And now we begin the Igbo story in the Americas, enjoy!
Igbo Landing is a historic site at Dunbar Creek on St. Simons Island, Glynn County, Georgia. It is where the Igbo people who had taken control of their slave ship refused to become captives of slavery in the United States. They took their lives in order to accomplish this resistance. This event marks a very important time in African American history as a strong symbol of resistance to slavery by Igbo people.
In May 1803 a ship arrived in the middle passage holding Africans that had been stolen from Igbo land; they were to be auctioned off at one of the slave markets in Savannah, Georgia. The ship included around 75 Igbo people from the bight of Biafra in West Africa. The Igbo were known for being fiercely independent and resistant to slavery.
During the journey, the Igbo slaves rose up in strength and took control of the ship, drowning their captors in the process causing the Monrovia ship to be grounded in Dunbar Creek at the site now known as Igbo Landing.
Floyd White, an elderly African-American interviewed in the 1930’s is recorded as saying:
“Heard about the Ibo’s Landing? That’s the place where they bring the Ibos
over in a slave ship and when they get here, they ain’t like it and so they all
start singing and they march right down in the river to march back to Africa,
but they ain’t able to get there. They gets drown”.
The Gullah people, a people said to be descendants of Igbo’s, with many claiming their Igbo ancestry, live and dwell in Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina. They speak an Afro-Creole language and continue some Igbo customs as seen in their food and cultural traditions such as the Masquerade that I told you all about last week, deriving from Igbo culture and found in Caribbean cultures. I will talk more bout the Gullah Geechee next week, I just wanted to introduce the Igbo culture in the Americas, and not overfeed you! Here is an excerpt I found from a white woman describing the Gullah description of the Igbo experience. I mention white woman because as always, when they translate something, it may not always be the best, but I did like the excerpt enough to add it in my blog post…
“The West Africans upon their situation resolved to risk their
lives by walking home over the water rather than submit to the living death
that awaited them in American slavery. As the tale has it, the tribes people
disembark from the ship, and as a group, turned around and walked along the
water, traveling in the opposite direction from the arrival port. As they took
this march together, the West Africans joined in song. They are reported to
have sung a hymn in which the lyrics assert that the water spirits will take
them home. While versions of this story vary in nuance, all attest to the
courage in rebellion displayed by the enslaved Igbo.”
It’s important to know that, Igbo slaves, were most prone to be runaways. Why is it important? Because it shows strength, to resist evil and not succumb to the west and their divide and conquer tactics!
I find so much courage in this story. I thank my ancestors for their resistance….
I wanted to revisit a blog post that I wrote about the Igbo people of Awka, in Anambra state, Nigeria. I am a descendant of Awka people, my dad is from Umubuele in Awka. Although Anambra is the english name, the original name is Oma Mbala. According to oral tradition, “Oma Mbala was the name of the ancient goddess whose river runs from the Uzo-uwa-ani underworld to Anam and Onicha axis, where it connects with Nkisi & Niger-kwora/Mgbakili Rivers in their journey to the Atlantic Ocean.” Oma Mbala region extends to parts of these states in Nigeria – Edo, Delta, Imo, Rivers, Abia, Taraba, Benue, Niger, Nasarawa, Plateau, Akwa Ibom, and Cross Rivers States, as well as the countries Niger, Chad, Cameroon, Mali, and Central African Republic. According to oral tradition, it is said that the father of the Igbo’s, Eri – a sky God, settled in Anambra after being sent to the earth by Chukwu – Supreme God, after having traveled by water from what is now known as the middle east. He is said to have had 2 wives and founded Nri and Aguleri, two cities currently in Anambra state. Anambra state is part of 5 main states in Igboland – Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu and Imo – and other states comprise of high numbers of Igbo people, such as Delta and Rivers states. It is said that Anambra is the wealthiest state in the southeast region of Nigeria. Anyway, I spoke about the Masquerades and Ekpe secret societies in Haiti and Cuba last week, and I just wanted to bring it back to the continent to regroup around Igbo culture in Nigeria, before continuing to America tomorrow. After we get to America, the Igbo revelations go continue o! I want you all to get ready for a complete story. Enjoy this blog post on the Igbo people of Awka, Anambra state! (All these pictures are pictures I took, and are of me and my family).
CULTURAL AND ETHNIC GROUPS
Awka is the capital city in Anambra State in southeastern Nigeria, home of Igbo people. Before the 20th
century, the people of Awka were most famous for metal working and
their blacksmith skills throughout the region for making farming
implements, guns and tools. The Awka area in earlier times was the site
of the Nri Civilization that produced the earliest documented bronze
works in Sub-Saharan Africa around 800 AD.
