather as I mentioned Latin America, the Far East in China even, people are now re-investigating the past. So absolutely, that aspect isn't speculation.

Lady in Audience: What is your point? I know you are a lawyer, (but) what do anthropologists say about this.

Adeyinka Makinde: If you don't mind madam, I can take some questions at the end.

Steward of the Jewish Museum admonishes the lady to leave questions for the end of the seminar.

There are aspects where people might say it is speculation, but I've just mentioned some actual historically documented facts. There was a Jewish presence just as there was an Arab presence through trade. Let's come on then to the traditions of the Igbo people. And I want to look at it in terms of those aspects which are somewhat congruent with the Hebrew faith. 

There are the lores, that is, the oral traditions of three clans of the Igbos which do say that they are descended from three tribes. One is the B'nei Manashe. (Another) one is B'nei Gath and the other one is B'nei Zebulon. Those are the three specific tribes which in Igbo folklore, there is a connection with Jews.

This is pre-dating any contact with Christianity or the bible. I will read out a collection of words which tend to (demonstrate similarities between Igbo and Hebrew.) 

First is 'Adah', a female name. The daughter of Elon. That name exists in the Igbo language; the name of a first daughter. 

The second word 'Udu'; to certify or attest in Hebrew. In the Igbo language, they refer to it in 3 areas: Where it has to do with fame or popularity; where it is as a reference to a clay pot, or a pot like musical instrument. 

A third (word): 'Ani'. In Hebrew, 'everlasting' or 'unending'. In the Igbo language, that means 'land' or 'ground or the earth.'

In Hebrew, 'Ush' is the name of a town or the name of a male. In the Igbo language, it is the name of townships within the cities of Owerri and Ideato. In the Hebrew faith it is also the name of a male. That same name is the name of a male among the Igbos. 

A fifth one: 'Addar'. A town. Where? A town in Judah. That's from (the book of) Joshua. There's a town called Adda in a place known as Arochukwu. 

Sixth: 'Asa'. A Hebrew king, The son of Abijah and father of Jehoshaphat. In the Igbo language, it is the name of a beautiful female, and it also appears as the name of a town. 'Ezer'. What does Ezer mean in Hebrew?

Was there a chieftain among the Israelites who fought the Gadites sent to support King David at the battle of Zitlag against Saul which is the last record of the activities of the three Gadite brothers: Eri, Arodi and Areli? That was from (the book of) Chronicles. 

So that was a Chieftain. In Igbo 'Eze' is the (title) of a king or chief. 'Ewe'? That's a goat in Hebrew. (Member of the audience offers that it is spelled E-Z). In Igbo it is either 'Ewu' or 'Eghu'. 'Am'. What is Am in Hebrew? (Two members of the audience respond that it refers to a "nation" or "place") A nation. A place. There are a number of prefixes in the Igbo language which also mean 'place'. 'Ama'.

The fellow I wrote that book on, Dick Tiger, he comes from a place called Ama-Igbo. Amaigbo. Now that means compound of the Igbos. Compound. Place. (Member of the audience states it could refer to 'mother country.') That's what the Igbos recognise it as; as a certain territory. My understanding of Amaigbo is that it means compound of the Igbos. So a bit of a similarity there. 

'Ol'. In Hebrew is said to be servitude or slavery. (A member of the audience refers to it as a Yoke around the neck). Igbos have 'Olu', and that means labour or work. 

And then 'Maaz'. In Hebrew what is that? Is that the name of a male? M-A-A-Z. The name of a male in Israel. Maazi in Igboland is a male name or a title.

And the final one I have here is 'Ikkar'. I-K-K-A-R. (Member of the audience mentions 'a farmer.') Tiller of the ground. In Igbo, 'Iku-ugbo', so the first 'Eee-khh' sound; it means to till the ground or to farm. So as I said, (Igbo is part of the Kwa language group) but there are these terms. How did they get there? Were they from migrations or from Jewish elements who converted them? Unlike the Lemba on whom they have done genetic testing, I'm not sure that there's been any large scale testing on the Igbos. That's something (on which) they'll work on in the future.

