The Western (Riverine) Igbo
The Northern or Awka Igbo
The Southern or Owerri Igbo
The Cross-River Igbo
The Ogoja Igbo
The Awka or Northern Igbo extended to the confines of Nsukka and Okigwi (Okigwe). It includes such important places as Onitsha, Nnri, Aguleri, Igboukwu, Isuofia, Enugu, Nnewi, Awgu and environs. These were influenced more by the activities around the Niger coast and northern neighbour of the Igala Kingdom.
The Western Igbo include such places as Ugwashi Uku (Ogwashi-Uku), Agbor, Asaba, Aboh, Kwale, Ahoada and environs. This division was influenced by Bini ancient monarchs. Owerri Igbo extends to the confines of Port-Harcourt and Orlu. It includes such places as Umuahia, Aba, Diobu, Owerri and Orlu environs. The Cross River Igbo are the people of Afikpo, Bende and Arochukwu environs. The Ogoja Igbos are the people of Abakaliki settlements.
These major divisional groups have distinguished cultural peculiarities that contrast them. Some of the differences are attributed to “response to varying natural conditions and problems of everyday life.” Thus each group was influenced mostly by what happened in its geographical area.
Igbo main cultural blocks are considered by some as the “tribes” of Igbo entity. However, the word “tribe” in this regard is a misleading term. The Igbo cultural divisions are not “tribe” in the same sense one might choose to refer to the tribes of the Yoruba people of Ijebu or Egba. It is notable among the Igbo that regardless of their cultural differences they posses some common homogenous traits which characterise them as one people who stand the possibility of enjoying a sense of common origin. One such major common characteristics of the whole cultural groups is the advantage of profiting from the use of one common language system.
In the midst of something close to three hundred dialect-clusters, every member of Igbo entity can freely communicate with his brother far separated by two hundred and fifty miles. The mutual tendency is to adjust to the more commercial, educational and missionary dialect of Onitsha. Thus the Igbos speak the same Igbo language. They are within the constitution of what the linguists term “a speech community”
The apparent Igbo divisive traits are best understood in the light of what the Greek philosophers called unity in diversity. The personality of Igbo cultural groups is established in the expression, IGBO-EKWENU, IGBO-EKWENU or Igbo-Kweenu is a political magic wand of Igbo expression of unity. It is usually employed to unite as one, man in repealing external aggression. Thus when Igbo-Kweenu is enthusiastically bellowed the apparent Igbo cultural differences vanish like a soap bubble. Consequently, the people are united like Babel Tower builders in pursuit of external enemy or an achievement of seemingly a difficult goal. “Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language. “Genesis 11:6. The Igbos share in common a copious supply of versatile common sense and the unique capacity for improvisation.
THE FIRST IGBO WRITER AND HISTORIAN
Mr. Israel Eloebo Iweka, the crowned Igwe Iweka I, of Obosi was said to have single handedly built several roads in Obosi and Onitsha, around the year 1914. Some of the roads built by this famous man which exist to date include the ever busy Iweka Road, now subdivided into Eze Road, from Obosi to Upper Iweka Road. This road extends from Akuora Market in Obosi to Onitsha Main Market.
Israel Iweka, a scion of a dynasty of kings did not only build roads by which he is popularly remembered today. He also wrote a book. In 1922, Iweka wrote and published a 261-page history of Igbo-land. The book was written in English and Igbo languages. In the early 1990s, the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, was said to have honoured “the book as the first history of the Iboland published by an Igbo man.”
We do not know whether the UNN is aware of an older author at this time. But evidently there exists an older information about an older author. In 1745 a man known as Olaudah Equiano was born to a distinguished Igbo clan. The father of this man was renowned as a judge in his community which, in the very words of Equiano was Essaka, probably the present Nsukka or Isieke.
As an ideal Igbo youth, Equiano freely participated in the daily chores and industrious varieties that characterise every Igbo family until he was twelve years old.
At twelve this dynamic Igbo youth was kidnapped together with his sister and sold into slavery. The European who finally bought him shipped him to England. In England he was “sold again to a sea captain who gave him the name Gustavus Vassa (probably after Gustavus Vassa, 1496-1560, one of the greatest of Swedish Kings.)”
