Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Igbo: The Bantu Israelites?

Alice C. Linsley

Are the Igbo related to the Israelites? This is the question Salamatou Naino Idi has asked and I will do my best to answer her question. Probably there is some connection, but modern Jews have less than 3 percent genetic material found in Bantu peoples. The Igbo belong to MtDNA haplogroup L1, believed to have first appeared approximately 150,000 to 170,000 years ago in East Africa.

The Igbo-Bantu are the original peoples Nigeria and Cameroon who relied on the land, made fertile by the waters of the Benue Trough. About 5,000 years ago, they started their expansion East and South. They reached the equatorial rain forest 3500 years ago, entering what is now Uganda, about 3000 years ago. This means that their history is quite distinct from that of the ancient Hebrew, whose ancestors were Proto-Saharan and Nilotic.

Dr. Harry Ostrer, director of the human genetics program at the New York University School of Medicine, led one of the studies that compared the genetic makeup of Jewish populations from around the world with African populations. Ostrer found that modern Jewish populations have African ancestry. David Reich, associate professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, explored further and found that Jews can attribute about 5 percent of their ancestry to sub-Saharan Africans. Where would they fit on Cavalli-Sforza's genetic distance chart? Were I to venture a guess, I would say the urheimat of the ancestors of the Jews - their "Horim" - is the Upper Nile, and that these ancestors were red Nubian Ainu. This is why a reddish skin tone in mentioned in association with Biblical figures like Esau and David.

Linguistic research has demonstrated that about 30 percent of the Proto-Semitic roots are cognates to Sub-Saharan roots, including Proto-Bantu roots. Many of these roots express ideas found among the ancient Kushites and the Horim (Horites). In his study of the relationship of ancient Egyptian and Bantu languages, Ferg Somo wrote:

Proto-Bantu played an active part at the time of the expansion of Proto-Afro-Asiatic speakers in the Rift Valley of East Africa. These Proto-Bantu speakers going through the savannah formed part of the migration to Egypt. The Bantu languages together with other indigenous languages fused together and became embedded to form the Proto-Egyptian language. It is for this reason that the Ancient Egyptian language contains a substantial amount of Proto-Bantu or Bantu roots.

The Bantu expansion into the region of the Upper Nile and the Great Rift Valley had already taken place by 1500 BC. This is evident from the images of Nubian captives from the time of Ramesses II (1303-1213 B.C.) These images show red and black Nubian captives. The black Nubians have Bantu features. As the two groups were fighting together, it appears that they had already formed a moeity.

Detail from a Ippolito Rosellini painting 
done during the Franco-Italian Expedition to Egypt in 1828

The earliest named of Abraham's ancestors (Genesis 4 and 5) lived in the region of north-eastern Nigeria, near the ancient banks of Lake Chad. This area of Africa was much wetter, with the major waters systems of the Benue Trough and lakes connecting to a wider Nile. These are generally called his "Proto-Saharan" ancestors. Later, the Nile became the focus of river trade and was ruled by the Kushites. Abraham was a descendant of the Kushite ruler Nimrod whose territory was in the Tigris-Euphrates Valley. That is why we first meet Abraham in Mesopotamia, although his people were ethnically Kushite and came out of Africa.

The Kushites included many different clans and peoples such as the Nilotic Ainu, the Ijebu, red and black Nubians, etc.

The Igbo mixed with Nilotic and Proto-Saharan peoples. Their rulers married Nilotic and Proto-Saharan rulers. They were a distinct people long before the descendants of Jacob, the Israelites, existed. If they share religious features with Jews it is because the Igbo and Hebrews have common African roots. Further, it was probably the ancestors of the Igbo who taught their art of metal work to the Kushite rulers, and without that contribution, Egypt would never have become a great power.

There is a connection between the Igbo and the Nok civilization. The Yoruba word "anochi" (Nok/ha-Nock/Enoch) refers to the succession of rulers. In the Hebrew Bible, Enoch is a royal title designating the one who is to ascend or rule. Jacob's firstborn son was Reuben, and Reuben's firstborn son was Ha-Nock/ Hanoch.

According to Yoruba oral tradition, Esu/Esau the Edomite/Idu was the third king of Ketu. The kingdom of Ketu is in the Republic of Benin. Abraham's cousin wife was Ketu-ra. The Jebusites (Ijebu), who controlled Jerusalem in Abraham's time, were divided into two groups and one is called Ketu. Edomite is a variant of Edo/Idu. Obodas, the first ruler of Petra, has a name related to the Edo word for ruler which is Oba. Petra is in the region of Edom, and some of the Horite rulers of Edom are named in Genesis 36.

Linguist Helene Longpre recognizes that Demotic Egyptian (7th-5th c. B.C.) and Nabatean Aramaic most closely correspond to Meroitic or Old Nubian. (Longpre, "Investigation of the Ancient Meroitic Writing System", Rhode Island College, 1999.) Demotic is the script of the Rosetta stone in the Ptolemaic period (332-30 B.C.).

The Ido-Edomite connection

The Horites of Edom reflect the practice of the ancient Habiru (Hebrew) more closely that the Jews of today. This is likely due to the fact that the ruling houses of Africa tended to intermarry to form alliances. Correspondences have been noted by Naiwu Osahan, who wrote:

Like the Pharaohs, Idu (Edo) monarchs are God-kings. Because they are God-kings and God-sons, they are considered divine and worshipped by their subjects, who speak to them always with great reverence, at a distance, and on bended knees. Great ceremonies surround every action of the Edo king. The kings of Benin (Bini) also adopt grand Osirian titles of the ‘Open Eye,’ signifying omniscience and omnipotence. Edo monarchs, when they transit to the beyond, are, like the Egyptian Pharaohs, set up in state, in a linked series of underground chambers, surrounded with their paraphernalia of power, and all of the items they would require for their comfortable sojourn in the ethereal world. (From here.)

