KWENU: Our Culture, Our Future
Interview with Sir Nat Okafor-Ogbaji
Tuesday, June 8, 2004
Sir Nat Okafor-Ogbaji is the former Abia State Coordinator of King Solomon Shepherd Federation, an organization working in tandem with selected world groups for the sharing of information and experience on Hebrew affairs. A proponent of the Igbo-Jewish kinship, the researcher cum historian is the author of Jews of Nigeria: The Aro Empire. Sir Okafor-Ogbaji, who is currently residing in New Jersey, USA, spoke to ADEZE OJUKWU on the significance of his book and related issues.
Q: Why did you embark on this controversial research?
A: In responding to this question I wish to refer to the words of Parley. In prefacing his famous book Principle of moral and political philosophy states:
“When a writer offers a book upon a subject on which the public are already in possession of many others, he is bound by a kind of literary justice to inform his readers specifically on what it is he professes or he expects to improve.”
It may be true that there are in existence many story books on the Aro/Igbo of Eastern Nigeria. There may also be in existence some books on some aspects of the history of the Igbo. Yet the JEWS OF NIGERIA: THE ARO IGBO EMPIRE is a pioneering research work that explores the origin of the Aro/Igbo of the West-African sub-region. I was personally prompted to get involved in this rather difficult assignment, when time after time; many non-Aro and non-Igbo had confronted me on our origin. Many of these questioned the origin of the Aro.
Some of them had traced Igbo origin to weird sources, while some seem to have said, that the Igbo has no origin. In fact Anthony Atmore, Gillian Stacy and Werner Forman wrote in their book, Black Kingdoms Black Peoples. “Unlike the Yoruba to the west of the Niger, the Igbo have no complex or comprehensive traditions of origin.” A visit to most standard libraries leaves one in no doubt that only little has been done by the world’s academicians on the history of the Igbo. From all indications, not many historians have done much on various aspects of Igbo history.
Q: Have you received much support on this project and others from the African-American research community?
A: I had just returned from Charleston, South Carolina, where Felix Okoro Obioha and I went to discuss the book and other Igbo/Gullah projects with the Director of Avery Research Center, Dr Karen A. Chandler of College of Charleston. In that meeting, we mapped out quite a few projects that would be of great interest and benefit to both the Igbo and the African-American of this century.
These projects, which are in still in their developing stages, should come to light at the appropriate time. A few days after the meeting, the Research Director also called me and described the book, as a fascinating, historical and cultural base for all Igbo of the World and for Research into the real background of the African-American people.
As a matter of fact, we are also working with Prof. Vernon E. Grier who always introduces himself as an Igbo-American. In several discussions, he told me that he is of Igbo ancestry. His mother, from Georgia, who obtained her degree at the age of 75, he believes, is daring as the Igbo.
Prof Grier, after reading the book, called me and said that I was too generous with hard historical research-based facts. He noted that the information in the book was enough to write five books. He has therefore volunteered to help to diversify the information in the book into various areas that will be of maximum benefit to all Blacks and Bani-Israel of our world. But he insists that the book must be republished.
Q This brings us to the how issue. Sir how did you actually start the research project?
A: The research started when in1995-1997 Israel Prime Minister Yitshaq Rabin sent a team of researchers to Nigeria; looking for the “Lost Tribes.” We had a conference with them at Agulu-Eri (Aguleri) Anambra state and my research work could be said to be a result of that remarkable, motivating, and thought-provoking conference.
Q: A point of clarification here- I mean is this research specifically about the Aro people or does it extend to the entire Igbo nation?
A: In answering this question, I wish to point out that Aros are Igbo. I wish to point that the book in review is more or less a forerunner to another book, which will be centered on the history of the entire Igbo population. The next book will hopefully take care of the major sectors of the Igbo nation. For instance, the Eri includes the Umu-Nri, Aro, Ora-eri, Enugu-Nsukka area, Owerri, Ahigbo, Onitsha, Oru, Ngwa, Mbaise, Ika-Igbo, Etche, Ikwere, Asa who are of the Judah descent. This however requires the requisite financial support in order to facilitate the research because of the scope and enormous work involved. It will also involve a historical and comparative analysis of the Igbo in at least five non-African countries, including the African-American, Igbo and the Gullah.
It is my strong belief that when we know our past, we are better equipped to live in the present and also better prepared to plan for the future. From my research, I have gathered astounding historical research findings on the Igbo and his immediate neighbours, I will fall to deep regrets on the mistakes of our past political leaders and heroes. At sober times, I am sometimes by reasoning and rationalism to seek to excuse their actions for exigencies and ignorance.
