In that deep deep night too at Ibo Landing
Those who walked into the sea knew well
They could seize the great banner from time
And plant their names in the furrows of the sea
And say what no master’s order can alter
With blows from embers and whips from fire
The Igbo name was not even spelled right
– Culled from Of the Deepest Shadows and the Prisons of Fire.
We must begin this discourse with guiding particularities or be misled by pre-suppositions. We learn from Philosophy that we cannot make credible ontological statements without ontic knowledge of the entities being explored. Ndigbo as an entity enable our enquiry with a helpful peculiar cultural question which interrogates being. That question in Igbo is “Onye ka ibu”? Who are you? The companion proverbial Igbo question is also germane to whatever answer or answers you provide for the first question. “Esi be gi eje be onye”? To whose homesteads do we get from your homestead? The answers to those rather metaphyisical questions set up for us the fulcrum for the trajectory of this presentation, simultaneously establishing its pseudo-hermeneutical process.
We want to proceed empirically, that is, experiencing the Igbo through the major things which make them Ndigbo. This is a handicapped process because Ndigbo have no properly or systematically documented hermeneutical antecedents. There are a few things in progress at the moment, but not enough to call them hermeneutical. If there is a philosophy defining consciousness, such philosophy is full of unexplained or at best, truncated braids of myths and inchoate ideas. For instance our understanding of Chiukwu or Chukwu has not stepped off from where the ancestors of Ndigbo left it. Even the companion ubiquitous nomenclature, Chineke, has a warped ontological root; a British colonially trumped Christian statement rather than a foundational concept. There has not been a systematic interrogation such as the West has had from the turbulence of say a fanatical medieval Christendom to the post-theological nihilism of modernism or post-modernism. Nevertheless, there are things there in the Igbo foundations and the character of the history which help causally or progressively to fortify what I have termed guiding particularities. We will take those things in swathes and stitches and impressions. We will try and make accessible meaning from the resulting tapestry.
Cosmic Consciousness and the Igbo Universe
‘Who are you?’ begs for answer in a popular creation myth of one native American group. That myth paraphrased says it all for our understanding of the issue of being for all ethnic groups. While re-visiting this myth, I would like to remind you that the epigraph which opens this presentation is germane to the entire paper. You must as Ndigbo understand the necessity of spelling the Igbo name for Ndigbo. Do not let others spell it for you.
According to this native American myth, the Great Spirit molded the first man, put him in the oven and fell asleep. The Great Spirit feared he had overslept and woke up in panic. Fearing that he had burned his creation, he pulled the body out of the oven not quite done. That creation was the white man. The Great Spirit molded the second man and put it in the oven. This time, he overslept, and when he woke up and pulled out his creation, it was burned black. It was the black man. The third time, the Great Spirit did not sleep. He watched his creation carefully in the oven, and when he pulled the creation out, it was perfect! It was the red man, the native American! So, ran this special myth of a native American ethnic group. That claim did not dyke the tragic force which overtook their capacious and richly endowed lands. Conversely, the colonizing America was driven by the Jewish Canaan-ian claim that the land of the native Americans was given to them by God. Genuine or spurious, the claim fostered the frontier spirit which still powers the American spirit today. To claim to be a special people saves no one. What saves any people is how that claim drives the sinews which enable the efforts of the people and the ingenuity with which their human enterprises blossom and endure over time. It is never a case of the devil or God ordaining the birth of any nation, great or doomed.
