By CHIKA ONYEANI
June 5, 2013 – Last night, we drove to Manhattan, New York, to attend a film festival, the Sheba Film Festival, at the Jewish Community Center on 334 Amsterdam Avenue. Notice I said ‘last night’, because it is the first time since my eye surgery on April 3, that I dared to drive in the night. Two weeks ago, I had received a email announcing that a film titled, “Sheba Film Festival Re-Emerging: The Jews of Nigeria,” would be shown at the Center. My interest was piqued because I know some of us Igbo have been claiming that we are Jews, and extensive ink has been expended in Ph.D dissertations by some Igbo in trying to prove that we are, what to many people has been an exercise in tomfoolery. Hence I decided to publicize the event extensively, thinking that a lot of the Igbo in the New York area might wish to attend.
Unfortunately, there was a scattering of blacks in the jam-packed theater, prompting my wife to ask: “Where are the Igbo?” “Maybe all these blacks are Igbo,” I answered defensively. Well, it turned out she was right, for after the end of the film, most of the blacks who asked and commented on the film were African-Americans mostly of Caribbean descent. But, to my surprise, one individual came to me and said, “Dianyi, kedu, ika no na obodoaa?” (my friend, you are still in this country) and went to call my name. He told me his name, and we embraced and talked about when last we met. He said he had remembered my voice, since I had asked Jeff Lieberman whether the whole exercise was not a myth. As I said, I was so surprised to see the theater jam-packed with white people (Jews) as I could deduce after the film was shown and during question and answer time.
It was a night I felt that my investment of $73.50 (2 tickets $24, gas $20, film dvd $20, and toll $9.50 ezpass) was well spent, because the film taught me something I had heard many times or read peripherally, about the Igbo uncompromising attitude, their well-documented rebellion at the Igbo Landing (Ebo Landing, Ebos Landing) in Dunbar Creek of St. Simons Island, Glynn County, Georgia, who had been abducted from their homes in present-day Nigeria, but rather than be sold as slaves, seized the ship, killed its two white captors and walked into the sea. What a story of valor that the Igbo should be proud of telling their children. Okay, I will be talking about this later, but let’s talk about the film.
The film, “Sheba Film Festival Re-Emerging: The Jews of Nigeria,” was directed by Jeff Lieberman, himself a Jew, who labored for more than seven years, with his meager finances, to produce the film. It is about the claim by the Igbo that they are the Jews of Africa, or one of the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, who descended from “Eri”, the 5th son of GAD; the latter who was the 7th son of Jacob, whose sons fathered the 12 Tribes of Israe (how about the Ethiopians who have actually been found to be Jews or the Lemba people of Zimbabwe and South Africa). Actually, there is a town called AGUL(ERI) in Igboland.
In the case of the Jews of Ethiopia, Israel acknowledged them and in 1991, in Operation Solomon, Israel airlifted a significant number of Ethiopian Jews when the Mengistu Haile Miriam government was on the verge of collapse. The earlier “Operation Moses” airlift of about 8,000 Ethiopian Jews had occurred on November 21, 1984.
In the case of the Jews of Zimbabwe and South Africa, this is what the BBC wrote on March 5, 2010,
“The Lemba people of Zimbabwe and South Africa may look like their compatriots, but they follow a very different set of customs and traditions.
They do not eat pork, they practise male circumcision, they ritually slaughter their animals, some of their men wear skull caps and they put the Star of David on their gravestones.
Their oral traditions claim that their ancestors were Jews who fled the Holy Land about 2,500 years ago.
It may sound like another myth of a lost tribe of Israel, but British scientists have carried out DNA tests which have confirmed their Semitic origin.”
So, what of the case of the Igbo? Do they have anything in common with the Jews, the Ethiopian Jews or the Lemba Jews? One of the frequently cited commonality with the Jews is the circumcision of Igbo children on the 8th day after birth (I can attest to that); not eating pork, eating fish with scales, slaughtering chicken in the same way as Jews, or how the women were asked to stay away and not have intercourse with their husbands when they have their menses. (Well, who would?). With these practices, do they make the Igbo claim of being Jewish true?
This is what Jeff Lieberman spent seven years trying to find out, and according to him, he could not prove or disprove the assertion. The Igbo have refused to have DNA testing, claiming that after all not all the Jews have had DNA testing done to prove they are really Jews. In his quest, Jeff followed a young man who has changed his name to a Jewish name, Schmuel Tkvah ben Yaacov.
