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 The 1982 Ahiajoku Lecture



The Environment of Isolation
the Ecology and Sociology of Igbo Cultural and Political Development




Anya O. Anya

Professor of Zoology, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

Formerly: Dean, Faculty of Biological Sciences, Dean, Faculty of Biological and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Director, School of Postgraduate Studies at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Chairman, Imo State Library Board.




Ony’isi any, Ndi ochch any, Ndi Eze, Nd'Ibe, Nd'ba ekelem-n,

Nd'Igbo Kwenu, Igbo Kwenu, Kwezuonu


Today should be for me, however  undeserving the homecoming. In more than the biblical sense, the prodigal has returned. But it is not the individual prodigal who has3eturned. It is, hopefully, an entire and otherwise lost generation. For it was my generation of Nd'Igbo who were born in the twilight period between the demise of traditional Igbo society, following the depredations of thc Slave Trade and the establishment of British colonial hegemony, and the consequent rise of western values; the latter event was merely the predictable consequence of our cultural capitulation.


My generation of Nd'Igbo has pursued western education with assiduous avidity and (if I may so suggest), remarkable success. Not surprisingly, we have been in the forefront of that cycle of imitation characteristic of the particular type of western acculturation shown by our educated elite, and which our Chinua Achebe recaptured so vividly in his character, Obi, the younger Okonkwo of No Longer at Ease. The latter was appropriately the grandson of the other Okonkwo of Things Fall Apart.


But good can come from the most unlikely quarters. It is this same generation whose recognition of its irredeemable loss has been touchingly recaptured in the labours of love undertaken so joyfully by The Ahiajoku Lectures Committee under the able leadership of Chris Duru and Gaius Anoka and their many mentors and helpers. The search for a Pan-Igbo identity and consciousness, and its hoped-for discovery in the not-too-distant future may yet prove the most tangible benefit of this generation's alienation and confusion. For this, future generations, if I may boldly prophesy, will always be in the debt of the present Imo State Government whose generous impulse and foresight as allowed this laudable endeavour. As my people in Abiriba would say: aka n ji jide udo, jita ya ike – may the arms holding the rope grow stronger.


Modesty and humility are virtues worth pursuing in ours, as in other cultures, and today should imprint the need for such virtues indelibly in my consciousness. A false variety of modesty and humility can, however, on a day like this reduce the profound and poignant sense of occasion which the day justly demands if its full lessons and significance are to be recognized and appreciated. Nd'Igbo are not noted for the facility with which they bestow accolades on their own and when they do, the frivolous has no place despite recent appearances to the contrary. Life for our people is a serious business and is so pursued, but not without humour or playfulness. While as a people we are full of self-deprecation, we are also full of appreciation. It is against this background that while full of surprise and even skepticism that this day of honour should belong to me, I am full of gratitude to the Government and people of my home State who in choosing me made it possible. I recognize then that I am but a symbol of my generation for our people: a symbolic gesture here to honour and celebrate our present amidst our concern for the future and our corporate will to know and understand ourselves. For self-knowledge is for man the truly distinct and unique attribute. And ours is a very humane society as Chieka Ifemesia has shown. Nd’Igbo ekele kwalam n. May your shadow never grow less.


My training as a biologist enjoins me to study and to attempt to understand the various ways in which living things especially animals (which includes man) survive by coming to terms with their environment. Biologists often enquire as to the relevant characteristics of each organism as well as of the environment in which it lives. The understanding of the mechanisms governing the mutual interaction of organism and environment, and the consequences of such interaction have been of fundamental importance in unraveling the mysteries associated with life. This is the realm of biology called ecology. This understanding has been the cornerstone of the tremendous advances in the two applied biologies of medicine and agriculture.


The central pillar of modern biology, the theory of evolution has also been built upon such understanding. The theory, like man, stands on two legs: on the twin concepts of biological variation and natural selection. The idea of biological variation rests on the premise that in any population of a given organism there will always be differences between one individual and another and hence variation. Natural selection on the other hand, suggests that as a result of the observed differences between individuals, some individual organisms are in consequence fitted to survive better in particular environments than their peers. Such survivors are obviously better adapted to their environments. Adaptation to the environment is thus a necessary consequence of the living state: better adapted members of a given population become dominant in the environment given time. The demographic conurbation which is Mbaise and Orlu, which are no modern day developments, attest to the dominance of Nd'Igbo in the forests of West Africa, in spite of, and not because of the ritual of ewu ukwu.


It was the French physiologist Claude Bernard who in a justly famous and oft-quoted statement drew attention to the two-dimensional character of the environment of an organism He suggested that we should recognize the environment internal to the organism in contradistinction to the environment external to the organism. These interdependent aspects of the environment, in his view, defined the realm of those factors which the organism can control (or regulate) as distinct from those beyond its control. Thus the idea of regulation and with it an equilibrium state of stability are necessary features of the concept of environment. However, this concept, it should be noted, has meaning and validity only if we recognize or segregate an identifiable entity: in biological terms an individual organism or population or species and in sociological terms the individual man, clan or race or mankind.


In these our modern and scientific times, the two concepts of evolution and environment have found expression in other disciplines outside biology. We do talk of the economic environment or the intellectual environment or conversely of the evolution of political systems or the evolution of monetary systems, etc. Whenever either concept is used, implicit is the attempt to underline the interactive character of life, whether of the individual or of a group. Moreover, we should observe that whether our consideration concerns the individual or a population or a society, there is always associated with interaction, an opposing quality, of integration – the tendency to conserve. Thus, while interaction is outward-directed, integration is inwardly directed. In the words of Koestler, "organisms and societies are multi-leveled hierarchies of semi-autonomous sub-wholes branching into sub-wholes of a lower order...” Think of Nd'Igbo with our myriad families, clans, kindreds, villages and in our latter day modern times, autonomous communities. As the Igbo elder would say “aka olu ruta manu, ya ete aka ozo" – “What touches one touches all”. Thus, the part and the whole are subsumed in each other. The Igbo view of life would seem to be predominantly holistic rather than analytic: we tend to see the total picture, not parts of it. It would be the burden of our discussion to suggest that this essentially ecological approach to nature and reality arises from an intuitive appreciation of the need for a harmonious balance between integrative and interactive dimensions of life. Implicit in the idea of evolution also is the premise that simple forms give rise to complex forms. Thus, in organisms as in societies, there is always an implied and intrinsic organization underlying the complexity of a given system. Indeed, the stability of a system is derived from the degree of order imposed through organization.


In biology, as more recently in sociology, the principle of organization has been a creative force in evolution, and has made for greater efficiency in time and resources. Indeed, as Simon pointed out on the basis of systems theory "complex systems will evolve from simple systems much more rapidly if there are stable intermediate forms than if there are not...” Mathematicians and logic circuit technologists have amply demonstrated the truism of this observation in our new computer age. The conclusion seems apposite that biological and sociological evolution of man are continuous and related phenomena. This has been underlined by the emergence of the new discipline of sociobiology. However the relationship of biology and sociology to history must also be appreciated.


As should now be obvious, in both biology and sociology, the interactive as well as the integrative aspects of man as an individual entity must always be in harmonious balance. But history can be viewed as the record of these biological and social evolutionary processes or as the summary and summation of the cumulative acts of self-assertive individuals. In either case, the cultural context of our investigation is relevant. Thus, the definition of the identity of the Igbo must be seen not merely in the narrow perspective of history but as part of the progressive unraveling of the evolutionary tapestry of mankind. Within such a framework, we should hopefully come to understand not merely who we are but more importantly why we are where we are and why we are the way we are. It is just possible that it is only then that, to borrow an aphorism from Chinua Achebe we may at last understand “where the rain started to beat us". If my effort today succeeds in illuminating but the periphery of the forest where the path may lie, I would regard my duty as adequately discharged.




We may start our enquiry by considering first of all the particular influences and factors which can account for the general lack of information or appreciation of man’s life, activities and evolution in our particular environment. A recognition of these is called for if we are to understand fully the significance of the few facts which can be gleaned from contemporary records of our past and if these are to be seen (and understood) in their proper context and perspective.


Indeed, an inescapable fact of our contemporary world is the near total dominance of the intellectual environment of our “modern” times by western man. The reconstruction of man’s prehistory, the collation of the facts considered significant in the history of the world, as well as the definition and interpretation of assumed watersheds in the “ascent of man” through history' have been achieved predominantly through the exertions of western man. Much of the world’s people, including ourselves, have had to see and understand themselves through the reflected light of the intellectual prism of western man. Not surprisingly, our image of our world and our vision of the past and the future are often unconsciously cast in western terms and against the background of western assumptions, prejudices and even interests. It is logical to expect, therefore, that any errors, omissions or de5ciencies in the intellectual framework erected by western man for understanding our world will become propagated through other cultures, with consequent distortions of reality and facts as seen in these other cultures, So it would seem to have been with us.


In this regard, it is pertinent to remind ourselves that the environment conditions man's perception of himself, of the world around him and of the manner in which the labours of his life can be pursued. The environment gives shape to human culture. Thus, differences in the physical environment of man may be expected to become transferred as differences in man’s perception of the world around him and his interpretation of the varied phenomena of nature and hence as cultural differences. For example the environment of western man has always been in the main temperate and cold while that of the African man has always been tropical and warm. These phenomenological differences have had fundamental biological consequences in the operations of nature in both environments.


Diversity and stability are the most striking features of the tropical world while uniformity and regularity within a reasonable degree of homogeneity are common features of the temperate landscape. There is for example no tropical equivalent of the uniform pine forest of the temperate clime. It is also instructive to reflect that an important epoch in western thought was inaugurated by Descartes when he popularized the technique of investigating the operations and phenomena of the natural world by breaking up objects or processes for study into their component units. This essentially atomistic but analytical (cartesian) approach shaped the consciousness of western man and causally initiated the scientific method of enquiry, making possible the emergence of science and technology as human pursuits. The social and cultural consequences in our era of this event have been revolutionary as the chroniclers of western civilization such as Brownowski are never tired of proclaiming.


It is tempting to suggest that the cartesian model of the world could only have developed in an environment in which nature provided fewer conceptual building units. In such an environment, with fewer units to nature's jigsaw puzzle it is easier to see the relationship of the component units of nature to the whole and vice versa In our tropical world, on the other hand with diversity and complexity as the norm, and stability often an unexpected consequence, it makes sense to evolve a conceptual frame of reference for the natural world whose substructure is anchored in an essentially holistic view of nature. In other words, the western man who sees the trees before the forest and the traditional African who saw the forest with scant regard for the trees were reacting each lo an intellectual model of his world generated by their conditioning environment. Yet, it is this holistic mode of perceiving the world, characteristic of our thought and conceptual frame, which the African intellectual has often ignored in his study of the phenomena of the African world.