A mention also of the religious practices. The Igbos have a traditional religion. I had mentioned that they believe in a god, one god—Chukwu, and certain subsidiary gods. And also the concept of the god of destiny. And some of those, apart from the personal god, are congruent with other traditional African religions. Where does traditional, that is pre-Christian Igbo religion merge with Judaism. Before Christians arrived or the bible in various guises and versions was brought to that part of Africa, the Igbos had a tradition and still have a tradition of circumcising of the male born eight days after birth.

The Igbos also have a tradition of separating men from women during female menstruation. There are other issues. They refrain from eating meat that would be referred to as being 'Un-kosher'. So in other words, if a ritual prayer has not been said over a dead animal, you can't eat it. 

And also, it depends on how the animal was killed. If it was destroyed by another animal, you cannot touch it. The Igbos also have that as a tradition. The sounding of the ram's horn. I didn't have any video clips to show you but according to Rabbi Howard Gorin, who went there and established this B'nei Igbo, the Igbos also have a tradition of blowing the rams horn. Apparently it sound like, if not identical to the manner in which the Shofar is blown.

And also the tradition of mourning, Shiva, there is a similar Igbo ritual whereby, for instance, a husband dies and the wife stays and weeps for 7 or 8 days in the house. 

There are also some similarities with some Jewish festivals. For instance, (although) I didn't find reference to this one, I thought it was implicit. Yom Kippur is the Day of Atonement. In the traditional Igbo society, when they begin their New Year, there is a month of sacrifice, which they call the Onwa-Eja, where you fast and try to do good deeds. Similarity? Rosh Hashanah, the New Year. The Igbos place a particular emphasis on the New Year. They call it the Ikeji-Aro.

So a few things to chew on there in terms of the migratory aspects, and the linguistic similarities and the traditional. I have some pictures of Rabbi Gorin who has gone to Nigeria (distributing photographs of Rabbi Gorin and Igbos practicing Judaism.) 

Those are pictures of newly established Jewish faith groups in Igboland. There are 40,000 practicing persons. Nigeria is a nation of 120 million and the Igbos anything from 20 to 35 million. What this means is that a lot of Igbos may acknowledge that there is some connection, but on mass, they are a Christianised people and most of them are Roman Catholic.

Most of them are not interested in converting to Judaism, but they do tend to find the analogies as well as any archaeological, historical (or) cultural link to Hebrews pretty appealing. There are different attitudes in this regard. To conclude, what are the implications of this? Is it a question of if you could establish, rather like the Falashas of Ethiopia or the Menashes in India, that they were a branch of the lost tribes of Israel, what would be the consequence of that? Would it entail that they would want to be recognised by the state of Israel?

There would be a big problem in Nigeria. As I mentioned before, the state of Israel did help the Igbos during the civil war by sending equipment which had been taken during the Six Day War. However, to recognise the Igbos (as a branch of Jewry) when the whole idea of their secession is still fresh in history might be considered a provocation.

For that reason, even if there was compelling evidence and it was accepted, it would be a big problem whether it was political recognition or rabbinical recognition. Yitzhak Rabin, when he was prime minister, did send a fact finding (team) to Igboland between 1995 and 1997. So there are a number of people in the Jewish Diaspora who are aware of this.

I mentioned Rabbi Howard Gorin. There's also a producer by the name of Jeff L. Leiberman. He's Canadian-born and based in Los Angeles. He's also just made a film called 'Re-Emerging: The Jews of Nigeria'. It's just been produced, so it may be available as we speak. So there are some problems (recognising the Igbos as Jews) politically, religiously. 

Also there's that wonder, some people feel in Black Africa that the experience of the Ethiopian Jews in Israel has not necessarily been plain sailing. There've been allegations of racism. I think there was one particular instance of (Falashas) been refused as blood donors. And people felt, is this what you want? Also, there's this uncertainty as to how long recognition would take.

As I mentioned at the beginning, this issue of identity and recognition. Who has the power? It's almost (like the situation of) Thomas Jefferson who is said to have sired children with a black slave—mixed race slave, Sally Hemmings. And down the generations, I think it was in the last decade or so, the (black) descendants of Sally Hemmings wanted recognition as being part of the wider Jefferson family, and there were arguments for and against. Some people felt "That's a good thing! They acknowledge." But others would say, "Why are you trying to force yourself on them. If they don't want you, why force the issue?"