I therefore believe that when my proposed book on the Igbo origin is published and widely read, we as a people will be armed factually to develop a new national affection for at least most of the peoples of Southern Nigeria. This will lead to tolerance socially, economically and politically.
Q: At this point, could you mention some concrete historical findings to validate the Igbo-Hebrew kinship claims?
A: From my research there is overwhelming evidence to prove beyond all reasonable doubts that the Aro/Igbo are descendants of Israel. By this I mean real blood descendants (Bani-Israel) not even Israeli by adoption or by the virtue of Abrahamic circumcision. My evidence is based on three major historically accepted data:
1.Existing ancient documentation on which precedence can be built.
2.Proven cultural and religious relationship verifiable.
We detailed these historical facts in the book. Indeed on page xiv of this book, we have published a genealogical, chart tracing the ancestry of the Aro/Igbo from Adam to Arodi (founder of Arochukwu). This historic chart is published for the first time ever in this book (data taken from the Old Testament Bible and Ancient Hebrew scrolls (the best acceptable source for the history of the Hebrew -Israel)
At third to the last layer, (third from bottom) the names of the three brothers (sons of Gad) who formed the Igbo nation (tribe) are clearly shown.
2. ARODI: the founder of Arochukwu and the nineteen towns that make up the Aro Empire.
3. ARELI the founder of Ora-eri (near Igbo Ukwu) in Anambra State of Nigeria. These three great explorers are sons of Gad. And Gad is the seventh son of Jacob (Israel).
Q: Are there identifiable and existing cultural and religious parallels among them today?
A: Yes. Actually a number of these characteristics are identifiable such as these:
A thorough examination of these aforementioned ceremonies definitely clears any doubts (even from the darkest skeptical minds) that Aro/Igbo culture and traditional religion draw their origin from that of the Hebrew.
Incidentally the picture of old “British West African Penny” which The British made at the request of Aro Slave traders is another example. On that coin, the Star of David is used as the symbol of the Aros on one side and the British Crown on the other, signifying the Aro -British agreement on slaving activities. Where else could the Aros get the religious importance of this Jewish symbol? Incidentally the same Star of David symbol is found on the present Israeli national flag. From historical evidence, the Aro “Ekpe Na Mboko” festival is traceable to the Sadducees and the Pharisees of ancient Israel.
The two groups share some common beliefs such as:
Q: Can you expatiate on this point?
A: The worship mode and methodology of both the ancient Israel and ancient Aro/Igbo are very similar. The Igbo and Bani-Israel believe in reincarnation and both tend to rename a newborn, the name of his/her reincarnate. If one takes a look at the genealogical chart on page xiv of the book one sees that the second son of Tera (Tera – the father of Abraham) is renamed Nahor and Nahor is the late father of Tera who reincarnated in Tera’s second son. That boys name then would be Nahor Abraham Nahor. In the same way, one finds many such name recurrences in Aro and old Bendel Igbo. Names like Kanu I. Kanu, Ukwu C. Ukwu, and Ekpe O. Ekpe. Such first names are taken from the names of their grandfathers who are said to have reincarnated in these newborns. The two communities tend to hold such names preciously.
Q: Are there linguistic similarities between the Igbo and the Jews?
A: As I mentioned earlier, there are quite interesting similarities in the morpho-syntactic and semantic structures of the Igbo and ancient Hebrew. But please bear in mind that we are talking of over 3,000 years of separation. Moreso, I have carefully stressed ‘ancient Hebrew’, because after the dispersal of the Jews from ancient Yisrael (Israel), Hebrew language suffered a great set back. At a time, the language was blended with some foreign languages notably German, Slavic, Russian, Spanish and English.
Although these tongues are quite unrelated to the Hebrew language, many of the Jews born in these foreign countries had no contact with their homeland. They were therefore forced to mix their native language, which they learnt, from their parents with the languages of their adopted countries.
With time, this hybrid led to a new form of broken Hebrew language called Yiddish. However, a new crop of Jewish scholars restructured the original Hebrew language, thus casting away the Yiddish jargon.
Having cleared this background, it is now easier for one to visualize what might have happened to the Igbo-Jews of West Africa after about 3,000 years of distant or complete lack of inter-relationship with homeland Israel.
Indeed the language, culture and tradition which the Igbo-Jews brought with them were so overwhelmingly eroded and battered, that only by serious scrutinization will one discover existing similarities in the two languages.