Given these inevitable environmental differences between the Western World and the African World, it seems plausible to suggest further that the underpinning concepts of various disciplines, as scientific as they are, do betray too often the occidental bias of their origin. These concepts when applied to the African situation may be expected to give in many cases incomplete, distorted or misleading pictures of natural phenomena in the tropical African environment. This expectation is met in various disciplines. In such areas of study, new facts generated by studies in Africa have often radically transformed perspectives or shown up the insufficiency of long accepted concepts to explain the total situation in the wake of new light cast by observations from Africa. As the saying goes “out of Africa, there is always something new”. In biology, for example, this has happened in our studies of the tropical rain, forest which has transformed ecological concepts as well as in our study of human evolution. In geology, the reconstruction of the chronology of the African pluvial periods is already changing the earlier picture of the temperate glacial periods. In archeology recent studies in Africa have enforced the need to revise the significance and chronology of the so-called Stone and Iron Ages as well as their associated cultures. What has happened to modern historiography in the wake of the re-emergence of African history despite the Trevor Ropers of this world is a saga whose impacts are continuing. To an audience of predominantly Nd’Igbo it is perhaps not out of place to remind ourselves, consistent with the point I wish to make, that this new approach started with Dike’s Trade and Politics on the Niger.


The great significance of that book, justifiably a modern classic, was to underline the fact that African history can only be reconstructed and understood within the context of its African environment. Thus, an understanding of any aspect of African life must by extension originate from an understanding of the operative African conditions. Against such a background, even old facts can acquire new relevance. It cannot be gainsaid then that the transference of conceptual stereotypes developed in other environments and cultures, especially the occidental, have for too long distorted our perception of various facets of African studies and life.


Two examples from archaeology will suffice. In cultural chronology, the Bronze Age is supposed to precede the Iron Age. In Africa the indications are the reverse. In the study of the economy of early cultures the progression is supposed to be from the hunter-gatherer, through sedentary agriculture to pastoralism. Ecological determinants can in fact change either sequence depending upon what can easily be procured in a given environment. A counterbalance to occidental reconstructs informed by a healthy intellectual skepticism grounded in ecology is called for in the African scholar. Consequently, the test of any conceptual model should be how well it answers the questions posed by the realities of our locale and not how well it fits into what may prove artificial and hypothetical analogues from other environments whose operative logic is often different. Quite apart from this ideological misapprehension of African realities, studies of our past have been greatly hampered by a technical problem. The humid and acid conditions of the African soil environment especially in the forest region has led to a general paucity of surviving cultural artifacts. Destruction has often been equated erroneously with non-existence. It is our hope that our discussion today will attempt consciously to skirt these potential pitfalls in our effort to understand the origin and cultural evolution of Nd'Igbo in their particular biological environment. All I would ask for from the authorities from various disciplines is to keep an open mind and to attempt to think logically even within new and unfamiliar conceptual frameworks.




If we accept the notion that environments shape culture, we are faced with the need to understand what other factors may have directed the development of the environment of Africa and particularly that sector of Africa which is occupied by Nd’Igbo. These factors should be looked for in geology, geography and in climatology. By shaping the physical environment, geology, geography and especially the climate, determine the possibilities and direction of biological evolution and hence of cultural evolution in a given environment. It may be expected that changes in any of these factors over time may have far reaching cultural consequences since culture being dynamic responds to changed circumstances.


Africa, thirty million square kilometres of it, bestrides the equator from 37ºN to 35ºS but its peculiar shape of an inverted but lop-sided triangle determines that two-thirds of the continent lie above the equator. This massive land, the geologists claim, was the centre piece of what was a very extensive proto-continent – Gondwana-land – which fractured early in the Earth’s history, giving rise to Australia, South America, parts of Asia and Europe, et cetera as the pieces drifted apart. Thus, much of Africa, if I may consciously over-simplify the situation, is a stable platform of ancient rocks, mainly granitic sandstone, which has been modified to a limited extent by erosion. Later movements in the Earth's crust gave rise to the fault system in East Africa – the Rift Valley System in which later subsidence and upliftment of sections generated the extensive Lake System and the mountain ranges in the eastern face of the continent from Ethiopia down to Tanzania. A minor fault in the west, gave rise to the Cameroons Mountain and the Adamawa Highlands. These delimit the eastern border land of the physical environment of Igboland. The mountains of the extreme North (the Atlas Mountains) and of the extreme South (the Drakensberg Mountains) complete the picture.


Much of Africa is thus a peneplain of average altitude usually over 2,000 feet – an extensive plateau which give way gently but abruptly to the coastal plains. This basic geology has been modified in some places by changes in the extent of water-bodies leading to the intrusion of sedimentary rocks in places, for example in the Sahara and parts of what is now Somalia. Upliftment and subsidence have helped to mould the surface of large segments of the continent into large depressions separated by ridges. This has determined the outline of the drainage systems in which the main river basins drain into the sea through gaps in the rims of the ridges and depressions. These gaps arc also the natural routes for the extensive migrations of the peoples of Africa in prehistory. The river systems and their basin¿ as a result of these geological features arc concentrated in the western section of the continent, through much of Central Africa and down to the eastern face of the East African highlands. West, Central and Eastern Africa have been, through prehistory, one contiguous environment in which man wandered with rather local but often temporary barriers to his movements. The hydrological pattern, dictated by the geology of Africa has thus been of great significance in African cultural evolution as pointed out by Mabogunje when he reminds us that "some of the earliest sites of human occupation are to be found alone streams and river courses, round lakes and on the sea-shore...” These were the pathways of prehistory Africa.


The geography and climate of Africa moreover has been set by features dictated by the Earth’s wind system. Set more or less symmetrically over the equator, Africa's climate and environmental zones have been molded by both the north-south and the south-north wind systems. The direction of these winds over much of Africa through the seasons is determined by the existence of four centers of high pressures which generate anti-cyclones. One is located over the North Atlantic (the Azores) while another is located over the South Atlantic (St. Helena). Two others are located in Continental Africa – one in the North (over the Sahara) and another in thc South (over the Kalahari). Thus a large chunk of Africa is exposed predominantly to the sea-based (and moisture laden) south-west winds and at other times to the land based (dry) north-east winds. Thus, the seasons in Africa divide broadly into the wet and dry seasons whose length may vary in different geographical areas. These two wind systems meet in a broad front over Continental Africa, the extent of this front may vary from year to year or even over periods of years. This defines what the geographers call the Inter-tropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). The position of the Inter-tropical Zone defines the extent of the areas exposed to the moisture laden south-west winds and the length of the wet and dry seasons. Seasonal climatic patterns over much of Africa is thus determined by the amount of rain with latent consequences for life in the various regions.


The climatic zones of Africa are characterized then by a symmetrical arrangement around the equator ranging from the equatorial zones of heavy rains (above 2,000mm) on either side of the equator through the moist tropical forests on either side, the Savanah (deciduous) forests, the Savanah grasslands, through the Sahel to the deserts of the North (the Sahara) and the South (the Kalahari). A consequence of this again is the fact that the forests and grasslands, as do the river basins, once more unite West Central and East Africa.


What is today Igboland would seem, however, to have been always, through prehistory. squarely in the tropical forest zone: the evidence suggests more northern extensions to the tropical forest, in earlier times. We should note, nevertheless, that despite the co-extension of the grasslands and forests through West, Central and East Africa the area which is now Igboland falls fully, in the main within a geographical area of potential isolation in the forest zone. The potential isolation is suggested by the physical features of the quadrant demarcated by the Adamawa Highlands and the Cameroon Mountains in the east, by the Atlantic Ocean and the Niger Delta in the south, by the flood plains of the Niger Valley in the west and by the Benue Valley and trough in the north. It was within this compartment that the ancestors of Nd’Igbo lived, and moved and had their being.


The biological features of an environment may also determine its potential for human occupation and cultural development. In this regard, parasitic disease complexes are of particular interest in tropical Africa since they may render an otherwise suitable environment uninhabitable. The parasitic organisms which cause trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness), malaria, onchocerciasis (river blindness), hookworm disease and even the arbo-viruses such as yellow fever are relevant. Epidemics due to any of these organisms may have stopped man in his tracks in his past evolution or migration. However, the particular environment of Nd’Igbo, due to certain quirks of ecology may have been a conducive “ecological island" for man’s early occupation.


Although the trypanosomes, for example, have rendered vast tracts of the savannah grasslands unsuitable for occupation by man or his domestic animals even in our modern times, the data of Lambrecht makes it clear that the forest zone of Guinea West Africa where Nd’Igbo are to be found is just beyond the focal points for these scourges despite the presence of the vector tse tse fly in the forest zone. It is also known from work in Asia that forest zones are reasonably insulated from malarial outbreaks as compared with the grassland plains as a result of differences in the ecology of the mosquito vectors. In the forest, mosquitoes which live among the high trees predominate thus excluding the vectors of malaria from the habitat of ground-dwelling man. Thus, man in the particular environment of Nd'Igbo may have been in prehistory saved from the worst effects of potential diseases by the relative ecological isolation of our secluded environment as these two examples serve to illustrate. The argument can indeed be extended for river-blindness, yellow fever and even the agriculturist’s pest, locusts. Thus, to geographical isolation of the environment of Nd’Igbo may also be added potential biological isolation.


One final point before we leave the question of the environment of Africa and of Igboland and of their conditioning influences. Wetness and dryness defined in the past the extent of the forests and grasslands. Variations in these conditions were often translated into variations in the extent of forests or of grasslands over Africa, and consequently in the habitat and cultural environment of man. The latter has varied in the past history of Africa. Such variations may have provided the impetus for migrations. For a full understanding of our prehistory, then, we should relate the chronology of these periods of wetness and dryness in Africa to the physical conditions of the environment and hence to the major developments as well as the movement of peoples in our cultural evolution. The congruence of physical conditions of the environment and the reconstructed pattern of cultural development should if fitted into a time sequence agree, and thus confirm (or deny) our deductions.


In the cultural evolution of man the period from about 100,000 years ago to now is particularly important as we will see. The climatic conditions over Africa in. the last 20,000-30,000 year6 ago are fairly well documented. The period from about 30.000 B.P. (i.e. before present time – equivalent to 28,000 B.C.) to about 20,000 B.P. (18,000 B.C.) was over much of Africa a humid phase. It was a period when temperatures were generally 5º lower than at present. This wet phase gave way to a drier period which lasted to about 10,000 B.P. (8,000 B.C.). Extreme aridity would seem particularly evident between 16,000 and 14,000 B.P. After 10,000 B.P. temperatures were again generally higher than at present: the period between 5,000 B.P. and 4,000 B.P. (i.e. 3.000 B.C. to 2,000 B.C.) was particularly notable being generally 2º hotter than at present. This situation brought general dessication especially in the Sahara. We can be sure that with these cycles of humidity and aridity went cycles of extension and retrogression in the limits of the tropical forests and grasslands of Africa. This situation must have had significant implications for the migration of peoples and the cultural development of man in both habitats.