Awka was governed by titled men known as Ozo and Ndichie who
were accomplished individuals in the community. Today, the tradition of
being a titled man still holds much importance. In typical Igbo
communities, people are not called or greeted by their names but rather
by their titles. Each title holds an important meaning. In Igbo land,
titles can be given through elaborate feasting and fulfilment of other
conditions. Historically, they held general meetings or “Izu Awka”
either at the residence of the oldest man (Otochal Awka) or at a place
designated by him. He was the Nne Uzu or master blacksmith, whether he
knew the trade or not, for the only master known to Awka people was the
master craftsman, the Nne Uzu. Overall, the average Igbo man by
tradition is expected to have a title, either given to him by his father
or one that he assumes and takes up himself.
Awka is currently divided into two local government areas; Awka
North and Awka South, with local representatives. However, it still
maintains traditional systems of governance with Ozo titled men often
consulted for village and community issues and a paramount cultural
ruler, the Eze Uzu who is elected by all Ozo titled men by rotation
amongst different villages to represent the city at state functions.
Awka comprises seven Igbo groups sharing common blood lineage
divided into two sections. Ifite Section, the senior section, comprises
four groups, Ayom-na-Okpala, Nkwelle, Amachalla, and Ifite-Oka followed
by Ezinator Section, which consists of three groups, Amikwo, Ezi-Oka and
Agulu. Each of these groups has a number of villages. All together,
Awka comprises 33 villages.
Awka people have always been and still are well travelled. In
earlier centuries, times demand for their skills as blacksmiths had Awka
people travelling throughout Nigeria making farming implements,
household tools, and guns. Each village had clearly defined trade
routes. For example, people from Umuogbu village plied their trade in
Benin and in the Urhobo and Itsekiri areas, people from Umubele (my
fathers land!) were stationed in the Igala areas in modern day Kogi
state, Umuike and Umuonaga in present day Abia and Rivers State,
Umuenechi in the Kwale and Isoko area of Delta state, and Umudiana,
Okperi, Ugwuogige stationed in Calabar area of today’s Cross Rivers
The Imo-Oka festival is a week long festival of masquerades and
dances held in May at the beginning of the farming season in honor of a
female deity who it is hoped will make the land fertile and yield
boutiful crops. The festival starts with Awka natives visiting the
community of Umuokpu with masquerades and it ends with the visit of the
Imo-Oka stream on the final day which is heralded by a heavy rain that
falls in the late afternoon. There are four major events performed
during this festival.
Today, Awka people can be found all across the globe many
working as highly educated and skilled professionals in a wide range of
fields. As a result, there is a large Awka diaspora located primarily in
the U.K. and the U.S. There, they have formed social clubs like Awka
Union USA and Canada, Awka Town Social Community UK and Ireland, and
other community associations. These associations have been a positive
way for people to enjoy their culture as well as to engage in community
Over the years Awka Town has attracted people from other states
in Nigeria and has a significant number of immigrants from northern
Nigeria, Delta and Enugu states, Cameroon and Ghana now comprising more
than 60% of residents in the town (http://naijasky.com/awka-south/114/people-of-awka/6416/).
World renown author, Chinua Achebe (author of ‘Things Fall
Apart’) says “Awka has a certain kind of aura about it, because it was
the place of the blacksmiths that created implements which made
Hello All! So it seems you all really loved the Igbo story yesterday about Igbo presence in Haiti and Cuba (Happy Haitian Flag Day, by the way!!!), I am so glad you did, because I am taking this Igbo story around the world. Someone asked me about Gullah Geechee Igbos in Georgia, and I told them, “Oh I can’t wait to get to America”, I am going in when it gets to Igbo’s in America, but I want to tell a story that connects some things and puts things in perspective, so I can get back to my original point. Today I want to break this blog post into sections, I will be focusing on revolution and other aspects using the examples of Jamaica, Trinidad, and Barbados, respectively, then tying it all in.
From the Bight of Biafra (or the Bight of Bonny) in West Africa, Igbo people were taken in relatively high numbers to Jamaica as enslaved Africans, arriving after 1750. Besides Virginia, in the United States, Jamaica was the second most common point for ships with Enslaved Africans arriving from the Bight of Biafra. They were forced on plantations around Montego Bay and Savanna-la-Mar (the capital of Westmoreland Parish, Jamaica). Igbo enslaved Africans in Jamaica practiced resistance more so than revolt, they did not succumb to the abuse of oppressors, although they still depended on revolt. Of all the enslaved Africans in Jamaica, according to records, Igbos revolted the most. Many of them took their own lives because they believed after death, they would return or “fly back” to our homeland. That breaks my heart to write that, as I have heard some people measure whether or not slaves were strong or not, based on if they were able to “survive”. We all did, and still do, what we can! In 1815 and 1816, 2 of the biggest revolts were led by Igbos in Jamaica, they chanted “hymns” mocking the British, naming them “Buckras” (white men who owns slaves).
