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The Origin Of The Name "Igbo"

Another fairly popular school of thought with regards to Igbo origins is grounded on the theory of Hebrew or Middle Eastern origin. According to this theory, the Igbo are the descendants of a lost subgroup of the Israelite nation that migrated out of Egypt and was dispersed throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Interestingly, Eri, one of the biblical sons of Gad and grandsons of Jacob, who is said to have led this exodus from Egypt, bears the same name as a mythical man, Eri, who is believed to have arrived in the northern Igbo area during the late centuries of the first millennium A.D. Eri’s descendants are believed to have founded numerous communities such as Aguleri, Agukwu-Nri, and Enugu Ukwu.

First proposed in the 19th century by former African slave Olaudah Equiano, who said that the word ‘Ibo’ or ‘Heboe’ was a corruption of ‘Hebrew’, this supposition became popular in the colonial era as numerous Western anthropologists and clergymen attempted to link the mannerisms of Igbo groups with those they deemed definitive of Jewish populations. And so, eight day circumcision, similar religious practices, a distinguished business acumen, and phonetic language similarities, all became traits which, in their eyes, essentially qualified the Igbo as Hebrew.

As popular as this theory was and still is, it faced equally powerful opposition especially from indigenous historians and anthropologists, who considered it an attempt to use mere coincidences to establish a non-existent link between the Igbo and the Middle East. Worthy of mention is that prior to Western intrusion, the Igbo possessed no knowledge of the existence of Judeo-Christian traditions nor of the Jewish people themselves. Secondly, this Jewish origin theory completely disregards the heterogeneity of the Igbo and fails to consider the numerous, divergent origin creeds of various individual groups and explicitly claims that the entire Igbo nation spawned from the progeny of one man.

Scientific, linguistic, and anthropological evidence presented by indigenous scholars have also been instrumental in refuting this claim. A renowned anthropologist from the University of Benin uncovered fossils of a proto-Igbo stone civilization known as Ugwele Okigwe, which dates to around 6000 B.C. The discoveries of the remains of other ancient proto-Igbo civilizations at Nsukka, Afikpo, Ukwuani and Owerri, which date back to around 3000 B.C. imply that Igboland has been settled for at least a thousand years before the birth of the Hebrew nation. Linguistically, the Igbo language does not fall under the same language group as Hebrew, neither are the Igbo, an ethnically Black people, Middle Eastern in DNA, complexion, or race.#igbohistory


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