The Cosmogony and the Character of its Formation
Chi-ukwu, the great God of the Igbo created Eri and Namaku runs my chosen myth for this presentation. He placed them on a giant anthill surrounded by badlands and swamp and marsh. A spirit smith from Awka, the land of smiths, was summoned to drain the marsh with bellows. He did. There too, God, Chi-ukwu, gave to Eri and Namaku the first food of the Igbo, the yam, commanding them to give the food to all the Igbo people. Thus the yam remains the most important food item of the Igbo, celebrated all over Igbo country through New yam festivals and ifejioku rituals and ceremonies. The yam assumed its ubiquitous character from that cosmogonic relationship. The awa ji or seed yam is deployed in almost every deep ritual in Igbo country. The yam barn is a measure, an index of family wealth in indigenous Igbo country, as is clear in Chinua Achebe’s pan Igbo or conflated Igbo universe in Things Fall Apart. In Things fall Apart, Achebe calls the yam, the king of crops and because of the attendant difficulties in its cultivation, ties the staple to Igbo wealth, patriarchal energy, and sometimes inflexible machismo. The disaster in the novel, Things Fall Apart, anticipating the tragic end of the story is anchored to a failed yam harvest which was like a conjunction of an inscrutable individual fate, national destiny and cosmic forces, the collapse of a universe again adumbrating the larger encompassing tragedy of the novel. The yam festival is beyond calendrical significance all over Igbo country, with spiritual and ontological implications. What Igbo event escapes the deployment of yam foo foo as a significant item of the menu? One may regard the yam as an Igbo root metaphor, an anthropologism with unquestionable radial importance.
Part of the lessons from this cosmogony include the following. Metaphorically, Igbo people have never been stopped by marsh and badland. Foundationally, our interest in this myth is Igbo origin from badlands. There is an echo of same spiritual import of anthills in Chinua Achebe’s Anthills of the Savannah. The anthill is a tough symbol of resistance and survival in troubled times. The anthill, among other things, vehicles echoes of the import of a proverbial Igbo name, mbagwu, a nation never entirely finishes. A tough nation never gives up. It is Spartan. It endures. Recall the multiplex crises in Anthills of the Savannah and the meaning becomes more obvious. The anthill is a tropological conflation of the hardiness of a people that is product of the badlands on which the people found themselves in the very morning of their creation. Nothing idyllic like the biblical garden of Eden to cushion or pamper the first Igbo man and woman on Earth.
Lessons from Igbo History
Of all the major ethnic groups in Nigeria, and probably the African continent, the Igbo are the only group whose expansion is unmarked by war and conquest. Igbo expansion involves always a negotiation of identity, a merger with or surrender into the ways of the host culture. Anthropologically or sociologically speaking, the Igbo society is a very open society. Its ways are malleable and accommodating, assimilating and accreting. It is not an accident that the Igbo are probably the most travelled or one of the most travelled ethnic groups on the planet. Igbo classics like Pita Nwanna’s Omenuko and Ije Odumodu jere bear out this fact. Ndigbo, for good or ill, are ready to settle down anywhere. There is evidence of this nature in a saying that is both facetious and serious among Africans. Anywhere you go to do business or settle down, if there is no Igbo living there, run for your life. Go elsewhere, there is no business there and therefore zero chances of prosperity. Among contiguous Nigerian ethnicities, you will find Igbo people who no longer know their Igbo origins. The names are there with meanings lost in the tides of time and history. Among the ethnicities of the Nigerian Middle Belt and the other Southern fringes of Igbo country, you will find Igbo names which are retentions from past migrations and settlements. The bearers of those names no longer know their Igbo meanings. There are names such as Agu, Eke, Obi, Ada, Ike, Nne, Aku, Uwa, and so forth. There are legendary tales, past and present, of Igbo sons who found themselves in Southern and Northern Nigeria as very common people, sometimes even as slaves, but ended as royalty and assimilated in those host societies. There is no Igbo group known for a history of imperial expansion by war, neither indeed does any Igbo group lay any claims to martial prowess. The Igbo tradition has nothing comparable to the Nigerian Benin or Oyo Empires or other Imperial traditions within Northern Nigeria associated with the Kanuri or the Hausa/Fulani groups. The closest are perhaps the Igbo around the Abiriba-Ohafia-Bende axis which Achebe refers to in the pan-Igbo construction of Things Fall Apart as Abame. The tradition of the area is closer to a knight errant tradition, associated with the “ikperikpeogu warriors”, than to anything coldly martial with serious imperial drivers.
The Igbo move by cultural penetration and inter or intra-cultural admixture and through tentacular business networks. The most infamous or famous depending on your subjective political philosophy is the internal penetration of the Aro Oke-igbo, the most southerly of the Igbo sub-groups, which overwhelmed many Igbo communities during the era of slave trade by craft and wile and guile, and the unholy alliances with European slavers.
