In the broadest sense, the Igbo, and the Jews are the Israelite people today. Today I was thinking about yet another experience of the Israelites, and how the Igbo, and the Jews responded to it. The experience is dispersion all over the world. I don’t think that anyone will successfully counter the following assertion: the Igbos and the Jews are to be found outside wherever they call home more than any other ethnic or national groups.
Everyone knows more about the dispersion of the Jews, as the scattering of Israel, but the experience of the Igbos tell the same story. Because this group has not been on the radar as the Jews have been, we can only talk about what we know concretely since the Igbos began to be covered by the radar. After suffering the greatest, yet unacknowledged genocide in Africa, the Igbo continued to pour out of Igboland due to diverse reasons which I will not go into in this article. I would say that there would be more Igbos in more countries than Jews, because some countries maintain a hostile posture to Jews, who are more identified with the State of Israel, than the Igbos.
What I was thinking about is that from my scrutiny of Jewish sources, the Jews realized very early that Exile would last for a very long time, but longed and hoped that it would not last forever. On the other hand, though the Igbos have left Igboland, which they call home presently, in frightening numbers, and are sighted in Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Alaska, Belize, Argentina, New Zealand, Eritrea, Canada, the US, Ecuador, Mongolia, Nepal, etc, no Igbo in these far off places ever thinks that he or she will not return home. Everyone hopes to return, after working and saving some money for retirement. This will almost certainly not happen. Many Igbos who have left will not return, but the Igbos unlike the Jews, do not know this, because the experiences of the Igbos and Jews after dispersion differ significantly at certain points of history. Accordingly the Igbo have not set up Igbo institutions outside Igboland.
A core part of the Jews were moved from Israel to Europe, where they lived for a very long time, and met circumstances so different from those met by the Igbo in Africa. Living in Europe came with both major dangers, trials, and also opportunities for anyone who was ready to advance. I will not go into the suffering of Jews in Europe which culminated in the Holocaust in this article, but will mention that Europe grew tremendously because it despoiled other lands, and colonized them. Toughened by living in tough Europe, the Jews gained greater awareness of self , and self preservation than the Igbo. Very importantly they also preserved knowledge of what to do to survive, which is preservation and perpetuation of Hebrew culture, and transmission of same to their progeny. These enabled the Jews to prepare for the long and bitter exile, and how to manage it, and survive it with dignity. To cope they set up enduring Jewish institutions, like community centers, schools and beth knesseths wherever they went.
Africa climactically is softer on humans, and its first benefits from globalization were the Slave Trade, and European Colonialism, which by the way was preceded by Arab intrusion and colonialism of large parts of Africa, and which curiously managed to drop from history. Well, these did not help the Igbos. Many things that enabled Jews to survive were either absent in Africa, or where they are, they are faint, and weak. Operating in such conditions, the Igbos ability to cope is circumscribed. Weakened, the Igbos have not assessed, and analyzed Igbo circumstances and realities fully and properly to realize that the earlier Igbos begin to set up Igbo institutions in the far flung lands Igbos are heading to, the better, because the truth is that majority of the Igbos who have moved away from Igboland, may not be able to return. These institutions, if they are set up, are what will keep our progeny connected to our heritage.
Remy Ilona is a lawyer, scholar, and author of the influential “The Igbos And Israel: An Inter-cultural Study of the Largest Jewish Diaspora.”