Intelligent, energetic, tough-minded and thrifty, as F. C. Ogbalu would describe him, Equiano had it as an advantage to have been bought by a ship captain. This gave him special privilege to have travelled widely. Eventually, he saved enough money to purchase his freedom and educate himself.
Olaudah Equiano the name which might mean, according to Chieka Ifemesia, Olaude Ekweano is often listed among the famous men who played a leading role in the movement towards the abolition of slave trade, which at this time had claimed some ten to twelve million Africans.
Like Bishop Samuel Ajayi Crowther of the Yoruba, slavery separated Equiano from his people geographically but not biologically. In all his travels, both under the rigours of slavery and freedom he remained original, an Igbo man with a will to ever succeed or secede as occasion warrants. His moral and physical strength, helped him to survive at the end. As an Igboman, his natural spirit of arrogance and pride is reflected in such statements as “I am a nigger, you’re a planter… I have no fear of looking the European in the eye.” Equiano “retained a very keen interest in his people”, said Ifemesia in his book, Traditional Humane Living Among the Igbo. “He applied, without success, to the bishop of London to be sent as a missionary to Africa”
At about age 40, Equiano wrote his autobiography around the year 1789 under the title. The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa the African. As far as evidence can prove this is the very first published matter by Igboman about the Igbo people. In that monumental work, among other things, Equiano tried to answer some questions about Igbo people, their origin, government, politics, economy, social life and culture.
Until we can substantially prove otherwise this Igbo ex-slave remain the first to reduce Igbo Language and village affairs to writing. He transcribed about seventy—nine Igbo words in The Interesting Narrative. Equiano married the daughter of James Gullen of Cambridge in 1792. Her name is Susannah, a white woman, before he died at the age of 52, on March 31, 1797.
Equiano became a relatively prosperous money lender and landlord. Having settled in London, he had time to reflect his experiences, “As a human being and a survivor of a tragedy a hundred times bigger than the holocaust, he epitomizes the greatness of the human spirit.” Equiano tells his readers that because of their “zeal” and hardiness “ the West Indian Planters prefer the slaves of Benin or Eboe (Igbo)”. His travels in the colonies exposed him to the cruelty of slavery: “I have seen a Negro beaten. Equiano mastered the very difficult science of navigation. He equally had good knowledge of arithmetic. Like a modern Igbo youth vigorously defying life’s obstacles, Equiano proved to be of extraordinary courage and determination.
Olaudah Equiano seemed to have died a Born Again Christian. He reflected at the end of his book: “What makes any event important, unless by its observation we become better and wiser, and learn to ‘do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly before God.” Having survived the appalling hardships and misery life of slavery, Equiano, a fervent evangelical Christian realised what many Igbos have not realised; that no matter one’s suffering or successes, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3).
MAXIMUM CERTAINTY VERSUS UNCERTAINTY
Sir, Isaac Newton the great’ scientist, when an old man said to one who praised his wisdom: “I am as a child on the sea shore picking up a pebble here and a shell there, but great ocean of truth still lies before me.” Thomas Edison, was quoted to have said: “I do not know one millionth part of one percent about anything.”
In tracing the history of Igbo Origin, as in every other department of knowledge, there are some details in regard to which we must be content to remain uncertain. The research presented in this book (not claiming to be exhaustive in scope) however have reduced these uncertainties down to a minimum. We are quite literally in no position to ascertain all the facts concerning the history of a tribe as large as Igbo. Indeed no tribe can claim to have within its reach all facts concerning its origin either. We are quite literally in no position to ascertain all the facts, said J.B. Philips. And what monstrous conceit make any man suppose that, if we had them we have the intelligence and wisdom to understand them.”
Man honestly speaking is a restricted being. He is finite because he is not infinite. As a result everything he achieves or employs to understand is also grasped within a limited brain. We are too finite to grasp the totality of anything with which we deal. We observe but a small part of the complexities of the universe. Even longitudinal research that extends over several decades or generations covers only small samples and just a tiny-fragment of human history. Even when we gain a fairly comprehensive pictures, we still lack much details.
True, we cannot understand all concerning everything we would like to know about the history of Igbo Origin. But that we cannot KNOW ALL should not mean we cannot KNOW ANYTHING AT ALL. It is.
From the earliest time Ndi-Igbo have retained five distinct Cultural Divisions: Igbo Cultural Divisions
The Western (Riverine) Igbo