The Character of the Polity and its Politics
A very cohesive republicanism marks the character of the Igbo polity. There is no median or compromise in its vanguard. It is either you are in or you are out. When there is crisis everybody pulls together. You are either dike, the brave or ujo, the coward. The remarkable thing about this political disposition is a strange expansive tolerance for dissent. But beware. The dissent will not accept anything that looks like the acceptance of anarchy. When the ilo summons the indigenous pre-colonial Igbo citizenry, everybody is heard or is supposed to be heard. The moron and the imbecile, the sage and the stalwart. There is a subtle mechanism which knows when the nod of approval passes quietly or when the silence of disapproval chills an opinion. To rough up dissent or what does not fit the ambience of the moment is not the way. The modus vivendi enables the oha, as much of the public as possible, to be heard or listened to comprehensively. It also enables wisdom to prevail over the disarray that is always concomitant with crisis. A remarkable guttering of that way was the famous silencing of Nnamdi Azikiwe during the great stage-managed debate over the declaration of the Republic of Biafra in May 1967. Igbo hindsight yesterday and today still wish regretfully that the great statesman had been listened to by that radical assembly. Nnamdi Azikiwe was regarded as not being “in” by that phase of Igbo polity. That uncharacteristic intolerance within the culture at that moment in history morphed into the dangerous war time destructive and culturally apocalyptic thing called “sabo”, short for sabotuer. Dissent became synonymous with the recidivistic charge of sabotage, real and imagined, which destroyed the framework and coalition for resistance and revolution and the war for self-determination and independence.
The Contact with Western Imperialism, Igbo Successes, Failures and its Legacy
The Igbo met the West with tentativeness and reluctance. No trope captures that meeting with better precision than the famous prescient rumination of Ezeulu in Arrow of God. “I will send him as an eye among these people…” That cultural espionage created the ebullient mercantile world we associate with the city of Onitsha. Unfortunately, because the Igbo world is marked by openness, that initial cautious contact was destroyed by uncritical absorption and a dangerous level of foundational attrition. Igbo will has tried to dominate the world, but it has also paid a heavy prize for its drive and ambition. It is now a story of frightening material success and an erosion of a more reliable tendency for cautious acquisition and temperance. As Igbo point at pillars of gargantuan achievements around the world, one should also look at how these successes cross into zones of self-destruction and boundless tragedy. There are Igbo giants in a thousand and one spheres of human labor and industry. There are also horrifying statistics of spousal tragedy and all manners of family disarray especially among the Igbo resident in the United States of America. That does not bode well for the telltale Igbo pride which enables the remarkable industry of the group and the will to excel and survive and lead.
The Totemic Igbo Animal and its Strategic Political Imperative
A thousand and one tales have been told of an animal that is totemic in quite a few Igbo subcultures of Igbo country. These are tales of wit and cunning. These tales are about the tortoise. The tortoise is small and weak and slow and carries as it says its house on its back because sundown and a need for shelter could be any where and any time. A physically challenged form is never an impediment to numerous adventures in which it prevails over bigger, stronger, and faster animal rivals. One remarkable component of these tales is the fact that even when wit anf cunning win the day, inordinate greed, selfishness and unguarded ambition attracts some sort of severe punishment. Impunity stays unacceptable.
The new Igbo politician, if he knows or has read some of those tales have learnt nothing from them. They are replete with guile and wit, forethought and caution or circumspection. Tragedy stalks the reckless protagonist at all times. Only few of the new Igbo politicians appreciate the great political tools of careful pre-meditation and dissembling. The preference is for pomp and loudness, bluntness and tactlessness. In this regard, the great tragic rift between Odumegwu Ojukwu and Nnamdi Azikiwe from the inception of the civil war to its very catastrophic terminus remains an eternal lesson for Ndigbo. The internecine extremes in the dispositions of those two worthy Igbo giants should not be forgotten in a hurry. It was an irrational carpe diem, seize the day and a more thoughtful festine lente, make haste slowly!!! It is a soft conundrum that still plays out on the Nigerian national political stage today. The lament of W.B. Yeats about the hapless fortunes of his Irish kinsmen in his time may well apply to present Igbo political disposition… “the best lacks all conviction and the worst is full of passionate intensity”.