Africa is now acknowledged as the cradle of mankind. The origin and development of man in prehistory must be looked for in this continent. However the position of man among living animals would seem a good point from which to start our enquiry of the origin and evolution of man generally and of the Igbo man in particular.


To the zoologist, man is a primate, a group of animals which increased in numbers about thirty million years ago, soon after their appearance in the fossil record. They were unique in a number of features. Their brains showed pronounced and precocious development, their vision was particularly improved and showed three-dimensional perception, claws were replaced by nails while their thumb became opposable to the other fingers. Of these four new characters, the two most signi6cant from the point of view of human evolution was the enlarged brain and the opposable thumb. While the bigger brain guaranteed greater control over bodily functions the opposable thumb guaranteed a greater ability to manipulate things with the hands. Each of these two new competencies of these primates reinforced each other and when these were later associated with the bipedal gait – the ability to walk on two legs – the arms were freed for other activities as in the later simians or monkey-like animals. The arms and hands became available, therefore, for use as tools for even more precise and intricate manipulations. Thus were sown the seeds of cultural evolution.


The simians, for zoological purposes fall into two main groups – the New World monkeys and the Old World monkeys. It is among the latter that the search for man's ancestors must be conducted. Of the several families of primates which the zoologist recognizes as belonging to the bigger group of Old World monkeys, the Pongidae, the family of the true apes and the Hominidae, the family of man or of ape-man, depending upon one’s point of view and emphasis, are of particular interest. This arises from the fact that existing forms among them can be expected to provide the basis for meaningful deductions on morphology or behaviour or other biological features of the ancestors of man. Such deductions should shed new light on the origins and development of man in the past. It is perhaps, necessary to indicate at this point that the north-east corner of Africa, at a place called Fayum, sixty miles south of Cairo, has shown up a rich harvest of the remains of long dead animals which include the ancestors of the true apes and of man. These remains have been dated to thirty to forty million years ago. These rather smallish primates foreshadow all the primates of today. This could be regarded as an indication that as far back as forty million years ago the guidelines for the unfolding human evolution of subsequent epochs had been laid by nature in Africa, especially as no comparable collection exists any-where else.


In the family of man, or the Hominidae clearly identifiable forms had been found in Kenya, Uganda and what is now mainland Tanzania as well as in such distant. and scattered areas of the world as India, China and Turkey. These later finds fall into the age range of ten to twenty. million years ago. The most important changes in these later forms are in the form of the jaws and teeth, in the shape of the face as well as in the first clear indications of bipedalism or the upright posture. The interesting point here is that the experts suggest that these features point to two things: a change in the nature of the food and an indication that otherwise forest dwelling animals now undertook occasional forays into the open spaces of the forest and around water bodies, all in search of food.


As these finds of fossil skeletons have often been found in conjunction with shaped stones, the suggestion has been made that the sharp cutting edges on some of these stones indicate deliberate use. These small African primates used these stones consciously to prepare their food thus foreshadowing the use of experience and expertise, necessary requisites in cultural evolution. Since some of the oldest finds of these forms are in the East African locations, this evidence is taken to indicate that these forms were differentiated in East Africa and later radiated throughout much of the Old World.


It is however, in the period one to ten million years ago that the unequivocal story of man begins in East Africa. In an area which stretches from Ethiopia (the Omo Valley) through Kenya (Lothagam) to Tanzania (Olduvai), many fossil hominids or man-like animals have been found spanning a period of nine to one million years ago. These fall into two main recognizable forms – the Australopithecus-type and the Homo-type. The australopithecines antedate the homo-forms. Four different forms belonging to these two groups stand out particularly for our purposes. These are Australopithecus robustus, Australopithecus gracilis, Homo habilis and Homo erectus.


Australopithecus robustus or forms assigned to this species have been found in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania, in formations varying from 2.5 to 1.1 million years ago. Its brain size of 530 cc represents an advance on the apes. With Australopithecus gracilis we come across a smaller animal of brain size of 428 to 485 cc but which shows indications that it was a permanent biped – i.e. walked on two legs – and in this shows an advance over its robust cousin. Australopithecus gracilis or what can pass for it has been found in South Africa as well as in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania. Homo habilis with a brain capacity of 680 cc was found in the East African locations also. Certain characters in its teeth, jaw and brain indicate a closer affinity to man than to its australopithecine relations. Indeed the suggestion has been made that certain man-like forms found in Java and China belong to this species. If this is so, it would indicate migration and radiation of this species from its African habitat. Finally, Homo erectus which has been found in formations dating from 2.5 to 0.5 million years in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania represents the closest in characteristics to the modern forms of man, Homo sapiens. Its brain size varies between 750 to 1000 cc. If the suggestion which has been made, namely, that a brain size of 800 cc is the threshold between man and the apes is accepted, then Homo erectus is to all intents the earliest primitive man. This point is further supported by the observation that this form used stone implements and some archaeologists have suggested that the characteristic Acheulian industry typified by specially shaped hand-axes owe their origin to this early man. However, the hominid remains which has been unequivocally identified as Homo sapiens was found in Zambia in 1921, and a date of about 35,000 years has been given to it. Other finds of Homo sapiens in Kenya indicate that the emergence of Homo sapiens in East Africa would be a little more than l00,000 years ago but perhaps close to 200,000 years. What needs to be emphasized is that the periods when these various forms or morphospecies of man existed on the East African plains certainly overlapped. Homo erectus and Homo sapiens may have lived side by side in the same environment but each specialized in its way of life. It is from this location that these forms radiated to other parts of Africa as well as to Asia and Europe, Indeed, the rich finds in the Sahara of early man attest to the success of these forms and to the great expanse of territory which they occupied. It is from this basic stock that through hybridization modern man must have arisen. Indeed, the suggestion has been made that the negro was already differentiated 120,000 years ago as a recognizable category in Africa and fire was already being used by man 60,000 years ago in this continent. Thus, Prometheus of Greek mythology may well have been a negro!


With the extension of the evolutionary potentialities of early man through behaviour, communication became possible. So to genetic differentiation was added linguistic differentiation. The geneticist Sforza-Cavalli has demonstrated that the time-scale for genetic mechanisms becoming reflected in demonstrable evolutionary change may be exceedingly long. This suggests itself as the reason why genetically determined differences among the various peoples of Africa are not often as clearly definable as might otherwise be expected in the light of the evolutionary story. Had the time-scale been shorter, perhaps it would have been possible to trace the migrations of various populations of man in Africa by plotting the frequencies of characteristic but heritable traits among them. On the other hand, Homo sapiens has over its recent history demonstrated its facility to extend the limits for evolution not only through morphological or physiological traits but also through behaviour. Of the latter, the evolution of language opened up unfathomable possibilities for cultural evolution. This suggests that despite the limitations of biology in tracing the details of man's recent history over the last 35,000 years the cultural domain may supply the missing link.


What must stand out from our consideration of the stages of human evolution in Africa thus far is the fact that many morphnspecies co-existed over relatively long periods of time. These morphospecies, thanks to the favourable topography of Africa, the symmetrical bestriding of the equator by the forests and savannah grasslands from west to central Africa as well as the co-extension of the water bodies of West, Central and East Africa, would have ranged freely indeed over much of the central regions of Africa. Against this background, it is not perhaps as surprising as it would appear at first that hominid remains, contemporaneous with the later finds in the East African cradle, should also be found in Chad and in Morocco – very far indeed from their original domains. It also suggests that even as early as that period the forest zone of the Guinea Coast (including Igboland) which adjoins the Central African forest zone through Cameroon was already peopled.


It is not, however, possible to demonstrate the gradual transformation of any particular one of these morphospecies into Homo sapiens, the modern form of man with any certainty. This would appear surprising unless we accept that there is a gap in the data at our disposal which could also be true. But recent reinterpretations of evolutionary mechanisms can come to our rescue. The new evolutionary hypothesis of punctuated equilibrium in evolutionary processes enunciated by Gould and others suggests that such gradual transformations of one species into another is the exception rather than the rule. According to this view, evolutionary changes occur in bursts of creative change over relatively short periods of time to be followed by long periods of consolidation of the evolutionary changes rather than of continued but gradual change. Thus, the co-existence of Australopithecus robustus and Australopithecus gracilis and later of these with Homo habilis and Homo erectus (and these later two with each other) as was observed earlier would accord with this hypothesis. It is possible then to see the emergence of Homo sapiens as a sudden but also a recent phenomenon. Homo sapiens, thus co-existed with remnants of its homiai6 cousins. Being in the same contiguous environment, it may also have interacted and even co-operated with them. Such mutual interaction and co-operation would have set the stage for cultural transmission and thus laid a 6rm foundation for the conservation and consolidation of cultural gains by these species especially in the realm of behaviour and communication. The human heritage may well be seen also as the hominid heritage. The conservation of experience and expertise and its innovative association with communication would naturally lead to the emergence of language. It is in this realm, perhaps, that we should follow the unfolding story of man in Africa.




Language is, perhaps, the most important vehicle of cultural evolution in the human family. Moreover, it has come to be accepted in recent times that cultural evolution follows principles which are in many ways similar to the operative principles of biological evolution. This is why the sociobiologists have been tempted to talk of culturegens, a hypothetical cultural analogue of the gene of the biologists. In cultural, as in biological evolution, then, isolation should be a potent force in the initiation and maintenance of distinct species or cultural groups or language units.


On language differentiation Werner has underlined the manner in which differences may have arisen. He suggests, for a beginning, that we assume that “a linguistically homogenous community splits into two groups, through a process such as migration or invasion that creates a geographical separation between them”. And he continues, “as long as neither group completely gives up its own language to adopt the language of some other people, there will now be two separate generation-to-generation continua. Linguistic changes will take place within each continuum but many or all of the changes will be different for the two...after several centuries enough diverse changes will have accumulated so that members of the two group will no longer be able to communicate with each other". The radiation of man through Central Africa in the last 30,000 years and particularly in the last 10,000 years, the latter a period of increasing aridity, was followed by a parallel linguistic differentiation. It would seem logical to expect so.


Greenberg’s classification of the languages of Africa is now generally accepted by students of linguistics – the study of the structure of languages. Of particular interest to us is the group of languages which he calls the Niger-Congo languages, members of which are to be found from the southern regions of West Africa through Central Africa to parts of Eastern and Southern Africa. The relationship between these languages would seem to have co-related with the relationships between different human populations during the migrations in prehistory which led to the occupation of Central and West Africa, both in the forest and grasslands regions. Although Greenberg recognizes five main sub-families in the Niger-Congo, only two of these should be of interest to Nd'Igbo on the basis of their possible relationship to the Igbo language. These are the so-called Kwa sub-family of languages and the Benue Congo sub-family.