Before I continue, let me say that this is the greatest thing I hate about the Igbo, their stupidity in always adopting other peoples’ names. Because of Christianity, they have to have Oyibo names (English) names. There is no where in the Bible where it says that you must answer an English name before you can become a Christian. It is the same thing with other Africans who don’t even remember their forefathers’ names after they converted to Islam, and as well there is nowhere in the Quran where it says you must answer the name of the people who enslaved you to become a Muslim. Unfortunately, this the same path the Igbo Jews of Nigeria are taking, changing their Igbo names to Israeli names. As I wrote in my book, “Capitalist Nigger: The Road to Success,” Europeans and Arabs don’t ever answer African names; yet we claim to be independent but we are far from removing the greatest yoke of colonialism from around our neck, not that the Jews have ever colonized us. If the Igbo Jews should look around, they will find that the Ethiopian Jews answer their own Ethiopian names – not Yaacov or Ben Cohen. What idiocy!!
Schmuel’s parents are not Christians, but they believe in God – that we have always believed in before the advent of the white man, who brought us the Bible in the day and took our children slaves in the night – the Chukwu, the Chineke, the Olisa, just like the white people have had different names for God in their respective languages. In his quest to understand the Jews, he became influenced by Elder Habbakkuk (imagine), the Igbo who built the first Synagogue in Abuja. The Igbo Jews have self-taught themselves the Jewish practices, and have utilized the internet to learn Hebrew. Their services are recited in Hebrew. Their 3000 membership is growing.
The determination of the Igbo Jews to become Jewish was emboldened when Rabbi Howard Gorin of Washington, DC, visited them in Abuja, a sign that they are being heard. But Israel is far from recognizing them as Jews. In fact, though Schmuel has been admitted to one of the Yeshiva schools in Israel to study to become a Rabbi, the Israeli government has refused him visa.
Jeff Lieberman has done a great job in merging two parts into one film, the Igbo Jews of Nigeria and the Igbo rebellious men and women who, rather than allow themselves to be taken slaves, decided to kill their captors and drown in the ocean.
Here’s what Wikipedia put it:
In May 1803, a shipload of African slaves, having survived the dreaded middle passage, were landed in Savannah, Georgia, to be auctioned off at the local slave market. These included a group of Igbo slaves from Nigeria, West Africa. The slaves of the Igbo tribe were known for maintaining their honor in the face of brutal racism and were renowned throughout the American South for being fiercely independent and unwilling to tolerate the humiliations of chattel slavery. The group of Igbo slaves was bought by agents of John Couper and Thomas Spalding for use on their plantations in St. Simons Island, Georgia.
The chained slaves were packed under the deck of a small vessel, the Morovia, for shipping to the island (some sources say the voyage took place aboard The Schooner York). During this voyage, the Igbo slaves rose up in rebellion, taking control of the ship and drowning their captors in the process. The Morovia grounded in Dunbar Creek at the site now locally known as Ebos Landing. What exactly happened after this is unclear, as there are several versions of the development of events, some of which are considered mythological. Roswell King, a white overseer on the nearby Pierce Butler plantation, wrote one of the only contemporary accounts of the incident, which states that as soon as the Igbo landed on St. Simons Island, they took to the swamp, committing suicide by walking into Dunbar Creek. A Savannah written account of the event lists the surname Patterson for the captain of the ship and Roswell King as the person who recovered the bodies of the drowned.”
It is the uncompromising human assertiveness to freedom, human dignity and equality that the Igbo should teach their children. It is this assertiveness that led Oladuah Equiano, an Igbo according to him, to purchase his freedom from his slave masters, wrote wrote his autobiography, “The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano,” that led to the enactment of the Slave Trade Act of 1802. During question and answer, it was mentioned that a lot of prominent African-Americans identify themselves as Igbo, including T.D. Jakes. But when someone mentioned that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was from the Gullah area and might be Igbo, I shouted “No, God forbid bad thing! An Igbo would never abandon his people like he has.”
This is a film that you could show over and over, and enjoy it no matter what ethnic group you belong to. The film is only $20 for the dvd plus shipping, and you can inquire how to get it from Jeff Lieberman through the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan, NYC, at 334 Amsterdam Avenue and 66th Street. Their phone number is 646-505-4444.
The film was shown under the auspices of the Beta Israel of North America Foundation, (BINA Foundation), which is currently celebrating its 10th Annual Sheba Film Festival. It was founded by Ethiopian Jews in America to empower themselves.