The Nnamdi Kanu Phenomenon and Lessons from Neighboring Ontologies
It would be gross error to ignore the Nnamdi Kanu phenomenon in a conference of this nature and magnitude. It would also be gross error for Nigeria as a nation to relax and assume today that this is the end of it all because it is not. Nnamdi Kanu is Igbo angst in the Nigeria space exploding its contained condition. There is no difference between Kanu’s emergence and the historic moment which produced Odumegwu Ojukwu. Aggrieved people do not just want to hear talk or see mimicry of palliation without actions of palliation. It is not really whether the insurgency was right or wrong as much as it is a question about what caused it. First we must admit that there is a vacuum of leadership in Igbo land. What drives the Igbo world today expresses itself in a tendency which manifested some time in the nineteen nineties. A former governor who was only eleven years old during the Nigeria-Biafra civil war actually went to a Northern Nigeria House of Assembly to apologize for the war on behalf of the Igbo because he was nursing a run for the Presidency of Nigeria . No upbraid came from any traditional rulers, Oha na Eze, or a comatose Igbo intelligentsia permanently cowed by half literate Igbo money bags running roughshod over everything and everyone all over Igbo land. I recall the late Ojo Maduekwe insolently challenging Chinua Achebe over his rejection of Nigerian national honors. Events of that nature would be unimaginable in the days of Nnamdi Azikiwe leadership. We could never imagine Raymond Amanze Njoku, Mbonu Ojike, M.I. Okpara, Muokwugwo Okoye, R.B.K Okafor and such Igbo political stalwarts attempting such nonsense. K.O.Mbadiwe tried it with the formation of the rival DPNC to contest Azikiwe’s immensely popular and capable statesmanship as leader of the NCNC, and that challenge remained his political albatross till his death. There is no such cohesion left in Igbo land today. The appetite for self aggrandizement is today without parallel. The pride upon which the dynamic organization called the Igbo State Union, pre-dating the ill-fated Biafra Republic, is moribund if not entirely dead. The pride which compelled Igbo slaves in Charleston , South Carolina, and St. Simon’s Island, Georgia in the eighteenth century to walk back into the sea rather than land as slaves in alien shores is a thing of the dimmest past. The recent appearance of oha na eze at the 2017 Chatham House protestation to the British Government was laudable, but dear colleagues, why in the world would the British Government take up any political play to save the Igbo from the Northern Nigeria oligarchy? Toussant L”overture and the heroes of the independence of the Island Republic of Haiti did not go to Napoleon for help or sympathy. They were descendants of Igbo slaves! Racist historians and even famous American evangelists like Rev Pat Robertson believe those uncompromising transplanted Igbo radicals actually had help from Ekwensu, the great spirit potentate whose truculent severity counters Chukwu’s excessive benevolence!!!
The Nnamdi Kanu insurgency was ostensibly born in 2013 when backward sectional Nigerian delegations walked out from discussion of federalism at the President Jonathan confab on the state and future of Nigeria. That well-intended conference foundered on the intransigence of backward forces in Nigera. Who can make any distinction between that historic meeting of Nigeria’s adversarial regional leaders at Aburi, Ghana, to save Nigeria from its inexorable death-wish in 1967? Ndigbo must be careful and watchful about the forthcoming Presidential election in 2019. The ghosts of Aburi, bound to be ominous, will be stomping all over the political space with all kinds of mascots, blaring trumpets for Nigeria’s restructuring. But so too will be the restless ghost of Major Chukwuma Kaduna Nzeogwu and sundry troubled incarnates of a hapless Nigeria history. Once again, there will be another novel cry for CHANGE with some opportunistic Ndigbo clambering onto the bandwagon characteristically, largely for selfish reasons!!!