Not only do the greater majority of Nigerian languages belong to these two groups but the languages of the neighbours of Nd'Igbo, all without exception fall into these two groups. Igbo is classified with Yoruba, Edo, Igala and ljo in the Kwa sub-family while Tiv, Bantu (to which Bamileke and Ekoi belong), Efik-lbibio, Jukun and the Plateau languages belong to the Benue-Congo sub-family. It is to be noted that among experts in linguistics there is intense controversy as to the inclusion of particular languages in the Kwa or the Benue-Congo sub-family and vice-versa. For example, Werner has pointed out that the relationship between the Cross-River branch of the Benue-Congo and some languages of the Kwa sub-family, particularly Igbo, may be closer than present schemes of classification allow. What is clear is that the differences between certain Nigerian languages in either group is minimal: Igbo may be closer in some respects to some languages of the Cross-River complex than to others in the same Kwa sub-family. Indeed, Armstrong has suggested that Igbo diverged from Yoruba about 4,000 to 6,000 years ago (4,000-2,000 B.C.) while Yoruba and Edo may have differentiated from each other 3,200 to 4,600 years ago. There is however, a paradox: while the emerging pattern of linguistic differentiation suggests that Igbo may have belonged to an early period of language differentiation in the Central African region between Chad and the Congo Basin, it has an acceptable though limited relationship to the Bantu whose differentiation and radiation is regarded as a later phenomenon.


It is clear then that the linguistic differentiation of peoples in the central area of Africa must have been in step with the cultural evolution of these peoples. Thus, not only would these have evolved in parallel in contiguous areas but the early migrations which initiated the linguistic differentiation would have taken place about the same time. Moreover, the forests of the central region would in themselves constitute isolating barriers encouraging localization of contact between continuous groups in the Central African region. In this regard, it 'is of interest to remember that negroid skeleton with what passes for traces of skin have been found in Acacus dated to 9000 B.C, while in the Bouar region of the Central African Republic – in the watershed of the Congo and Chad Basins cultural remains, megaliths for example, have been found whose date of 7,440 B.P. (i.e. 5,490 B.C.) to 6,700 B.P. (4,750 B.C.) is revealing. The tropical forests would seem to have been as thickly populated at these times as other areas including the Sahara. It is conceivable that groups of people may have moved westwards from these locations. It is also logical given the onset of aridity in the Sahara, in this period, which was also peopled, that other groups will be moving southwards – all in the general direction of Southern Nigeria.


In this regard, it is instructive to reflect on the postulates of various authorities on the nodal centres for these migrations in the light of linguistic analysis. Roland Oliver has suggested a Pre-Bantu language in the Chad Region whose differentiation may have given rise to a Proto-Bantu language, as well as other languages. The Proto-Bantu language in its place underwent further differentiation in the Central African region. Does it sound so far fetched to suggest that the Kwa group of languages may in fact have differentiated with the ancestral pre-Bantu? Could it be regarded as completely illogical to expect the later Benue-Congo sub-family to have differentiated with Proto-Bantu.


On the other hand, Guthrie, based on extensive linguistic analysis, has argued that the original Bantu point of origin should be in the area of Southern Shaba in Zaire. But Greenberg on the argument that the most closely related languages of the Bantu type are found in the Benue Valley in Nigeria has argued for the Proto-Bantu point of origin as that general locality.


It seems clear that the primary linguistic and cultural differentiation of the negroid peoples especially those with Bantoid antecedents like ourselves which left its imprint on the modern ethnographic situation in Africa must have taken place within the triangular area delimited by the Eastern Chad Basin, the Eastern Benue Valley and the headwaters of the Congo Basin. The possibility exists with a fair degree of certainty on biological, archaeological and linguistic evidence that it is from within this triangle that many of Nigeria’s peoples including Nd’Igbo may have started their migration to their present locations.


Further, in biological evolution, a primary centre of origin of a group of related species is usually indicated by a wider diversity of species types in that primary location. It has been suggested that an analogous situation exists with regard to linguistic evolution. Against this background, it is instructive to observe that within Nigeria two secondary points of language diversity exists close to the primary Chad-Benue-Congo triangle. The first is the Plateau area of Nigeria, the cradle of the Nok culture where up to forty-five recognizable language groupings exist. The second is found in the south-east of the Eastern Benue Valley. In the Ogoja forests highlands as well as in the adjoining areas of the Cameroons, which fall within this area villages exist less than ten miles distant which cannot communicate linguistically. It seems attractive to speculate that these two secondary centres of language differentiation may well be related in prehistory to the Kwa and Benue-Congo (especially Cross River) centres. On the basis of language, then, two derivative influences are indicated for Nd’Igbo: a northerly derived in8uence (Kwa?) and an eastern influence (Bantu especially Cross River). The two directions would indicate respectively grassland related ecological influences as well as forest related influences on the cultural development of Nd'Igbo.




The question which arises at this point is whether on the basis of the ecological, archeological and linguistic evidence so far put forward, it is now possible to speculate on the geography of the origin of Nd'Igbo as well as on the nature or specific characteristics of Igbo culture and civilization. Unless, our speculations can acquire time-depth which can be related to the main movements of human evolution and cultural diversification in Africa these central questions may remain enigmatic, It is true that my predecessor in this onerous assignment, Professor Afigbo, last year, on this forum, as well as in some others of his writings has, in a closely argued case, suggested that Igbo civilization was essentially an agriculturally based culture. He has also suggested the Benue confluence as the possible point of origin. What is clear however, is that the ecological setting, particularly in the rain forest region and the interphase area between the forest and the savannah (open) forests and grasslands may have constituted the primary determinants of the nature and specific character of an emergent Igbo culture and civilization in prehistory.


For a full appreciation of the relevant framework for our discussions two preliminary but important issues must be tackled. These relate to the wider question of the circumstances and point of origin of agriculture in the world and secondly to the acceptable sequence in man's cultural development and the implications of this for the reconstruction of African and indeed of world culture history. In most accounts of the main watersheds of man's cultural history as put forward by western scholars, the earliest cultural manifestation is supposed to be the hunter-gatherer culture which is then followed by the development of agriculturally-based (i.e. cereal) culture, followed by a pastoralist culture and finally thc evolution of urbanization. The implicit though ecologically induced bias of this sequence is often ignored. In an agriculture developed in a grassland ecosystem with limited water-resources and short but clearly defined seasons such a cultural sequence makes sense. This is so because in a specialized ecosystem which this represents, given the limited water and the short season, only a limited variety of plants especially grasses tolerant of these specialized conditions can be developed and consequently domesticated for limited periods of the year. The tendency towards monocultural practices i.e. intense exploitation of the limited variety of plants available is a logical consequence. Given fairly long periods when the environment is unsuitable for agricultural pursuits based on the exploitation of plants, it is natural to expect man to fill in the slack periods of the year with other activities such as hunting and from this, planned domestication and husbandry of animals – the beginning of pastoralism.


For historical reasons, this is the pattern of agriculture and cultural development which may have diffused into Europe from the Fertile Crescent of the Tigris-Euphrates (present-day Iraq and Iran) in the Near East. This type of agriculture would be consistent ecologically with the relatively undiversified ecosystem of the temperate regions. Thus, this pattern would take root in such regions (both in Europe and Asia) but given a different ecological setting in the tropical regions, an alternative sequence becomes a distinct possibility. Howbeit, given the eurocentric bias of world history in our era, it is not surprising that this partial picture has become universalized by the Bronowskis and Desmond Clarks as the standard reference pathway of human cultural development. But on the basis of ecological logic, a modified sequence is possible at least for the tropical forest regions.


In the forest regions, there is an abundance of a variety of fruits, vegetables, seeds, tubers and roots which can be profitably exploited by man in the hunter-gatherer phase as Professor Okigbo so competently demonstrated on this forum two years ago. The kind of agriculture which can be developed in this setting has been variously called vegeculture and more recently called horticulture by Porteres and Barrau. This depends on the selected improvement of favourable conditions around food-yielding species in the forest clearings and margins near human settlements. In time the conscious propagation of such species would lead to the development of agriculture but of a decidedly different character from cereal agriculture. Since favourable conditions exist virtually throughout the year and many of the plant species supply ample proteins for the diet of the human populations of the forest zones, the pressure for animal domestication and thus pastoralism is virtually non-existent. An additional protein source would have been provided though by fishing. A different kind of agriculture is the result. This would have been the dominant system of agriculture in the forest zone of Africa and given the diversity of plant species, it is natural that a polycultural agriculture such as is evident in the southern regions of West Africa through the Cameroons to the Zairese regions of Central Africa would develop as the preferred system. Moreover, given the isolationist tendency of the tropical forest and the ecological localization of the forest region, the diffusive potential of this type of agriculture would be rather limited. This accounts for the facility with which it can be ignored.


The cultural consequences of this type of agriculture are most interesting and far reaching. It has been suggested by the protagonists of the rubbish-heap hypothesis of the origin of agriculture that early man may have thrown away unused food items – seeds, tubers, vegetative portions of plants etc. and the sprouting of these near human habitations may have provided man the opportunity for closer examination and selection of suitable domesticates. In this scenario, we often lose sight of two related but important biological processes associated with rubbish heaps. In rubbish heaps, not only do vegetative portions of plants and seeds sprout but other vegetable remains are likely to rot thus bringing early to man’s attention the important biological process of fermentation. Given further the fact that fermentation is often accompanied by a rise in temperature, which in favourable circumstances may even give rise to visible traces of water moisture into the atmosphere, the association between softening of plant remains and a rise in temperature – e.g. through boiling – would have been made. This association would have been reinforced by the accidental burning of tubers and roots. The experience would also have been reinforced further by man's contact with the characteristic fruit of the South-Eastern Nigeria forest, Dacryoides edulis (Ube) which depends on warmth for softening – before the discovery of fire. It is also a most important source of proteins and fat. With the discovery of fire, cooking, and fermentation, a programme of cultural advance is set in train.


We should remember further that in the forest region, for most purposes, wooden implements sharpened by fire to desirable points or spade-like shapes would serve the ends of agricultural cultivation and enhance the emergence of culture without metal. It is interesting with regard to the latter point to remember that even today, the Serer Gnominka of the islands of Senegal use the soung, a spade made of wood for tilling and ridging the heavy soil in the mangrove swamp forest where they farm. Given year-round moist conditions in the forests of tropical Africa, an agriculture suited to this ecological setting with its associated culture would have emerged even before the age of metal.


