The Igbo, sometimes (especially formerly) referred to as Ibo, are one of the largest single ethnicities in Africa. Most Igbo speakers are based in southeast Nigeria, where they constitute about 17% of the population; they can also be found in significant numbers in Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. Their language is also called Igbo. The primary Igbo states in Nigeria are Anambra, Abia, Imo, Ebonyi, and Enugu States. The Igbos also constitute more than 25% of the population in some Nigerian States like Delta State and Rivers State. Traces of the Igbo Culture and language could be found in Cross River, Akwa Ibom and Bayelsa States. Igbo language is predominant in such cities like Onitsha, Aba, Owerri, Enugu, Nnewi, Nsukka, Awka, Umuahia, and Asaba, amongst others.
There have been postulations of different origins of the Igbo; however, serious studies based on testable facts clarify that the Igbo have lived in their country for tens of millennia. The archeological finds at Ugwuele Okigwe make an insightful proof of human activities in the theatre of Igbo civilization more than two hundred and fifty thousand years ago. Evidence of man-made tools like axe, pottery and carved stones dug up at the present day Enugu and Ebonyi states establish the credibility of the habitation of Igbo for a very long time. In other words, traditions of Igbo origin favor Igbo genesis in Igboland.
According to Professor Oriji as well as Forde and Jones, the Isu group of the Igbo nation would appear to be the largest in population and seem to occupy a contiguous stretch of land from the center of Igboland expanding to all directions. This implies that the initial Igbo cultural and structural ideas likely evolved from the Isu. Their spread has helped to harmonize the features of the Igbo Cultural Area. In the Orlu section of Isu that claim autochthony for instance, a primogenitor was recollected of the name Igbo Ngidi, who was spiritually and scientifically advanced. He founded Ama Igbo [The abode of the Igbo].
From Ama Igbo in Orlu, he instituted various blacksmithing centers, agricultural practices, commerce and religious oracles. He further established his ideas at a place he called Igbo Ukwu [Igbo the Great] in praise of his success. It was from these places of initial causes (Ama Igbo and Igbo Ukwu) that the Igbo multiplied and occupied the present-day Igboland. It is recollected that Igbo people called themselves Umu Igbo Ngidi [Children of Igbo Ngidi], which was shortened to Umu Igbo. Today, Igbo means the people, the language and the land. Etymologically, the word “Igbo” connotes “human community”. Top
With regard to the genesis of the Igbo in relation to their original population stock and areas of initial settlements and dispersals, four views are worth mentioning:
THE AMAIGBO VIEW OF IGBO ORIGIN
There exists the speculation of settlement from antiquity among the Orlu and Isu group. Within this zone, Amaigbo stands out with complex sophistication that ushers valid insight into Igbo settlements of old as well as the evolution of the cultural, linguistic, behavioral and psychological patterns that give the Igbo a distinct outlook. Some historians noted that with population explosion, people from this region spread rapidly and founded other parts of Igboland. The axis in question constitutes the upper half of the “Southern Igbo” involving the Isu, Orsu, Orlu and Ihiala group.
THE OWERE VIEW OF IGBO ORIGIN
This is shared by both indigenes and foreigners alike, who see the Owere region as the archetype originality of Igbo. Critical insights into the height of linguistic and cultural evolution attained here attest this standpoint. This region covers the stretch of land from Urata surroundings to Umuahia areas. This view is held by Elizabeth Isichei, who suggests that Igbo origin has its root somewhere in Owere-Umuahia axis. Hence, from here, there skyrocketed the outward radiation of Igbo characteristic elan. In other words, the original population stock from this region expanded north, south, east and west.
THE AWKA VIEW OF IGBO ORIGIN
It suggests an earlier habitation of the Awka and Nri axis, whose people emerged as the first and original Igbo group. After elapsing series of internal evolution, there was the need to expand due to population pressures. There are claims of autochthony here, where migrations are just remembered to be a few miles from the present abode. Igbo cultural thoughts could have developed by this region around the Omambara and Ezu river basins being among the important elements of civilization. Factors that fuel this view include the Awka smithery and the emergence of Nri ritual functions.
THE OWERE-AWKA VIEW OF IGBO ORIGIN
The fourth satisfies the result of archaeological studies that noted the continuous inhabitation of Igboland from prehistoric period. Regarding the complex dynamism involved in the question of Igbo origin, K.O. Dike and P.A. Talbot argue that Awka and Owere form the focal foundation of early Igbo dispersal. Chikezie Uchendu also holds this view that the area stretching from Awka to Owere form the Igbo heartland belt. Botanical and anthropological evidence confirm a continuous settlement of the Igbo in Igboland with a cultural continuum from the lithic periods to this day. Uchendu elaborates that “the belt formed by Owerri, Awka, Orlu and Okigwe divisions constitute this nuclear area” of Igbo evolution. People in this area have no tradition of coming from anywhere else. Within this belt, villages are small in area but are very densely populated due to internal sub-divisions over long period of habitation and group autonomy. Communities lying outside this core belt make a sharp contrast, where villages are large in area but are scantly populated. In summary, the Igbo are African people who have occupied their land for many millennia, splitting off from other Africans and evolving a distinct system.
Isichei, Elizabeth. A History of the Igbo People. London: Macmillan, 1976.
Oriji, Nwachimereze J. Traditions of Igbo Origin: A study of pre-colonial population movements in Africa. New York: P. Lang, 1994.
Talbot, P.A. The Peoples of Southern Nigeria. Vol. 4. London: Oxford, 1926.
Uchendu, Victor C. The Igbo of Southeast Nigeria. New York: Holt, 1965.