The Open Society Imperative and its Dangerous Impulsions
How does the Igbo generate the epistemologies necessary for survival in the complex geography and polity called Nigeria, with its ever volatile and dangerous tensions? The political driver of the Igbo leadership of the Azikiwe era was to survive by encouraging a poorly articulated centripetality in national politics derived from an indigenous or even the autochthonous open society imperative with which Igbo culture is anthropologically associated. There was a dream called the Igbo State Union tugging with a great Nigeria reaching out into the great distances of Pan-Africanism! Here is what Nnamdi Azikiwe and his colleagues probably contemplated. If Ndigbo expanded outside their enclave into other parts of Nigeria, Africa, and ultimately the black world through the proverbial Igbo drive and acumen, everyone could be pulled along from within and outside Nigeria. Ndigbo would have no survival problems neither would their neighbors. This problem with its apogee in the political cataclysm called the Nigeria-Biafra civil war foundered on errors in what you may call local Igbo political naivete and incoherent agenda management fueled by a callous global racist geo-political and neo-colonial conspiracy. That program failed because, Ndigbo did not quite factor their neighbors carefully into the political calculus for such a cosmo-historical enterprise. Nnamdi Azikiwe was famous for a radial egalitarianism which garnered for him the enchanting political sobriquet of Zik of Africa. Inside and outside Igbo land, there were rival political ideologies by rivals and detractors, veritable lodestones for the flight of Azikiwe’s expansive vision. As I suggested above, the irrational and rather hasty construct of a Biafra combined with the more limited tribal forments and formulations of opponents of Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ndigbo truncated that project. External ethnic assertion must be abandoned or when necessary pursued cautiously. Consider that it is now clear that certain indolent parts of Nigeria know Ndigbo will invest and assert themselves outside their borders. There was gleeful reference to that recently from certain backward political foes and forces in Nigeria, happy that political upheaval might yet create another opportunity for Ndigbo to abandon their investments and flee back to the safety of Igbo land. How many times are you ready to create again the circumstances for such self-inflicted tragedy and suffering?
The New Nigerian Space and Its Imperative
The problem of the new Nigerian space, an urgent one at that, is how Ndigbo can survive by extensive political centrifugality and internal ethnic assertion, a delicate balancing project. Ndigbo will need to re-educate and reform the ethnic will to power, re-tailor their needs, and more importantly, the character of their needs. In need is a more rational and novel socio-political epistemology reconstructing their reading of the Nigerian and global space. The political site has morphed, so the narrative to address it must adjust and re-mint a new pragmatic paradigm for survival. There should be new strategies for internal cohesion of ideas and action. The suspicious Igbo neighborhood need re-assurance and pacification. A new template of relationship must be forged to destroy the hostile propaganda of envious divisive forces from without who understand that your neighbors are your best allies and guarantors of mutual safety and protection. The new epistemology must function by discouraging the old Zikist centrifugality which envisioned Ndigbo as the avant-garde of a grand liberator hominis, savior of humanity, of the black world. That role will play out on its own smoothly, given the stellar performances of Igbo brain and brawn around the globe yesterday and today.
Stardom markets itself. The Jews and Japanese remain active witnesses to that truism. Much is always possible from the ashes of war or oppression and all manners of incalculable suffering. Witness historic evidence from the disaster of the Nigeria-Biafra Civil war between Ogidi and the great Igbo market city of Onitsha. Whose imagination in the world in 1970 could have imagined the genius of Dr. Innocent Chukwuma (Innoson Motors)? Those who knew what happened in Nigeria from 1967-1970 during the war express a mixture of awe and respect for Igbo drive and will. So what to do today is internal ethnic assertion. Construct in Business and Technology and Education and the enterprises which mark Igbo labor outside Igbo land and every thing else will be added to Igbo country. Dr. Obi Nwakanma whose essay responding to what the Igbo want from Nigeria is a brilliant statement projecting the great vista still possible for Ndigbo to blaze from the Igbo heartland into exciting possible futures for Igbo survival. It cannot be accommodated in this short presentation. While constructing, Ndigbo must bear in mind that the ethnic or cultural neighborhoods must be swept along by overt and covert negotiation. Fortunately, the contiguity with these other peoples comes with cultural similarities in history, culture, and sundry experience within the Nigerian space and system. That secret force remains unsystematically explored or exploited. The consequent radial power of progress from that begging liaison waits, irresistible in promise and bountiful results, in politics and in economics. Please note that those who besiege the borders of the United States of America today are not attracted merely by any peculiar human goodness of Americans as a people. The grand opportunities the system and infrastructure offer citizen and alien do that magic for America’s unstoppable greatness.