In the light of the foregoing, it seems logical to suggest as has indeed been done by Vavilov, Kuptsov and more recently by Porteres and Barrau that the Fertile Crescent was only one of several 'cradles of agriculture' which in human prehistory existed in South-East Asia, India, Europe and the Americas. But indigenous systems of agriculture in tune with the ecology of Africa evolved also within Africa.


In the Africa Region, Porteres and Barrau have recognized five centres: The Afro-Mediterranean cradle, the West African cradle, The Nile Abyssinian cradle, the Central African cradle and the East African cradle. From the geography and hydro-logy of Africa it seems reasonable to expect that the West African and the Central African cradles evolved under similar conditions and may at times have shared influences. What should interest us, however, is that Porteres and Barrau also recognize in the West African cradle, a tropical as well as a sub-equatorial sector. lf the data of Bede Okigbo is examined closely, it suggests that the tropical (forest) sector may have its centre in the South Eastern Nigerian region. Several reasons can be adduced in support of this idea.


First of all, if, as Vavilov showed, the point of origin of a particular domesticate often coincides with the region where thc highest number of diverse species of thc particular plant are found, then South Eastern Nigeria qualifies for two of the characteristic plants of the forest region, the kola and yam. In the triangle between Bende, Umuahia and Ikot Ekpene, not less than five species of kola are found namely Cola nitida, Cola acuminata, Cola lepidota. Cola pachycarpa, and Cola verticillata. No where else do we find such extensive diversification of this genus. There is also reason to believe that a wider variety of what can be regarded as the indigenous yams of West Africa such as Dioscorea cayensis, (the guinea yam) Dioscorea bulbifera, Dioscorea dumentorum and Dioscorea rotundata are found in this locality. Some subsidiary evidence is provided by the uses to which the castor oil bean, Ricinus communis (Ogiri) is put. While in the Nile Region, this plant is used for its oil, in South Eastern Nigeria it is fermented and utilized as a savoury in cooking. As it is a highly toxic seed, the fermentation process is obviously associated with the detoxification necessary for its successful use as food. From what has been said above, fermentation obviously pre-dates roasting for the extraction of oil and should indicate early exploitation of this plant in antiquity in this region. No where else is this seed utilized in this particular manner. Finally, it is pertinent to observe that certain food plants indigenous to the ecozone of South Eastern Nigeria and particularly of the environment of the Igbo forest region, are instructive in the cultural patterns which have been developed as to their exploitation. Dacryoides edulis (Ube) has already been mentioned. The oil bean, Penthaclettara macrophylla (Ugba) and the African bread-nut, Treculia africana (Ukwa) are strategic in their contribution as major sources of proteins in certain areas of Igboland. But their use involves boiling and in the former case some degree of fermentation. Indeed, the Igbo cuisine is based essentially on steaming and boiling. Even the oil palm, Elais guineensis is exploited for its oil through a process which involves steaming. These usages must have evolved in the earliest stages of man's contact with these plants. This is certainly indicative of the fact that the cultural uses to which these food plants are put have varied little among the Igbo for a long period indeed. It would also underline the fact that Nd'Igbo would have been among the earliest to pioneer the exploitation of these plants.


In some respects, while the ecology of the forest region may have shaped the agricultural practices in Igboland, there are, nevertheless, unmistakable signs of other influences which may have originated in the grassland regions to the north of Igboland. Indeed, the agricultural practices in the Nsukka area down to Awgu arc in some ways different from what obtains in the Cross River basin regions of Igboland. For example, ridges are more evident within the region as compared with the mounds of the Cross River basin and of the southern forest regions of Owerri and Ngwaland. Indeed, the terrace farms of Maku attest to these ‘northern' agricultural influences which may be associated with the topography of the land. In this regard, it is instructive to note that two centres of early agriculture have been identified in Igboland by the archeologists of Igbo prehistory – Hartle, Anozie and Chikwendu – in Obukpa (Nsukka) and Eziukwu-Ukpa (Afikpo). Pottery dated to 2,500 B.C. was found in the University Farm site in Nsukka while in the Ukpa rock shelter in Afikpo the characteristic brown ware pottery was dated to 2,935 B.C. What does emerge is that by 3,000 B.C. or thereabouts there were settled agricultural communities in Northern Igboland and South Eastern Igboland. A point which should be made with regard to these finds in Nsukka and Afikpo is that not only were the cultures they represent more or less contemporaneous but Afikpo seems to pre-date Nsukka slightly. It is unlikely that Nsukka was derived by diffusion from Aflkpo. This raises questions with regard to the Benue confluence hypothesis. While Afikpo finds show cultural continuity down to 300 B.C., palm kernel shells dated to 690-1,200 A.D (i.e. bestriding the period of the Igbo-Ukwu artifacts) were found associated with the Nsukka artifacts. And the oil palm is an inhabitant of the southern forests, not of the savannah. It is reasonable to surmise that Igbo culture has shown continuity in its location and is essentially agricultural. It is, on this basis, perhaps one of the oldest if not the oldest cultural entity (and certainly the most dominant) in the area of what is now South Eastern Nigeria (and possibly in the whole of the Eastern forests of West Africa); and given the position of this area as a possible cradle of agriculture, its claim for precedence among the cultural areas of ancient Nigeria and of West Africa becomes overwhelming.




In the light of the zoological, archaeological and linguistic evidence at our disposal, it seems reasonably clear that Nd'Igbo were part of the mainstream of the negroid peoples who differentiated into the varied ethnic and linguistic groupings of modern Africa. This differentiation, on the basis of the evidence, would have taken place in the general area of the northern sector of the Chad-Benue-Congo triangle and perhaps in the period between 10,000 and 20,000 B.C., particularly 12,000-15,000 B.C. This would, to some extent, account for the disposition of the negroid peoples especially in the Sudan, Chad, Northern Cameroons, and North-Eastern-Nigeria as well as the tendency among Nigeria’s peoples including Nd'Igbo to erect myths of origin centred around Egypt for themselves.


With particular reference to Nd'Igbo, it would seem plausible that two major groups of people, of the same basic stock, would have entered the areas of what is now the Igbo cultural domain through two main routes. The northern route which is the better known route would account for the entry into the Igbo homeland of the Northern Igbo, the Mid-West Igbo and perhaps for some of the people down to the Okigwe plateau. It may also account for the Kwa-related influences on the Igbo language which we had earlier indicated. The eastern route would have served for the entry of the Cross River Igbo and through the Bende axis for the more southern and Niger Delta areas of Igboland. It would also account for the Bantoid antecedents of the Igbo.


It should be noted, however, that the suggestions being made are of events which took place in prehistory and over a period of time. It is likely, therefore, that on each migratory route, successive migratory bands of people may have entered into South-Eastern Nigeria at different times. Being essentially of the same stock, and with a reasonable expanse of land at their disposal, integration of these bands was facilitated and could not have led to major conflict situations. This obviously explains why Igbo culture is essentially a culture forged under the aegis of peaceful co-existence rather than conquest. This made possible the development of a strong agricultural base to the economy. Indeed, as we saw earlier, by 3,000 B.C. agricultural communities were already established in Afikpo and Nsukka. Thus, Igbo culture is indeed a very ancient culture.


Most students of Igbo pre-and cultural history have often been struck by two features of Nd’Igbo which are inexplicable given the apparent ethnic homogeneity and solidarity of the Igbo. The first is the fact that despite an apparent uniformity of cultural forms, clearly defined and recognizable culture-regions exists side by side in the Igbo homeland. Early and preliminary linguistic studies would seem to support a certain degree of integrity, though to some extent overlapping in characteristics, to these culture regions. About five of such culture regions have been delimited by the historians and anthropologists of the Igbo past.


The second feature is the absence of a coherent and generally accepted myth of origin such as the Oduduwa myth of our Yoruba compatriots. Both features can, possibly, he explained by the fact that conflicting explanations of origin for what was (and is) the same people, using different migratory routes, would have indicated the wisdom and need to de-emphasize such potentially disruptive speculation. In the absence of a unified and acceptable myth of origin, the deman4 for an identity for many communities would give rise to the rash of local myths, lacking in time-depth, which is characteristic of such myths in our many local communities. These obviously relate to the latter-day migrations, perhaps of the last 500 years or so of Igbo history. But our speculations concern rather the last 15,000 years or so.


What has been suggested, despite the qualifications. is the existence of two related culture-axis in Igboland – -a Northern Igbo axis and a Cross River Igbo axis. Is there any basis for such a conceptually far-reaching hypothesis.” My answer is a cautious affirmative. As indicated earlier, while both areas bear the imprint of an agriculturally-defined culture, there are suggestive differences in agricultural practices which can be related to their derived ecological origins: the grassland and forest. In social organization, for example, while the northern Igbo culture-area is pre-dominantly patrilineal, much of the Cross River Igbo culture area is matrilineal. Indeed some very recent statistical analysis of defined culture attributes of some African societies from Murdock's cross-cultural samples have shown that in some Bantoid societies a higher degree of female participation in agriculture has led to intense polygyny, i.e., polygamy in which one man has several wives. Such societies, understandably, tend toward matrilineal social relationships. Such societies appear particularly clustered in Southern West Africa, through the Cameroons to Central Africa – the areas of Bantu culture influence and the forest. In terms of government, the data and observations of the Ottenbergs for the Afikpo area and more recently of Nzimiro for the northern riverine Igbo and Ejiofor for the Awka area indicate quite clearly that while democratic principles mediated through consensus and compromise are essential features of Igbo traditional government, titled men and putative 'monarchs’ are more dominant in the northern areas than in the Cross River culture area. In the latter area, age grades and secret societies have often been instruments of government.


Localized migrations may, of course, be expected to change in some respects this basic situation over the millennia. Thus, we should expect transitional culture areas which may show either the expansion and conservation of the culture characteristics of one or other of thc two culture-axis, or alternatively show .an apparent integration of the culture characteristics of both culture-axis. It is possible that future studies by our biologists, archaeologists, historians, and linguists will provide enough data to underline the continuity, essential integrity and unity of thc Igbo culture areas.


There are, however, two related puzzles with manifest implications for our understanding of present-day Igbo affairs which our enquiry should, however tentatively, also consider. The first is the question of the form of political organization traditionally characteristic of Igboland. Nd'Igbo have often been referred to variously as acephalous, stateless, or republican. Indeed, there is the oft-quoted Igbo saying Igbo enwegh eze – (the Igbo have no kings) – which has sometimes been taken as an ethnographic confirmation of this presumed state of affairs. An examination of this phenomenon should ideally start with the ecological basis of animal as well as human social organization.