In chapter 26, I highlighted many words that share similar meanings and pronunciations in both Hebrew and Igbo languages. I really strongly believe that we have in these chapter and pages dealt sufficiently with the oneness or sameness or close-relationship between Bani- Israel (Hebrews) and Aro/Igbo of West Africa. You will note that the two languages are pronounced as spelt.
Here is a list:
Q: Having read the complimentary copy you gave me in New Jersey during our many discourses on this subject, I can safely say that this book is a historical compendium. But how has it fared in the national and international book market?
A: The book, JEWS OF NIGERIA: THE ARO IGBO EMPIRE, was first launched in Nigeria at Dr. Michael Okpara auditorium Umuahia on Saturday 30th of November 2002. The chief host was Chief Dr. Orji Uzo Kalu, the executive Governor of Abia State of Nigeria. Since then public response to the book and its demand have been wonderful, in spite of the bad finishing the publisher -Alphabet Nigeria publishers gave to it. We now plan to publish the next edition here in the USA to make sure that it meets the required world standard.
After the launching, a copy of the book was sent to the Embassy of Israel at Abuja Nigeria. Subsequently, the Embassy invited the author discussion on the book on 18th of December 2002. During the discussion, he was interviewed on what motivated him to undertake the expensive and time-consuming research, his source of information of most of the revealing contents of the book, and finally on what should be done to improve the relationship between the Igbo of Eastern Nigeria and the state of Israel.
Q: What are the implications of the concept of ‘Bani-Israel’?
A: The word “Bani-Israel” is semantically similar to the Igbo word for “Amadi” or Nwa-Afo.” All these refer to the true blood-descendants of Israel. Therefore when we use the word Bani-Israel, we are not talking of the Jews or Israelis who have access to “Ohe-Hadesh”- The right of return, but to all those of Israeli origin either by declaration, adoption,or laying to the Abrahamic or Jacobean circumcision. These are Israeli but not Bani-Israeli.
In fact when we say that the Igbo are Bani-Israel, we mean that we have the blood of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in their veins. This should be provable by scientific test.
Q: It is widely reported that Ethiopian Jews and others returning to Israel through the ‘Ohe-Hadesh’ program are living in miserable conditions in Israel. How true is this?
A: No, it is not true that people returning or living in Israel are living in miserable circumstances. This is an utter distortion of facts. But of course every body is entitled to his or her own opinion. So in my own opinion, Israel is only at war with a foreign country. There is no civil war in the country. Indeed the state of Israel is safe and secure. Residents and citizens live very normal lives despite the ongoing hostilities.
Let me also note that Israel may in fact be better secured than many countries including Nigeria. For instance, if you put together the number of people killed monthly by armed robbers in Nigeria, they may be more than the number of people that die in Israel from enemy suicide bombers for six months.
Also, if you add the number of people who are killed annually in our country by government agents, mobile police and law enforcement agents especially during civil protests and demonstrations, it may well be five times more than the number of people Israel loses to her enemies in one year.
And of course, if you also add the number of innocent citizens killed in Nigeria annually in the hands of religious rioters, you may be talking about the entire population o Israel dying in one year. Yet no one says that Nigerians are living in miserable circumstances. However there is a major cultural difference in terms of how the two nations view deaths of their citizens. While one views life and indeed all threats to lives and property seriously, the other has a more lackadaisical attitude to the lives, welfare and security of its citizens and residents.
Q: Beyond the writing of this book what is the significance of this project.
A: It is my candid opinion that Igbo people and others in Eastern Nigeria should endeavor to develop good brotherly relationship with the State of Israel and the US who the Almighty God used to help secure our home land-the Land of Israel. Before 1948 many had thought that this was impossible. The Igbo should also develop and cultivate good, warm brotherly relationship with African-Americans, Haitians, and others whose ancestors were mostly Igbo and consequently Bani Israelites.
In fact, all the governor of all the states of the old Eastern Nigeria, including Cross-River, Akwa Ibom, and Rivers states have a common stake in this new development. We are now working hard to come up with a good research-based history of the Igbo.
Q: What are the major constraints you encountered in the course of this gigantic project?
A: Funding is a major obstacle. We seek committed sponsors for this research, which centers on tracing our roots to our early beginnings. We therefore humbly call on interested organizations and individuals to please help us complete this arduous task.
Q: Sir, I wish you the best in this great project.
A: Thank you for this opportunity.
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