Igbo Arts and Letters.
In the performing Arts scene in Nigeria, we are lucky to have dynamic great young performers like Flavour, Phyno, Olamide, and so forth. The secrets of their success is in nothing else but the famous thoughtful domestication of foreign tools in the pragmatic transformation of the indigenous ways and resources. Our black brothers in the Americas have done the same thing with jazz musicians leading the way, and rap music and all kinds of irresistible rhythmic amalgam in heavy pursuit. Regrettably, the tradition in Igbo creative writing has not done as well. Fiction has been robust with Igbo originality in the wake of works of Pita Nwanna, and the later great strides of Chinua Achebe, John Munonye, Obinkaram Echewa, Onuora Nzekwu, Chukwuemeka Ike, Flora Nwapa and Buchi Emeheta, Ifeoma Okoye, Akachi Ezeigbo, and of course, Chimamanda Adichie. Drama has not been adventurous enough since the famous adaptation of Danda by the author himself, Nkem Nwankwo. Unfortunately, the next major wind which Esiaba Irobi was about to lend to Igbo drama sputtered out with his premature death. A second blow to Igbo poetry was the death of Ogonna Agu whose early indication of some genius and distinction tapered off in the frustrating circumstances he found himself in Britain and at the University of Calabar. Great Igbo master artist, Obiora Udechukwu, has lit some fire too in poetry with some un-sustained flash by another Igbo artist, Olu Oguibe. The fiction writers write with greater awareness of the ontological and inescapable political implications of their productions. Poetry has not fared very well or as well because the modern Igbo tradition was led by diffident practitioners of the art who believe that alien tradition and inane imitation are wonderful and veritable site for proof of erudition and all sorts of unimaginable nonsense. Major Nigerian prizes and honors and strangest recognition have gone to culturally diffident Igbo poetry written in unfortunate mimicry of either jaded Western myths or horribly archaic British poetics with twinkle twinkle little star affinities. Forgive my characteristic truculence in that precinct of creativity. Any writer or artist who omits African angst and suffering in the tools or form and materials of expression eschewing autochthonous roots and reality is serving imperial ghosts and demons and the forces inimical to the fresh and clean fountains of Igbo creativity.
Walt Whitman, the great American poet did not shake up the American tradition in Poetry by returning for models to colonial Britain. He distanced himself radically in form and subject matter from the British tradition and railed against Americans who refused to pay attention. Most Latin American giants, despite their shouts of “modernismo!”, like Pablo Neruda or Gabriel Garcia Marquez, they all ride the same culturally technical and aesthetic trajectory. There are lots of lessons to learn from this 2018 Chinese international cultural festival. Regarding that festival and participants, Julian Taynor, the highly nifty re-maker of the famous Lion King cartoon made a very important remark about borrowing which Igbo artists should take careful note of. When you imitate writers like Shakespeare or indeed any alien tradition, you make the work your own through violent domestication. I remain implacably hostile and wickedly critical and almost hateful of Igbo poets and artists in general who execute without cognizance of such perspicacious kind counsel. Note that you cannot mimic your masters in cultural imperialism and pretend to be serving your country and people. Do not hide under the silly claim that we are writing in English. Jazz music is a great black form but most of the instruments are not African.