Dr. Acholonu also noted correspondence between some Igbo beliefs and beliefs found among the Egyptians (though not necessarily the Horite priests).  She connected the Ar of Canaan to the Aro of Nigeria. She wrote, "In Nigeria the caste under reference is the Ar/Aro caste of Igbo Eri priest-kings, who were highly militarized in their philosophy."

The Amorites were the Am-Ar, meaning the people of Ar.  Biblical Anak's father was Arba. Hebron, in the region of Edom, was called Kiriath-Arba.

They are called the Aro among the people living at the confluence of the Benue and Niger Rivers in Nigeria. Some migrated to this well-watered region before the time of Abraham. Catherine Acholonu claimed that they were a caste of scribes. She wrote:

The Igbo Ar/Aro are the scribes of the Igbo God Ele/El (Chukwu Abiama) who dwells in the southern extension of the Underground Duat called the Long Juju. They were and are still proficient in various kinds of ancient scripts called Akwukwo Aka Igwe, and Nsibidi which has many Sumerian pictographs and Egyptian hieroglyphics and has been said to be older than 5000 yrs. Sumerian pictographs were in use by 3500 BC. That shows how old Nsibidi is. It has been called the oldest writing system in Africa. The Aro were originally the military arm of the Eri clan of Priest-kings who were the first Pharaohs of Egypt and the first kings of the world. They were charged with guarding the Great Serpent's Shrine called ARO BU N'AGU.

Dr. Acholonu rejected the theory that the Igbo are the true Israelites, however. She recognized that the religious beliefs of her Igbo people were highly influential and found expression in many places beyond modern Nigeria.

Cain and Seth: Bantu rulers?

Nok figurine
In Genesis 4, Cain's line is associated with metal working the person of Tubal-Cain. This suggests that Cain may have been of the Bantu people. He left home and went eastward where he married into the royal house of Enoch/Anak. Anak's was a Proto-Saharan cattle-herding kingdom. His people had a lighter skin tone. In the Bible they are called Anakim, the "mighty men of old."

The term anak is of Nilotic origin. Among the Nilotic Bisa, a small population of people who conform to the older ways, light skin cattle are called ├ínaku, which means "to bleach in the sun." This is probably the origin of the Biblical term Anakim for Abraham’s Ainu ancestors who had a lighter skin. The singular form of the word is ├ínak. (Eric Ten Raa, The Couth and the Uncouth: Ethnic, Social, and Linguistic Divisions among the Sandawe of Central Tanzania, p. 148)

Likely Seth, Cain’s brother, moved to the east to establish his own territory closer to Lake Chad, in Borno (where we later find his descendant Noah). Here there appears to have been a great cultural exchange. Musical instruments, pottery, and the tradition of horsemanship suggest that the people of Kano, Borno and Nok enjoyed an period of high artistic achievement, that also included iron beads. There is a striking similarity between the hairstyle of the Igbo woman shown above and that on the Nok sculpture (right). Through analysis of the Genesis king lists, it has been possible to trace some of Abraham's ancestors to the Lake Chad region.

Apparently the Igbo ancestors intermarried with the people of Nok to whom they were probably related by blood (as many of the peoples of this region of Africa are of the L1 haplotype). This was before the time when we can speak of Arabs and Jews. Nok dominance existed for at least 1,000 years before the establishment of the royal city of Daura. (Read more here.)

Related reading:  Symbols of Authority Linked to Cain and SethExtant Biblical Tribes; Conversation About Hausa Origins; Are the Igbos of Nigeria Jewish?; In Memory of Dr. Catherine Acholonu


Irene Ella said...

This publication is describing Igbos as Jews and refering to them as people whose land has been made fertile by the Benue river. We are the Otukpos children of Ode or Judah and the Idumeas,children of Esau and we are from benue state of Nigeria. We have no relationship with the Igbos atall and this publication should be removed because it is trying to steal our identity for Igbos. We are not Bantus. Even the Tivs who are from Benue state with us are not Jews or Israelis. To know a Jew or Israelis, check the bible and not from fake history. We are Otukpo, Judah, from Benue state of Nigeria, the food basket that feeds Nigeria. We have no relationship with Igbos. Identity theft is a crime so remove these lies.

Alice Linsley said...

My dear Irene, Please red the article carefully. You will see that I reject the idea that the Igbo are the true Israelites.

The Bible tells us that the Israelites were the descendants of Jacob, the son of Isaac, a great ruler in Edom, located south of Judah. Isaac inherited Abraham's territory in Edom.

There is a relationship between the Edo of Nigeria and the Edomites of Arabia. Both originated in the Upper Nile Valley. One group went east and the other west to the Benue Trough.

You might find this helpful:

Sobona Ngoma said...

The Bible is clear about who the Jew is. All those that were citizens of the southern kingdom of Judah (YEHUDAH. And those of the northern kingdom were Israelites. Before the split they were all called children of Israel. But not all who left Egypt during the exodus where of the 12 tribes of Israel. There was what the Bible calls a "mixed crowd".