All primates, including man show attachment to a localized area. The size of the territory depends, however, on the ecology of the territory. For example, while baboons need on the average a territory of under five square kilometres per individual in the forest, in the savannah grassland each requires twenty-five square kilometres – a five-fold increase in territory; chimpanzees require up to thirty-five square kilometres in the savannah. Thus, the build-up of individual interactions which can establish the structure of animal societies, as in human societies, may depend on the ecology of the territory and the size of the territory may define the structural organization of the society. Here again the principles which op rate in a savannah habitat differs from what obtains in the tropical forest. For example, in arboreal forest monkeys, among the primates, leadership is virtually non-existent. In squirrel monkeys, for example, troop unity depends on the presence of adult females not because they enforce order but because other age/sex classes are attracted to them more than they are attracted to others. In howler monkeys, leadership depends on which male first finds a suitable path in the forest for the troop. As Hinde has pointed out, leadership should be understood in functional terms. "Where food is evenly dispersed, as in some forest species, it makes less difference which way the troop moves and leadership may therefore be less important. But when food supplies arc irregularly available or when water-holes or sleeping cliffs are in short supply, the direction in which the troop moves may be crucial..." to its survival. Other examples indicate that in primates experience may be a more important quality for a leader than physical or indeed intellectual prowess. Age, in most Igbo societies, as we know is an important attribute for leadership. What would also seem evident is that in a subsistence agricultural economy in the forest region, leadership is a social necessity only in times of crisis or deprivation. The apparent individuality and loose association of the Igbo may be a consequence of our earlier ecological situation in the forest.


In more recent times, it has become clearer to cultural anthropologists that in sedentary agricultural communities, the ecology determines the nature of the agriculturally relevant tasks which are vital in the community. These tasks define roles and hence social relationships: the form of social organization emerges from the character of these relationships. The social relations and structure of a forest-agricultural community would differ in culturally signi5cant ways from what obtains in a grassland based agricultural community. It is, perhaps, not coincidental that the largest of the so-called 'stateless polities’ of West Africa – the Igbo and the Tiv – both developed a forest-based agriculture centred on yam cultivation as an evident aspect of their social and political economy. In both, the lineage or clan are important entities in the structure of the societies. Horton has in fact discussed the operative economic and ecological conditions which dictate the segmentary lineage is the viable unit of political organization. What is clear is that even the cosmological and religious constructs of a society – the way it sees thc world around it and the forces which shape its world are functional derivatives of the ecological and economic situation. The lgbo polity must, therefore, be understood against the background of its evolution and stability through the millennia: it was a viable organism designed to mediate and conserve relations in a sophisticated and successful but nevertheless predominantly sedentary agricultural economy. Even the religious and moral attributes which are associated with this culture bear the imprint of its ecological and thus agricultural origin. The enhanced position of the Ala cult in Igbo traditional religion and cosmology should thus be understood in its total environmental setting. lgbo culture was indeed a culture well adapted to its particular environment.


The second puzzle relates to the apparent discontinuity in Igbo cultural history between say 1,500 A.D. and 1,900 A.D. when the European presence intruded. Against the back-ground of the archaeological finds in Igbo-Ukwu, a hypothesis presuming a major raid or disaster in war has been put forward by Shaw to explain the historical hiatus especially with regard to the apparent collapse of Igbo-Ukwu culture. A raid or a disaster in war will of course affect predominantly the able-bodied and younger adults of the community. The elderly who in an oral tradition-bound society are the chroniclers of each age would to some extent survive. The chances exist, therefore, that some distant echoes of such a raid or disaster would survive, however tenuously, in the group consciousness and lore. Moreover, the perpetrators of the raid or the victors of the war may be expected to survive and echoes of their great achievement may resonate through their own history and survive for later generations. After all, history is written by the victors. That the recollection of such a disaster or war is totally lacking in the myths and lores of Nd'Igbo even in pre-colonial times or even in that of their hypothetical and presumed 'victorious' neighbours should suggest its total non-existence. Other explanations must therefore be sought. A biological explanation would seem at least plausible.


It had earlier been suggested that the environment of Igboland, as indeed of other parts of Africa underwent cyclical changes due to the periodic succession of wetness and/or dryness in the climatic regions. There are at present tentative indications that a dry phase or phases may have intervened in South Eastern Nigeria and indeed in much of West Africa between 1,200 A.D. or earlier and 1,500 A.D. or later. This phenomenon, which we can even observe in our own age may lead to changes in the ecology of disease as a result of the migration of peoples. Such changes either in ecology or the pattern of migration of peoples may lead to the introduction of new diseases to new areas for which the population of the new locality are ill-prepared in terms of their immunological and natural defense systems. Such epidemics would exert their heaviest tolls from the physically weak and undernourished, mainly children and the elderly. Thus, in the cultural and historical context of negro population steeped in oral history, such an epidemic would seem the cultural equivalent of the burning of the great library of Alexandria by the Roman legions. In the absence of other evidence, this would seem the most plausible explanation of the historical hiatus. It may also explain the apparent lack of interest in the past so obvious in Igbo populations, a fact which led the young English woman Leith-Ross (quoted by Afigbo) to observe early in this century that the young Igbo may think of the present or of his future but hardly ever of the past. Those who ignore the past can of course learn no lessons from history. A sense of history would not seem, then, a cultural attribute of the modern Igbo because the tradition for such pursuits suffered violent but unrecorded abortion. For a culture which has shown such evident historical continuity in its primary location, the psychological consequences have been far reaching and have been largely responsible for our contemporary dilemma.




The impatient may enquire what is the point of all this apparently unrelated and academic talk about matters which have no obvious relationship to the problem of survival in our hectic work-a-day world and about issues which defy certainty. It was Frantz Fanon who reminded us that each generation has the burden of discovering its mission and then, either fulfilling it or of betraying it. Our survey would have served, we hope, to establish that we are the inheritors of an ancient civilization which developed with great success in its environment on its own terms. Contacts with outside influences there must have been a-plenty but the culture always exerted the prerogative to select, adapt and integrate the extraneous influences into the logic of its own internal mechanism geared to survival.


Then descended the dark veil whose nature and cause we may never know. Just as this ancient and dynamic culture was recovering from the cultural hiatus came the western intrusion whose devastating consequences are still with us. Its most major e0ect has been to sever the thread of historical continuity in the development of the philosophical and ideological frame-work of our cultural life. Without the guidance of the past, the present has been mortgaged to uncertainty and avoidable error. The din of often ignorant and frenetic activity which characterize our present social and political arena are but the symptoms of our cultural confusion. The challenge for our times, then, is to provide a frame of reference from the past for understanding the present, to define against the background of our past the tasks for the present and the future, and to utilize the insight thus gained to chart the course for the emergence of a new Igbo (indeed African) renaissance.


The successful pursuit of these goals presumes that we understand our new global environment. While in the past our environment of isolation, tucked away in the comfortable and cushioned under-belly of mother Africa in the South-Eastern corner of the West African forests may have constrained our global vision to the limited confines available, our new environment of opportunity is now the length and breadth of Nigeria, Africa and indeed of the world. While the thrust of individuality, fired by personal ambition has often ensured that the individual Igbo can take full advantage of the new environment with its opportunities, the obvious lack of a relevant group-mediated ethos fashioned against the new realities of a new world with defined and acceptable goals and sanctions has been disastrous. It has often favoured the emergence of single-minded pursuers of the self rather than of the altruistic.


The ethical and social principles on which the group subsisted long became tenuous and fragile links with a barely comprehended past, while the body politic became buffeted by every new fad or passing fancy – from the fertile imagination of our new messiahs from the 'civilized' world outside. Perhaps, no other culture of equivalent maturity in modern times has shown to the same degree a self-imposed predilection to define itself predominantly in externally-induced terms. Thus, it is not surprising that in the apparent void which has existed, it has always been easier for the ‘leadership’ of Nd'Igbo to emerge from “without”. Indeed, it may sound surprising or strange but it is true that in modern times with perhaps one (or two) notable exceptions, no leader among Nd'Igbo defined his vision of the future or made his reputation as a leader working in Igboland and among his peers. The obvious consequence has been a confusion and profusion of ideas, objectives, goals and even the projected vision of the Igbo future: Igboland would seem to have Suffered fairly regularly the trauma of an imposed vision, often defined against other than the realities of the Igbo social and political past. Understandably, this has often generated the image of copyists and opportunists among our admirers and wrought confusion in the minds of those who would wish to understand us. But this need not be so.


The first task for this generation would seem to be the development of a new institutional frame-work of group action within the Igbo social and cultural domain with prescriptive as well as sanctionary powers, as a necessary complement to the legal frame-work of government. And this must be built on knowledge, and not on the meaningless parade of irrelevant and extinct cultural forms. It is the mission of this generation of Nd'Igbo to rebuild the 'centre' of Igbo life according to the logic of the new times and to ensure that the centre can now hold. We must re-discover the Igbo soul.


In what has been said, I cannot really claim an original and profound insight. Indeed, I am merely restating, with the privilege which this forum affords me, what to many Igbo compatriots would appear the obvious. The yearning for a truly strong leadership which can channel the great potential go latent among us has even manifested itself in the psychology of our people. And our concept of the 'strong leader’, as the first Ahiajoku lecturer, Professor Echeruo admonished on this forum, would in itself have to undergo a conceptual change. Indeed, no group of people in modern Nigeria chant the chorus of ‘Power’ as often and as insistently as our people – even our leaders have often been renamed in the new 'Power' idiom as if this alone would suddenly invest them with a new magical and even superhuman potency., But, ' alas, no other group are as resentful of purposeful and directed leadership as we have evinced in our modern history. At times, it would even appear as if we were ignorant or oblivious of the human potential extant among us. Whence this paradox? we would ask in our apparent helplessness. The pursuit of the task identified can, how-ever, be facilitated only if we understood the roots of this paradox and resolved the dilemma it imposes on individual as well as on group action.


We live in a period of transition, a time of change in a complex but inter-related and apparently integrated world. In such a world, there is bound to be confusion as old certainties give way to new realities which are still barely discernible and which are as often shrouded in mystery. As individuals and groups wish for self-definition, a pursuit which should bc enhanced by enforced isolation, new social and psychological demands dictate immersion in a wider and expansionist world, as new psychospecies of Homo sapiens define themselves, just as the morphospecies defined themselves in the primeval African forest. But such times are not new in the history of the world.


The western Renaissance, despite the romantic illusion with which it has become invested in our modern times, was truly a period akin to ours: a period of conflicts and confrontation between individuals, states and entrenched interests. It was a time when “a man’s duty to his country might run counter to what had always been counted the primary duties of a christian gentleman". It is not surprising that Marlowe, the much maligned Elizabethan dramatist who was born towards the end of this period could make his character aver:


So when this world’s compounded union breaks,

Time ends, and to old Chaos all things turn

Confused stars shall meet...


