For critical intervention
By Osas Egonwa
I have gone through this book and am so glad to be associated with the project. I will now proceed to share the author’s ideas as well as mine on the subject matter and you will agree with me that it is something to be proud of. This book, Anioma, Resolving the Identity Crisis, cannot be timelier than now because there has been a lot of identity crises among those who ought to be moving the case for Anioma State. Many of them think that we cannot have an Anioma State or an Anioma people because they believe that they see themselves as coming from other stock. I remember reading something by the late Professor Afigbo. He said that the problem with minorities is that they keep tracing their origins to neighbouring great states. For us Anioma people or Umu Anioma, as the author calls us, it is either that we think we are from Benin because it has a prestigious name, a great history and tradition, they have been known worldwide, or we are from the east because of their number. But whatever the case, the author has tried, using empirical evidence, historical records, not just journalism, not just vain argument but has supported his facts with authentic verifiable and comparable data, supporting his own line of thought.
About a month ago I was present in another Anioma forum to read the paper on behalf of a colleague of mine. There, the paper was saying that we can stay on our own because we have economic viability, enough to guarantee us a state, but the central issue here is not economic viability. We are talking about identity, who are we? This is essential because if you don’t know where you are coming from, or how you see yourself, you cannot determine where you are or the way forward. That is precisely what I have found in this book. I have studied this book and am convinced that the author has been able to prove that we need not have identity crisis as Anioma people.
Yes, some argue that they came from Benin, but we saw what happened during the Nigerian Civil War; our people suffered. Some of us were young but we saw what happened. Some of the important people in our communities were killed and their goods looted in Benin, as the author reminds us, and you say you are from Benin because one of your great grand fathers was a Benin chief or a king who came down from Benin and came to this part of the world with Benin diplomacy and imposed themselves on a community predominantly Igbo before their arrival.
Again, some people don’t want to hear the word Igbo, but why? The author has been able to trace the history of the word Igbo. He discloses that it came from the name Eber, which metamorphosed to Hebrew, Heebo and modified to Ibo or Igbo, all traceable to the Jews. And if you see what the Igbos are suffering in Nigeria, according to the author, not just in Nigeria, but worldwide, you will know that the Igbos are connected with the Jews. It is not just a simple story like that; he showed us history, from the Bible, from historical accounts to show the movement; that they came right from the east to this part of the world and settled down. He also buttressed this with evidences of cultural traits, names, traditions, even their kingship pattern, even of kings going to war. You recall the Bible history of how Israelite kings led their people to war. Yes, as the author narrates, the kings physically led their soldiers to war, they were in front, not just as commanders sitting back and using walkie-talkie to issue commands. And I am very proud that, being a man of God and being a scholar, the author has been able to muster all the evidences to establish what he refers to as a trigonometric relationship between the Hebrews, the Igbos and Umu Anioma. And that is very important, very very important.
Now, someone may be asking; why the Jewish connection? If you are a student of history, it will be clear to you that if you pick up a quarrel with a Jew, the Jew wins easily. Therefore, if we are in any form of challenge with anyone, we are going to win by inheritance. You cannot defeat a Jew, so why don’t we boldly associate with them. It is better for us to associate with that which is good so that we can know where we are heading to. After all, no one answers a name like Ogwumagana (Chameleon) or Idide (Milipede), but you find people bearing Agu (Lion), Eke (python) e.t.c. because they are associated with bravery.
At any rate, the author also made us to understand that he is not trying to advocate a re-gathering of the Jews scattered all over the place and migrated to our present place, as it is not necessary.
Talking about the Igbo connection, if you say you don’t like the word Igbo because it has acquired some derogatory terms, don’t worry about it. If your name acquires derogatory status, it is your duty to find out why. Whatever you call something that is what it is for you. If your Igbo is derogatory, it is because you called it so.
