100 African, Americans reconnect with ancestry, get Igbo names

From Magnus Eze, Enugu

Igbo World Festival of Arts and Culture recently took place in the United States of America. The annual event organised by the Council of Igbo States in Americas (CISA), attracted attendees from North America (USA and Canada), South Africa, United Kingdom and Nigeria.

The setting at Igbo Landing in Dunbar Creek, St. Simon’s Island, Georgia, prompted resounding emotions following special offerings and libationsThe place has grown in spiritual importance, given the 1803 powerful and evocative brave story of active Igbo resistance against enslavement. 

About 400 years ago, thousands of Blacks were shipped out of the continent through slavery. Precisely, 220 years ago, 75 Igbo were captured by slave raiders in the Otuocha/Aguleri area of present-day Anambra State, ferried through the Omambala River to Calabar, present day Cross River State and then to the USA.

At Dunbar Creek in Georgia, the Igbo captives said no to slavery and walked into the sea in mass suicide. Where that historic incident happened has come to be known as Igbo Landing. It was the first black civil rights movement in human history. 

Over the years, the black population in the USA and the Caribbean have grown into millions. Some of the African-Americans passed the information of their ethnic origin to their children before they passed on. The strong message has transcended generations to the present day.

Chairman, Board of Presidents of the CISA, Dr. Nwachukwu Anakwenze, at the maiden international conference on Igbo Studies at the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) on August 17, 2023, said that over 40 million Black Americans are of Igbo origin.

He said some of them were willing to learn the Igbo Language and cultures, as well as reconnect with their living relatives in Nigeria and the Diaspora.

“Over 40 million Black Americans are of Igbo origin. DNA tests conducted on some of them proved that their genetic information is from Igbo lineage. This has motivated a good number of them to start making inquiries and asking questions about the Igbo language, cultures, and others. They are willing to identify and reconnect with their ancestral roots, they want to learn and start communicating in the Igbo language, they want to learn our culture, they want to learn everything about Igbo, as well as how to prepare our foods,” Anakwenze said.

While these Igbo descendants itched to reunite with their roots, unfortunately, the spirits of their ancestors were still wandering in America and deserved appeasement. This actually formed the thrust of the just held festival at Igbo Landing.

Organisers said this year’s festival achieved its goal of communing and re-establishing relationships with the descendants of Igbo Landing survivors that have now populated the Gullah Geechee communities in the region.

Traditional ruler of Eri Kingdom, Eze Chukwuemeka Eri (Aka ji ovo Igbo), offered prayers of cleansing invoking the spirits of Igbo ancestors to heal the wounds generated by enslavement and reunite all Igbo and their descendants who are now scattered all over the world. 

The monarch disclosed that he shall take sand and water from Igbo Landing to Omambala River in Aguleri, Anambra State, to end the pains and agony of African Americans of Igbo descents: “What we’ve done is highly spiritual, with this, the wandering spirits of those brave Igbo people who refused to be enslaved can rest peacefully.”

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During the reconnection and naming ceremony jointly presided by Ticha Akuma Kalu, Anakwenze and Eze Eri, about 100 African and White Americans who through Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) testing traced their ancestry to Igbo communities in Nigeria received Igbo names. 

In very emotional laden tones, the inductees took turns to tell their stories. For them, it reflected to a significant extent, the ultimate step in a quest to discover and reconnect with relatives separated by time, space, and distance dating back to the era of slave trade.

Overwhelmed by the extraordinary nature of the reconnection activities, some group of whites revealed that their fourth, fifth and six grandparents were enslaved Blacks and who DNA have shown were Igbo, something they did not know until now. They expressed delight with their genetic history.

One of them, Griffin Lotson, a commissioner in the region, pointed out that his mother had told him that he is of Igbo descent, which the DNA confirmed. He said he was delighted being in the midst of his people.

Lotson expressed optimism on the progress CISA was making towards reclaiming and reintegrating Americans and their Igbo/African families. 

Dr. Sidney Davis, a reconnected African America of Igbo descent named Eluemuno (the child has come home) Eri, made his presentation on Igbo Landing project.

He noted that as descendants of Igbo captives in the America, they were on the march to complete the journey of bringing back the spirit of their enslaved ancestors back to Igboland.

A member of Georgian State House of Representatives, Gabe Okoye who represented the Government at the event, lauded CISA for re-establishing relationship with their people in the region.

He pledged to work in concert with CISA and other Igbo organizations to build a befitting monument as a legacy of Igbo Landing people “whose sacrifices have paved the way for us.”

President of Aka Ikenga, Chike Madueke commended CISA for the laudable initiative of upholding and promoting Igbo cultural heritage.

Madueke expressed satisfaction that Igbo children and youth were fully involved in the festivities while extolling the Igbo spirit. 

London-based medical doctor and literary giant; Dr. Emmanuel Udezue noted that those who ignored records of what their forefathers accomplished lose the inspiration that comes from it.  

Welcoming the guests, CISA President, James Umekwe said with the festival, Ndigbo has now planted their flag at Igbo Landing and looks forward to revisiting the site during CISA’s yearly festivals.