In some instances, that's the attitude on both sides. There are other attitudes, the less conservative attitudes among the Jewish faith, the Rabbi Gorin's of this world, who feel, "Look a lot of the Jews feel that population wise, we're diminishing through inter-marriage and issues like that. If you can have people with a connection to Judaism whether they're in the Far East or the Near East, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America: We should embrace them." There are others who presumably don't feel that way.

As I said, I think that it is something to think about because even the Jewish—80% of those who are termed Jewish are Ashkenazi Jews, and in terms of when we refer to casting doubts—which are valid—in regard to certain peoples being connected to Jews, remember there was the Khazar Theory which reared its head in the 1970s which was that you can't account for the large amount of Jews in eastern Europe who would have been descendants of migrants from the Middle East and that this was as a result of the mass conversion of this medieval Turkic people.

The person who first (postulated) that was actually pro-state of Israel, but others have seen that as an attempt to de-legitimise most Jews by saying, you do not have a connection to Israel, therefore you are imposters and you're colonists. 

As I told you, I'm not Igbo, I'm not Jewish—I'm just a student of history. These are the arguments in terms of fashioning something for the future. Some people are confident that eventually there will be enough evidence for the Igbos to be given acceptance as a lost people of Judaism and that they will be accepted much in the way of the Falashas and the Manashe.

But as I said it's not a vast majority of Igbos—who are willing to acknowledge that connection but it's a relatively smaller, but growing number of people who are interested in exploring more of the Judaic faith. So that's were I end things. I hope that was thought provoking and slightly stimulating.

Audience claps.

Question and Answer

Does anyone want to ask any questions?

Member of Audience: Just two points. Firstly, I don't know if you are aware, there was a case before the Israeli Supreme Court in about 1993—because there are a large number of foreign workers from Nigeria working in Israel—so a Nigerian who was Igbo tried to petition the Supreme Court to be granted permission to live in Israel permanently on the grounds that he was Jewish. And secondly, I remember reading a couple of years ago in the Jewish Chronicle, there was a rabbi from Nigeria, living in the UK who had been asked to go on a fact finding mission to Nigeria to (inaudible).

Adeyinka Makinde: Right. Do you know what the result of that Supreme Court petition was?

Member of Audience: It was rejected. It was decided that he had no rights under the Law of Return which grants every Jew the right to (live in Israel.)

Adeyinka Makinde: I must say that apart from the Igbos who consider themselves to be Jews who've rediscovered their faith—Judaism is not a proselytising religion as we know—there is a messianic aspect to (the spread of) Hebrewism which is not linked to the Igbos in Nigeria. They practice Judaism because they believe it is the purer form of what was then (developed into) Christianity and Islam. And I remember that there was a soldier fighting in the Israeli army who died, and he had a Yoruba name. So how he could be accepted into the Israeli army but not into the constituency of being recognized—I don't know how that occurred. That's interesting! I'll look that up.

Member of Audience: Have you read about the rabbi?

Adeyinka Makinde: I know (of) a few of them through my research of people linked to Mr. Gorin

Member of the Audience: He's based in Manchester. I'll see if I can dig out the article.

Adeyinka Makinde: That'll be good! I'd like to find out about that.

Member of Audience (2): There was also at one time I think a lecture on the Jews practicing—a cult actually—in Uganda. I don't know much about it, but their practice is very similar to that of (mainstream Jews).

Adeyinka Makinde: Not the (Abuyudaya)? Because as we mentioned, they do not say that they have a genetic or migratory connection with Israel, it's just that an elder was converted in the early part of the 20th Century and they all adopted it.

Member of Audience (2): Oh, O.K.

Adeyinka Makinde: There is that issue of conservative rabbinical thought that first of all you have to be born of a Jewish mother and have a rabbinical court confirm that. But if you look at the migration of Ashkenazi Jews, they found in the DNA that most of them were males who married presumably Slavic females. So where does that leave them? It's full of convolutions and can be highly political. So it's one of those issues where you have to treat people, really, the way you want to be treated. That's the only way one can look at it as a neutral observer.

