IGALA: Traditions of Igala origin

Close up picture of the upper part of ODOGO – the 16th century tower which is the oldest building in the Attah Igala’s palace Idah (Photo Credit: IgalaProject/atayibabs)

By Fr. Michael Achile Umameh

History is the answer to the question, “What happened?” Memory is an answer to the question, “Who am I?” History is about facts; memory is about identity. So says, Jonathan Sacks, the prolific British rabbi.

Retelling and re-voicing the historical legacy of the Igala people is my way of waging a war against social and historical amnesia. The social cohesion and solidarity of the Igala mega-state was premised on the solid sense of self.

As my friend, Atayi Babs projects, our aim in contemporary Nigerian discourse is to raise the intellectual tone of the Igala society, cultivate the public mind, purify the Igala taste while supplying true principles to popular enthusiasms and fixed aims to popular aspirations as well as giving enlargement and sobriety to the ideals of Igala renaissance. My eclectic writings about my own people, the Igala, sit with these expectations.

Today, I outline broadly for our consideration, the various traditions of Igala origin. Who are we? Where did we come from? Where are we? Where do we want to be? What does it take to form a sense of an Igala self?

To anticipate an Igala nation that is once again culturally rich, globally aware, technologically advanced and politically smart, we need looking back to our origin, the rich past and boldly work towards an exciting Igala future, where we can competently participate in the ongoing global trends. Rule number one: Never forget where you came from.

Some Igala traditions of origin:

The Mythical/mystical tradition

That the Igala people descended from the sky-god. This is built on the idea of the “Ojale m’ebie, ane m’ebie” the seven heavens and seven earth hierarchies. This is tied to the mystery of the number 9 among the Igala. Igala-mela, Ojogwu b’ela, Egwu Ata mela….

The Prehistoric tradition

This claims that the Igala existed before any reliable historical means of recording origin came into existence. Hence, no one can say with certainty where the Igala came from. Stone age, iron age…

The Romantic-Hamitic tradition

Flavius Josephus and others speculated that black people who populated Africa and adjoining parts of Asia are descendant of Biblical Ham, son of Noah. The Bible refers to Egypt as “the land of Ham” in Psalms.78:51. Hence, Igala are descended from Egypt, Yemen or Ethiopia. But these are mere romantic speculations, there are no substances.

The Yoruboid/Benue-Congo language tradition

Yoruboid is a megagroup of the Niger-Congo language family of about 14 related dialect/language clades. The Igala, Yoruba and Itsekiri form a subfamily of the Benue-Congo group. Hence, based on linguistic affinities and similarities, Igala origin is conjectured.  Ile-Ife versus Abejukolo-Ife? Oji/Ori, Omi/Omi, Achadu/Asiwaju….

The Igbo-Eri tradition

Eri, the sky god had children who started out communities like Aguleri, Umuleri and Ega-Eri which was the Igala territory. But a counter argument believes that Eri migrated from Igala territory to Eri-aka. The Eri-Igala connection is one promising area of research needing a more robust interrogation.

The Igala tradition of Igala origin

We exist and there are no conclusive evidences that we came from anywhere or broke up from any other group. Hence, the origin of the Igala is Igala.

Here, I have just recalled the various conjectures of where the Igala may have come from.


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