Ikweres and the tale of the Igboid

The Ikweres are as Igbo as any other Igboid. Prior to the colonization of most of Africa, the Igbos one of the biggest tribe in Africa had no single identity, little was known about the Igbos, The Igbos had little or no knowledge of the greater Igbo land, as the Igbos continued to grow in number and into their borders, they became different to the extent that some Igboid languages are almost unintelligible to other Igbos.

Thanks to the missionaries and colonization, the Igbo tribe had become established and now the Igbos are fully aware of their general identity. An extract from a missionary journalThe literature of ethnicity in Africa indicates a major role for Christian missionaries in the creation of languages in Africa. It has been argued that certain African ethnic groups owe their existence to the ‘invention’ of their language by missionaries who created a written dialect–based on one or more vernacular(s)–into which they translated the Bible. This language came to be used for education in mission schools and later also in government schools. The Bible dialect consequently became the accepted standard language of the ethnic group and acquired the function of one of the group’s prime identity markers. In the case of the Igbo language, the history of the CMS missionaries’ efforts at creating a written standard Igbo shows that the process was not always straightforward. The article describes the problematic process of creating a written language. The missionaries undertook continual attempts on the basis of several dialects, but it was half a century before they produced the first translation of the Bible. They complicated matters by working in different dialects, but eventually created a standard dialect which they named Union Ibo, a mixture based on several Igbo dialects.”

The latest but unwilling Igboid to join the greater Igbo umbrella are the Ikweres of rivers state, well to be Frank, they are not Igbos because nobody was born Igbo but we are all born (nwa afo or nwa Amuru na Ala), you are either born Onitsha, Nsukka, Nnnewi, Nkanu, Mbaise, Ezaa, Ogwashi, Ikwere etc. even some identity within the Igboid is still very artificial as even within the Nsukka where I hail from the Enugu Ezike people have tremendous differences between them and the Opi people or even their closest neighbour the Obollo people all within Nsukka.

Although the Igboid are held together by similar cultures and similar languages, prior to colonization, most of these Igboid had little or no knowledge of the others and had different history and beliefs of their coming to be, moreover, no one knew the geography of Igboland before colonization.

The Ikweres are not the only Igboid that have a bit of their history from the ancient Benin Kingdom as had been seen in Onitcha by some historians accounts, some elements of us are all intertwined but more so there had been Igbos assimilated within the Ancient Benin Kingdom, it is only natural that neighbours who are peaceful can interbreed and as such the question of identity would rise.

Even within the Igboid communities, some Igbos feel they are more related to other farther away Igbos or even Benin than their closest Igbo neighbours for example, the Enugu Ezike people in Nsukka Enugu State believe that they are more related to the Enugu Ukwu people in present-day Anambra state than to their Opi neighbours within Nsukka, to an extent so many people in Enugu Ezike believes that a fragment of their composition was from the ancient Benin Kingdom in fact the full name of Enugu Ezike is (Ezike Oba) while it may not be proven that the fact there is an “Oba” in the name have anything to do with Benin ancestry, it can be proven that the name was influenced by Benin culture maybe imported from their Igala neighbours but if it was imported from the Igalas, it could have been Ezike Attah and not Ezike Oba.

The Ikweres are just like every other Igboid; until recently, the Igbo land was made of a collection of independent Igboids, the general Igbo umbrella is a Nigerian invention and more so a British invention which we have come to appreciate as Igbos.

No matter how much the Ikweres distance themselves from the greater Igbo umbrella, the world and their neighbours will continue to see them as Igbos, because when they see an Ikwere Man, the world and their neighbours see a Chibuike,  Chukwuemeka, An Ngozika, Ifeoma, Ifeajuna, Ifanyichukwu, etc.  and that to the world and their neighbours is what being Igbo really is.

Igbo as an entity is artificial, Igbo Izugbe (central Igbo) is also artificial. Before now the reality was that Igbos did not exist but Igboids did exist, when they say that the Igbos did not have king, they are indirectly saying that the Igbos did not exist as a single entity because every Igboid had a sort of a king or leadership, contrary to the thinking that the Igbos were Republicans in nature the Igbos were not all Republicans the problem with the Igbo identity is because we allowed strangers write our history and these strangers have failed to acknowledge the peculiarities of the Igboids.

The truth is that while some Igboids were Republicans some were not, the idea of the Igbos being Republicans was due to the fact that Christianity assimilated in Igbo Land before true colonization, the missionaries were the ones who presented the Igbo culture to the colonialists. With the way the rest of the Igboids accepted Christianity, the missionaries were moved to believe that the rest of the Igboid are the same, the missionaries moving down into Igbo hinterland found out that there were connections between the language and culture of these Igboids and was meant to naturally classify everyone as closely related.

One major motivation for the missionaries amalgamation of the greater Igboland could be that these Igboid communities could be the biggest Christian front in west Africa if only they had a common Identity in a world were religious war was inevitable, a larger Igbo Identity would be better than smaller Igboid communities and the job seems unavoidable especially as there had been a Muslim Majority in the Northern neighbour and an established Kingdoms of the Benin and Yorubas in the west it is only a matter of time before the concept of Kingdoms, Religious identity, and war for dominion sets in, it then becomes imperative that these newly found communities would be merged systematically before they are aware of their peculiarities and engulf in self destruct in a bid to become a kingdom or choose a religious identity.

The Ikweres just like every other Igboid found themselves in this arrangement by design and so far it had been the best thing the white had ever done in Africa, but then the missionaries seemed to have different and better objectives than the colonialists. The reality now is that the Igbo Identity had put the region in relative peace, without the Igbo Identity, an Nsukka man will never share an identity with an Mbaise man in the present day, a great war could have been inevitable in Igbo land, war similar to the Greek city-states, an Igboid like the Ikweres could have fought with another Igboid, alliance and betrayal would have brought bad blood, such that the Igbo Land would have never enjoyed the relative unity of purpose and peace it is enjoying today.

War was for sure inevitable for the Igbos, as it was Artificial and yes we did fought a war but the war even brought us closer together as the blood of our tribesmen was used to solidify our unity, but the war was not between the Igboids, it was a war with outsiders, and yes the Igbos abandoned properties saga in Portharcort was not queried because after all the Ikweres and by far Port Harcourt is still part of us, if Igbos saw the Ikweres as different people with the proximity to Igboland, the Igbos could have retaliated but whenever the Igbos have a chance, they still wish to make sure that the Ikweres and the rest of the Igboids are free from emancipation.

Must Read: Isaac Adaka Boro: A struggle in futility