Remember when I told you all that in America, colonizers referred to Igbo slaves as Red Igbos, which eventually turned into the term “red bone”? Well, the same name was given to us in Jamaica. Igbo enslaved Africans were distinguished physically by their “red” or lighter skin tones. Today, in Jamaica, “red eboe” is used to describe people with light skin tones and African features. I say this not to divide, but create a commonality amongst evidence I have presented in past blog posts on this Igbo story (colonizers studied us and our traits to divide us!). Igbo women in Jamaica were paired with Coromantee (Akan – Ghana) men because of the belief that the women were bound to their first-born sons’ birthplace (again, divide and conquer). Keep this in mind as I will tie back in this point later. Jonkonnu, a yam festival Masquerade held in Jamaica, is attributed to the Njoku Ji – Yam spirit festival, of the Okonkwo and Ekpe of the Igbo (remember I told you all about the Ekpe secret society of Cuba, and masquerade festivals yesterday). The Igbo also influenced language with actions such as “sucking-teeth” coming from the Igbo phrase, “ima osu” and “cutting-eye” from the Igbo phrase “iro anya”. Words were added to Jamaican Patois (broken English) when slaves were prohibited from speaking their own languages, and it prohibited colonizers from understanding what they were saying. These Igbo words still exist in Jamaican Patois, including words such as “unu” meaning “you” (plural),”di” to be”, which eventually became “de”. There are about 7 known Igbo proverbs active in Jamaican culture along with numerous words that were formed using other languages as well. I am aware that other languages make up the patois dialect, but again, my Igbo story is focusing on Igbo presence in the world. Whew! I try to be clear because I realize people from all parts of the world are reading, so I am getting better at explaining things. Let’s move on to Trinidad…
You want to talk about revolution? Everything we have done as a people as a result of colonialism is revolution that we now enjoy and forget the origin of. If anything, remember that we still have the tools to revolt for freedom, today, but follow this story. Calypso music is attributed to Trinidad. Calypso is derivative of an Igbo word “Kaiso”… In my research, I found that the term kaiso derives from an Ibibio/Igbo/Efik word used as an exclamation, such as “Bravo!”, “Let us join”. It can also mean “Let us be friends” in Igbo Anambra dialect (Anambra stand up!). *Ibibio and Efik, according to historical records and oral tradition show accounts of Efik and Ibibio people migrating from Abia state in Igbo land to their present location in Calabar*. Igbo Trinidadians used calypso music to mock the slave masters and to communicate with each other. Calypso evolved into a way of spreading news around Trinidad. Politicians, journalists, and public figures often debated the content of each song, and many islanders considered these songs the most reliable news source. Calypsonians pushed the boundaries of free speech as their lyrics spread news of any topic relevant to island life, including speaking out against political corruption.
I remember growing up and my dad’s best friends, Mr. Hawkins, was a Trinidadian man, my dad used to go to Trinidad with him, and a Trinidadian told me when I got older, that he probably was going to Carnival! Well, at my former roommate’s Trinidadian family reunion in 2019, I remember being shown pictures and videos of Carnival, I immediately said “that looks just like the Igbo Masquerade!” I pulled out videos I had, and they were shocked, “I never knew they did that in Africa!” they said, “we’re all the same people!”, from then that broke the ice and we learned about each other’s cultures. The Trinidad and Tobago Carnival is an annual event held on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (February) in Trinidad and Tobago. Yes, my dad used to go to Trinidad in February, I could never go because I was always in school, apparently, it’s not a place for a child anyway – laughing out loud.
So, clearly today I am focused on aspects of revolution, and I have tied in aspects from yesterday such as the masquerade. Yesterday was more focused on the presence of Igbo culture in religion and secret societies… and the masquerades, but since you already have been educated on them, today builds on that to focus on revolution. The point is, it didn’t always look like an all out war; various parts of Igbo culture have been used to strategize, spiritualize, musicalize, and even hide revolution (remember I talked about that in the Aba Women’s riot post). Now let’s talk about actual physical revolution in Barbados, shout out to my Bajan people.
Barbados saw the biggest slave revolt in British West Indies History (we know of the successful Haitian revolution against the French). Led by Igbo born Slave, Bussa, it was the first of three large scale slave revolts in the British West Indies that caused people to doubt the effectiveness of slavery. This revolt is famously known as “Bussa’s Rebellion”. I dislike the use of the word rebellion, when I think of the word “rebel”, I think of a child who doesn’t listen, not slaves that want to be free, so I now use the word, revolution.
