From generation to generation, the Igbo have passed down various versions of a migration story framed around Jacob, a patriarch of Judaism. A popular version of the narrative holds that Gad, the seventh son of Jacob, had three sons who settled in present-day southeastern Nigeria, which is predominantly inhabited by the Igbo. Those sons, Eri, Arodi and Areli (as mentioned in the book of Genesis), are said to have fathered clans, established kingdoms and founded towns still in existence in southeastern Nigeria today, including Owerri, Umuleri, Arochukwu and Aguleri.
“When I grew up I heard, like virtually every Igbo here, that the Igbo people came from Israel,” the Abuja-based lawyer says. His field work in Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Mali led him to conclude that Igbo and Jewish culture are not just similar, but “identical.”
In his latest book, Ilona draws parallels between Igbo rituals and customs and those practiced by Jews. Shared traditional practices include circumcising male children eight days after birth, refraining from eating “unclean” or tabooed foods, mourning the dead for seven days, celebrating the New Moon and conducting wedding ceremonies under a canopy. Some historians have noted that the Igbo were practicing these customs before their exposure to the Bible and missionaries.
Daniel Lis, from the Institute for Jewish Studies, University of Basel, Switzerland, is one of the foremost researchers on Jewish identification among the Igbo. He says there has been a clear continuity of Jewish identity among the Igbo. “It’s not just something that happened yesterday,” he says.
The Swiss-Israeli anthropologist says that Igbo-Jewish identity can be traced back to the 18th century. Cross-cultural comparisons have been documented by people ranging from George Thomas Basden, the influential Anglican missionary and ethnographer who proposed that the word “Igbo” evolved as a corruption of the word “Hebrew,” to Olaudah Equiano, a freed Igbo slave living in the 18th century British society.
The oral stories and historic notations of cultural resemblances between the Igbo and the Jews have proven compelling enough to lure a diverse array of people to southeastern Nigeria.
Other writers who have since made similar assertion of the Ibo Hebrew connection include Dr. G.T Basden an Anglican Missionary and Anthropologist, Professor Elisabeth Isichie an Australian Historian, Melville Merrskovitas an American writer, Professor Onwukwe Alaezi, Omabal Fidelis C Idigo, Dr Charles Ujah and others.
In October 1995,the Israeli Government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin sent an official fact finding mission to the Ibo land in search of ERI their lost brother, the fifth son of Gad.
On March 28th 1996, the Isreali Ambassador to Nigeria Mr. Naom Katz made an official visit to the Ibo town of Nri where he spoke the mind of the Israeli Government that the Ibos are their lost brothers.
* In May 1997,the Israeli Government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent yet another official fact finding mission to the Ibo land on the same fact finding mission.
* On 23rd October, 1997 the USA based Jewish Organisation King Solomon Sephardic Federation sent a team of its Directors to the Ibo land on the same fact finding mission.
* On October 12, 2005,the Israeli Magazine Har Ararets published a declaration that the Ibos are sons of Israel through the lineage of Gad.
More recently, Ikedife Hospital located along Igwe Orizu Road, Otolo-Nnewi, Anambra State is playing host to Jewish scientists, who are in Nnewi to conduct DNA, test on interested citizens there to determine the Jewish relationship with Igbos.
Hundreds of people trooped out in their numbers, yesterday, to participate in DNA test to ascertain the validity of the claims that the Igbo migrated from that part of the world.
Former President General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Dr Dozie Ikedife, and owner of the hospital, while addressing newsmen on the exercise, said he facilitated the Jewish scientists to come and prove the mythology.
He said the Israeli-Yaweh group came into the country to take a random sampling of cells from the people in the South-East for studies to carry out a DNA analysis and comparison in Houston Texas USA.
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