Member of Audience (3): There are also the Israelites in the (United) States who are black who (claim to) derive their (descent) through slavery from Africa to the United States and Caribbean. Also, there is some theory linking Rastafarianism to Judaism. So what goes around comes around. Also from a commonsense point of view, to me, it must make sense that there was dispersal to sub-Saharan Africa. Why should it be uniquely to Northern Europe? It's just that people have got lost and there hasn't been much research into how the communities dispersed.

Adeyinka Makinde: Absolutely. As I said, I'm not here as this big expert. There are other (topics for which I could claim a greater level of expertise). I am a discoverer as much as you are. I am not professing an ultimate, supreme knowledge of it.

Member of Audience (3): Jews are originally people of colour. I'm of Ashkenazi descent but a large number of Ashkenazi Jews just don't want to accept that. It's just a fact. It's a fact that they were a people of colour. And as you say through intermarriage, through rape...

Adeyinka Makinde: So many ways it could have happened. I think the interesting thing whether it's in Europe (or) in Africa; was it through conversion or was it through this genetic link? And the (Lemba) people of Malawi which is in southern Africa (have established) this link. Genetic mutations of Jews and Arabs are, I would presume, relatively the same. (Reference to Arab trade and presence in the eastern and south eastern part of Africa. Jews from the Arabian Peninsula may have come via this route.) They (genetic historians) do claim that the (Lemba) bear traces of Semitic genes which would tend to confirm that they practice of what looks like Judaism for a long time before Christian missionaries arrived.

Member of Audience (4): Just a comment on Mr. Makinde's lecture. I find it very helpful Mr. Makinde is neither Jewish nor Igbo and it gives his position a form of credibility. I am Igbo myself and I've picked up a lot of things that I didn't know from what he's said so far. About the connection between Igbos and Jews. I've heard that from day one. Long time. I'm not so sure as to the reality or the scientific connection, so I'm very interested in what he is saying now. This is the first time that I've been exposed to any possible scientific or historical connection—besides rumours, of course. But the Igbos, in any case, although we have similarities with the Jewish people, most of us are not interested or pushing for any recognition at all. Most of us are quite settled where we come from in Nigeria. What we are looking for is our own nation state back there in Africa. What I think is important in our connection with the Jewish people in terms of forging connections is we share similarities in terms of democracy, enterprise and the rest of that. If we can build on that, I think we'll probably go a long way.

Adeyinka Makinde: Yes, I would think that much the attitude. Even Rabbi Gorin who's the head of Benai Igbo, he basically felt that this could be a long process. First of all do we have something in common so that we can say we are brothers in the sense of human brotherhood. And then (they could) further delve into connections: scientific, anthropological, scientific. As I said, 40,000 practicing out of a Nigeria population of 120 million and Igbo population of around 35 million. Most of them are happy being Roman Catholics. It's caused problems; people supposedly rediscovering their Jewish roots. You can imagine what it's like "Oh, you've just joined a sect!" People want stability. You've always been this. And for people, whatever the issues of being a Jew historically—just the upheaval—if you were say a Latin American (and) you never knew you were Jewish; just like you never knew who your real mother was—it's such an upheaval, so that there isn't this big movement that we all suddenly want to be Jewish. It's a relatively minuscule amount. But in the discourse of knowledge and the imparting and sharing values; that's the whole idea of why I've picked upon it.

Member of Audience (4): Why? What's basically your interest in this subject?

Adeyinka Makinde: Well, I heard the Jewish Museum was presenting some boxing seminars, and I said, "God, I've got to do something about that. What could I do though? I thought of Dick Tiger who was Igbo and thought about the connection (between Igbos and Jews.) I thought why don't I explore this, which as I said has been a part of my life since I was a child, you know in terms of how we would argue among ourselves in terms of our roots. Where do we come from? And occasionally we would bring up Egypt. The Israelites. So I would say it is a continuation of the exploration of things I heard of while growing up in Nigeria.

Steward of the Jewish Museum: Well you've certainly given us a lot to think about. Thank you. And we look forward to welcoming you back to the new museum. Thank you very much.

Audience claps

Adeyinka Makinde: Thank you very much.

(C) Adeyinka Makinde (2007)

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