You subvert and appropriate and deploy for your own national aesthetic and political purposes. Historic mastery of that tendency is there in what Claude Mckay did during the Harlem Renaissance with the European sonnet. Note what Esiaba Irobi did in Sycorax. Ngugi wa Thiongo warns colonized African minds with a telling Kikuyu proverb in Devil on the Cross: It is imitation that made the frog lose its buttocks. Note what Aime Cesaer did with Shakespeare’s Tempest. Watch the careers of Igbo fine artists such as Ben Enwonwu, Damas Nwoko, Uche Okeke, Obiora Udechukwu, and their followers, and you will appreciate the point. Nothing can outlast the things which emerge from autochthonous cultural sources and reality. That is why the world still reads Sophocles, Eurepedes, and Aristophanes. And that is why Things Fall Apart is not going to be brushed off easily by anybody or nation very soon. Ogun-ism, the driving epistemology of Soyinka’s art is what puts Soyinka’s drama and dramaturgy where they are today on the world’s stage in cultural production. Kindly note what Soyinka did with the Bacchae of Eurepedes. The driving deep base for Igbo poetry remains unexplored especially by poets from Abia and Imo States where the chants and incantations from the Abiriba/Ohafia, Bende/Aro-Chukwu axis remain largely untapped. Permit me to state emphatically to the artistically and culturally weak-kneed and leaden-footed: raffia costumes and quaint habiliments do not make your work African or Igbo. The deep things of the culture will blaze through all garbs, authentic or bizarre.
Ndigbo must pay attention to how our world intersects with other peoples and their ontologies. For the Western world to advance its civilization, it returned to their ancestral roots, the ancient Greeks. The great irony missed by you and I is that they left the Middle or Dark Ages with its lodestone baggage of Christianity for that quest of a Renaissance rooted in atheistic or pagan Greece and Rome. In the eighteenth century, that retrospective re-take of history was repeated to inaugurate the great epistemologies in the sciences and the humanities which still drive the modern Western world today. For very good reason, Chinua Achebe wrote that we cannot be wiser than Plato. That was with ostensible reference to what later became neo-Platonism; the first distinction between this world and the world of perfect forms : the very root of all Idealisms; Occidental, African, and Oriental. Those who abandon their Gods are also abandoned by their Gods is another truism to which ndigbo must pay attention. Igbo people march all over Igbo country burning and desecrating ancestral shrines. As for other peoples, from the Dogons, the Ashanti, the Yoruba, and numerous deep African groups to Asia and native America and new America, sacred ancestral shrines and lands are respected and protected in many places by law. Those who lead the campaign of destruction and shameless ethnic sacrilege do all that in the name of Christian Salvationism. They do not even understand the meaning of Principalities and Powers from their own Christian bibles neither do they have an inkling regarding the difference between odinaani and omenaani; the culture of the land and the deep things of the land. The former is the way of the people constructed and pruned progressively by the people, and the latter, the numinous and most times inexplicable things and forces which come and stay with the spirituality of the land. You violently or recklessly de-charismatize such aspects of your world at your own expense.
At the 2008 Harvard University International conference on Christopher Okigbo, pioneer African Literature scholar, Gerald Moore recounted how Okigbo took him to the shrine of Idoto to lament ruefully about the destruction of the shrine by termites because he, the ritually chosen servant of the shrine, declined to serve owing to his conversion to Catholicism. He went to serve Biafra in war forgetting that Idoto, Ukpaka Oto, the oil-bean deity was the angel of war for the people of Ojoto. Okigbo we know died in a flash in that war. The same kind of fate befell East Africa’s Dambuzo Marachera who left for Oxford University against the advice of his people to stay home and serve the shrine of the people. There are of course, happily, living counter-narratives. (Dibia) Professor John Umeh serves the people of Nnobi while active as Professor of Estate Management, University of Nigeria. (Dibia) Dr. Mary-Blossom Okafor abandoned her academic career after her Ph.D in Theater Arts and serves as dibia for the people of Umuoji, both from Anambra State. There are numerous other counter narratives in other Igbo States. The dominant slave descendant population in Haiti is Igbo but the ruling Western resistant African culture in Haiti is largely a syncretic Yoruba formation engineering formidable spirit energy forces like voodooism. This narrative replicates itself all over the islands and some African enclaves in the diaspora.