Alas, he would not have known that time does not end, an end is but another beginning. He would not have known that stars are also the centres of their own universe. But his contemporary, Copernicus, the astronomer and a Pole, “the man who stopped the sun and moved the earth" knew better and thus gave birth to our scientific age. Nevertheless, Marlowe did recognize the inherent creative potential of even chaos.


In these times, it is appropriate to remind ourselves as the warring princes of small Italian states during the Renaissance must have reminded themselves that "deception and hypocrisy are neither absolute evils that virtuous men suppress to a minimum level nor residual animal traits waiting to be erased by further social evolution. They are very human devices for conducting the complex daily business of social life. The level in each particular society may represent a compromise that reflects the size and complexity of the society. If the level is too low, others will seize the opportunity and win. If it is too high, ostracism is the result. Complete honesty on all sides is not the answer. The old primate frankness would destroy the delicate fabric of social life that has built up in human populations beyond the limits of the immediate clan”.


It is not out of place, then, to remind ourselves that the literature of the Renaissance, broadly defined, produced also two ideological frames which perhaps are relevant to the Igbo situation. l have already alluded to the apparent Igbo pre-occupation with the personification of ‘Power’. Set against this trend is the apparent unparalleled success of Christianity in Igboland whose central ethical dogma represents the anti-thesis of the glorification of power. These two paradoxical trends would seem to represent an echo in the group psyche of the opposed pull of the secular and the religious in the sub-cultural consciousness. After all, in the literature of the Renaissance which have come down to us, the blue-print for the secular deployment of power has been canonized in the Machiavellian ethos while the dilemma in the religious realm was recaptured in the Faustian paradigm. These were the intellectual fruits of a social milieu in which 'powerless potentates’ wished for greater freedom of, often ruthless, action, at times at variance with their humanity on the one hand and the opposing trend in which the social conscience strained to grapple with the problem of good and evil in the management of human affairs. It is not surprising that the political class in Igboland of modern expression often imagine themselves as the prototypes of Machiavelli’s Prince. Yet we must remind ourselves that while the Renaissance never quite resolved the ethical dilemma of the secular and the religious, the creative tension generated a dialectical spin-off in the emergence of the new men of ideas and of action and a new world-view which together were substantially responsible for the subsequent flowering and dominance of western culture. Altruism – "consciously purposeful self-sacrifice for the benefit of others” – has often been a necessary ingredient in the expansion of that and other world cultures. Ours, perhaps, cannot be an exception.


It is therefore, necessary that we reconcile the springs of individual and group action. Such a reconciliation must issue not from the individual’s preoccupation with power and its benefits but upon the recognition that in all human societies there has always been and there will always be a moral basis for power, and that basis is enshrined in the ethos of the people – that frame work of social principles which defines the limits to the individual's pursuit of self-interest. It existed in the earlier Igbo culture but in a di0'erent cultural environment.


One final word. The environment of Nd’Igbo is no longer the isolationist hot-bed of past ages. It is Nigeria, indeed Africa and the world beyond. It is within this new domain that our future lies and in which our new identity must be forged. Interaction and integration are essential characteristics of the new environment. Authentic and relevant self-definition must issue from the imperatives of internal self-koowiedge. self-recognition and integrity. Anyi bu Nd'Igbo n'ihi Chuku anyi kere anyi Nd'lgbo na ala Igbo. For, as Marlowe recognized in his Hero and Leander:


It lies not in our power to love or hate,

For will in us is overrul’d by fate.

When two are stripp’d long ere the course begin,

We wish that one should lose, the other win;

And one especially do we affect

Of two gold ingots like in each respect.

The reason no man knows; let it suffice,

What we behold is censur’d by our eyes.

Where both deliberate, the love is slight:

Who ever lov’d, that lov’d not at first sight?


Ndi chch any, Nd'Eze, Nd'Ibe, Nd’ba okwum agwla.

Ekele dr n. Onye na nke ya, onye na nke ya.

Onye ch ihe ma, ka h ihe ma. Igbo Kwenu, Kwenu Kwezuonu.














The mythical ancestor of the Anya Clan of Abiriba, warrior, farmer, technologist,








Eze Amuzu Bende, Okwo Odu, Okpu Uzu, Okwo Akawa, farmer, technocrat, trader, traveling salesman and peacemaker, of an age that has passed.







Anybody who has followed the Ahiajoku Lecture Series from its inception four years ago can easily appreciate that we are by this lecture crossing yet another milestone in our quest for a cultural rehabilitation of Nd’Igbo. Having been so long and so often taunted as people without pride in their culture, “The Environment of Isolation” now offers the listener or reader not mere excuses but plausible explanations for some of our handicaps.


But one can see in it a continuum from Professor M. J. C. Echeruo’s curtain raiser, a Matter of Identity, from where we were led the following year through a long way across Plants and Food in Igbo Culture by Professor Bede Okigbo, to that masterpiece by which Professor A. E. Afigbo tried to recall the experiences of the Igbo and their neighbours in pre-colonial times which he captioned – The Age of Innocence. What Professor Anya has attempted with remarkable success in this lecture is to provide us with a “stocks-taking” device by which we can see how the ecology and socio-biology of Nd’Igbo has determined, or rather, pre-determined our cultural and political development and thereby posing the silent question (or is it loud?) as to where we go from here in our cultural evolution.


Milestones and stocks-taking exercises serve the traveler and the trader in like manner. They make him realize how he has progressed and how long he has to go. They make him adapt his strategies and pace once he knows his objectives. It is for this reason that I recommend this monumental work by Professor Anya. But a note of warning needs to be sounded. Although it deals with “isolation”, this work may lose its full impact if it is read in isolation from the previous works in the Ahiajoku Lecture Series already mentioned.


Dr. Cajetan Ajoku Duruji

Honourable Commissioner for Information, Culture, Youth and Sports









Chris Duru




Education is a generation process of handing over. It may be at the family level, institution level, or even ethnic or racial level. In Igbo land, the so called secret cults of say, Ekpe or Okonko, the age grade rites and female mgbede, vulgarly known as fattening ceremony, arc all schools of a sort. Besides, the pristine Igbo culture made for a system whereby the older members teach the younger ones various facets of life known to them in the struggle to adapt to the environment. Today, like the mature oil bean pod, the family, and the ethnic institutions are scattered.


As they say, the traveling young man collects more information than the sedentary elder. That saying has found an example in the present situation where nearly the entire younger generation of Igbo people have scooped information from the twentieth century explosion of knowledge. A modified form of handing over has to take place. In fact, it would seem as if it has to be a generation exchange instead of a systematic or even informal handing over from the superior elder to the ignorant younger. The elders still have a singular relevance in that they are custodians of the welter of ethnic wealth of information and tested knowledge: The younger, from their academic travels and from their varied contacts, are brimming with a new knowledge to share, to blend, to adapt, to indigenise, to reintegrate and to assimilate,


Since some people, by sheer force of discipline, have become more knowledgeable and more articulate than others, the Imo State Government, and one makes bold to say, the entire Igbo people, encourage and invite them to display their harvest, the distillation from the knowledge collected from abroad and from our culture, to lay out the fabric woven out of threads of knowledge spun from both the local and foreign strands. Let the Igbo stars show the continued relevance of our culture to humanity; ]et them tease our pallets with our food enriched with vegetables from other lands, or, at least, reassure us that our prayers in Igbo are as potent as in any other language be it Hebrew, Latin or English.


Today, is the fourth outing: Our eyes are wide awake, our ears sharp, our nostrils keen, our tongues are discriminating and our body can pick a distant breeze. Let us hear yet another son relate the wonders of the Igbo. Three sons in a row have reassured us of an unfailing promise of grip and grandeur. Today we come to reassure ourselves that the harvest is still good. Our sons have laboured hard in the field and the Ahiajoku has not died out of shrine, concept and memory.


For this reason, the Imo State Government started the Ahiajoku Lecture Series and in l979 Professor Michael J. C. Echeruo treated us to what he called an Ijele dance, and it really was a deft dance of a linguistic choreographer who made our minds twist and turn in a nimble foot-work of the intellect. In a way, Professor Echeruo gave a sub-title to the Ahiajoku Lecture by sub-titling his lecture, Ahamefula. Yes, aha anyi agaghi efu.


In 1980, a world famous agronomist, a son of a noble line, Professor Bede N. Okigbo took us on trip of the farm, bushes and jungles of Igboland. At the end, we were berserk with the richness which we have abandoned in our culture.


Before the taste of the plants and foods could leave us, Professor Adiele A. Afigbo, the young man Methuselah, the twentieth century bird that tells of the beginning of creation, gave us in l981 the insight into the innocent Igbo habitation among its neighbours. He made us see an era of welcome, unobtrusive relevance lo our neighbours. And when was the innocence lost?


Perhaps, today we shall understand the environment of isolation, the circumstance of obtrusion and conquest, the creation of the indomitable spirit and then sigh a relief of an inner illumination and infusion.


Today, as on the three earlier crests of Ahiajoku Lectures, we meet as intellectual and blood relations, as a closely knit family nurtured in a single environment of weather, flora and fauna. We meet for once on a spirit that transcends individualism, statism and newly created religions: We meet to assert in utter humility, our contributions to the country and the world. We rejoice in our oneness and our unique role to mankind and rededicate ourselves to the next planting season as we toil in various fields of endeavour; and as epitomized in Ikenga, we labour with diligence, commitment, purity and innocence and look gratefully to another year’s bounteous harvest.


Illustrious people of mind, body and will, please join me in the 1982 Ahiajoku Lecture and festival. The curtain is now lifted.







Being a Citation on




B.SC. (Special) HONS (London), PH.D. (Cambridge), F.L.S., F.A.S., F.I. Biol.

Professor of Zoology, University of Nigeria, Nsukka


By Professor G. M. Umezurike



Mr. Chairman, distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,


We are here again to take part in the bounteous Ahiajoku feast. The previous ones were very successful and I am sure that, as Kwesi Brew would put it, when our ancestors saw us in the procession earlier today as we shuffled our


sandaled feet to the same rhythms

They heard the same words of wisdom uttered

Between puffs of pale blue smoke

They saw us

And said: they have not changed!


Yes, our ancestors would maintain that we have not changed because we still lead our goats to the shrines to thank or appease them: They feast on the blood and we do justice to the goat meat. And, of course this is a fair deal as long as we do not fail to use goats whose blood can match the quality of our offering. The same is true with our gods. As Ahiajoku receives his special cult today, I join Ogbu Kalu, the drummer, with my flute, for the big drum which he sounded last year has not been silenced.