Research has shown that Igbo means nothing but People, signified by such names as Igbo Ukwu (People of Great Community), Igbo Uzor (People living by the Highway) Igboafugo (People have seen), Igbo Egbunam (May the people not kill me). It is also probable that some of the communities in the west with Igbo names are people who migrated from Igbo land, dwelt in the west and later moved away. So why are people afraid to be associated with Igbo?
There was the issue of the slave trade, which the author also referred to; a period when slaves were referred to as Igbo, but that is not what the author is talking about here. We are talking about people who live in a community.
The fundamental question is; who are we, the Anioma people? The author has tried very much to use so many instances to plot the map and establish that it is better for us to realise that our origin is connected more to the east than the west. Some communities in Anioma do not want to hear the name Igbo, but that should not be so, especially if you consider their first names, community names, culture and language.
Having established the roots, the author emphasises that we are Anioma and the earlier we come to terms with it, the better for us. If you say we are Edos, how about Igbanke? Ozanobodo is even there, and what about Abavo? These are Ika people and Ika is Anioma. There are so many things we ought to know so that we can stand our ground in proclaiming that we are Anioma.
He looked at some of the clans like the Ubulus, the Ndokwa and the Ezechimas and showed very well us how these people are connected with the Jews. He even went into such issues as physical immortality and all that, which is quite philosophical and almost esoterical, but they are needed. That is why I say that this book is not just a book of history or advocacy. It is a book of philosophy, things you ought to know.
The worship style of our people is also connected with the Nri. Of course you know that Nri is a source where most of our people came from. The Ogwashi Ukwu people came from there. They were originally called Ogwanshi but over there, they call them Nri. And the ruling families are actually from there, with their relations and all that. And you find that in Igboland, the Nri people are the Levites who cleanse the land. We were also told that they sold iron spearheads; they were blacksmiths, and traded as they went along doing their ritual or legal functions. And you find that our people here also follow the same Levitical structure in our worship and so on and so forth. However, the author did not fail to tell us also that modern influences have eroded these Jewish influences because the Jews who practiced Judaism stood for one man one wife, but later, that culture was polluted. Not that we don’t have records of those who married multiple wives. We saw the case of Solomon, but we saw what happened to him, even David, a man after God’s heart. We also saw what happened to him as a result of multiple wives. So, he is trying to use all these evidences to show who we are, where we came from and where we should be going.
The important thing to note is that we Anioma people have the ample opportunity to establish ourselves unequivocally as Anioma. The earlier we warm up to this, the better. We have the Chima story for instance. The Chima story is very important. The Ika people refer to him as Ikime or Kime or whatever, because they don’t want to identify with the Igbo. But how can it be that a strong Igbo man that travelled to Edo land remained an Igbo? Of course, the author reminds us that the Igbo race witnessed an era of native doctors who undertook pilgrimages called mbia. History has established that, at some point, there was a movement around the 16th Century of people from the east who moved up. And we have traditions in our own Anioma area which show that native doctors usually actually undertook the mbia trips. So, it is very likely that Chima, being a very good native doctor, was retained by the Oba, with whom he nurtured a relationship. However, in their relationship, some disagreement arose. Of course, when you are a stranger in a place, you are a stranger. In fact, there were wars, and these wars caused the migration of Chima and his people, eventually referred to as Ezechima. These facts have been thoroughly established in this book.
So I believe that this book has tried to set an ideological basis, a philosophical basis on which we can construct the Anioma identity to enable us to forge further, because when the time comes, people will come from afar to tell you that we are not one. But what I believe is that we are one.
I want to end this submission by looking at the author’s summary. The whole thing is easy. We cannot say we are Igbo now, it is late. We cannot say we are Edo, it is too late. We don’t need to go through the past experiences that are now history. All we need to do is to recognise that we have all that it takes to stay together and fight our battles, forge an Anioma identity and later, all those people will recognise us and they will associate with us.
•Professor Egonwa is a professor of art and art history at the Delta State University, Abraka.