Ndigbo are master renegades from national identity and cultural affirmation. By the way, some of the Yoruba States are now exploring how to enforce instruction at all levels of education in Yoruba language. Among other modes of ancestral identification, the Yoruba TV programs are full of coverages of active indigenous religious worship and international visitations at famous shrines like Oshun and Olumo rock and numerous sacred and mystical spaces. Ndigbo claim that their own equivalent spaces are “ihe Ekwensu”, the things of the devil, and must be destroyed. What a tragedy! That tragedy was most ominous when it was claimed that during the days of heavy political crisis in Anambra State, the controversial gubernatorial candidate, Dr. Ngige, was coerced by his rogue mentors/political sponsors to go to Okija to pledge loyalty to an indigenous Igbo shrine instead of to one of the numerous Deacons and Bishops all over the largely Christian polity. No paradox could be more instructive and also embarrassing.
Before winding down this presentation, permit me to stress one final point, a kind of summation of the scattered references to epistemological imperatives. With all the tell-tale references and rather vainglorious claims of Igbo affinity with the Jews, in terms of a coherent consistent program of survival within the Nigerian geographical space, Ndigbo have no guiding ontological monolith/s. The Jews on the contrary relentlessly nurse dreams of Zion with which they contrast a Babylon of captivity and external hostility. That symbolism, figurative as it may seem or sound is a vibrant breathing living force in the Jewish consciousness. It is a combative or defensive amalgam of a functional spiritual literacy and a dynamic political pragmatism. Diasporan Africans in the Caribbean Islands have tapped into that peculiar symbolic monolith of Babylonian captivity in their Rastafarian liberation theology. Ndigbo need to construct directly or indirectly, putative or real, their own shining city on a hill, some kind of mythical horizon, akin to the periodic flare driving that aggressive albumen of a Biafran irredentism. For now, only Igbo doctors in the USA annually rise in response to that deep urge firing their selfless medical missions to Igbo country. That unconscious urge needs better coordinated emulation and indeed articulation, a carefully or discretely politicized participation by all Igbo technocrats and sundry professionals living in prosperous exile. Exile should not black out the living fact that your own troubled blood in the Nigerian space is crying in pain for protection and bolsters, endangered and embattled by tireless hostile forces scheming and inflicting wanton mayhem and systematic annihilation.
Contemplate the above carefully. Call them impressions. Remember while assessing those impressions that the solution is not to flee from home. Ask the Jews. Igbo cosmogony that I have chosen has no Edenic echoes. Its echoes are the echoes of the anthill, and marsh and badland. The sweet boast and vainglorious fingers at Igbo excellence around the globe is good and admirable. More admirable would be physically translated visions of an impregnable Igbo homeland fortified by the same excellence, driven by foundations of hardiness, of suffering, and survival and triumph. The Igbo homeland can grow like that, impregnable as fortress but as haven and retreat for inspiration and the rejuvenation of those spiritual forces powering the albumen of Igbo industry, the great source of Igbo pride. That fortress will be but the struggle for being must be more methodical and systematic, more clearheaded and coordinated, more pragmatic and ideologically tuned to deepest Igbo foundations. Charity begins at home may be an antiquated adage or cliché but the wisdom in its pith remains classic and ineluctable. Emulate or borrow like the Asians, especially the Indians, from the diaspora and take back home to consolidate and renew the Igbo home base. I have a vague picture of what is happening in Igbo land and its States in the Nigerian political space despite the setbacks of geography and deleterious national politics. Every Anambra State Governor after Mbadinuju, tries to out-perform the other. Today, that trend has its apogee in the leadership of Willy Obiano, “Akpokuodike”. May that trend continue and mark the Igbo spirit all over the Igbo States, the country, and the wider world.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, colleagues from all over the world, Join me in affirming for us all in Igbo Studies, the battle cry for this year’s conference… Igbo gaadi!!!
Retrospectives and Projections: Igbo Cosmogony & Sustaining Epistemologies was presented by Dr Chimalum Nwankwo at the 2018 Igbo Studies Association, Dominican University, River forest, Illinois, USA. This Keynote speech was dedicated to the Spirits driving the genius of Dr. Innocent Chukwuma (Innoson Motors) & to the memory of Dr. Alex Ekwueme (1932 – 2017), Ide of Aguata and Vice President of The Federal Republic of Nigeria (1979 – 1983). The great homestead of Dr. Ekwueme leads to the homestead of millions of Nigerians!