African ethnic groups and religions

Last updated on October 3rd, 2014 at 05:04 pm

Dr. Leonard Madu

Culturally, the Igbos are a very diverse group with different clans, families, subcultures, and subgroups. However, the customs are similar with local varieties. Although there are disagreements about the origins of the Igbos, there is a consensus that they originated from Nri in Anambra state of Nigeria. The language of the Igbos is Igbo or Ibo. It is one of the largest spoken languages in Africa, along with Hausa and Yoruba. Igbo speaking people are divided into five geographically based subcultures—Northern Igbo, Western Igbo, Southern Igbo, Eastern Igbo and Northeastern Igbo. Not as urbanized as the Yoruba, they live in multitudinous villages, fragmented into small family groups. They do not have hereditary chiefs like the Yoruba or Hausa Fulani. Every Igbo more or less is his or her own master. The Igbos operate the ‘Umunna System,’ which emphasizes the patri-lineal heritage, rather than the matri-lineal. Some of the important Igbo cities include Onitsha, Enugu, Umahia, Aba, Asaba, Abakaliki, Owerri, and Nsukka.

In commerce, the Igbos are a mobile, vividly industrious people who have spread all over Nigeria and Africa as traders and small merchants. In countries like Gabon, Ivory Coast, Equatorial Guinea, Sierra Leone, Togo, and Gambia, Igbo traders predominate in retail trade. Most Igbos are clannish, despite their individualism and hold closely together in non-Igbo communities. They are often very unpopular in the communities they live in, because they push very hard to make money and often dominate the retail business in alien communities. In his book, the Brutality of Nations, Dan Jacobs describes the Igbos “as ambitious, dynamic and progressive people whose education and abilities did not endear them to those among whom they lived. Even during British rule, there were massacres of Igbos in Northern Nigeria–

in Jos in 1945 and in Kano in 1953. The Igbos have acquired the sobriquet, ‘Jews of Africa.’”

Education is highly emphasized and given priority in lgboland. Converted to Christianity by Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterian missionaries, they took up self improvement with such enthusiasm, that by the 1960s, the Igbos had the highest percentage of doctors, lawyers, engineers, physicists, and teachers than any other ethnic group in Africa. Because of the abundant educational talent in Igboland, many newly independent African nations recruited them to fill vacancies in their civil service. The first American style university built in Africa was in Igboland: the University of Nigeria at Nsukka. Its founder, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, was a graduate of Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. The Igbos and the Yorubas are the most educated ethnic groups in Africa.

Politically, the Igbos are very effervescent and volatile. According to author Dan Jacobs: “for Britain and for the British civil servants who continued to work in the Northern Region, the Igbos have always been a troublesome element in the federation, a people with a democratic tradition who are not easily controlled. Many British were glad to see them out of a central position in the federation, as were those who had driven them back to their homeland and those who now held the civil service and other jobs they had left.”

The Igbos had been the most ardent advocates of a united Nigeria. Upon independence in 1960, an Igbo, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe (American educated) became the first president and ‘governor general.’ Another Igbo, Aguiyi Ironsi, became the first indigenous military chief. The Igbos also occupied leadership of most of the elite universities in Nigeria.

To be continued next week…

Dr. Leonard Madu is president of the African Caribbean Institute and African Chamber of Competence in Nashville, TN