It is with utmost humility and excitement that I stand here today to sound my flute to incite a special mmanw, and ijele, to do us a dance. Our ijele takes every commitment seriously. He is aware that an undertaking as large as the one he has today, though exquisitely exhilarating, is not entered lightly. I have confidence in his unflagging intellectual and physical vigour which he can sustain with ease through-out the course of his dance. There are only very few like him around, for as Chinua Achebe intones, it is 'morning yet on creation day’.


My main task, however, is to let you have a glimpse of the man behind the mask before the dance begins. l am sure you will be patient with me as I carry out this very difficult assignment, for our people say that a man who brings home ant-ridden faggots must be ready for the visit of lizards. I consider myself highly honoured to have been chosen to perform this assignment. My only qualification is that I am one of those who have cared to watch this ijele more closely for a long time.


You definitely need more than a glimpse to know a man whose achievements are of the dimensions of Professor Anya’s. Even the biographical sketches on him in many international Who's Who cannot give you a complete picture of the man behind the mask. Howbeit, a glimpse will do for now. I am sure you will have many more glimpses as he does his dance of achievement.


Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, it is not on his own volition or through sheer happenstance that Professor Anya has been chosen to deliver the Ahiajoku lecture this year. It is in recognition of his talent, an awareness made possible by some events, either capricious or intended, which have portrayed him as a scholar worthy of note. His success story reflects those same qualities for which Abiriba business tycoons are famous: intelligence, drive, courage, hard work and resilience.


Professor Anya Oko Anya was born in Abiriba of a devout Presbyterian family. He received his early education at the Church of Scotland Mission School, Abiriba. As was the fashion with most bright children in that area at the time he entered the famous Hope Waddell Training Institution, Calabar. He later went on to do a B.Sc. (Special) degree in Zoology at the University College, lbadan which was the training ground for the cream of the Nigerian budding intelligentsia at the time. Subsequently, he spent a period of three years at St. John’s College, University of Cambridge. England, where he took a Ph.D. after his training at the famous Molteno Institute of Biology and Parasitology.


Professor Anya is by training an experimental and research biologist. He is easily one of the most unusual biologists and certainly one of this country's most innovative and charismatic scicnti6c personalities. He has published extensively in professional journals of biology especially on the physiology and biochemistry of' parasitic nematodes, in which field he has distinguished himself as an international authority. It is in recognition of this distinction that he is the first African scientist honoured with un invitation to write a review of work in his field of specialization in the 1976 issue of the prestigious Advances in Parasitology and to contribute a long chapter to a WHO – sponsored multi-authored International Textbook of Medicine published in 1980. The editorial committee of the latter publication in a letter of appreciation remarked that Professor Anya's article was the best presentation of the subject that they had encountered. Professor Anya makes it a point of duty to share his professional experience with his post-graduate students and colleagues. His post-graduate students are exposed to the study of parasitology from an integrated epidemiological, ecological, behavioural, molecular and biochemical approach, and are made to interact freely and effectively with collaborating personnel in medicine, biochemistry biostatistics and biology (both pure and applied). He is one of the stalwarts of the revolution that is making scientific research in this country both more inter disciplinary in approach and yet more challenging. This was the basis of the success of the Parasitic Nematodes Research Group (later renamed the Biomedical Sciences Research Group) which he assembled assiduously at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. The work of this group was funded with grants he obtained from the Medical Research Council of Great Britain and those obtained by the group from the, Senate Research Grants Committee of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.


Professor Anya has taken part in many advanced training courses and exchange programmes, and belongs to many professional bodies. He has been honoured by being elected Fellow of the Linnaean Society of London (F.L.S.), Fellow of the Nigerian Academy of Science (F.A.S.) and Fellow of the Institute of Biology, U.K. (F.I. Biol). He has been a Professor of Zoology at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka since 1973. Among numerous other positions he has held at that university, he has


served as Head of Department of Zoology, Dean of the Faculty of Biological and Pharmaceutical Sciences and, for the longest period by an individual as Chairman, Senate Committee on Post-graduate Studies and later as the first Director of the new School of Post-graduate Studies.


Despite these commitments, he has maintained a healthy and informed interest in the problems of development particularly on the relevance of science and technological innovation, and of education, to socio-economic development in our society. He has written a good number of essays on this subject, and some of these essays have been assembled in a book titled Science, Development and the future: The Nigerian Case which is now being published. When published, readers of this book will not fail to notice that Professor Anya has a penetrating mind.


It is not surprising that he has been called upon several times to serve this nation in many capacities. The public offices in which he has served include membership of the Federal Scholarship Board; membership of the East-Central State Library Board, and later Chairmanship of the Imo State Library Board, Owerri; membership of the East-Central State Committee of the National Youth Service Corps; Chairmanship of the Federal Government of Nigeria Committee on Academic Freedom; membership of the Planning Committee of the proposed University of Science and Technology, Port Harcourt Project (1965); membership of the Committee for the Co-ordination of Research between Government and the University and membership of the Nigerian National Committee on the United Nations University among others.


The present trend in the formulation of norms, values and ideals by the nouveaux riches in our society appears to be based on a snooty-superior condemnation of scholarship, excellence and merit. The patronizing defense by many of these people of the emerging culture that is based on indiscipline and mediocrity, particularly where this encourages materialism, carries with it the danger of sending our most talented compatriots into deep alienation. Many of us observe with awe that the prevalent act of faith in the ultimate pointlessness of the quest for scholarship and excellence and the uprooting of those values that have held our society together make us cascade apart like an unfastened broom in useless single units. It is reassuring that there are still people in our society who, regardless of the consequences to them-selves, make their own contributions against the run of play, so to speak. Professor Anya is one of such people. He is sincere and courageous in his respect and adoration of excellence and scholarship and in his open scorn and admonition of mediocrity. He has no time for those colleagues who believe that they must always be recognized and rewarded before others, not because of their achievements in their chosen fields, but only because they are older. Sadly, some of these quasi intellectuals depend only on political leverage for progress, thereby compromising their exalted positions.


Professor Anya's very close friends regard him as a liberal not only in his political views but also in his attitude to life. To a number of other people he is either a radical or a conservative. Professor Anya is all these three, for depending on the direction from which you view and therefore on the face of the ijele you see, he is a liberal or a radical or a conservative. Even though the ratio may differ, are we not all also a mixture of all three, and even more? It is, of course, perfectly logical for those who believe in rigidly stereotyping their fellowmen to consider as aberrant, and even irrational, those who do not always believe in the same values and ideals as themselves. Inevitabiy so, but to those who recognize the flaw in making people wear strict labels and who appreciate that being always right is not the prerogative of any particular ideological camp, how, witless is the world now being imposed upon them by the numerous in0uential, but narrow-minded and slogan-shouting, juggernauts who believe in no greater values or ideals or intelligence than their own!


In spite of his achievements as a scientist, Professor Anya is a deeply religious person. He was ordained an Elder of the Presbyterian church of Nigeria in 1976. In his lenten reflections recently he said about himself:


"In religious matters, I have tended not to wear my religiosity around my neck or my arm. Thus, while basically unorthodox in matters of observances, practices and associations, l would consider myself at the same time generally impatient with irreverence or pedantic trivialization of human experience which often passes for intellectual objection to the religious role in the life of men."


He believes that there are no real contradictions between either science and religion, or even science and art. In the words of Professor Lemberg, “they are complementary ways to, and aspects of, one and the same truth, only differing in their method and each having its inherent limitations". To Professor Anya, science and religion are united by the laws of science immanent in organization through evolution.


His rich life-style is based on a synthesis of all these beliefs and convictions. His search for truth has taken him far and wide, and he is thus a wonderful conversationalist, able to glide with ease and grace from one subject to another. Apart from science which he exploits to earn his keep, Professor Anya delights in philosophy, art, literature, music and politics, having acquired a lot of information in his search for truth. In this life-long search, he has found peace, beauty and love. No wonder he is a sincere, loyal and trustworthy friend! I doubt if he can hurt a fly. Fortunately, it is too late in the day for him to change from being kindhearted, generous and well-meaning, for there is an Igbo adage that one does not learn to be left-handed in old age.


One may have given the impression that Professor Anya is imperturbable. That would be wrong. I have seen him when the going is rough fall back on his close friends and particularly on his family for the human warmth required to keep away the chill of the cold realities of life and for the strength to bear the cruelty that lurks in average human nature. The most relaxed and sociable of men, he has found a happy balance between his academic pursuits and a devotion to domesticity. His devotion to his wife and three fine sons is profound and passionate. The Anya family is one of the happiest I have ever known. Definitely, part of the credit for this happy family life goes to his wife Inyang Anya, and being his better half, she deserves the greater part of the credit, if not all. She is also an accomplished biologist and is currently a principal of a secondary school.


I sound my flute for the man behind the mask, the man whose reach is always far beyond his grasp, the man with a past to be proud of and a chance for the future, I sound my flute for the man whose disposition symbolizes the courage of one who chooses to stand alone, always using one’s own considered judgement rather than the judgement of the herd. Above all, I sound my flute for the man of ideas whose charm, restiveness and sharp intellect could easily be misunderstood for arrogance by those whose minds can readily refuse entry to the unfamiliar. Leopold Sedar Senghor must have people like him in mind when he says:


For who else would teach rhythm to the world

that had died of machines and cannon?

For who else should ejaculate the cry of joy

that arouses the dead and the wise in a new dawn.’

Say, who else could return the memory of life

to men with a torn hope.’

They call us cotton heads, and coffee men, and

oily men,

They call us men of death

But we are the men of the dance whose feet

only gain power when they beat the hard soil.


In a few moments from now the arena will be yours, Professor Anya Oko Anya. Your friends and admirers expect you to do them a dance the only way they know you can: like men "whose feet only gain power when they beat the hard soil". I have been assured that if in the course of your dance you demolish this Multi-purpose Hall, your highly-placed friends will be too glad to recommend to the State Government to build a more befitting shrine for Ahiajoku. If the thought of pulling down this edifice conjures up a feeling of trepidation in you, remember that your friends are all here to give you moral support. They are all here! All, including Adiele Afigbo to salute yet another colleague; Ogbu Kalu to beat his big drum for yet another warrior, and the man of the people, Chinua Achebe himself. And, of course, he is also here. I mean your good Friend Michael Echeruo with a witch-doctor to teach you how to:


Force those fingers down the pot

And grab with love that blessedness

Which yields to those who come to know

How witches, too, have faith enough

To palm the fears of men away.


With this calibre of friends and with this background, would you, ladies and gentlemen, blame anyone if he indulges in a little hit of arrogance once in a while?


Mr. Chairman, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I shall pause now but permit me to sound my flute once more in honour of a man who is always proud of his crop of friends.


Today is his day. Let him brace up and do us a dance of achievement.


G. Maduka Umezurike

Professor of Biochemistry Deputy Vice Chancellor

Imo State University



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