THE widespread notion that the Igbo of the South Eastern Nigeria are direct descendants of the Jews has been a subject of debate.
While many ascribe it to the fact that there is a connection between the Igbo and Judaism based on a critical study of their linguistic, archeological, genetic and cultural ties, some others disagree saying that it is not so as they attribute the Jewish identification among the Igbo as a result of Christianity brought by missionaries, since most Igbo people are Christians.
But what is the true story, though many writers have written on this subject matter, but the book, The Igbos And Isreal; An Inter- Cultural Study of the largest Jewish Diaspora written by Abuja based Igbo author, lawyer and activist, Remy Ilona is unique in that it is a concerted move to answer the question based on a research carried out about it.
Written with the background that a significant part of the origin of their custom emanated from the ancient Isrealities and that Jewish identification has been part of the Igbo experience, the author who is one of the few Igbo authors with profound knowledge of the Hebrew Bible and its later Jewish commentaries carried out a comparative research, studying what others have written earlier on the subject and interviewing some of the eldest priests and others at Nri, and other Igbo locations.
It is his findings that formed the bulk of the 284 pages book divided into 20 chapters.
A study of the book shows that The Igbos And Isreal; An Inter- Cultural Study of the largest Jewish Diaspora is an inter cultural study of the systematic comparism of Igbo culture to the Hebrew and Isrealites. One special attribute of the book is the author’s ability to document and interprete some of the cultures of Igbo people, some of them which are outdated.
Chapter 1, takes a critical look at Life circle events which focusses on Igbo rituals associated with the birth of children, Initiation rites and Marriage and how it is linked to the Jewish culture.
Chapter two highlights the Comparative study of the ideas underlying Omenana and Judaism. Here, the author explains the meaning of Omenana and its importance to the early period unlike now when modernisation has eroded some of them. He also looked at Igbo perception of God (Chukwu) where he gave evidences that indeed proved that it is similar to the Isrealites perception of the Deity.
In Chapter 3, the author highlights the rituals associated with dying and death in the topic Onwu na Akwamaozu, the various ways Igbo handle the issue and how it was practiced by the Jews.
Feasts and festivals
Issues like feasts and festivals, New yam festival( Iri ji), Passover and Unleavened bread(Oriri Achicah), Sukkot (Ima Ntu), Eke Ukwu/Nkwo oru(Sabbath) and others were treated in Chapter four. Though some of them are no longer practiced in all Igbo land, there are some areas where they are observed. Chapter 5, examines some socio religious customs while chapter 6 takes a critical look at Abomination and purification(Aru na Ikpu aru) as it is done in Igbo land and its similarity to that of the Isrealites.
The concept of sacrifices and offerings(Ichu Aja) as practiced in Igbo land is treated in chapter 7. Here the different types of sacrifices in Igbo land especially those similar to the Jews are addressed. Chapters 8 and 9 looked at Classes among the Igbo and the socio-Religious personalities and authorities in Igbo land. While chapter 10 to 15 takes a comparative survey of the duties,. How do the Igbo people handle cases of crime and other offences, irresponsible and unnatural sexual behaviours, land matters, ritual cleanliness and Dietary matters in relation to that of the Isrealites were also treated.
In Chapters 16 to 19, the author bares his findings in similarities between Igbo and Semitic manners of dress,Joining the Igbo and Jewish people and leaving them and the Igbo society in general. Finally, he concludes with what he termed Thought- provoking Phenomena, where he narrated some Igbo folk-lores, Igbo and Isrealite farming practices and family trees.
The book can be described as a masterful job with a scholarly attention to detail. It serves two important purpose, first it documents the cultural practices of Igbo people many which are already going into extinction and secondly it beautifully narrates the Judiac rituals, beliefs and concepts as they are practiced in the Igbo culture of Nigeria.