Author Remy Ilona
Book Title The Igbos And Israel; An Inter-cultural Study of the Largest Jewish Diaspora
Long before this work, it has been said that the Igbos of South-eastern Nigeria have strong ancestral connection to the Jews, but the first thing the author, Ilona, does is inform you that there is no “clear-cut archaeological evidence of any presence or otherwise of Jews in the region to that effect”. In a nutshell, this book is not for those who want archaeological evident that Igbos are descendants of Jews. Rather, it is about the degree of similarities between the way of the Jews as described in the Bible and the tradition of the Igbos.
In a non-ambiguous manner and style, the author leads takes the reader through a gradual expose of history, inter-woven with some scriptural aspects, to give his opinion some form of credence. This is no product of a sleight of hand; rather, it is the product of 12 long years of hard work and pure research compressed in 302 pages.
One thing Ilona’s work l do is shock everyone who reads it. After all, who ever thought the Igbos had some significant connection (tradition-wise, at least) to the Jews. In gripping language and style, he takes you on a trip, even dragging you at some point, against your wish. You never really know what he is driving at, until you read to a level of no-return, that is, until about the second chapter, where he tries to differentiate, yet single out the similarities, between what the Igbos call omenana (tradition) and Judaism.
How much Ilona put into his book is evident in the pain he takes to weave a thread, howbeit tiny in some instances, stitching the Igbo custom to the Jewish one. His ability to marry both ways of life, from childbirth to initiation rites, marriage, mourning, socio-religious customs, dressing, hygiene, land inheritance, sacrifices and offerings, to kingship, amongst other aspects, almost leaves one without argument. Ilona, thankfully, does not sign off without talking about the reaction of both cultures to what he termed ‘irresponsible and unnatural sexual behaviours’ (of course, the meaning here is not lost on anyone).
The objective of Ilona’s work is, perhaps, not just to link the Jews to the Igbos, tradition-wise. That may be secondary. Beyond the similarities and the slight differences, Ilona is chiding his kinsmen for not holding dear their beloved culture as the Jews have done centuries after a way of life was handed down to them by their fore-fathers.
It is fair to assume that Ilona’s desire to see tradition and custom respected again is not limited to the Igbos. It is a call to all Nigerians to see to upholding their cultures, irrespective of ethnicity. Beneath Ilona’s tone can be detected some form of bitterness for the Western Incursion which has claimed Africa’s most priced heritage – his tradition – and a chiding for all those who have imbibed Western culture, instead of cleaving to their tradition and culture.
The only flaw in Ilona’s work, if it can be called that, is that he easily sacrificed finesse for a tell-it-as-it-is style. His justification is in the fact that he is writing a book of facts and history and not a work of fiction. While many will think that the author did a good job by translating some Igbo words into English, others will opine that all translations will be better off in a glossary.
Ilona’s work is good for two groups: those who want to know how far they drifted from the beacon of tradition and culture and those who are curious as to how much the Igbos have got in common with the Jews.