Bussa was was forced to Barbados from the Bight of Biafra in the late eighteenth century. He began planning the revolt after realizing that the British parliament had no intention of freeing the slaves after slavery had already been abolished. After much planning and coordination for about a year, Bussa, along with a few other slaves that were tired of mistreatment, led the slaves into battle at Baileys Plantation on April 14, 1816. He commanded about 400 freedom fighters, both men and women who were born in the islands. By his side were other enslaved Africans such as Washington Franklin, John and Nanny Grigg, a senior domestic enslaved African, and Jackey. Nanny Griggs was a domestic or “house slave” who could read and told her followers that “the only way to obtain freedom was to fight for it.” They started the revolt on April 14th, Easter Sunday, and By April 15, martial law had been declared on the entire island and was not lifted for three months. Martial law is defined as an extreme and rare measure used to control society during war or periods of civil unrest or chaos. Bussa’s rebellion did not fully free the Afro-Bajans, but, as mentioned before, it was the first of three major slave revolts named the “Late Slave Rebellions”. The second revolt took place in Demerara (now Guyana) in 1823, and lastly, in Jamaica in 1831-32. The British government finally abolished slavery in 1834. We can learn a lot from Bussa, his success did not happen overnight. He planned for one year along with like-minded people to carry out a task that others in the British West Indies would build on later. In 1998, Bussa was named one of the 10 national Heroes of Barbados (these people will always celebrate someone after they’re gone) let us celebrate each other now!
Another interesting fact about Igbo presence in Barbados is that, 44% of enslaved Africans in Barbados were Igbo from 1771-1775. Olaudah Equiano, a very famous Igbo enslaved African and author, was enslaved in Barbados, and later sent to virginia, another highly populated area with Igbo enslaved Africans.
There are 2 parts to this conclusion. First, recognize that as many people are looking for revolution in physical form. I have shown through yesterday’s post, and todays, that within 5 Caribbean cultures, Igbos have used a variety of strategies to trick oppressors, strategize, celebrate culture, preserve culture, worship ancestors, etc. We today can still learn, as I always say, that it doesn’t have to look the same for everybody. We each have contributions that can collectively work together. When a people are divided so long, they tend to follow that model, but if today we decide that no matter what, I am going to use what I have based on what I know of myself and my people, we will be free today. Everything we celebrate and water down now, was once used as a means for survival.
Part 2: Remember I told you that research suggests 60% of all African Americans have 1 Igbo ancestor? I am arguing throughout this story that whether one lost tribe or all, the colonizers have fought to hide the true identity of Igbo people. As you can see through examples I’ve given, Igbo culture is seen in the dominant parts of these Caribbean cultures, meaning, they are well known and associated with the countries, but because of lack of education, have not all been attributed to Igbo culture, Everyone knows Calypso is from Trinidad, but who knew it was an Igbo word? Remember, with divide and conquer, the point is to divide us and dilute our true heritages. I say that because for some reason, people will credit Jamaica with Akan ancestry, Haiti with Yoruba ancestry, and name everybody else but Igbo’s, etc. or just dilute the Igbo ancestry (like many other places in the world) forgetting that colonizers mixed up and tore apart our ancestry on purpose (I said in the Jamaica section of this article, that I would tie this point in). Identities, as we can see now, are everything to Black people, globally, it is where we find customs, bloodlines, family information; important aspects to our heritage, and answers. As I have said for years, we are the only people in the world who have been named, and renamed, and renamed again, from the continent being divided into 54 countries, to the rest of the world, ex. Nigerian, Congolese, Sudanese, sub-Saharan, MENA, Nigger, negro, black, colored, African American, people of color, Jamaican, Haitian, St. Lucian, and everything in between – you get the point. We are the most scattered and divided people on the earth who have had the privilege taken away of knowing our true ancestry. Remember, even on the continent, people were scattered around to different colonies, forcing us to make up new languages and customs that dilute us from the original (even though Africans are the original people, so we recreate something even more beautiful). We are the only people collectively who have to depend on colonizers to tell us what “country” we originate from through a DNA test that doesn’t always tell the “tribe”. As I continue to tell this Igbo story, and our impact in the world, you will see why colonizers worked extra hard to dilute our identity. The same way people praise Kemet and Egypt, we have another point of reference that is worthy of honor as well. Whether one lost tribe or all, there is something to be said about Igbo people and culture in the world.
Find the thread of Igbo Story posts I’ve written so far using this link!
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