The Igbo Network
The Environment of Isolation
Anya O. Anya
Professor of Zoology,
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 anyị, Ndi ochịchị anyị, Ndi Eze, Nd'Ibe, Nd'Ọbịa ekelem-ụnụ,
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 ụnụ 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 ụnụ. 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
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.
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
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.
from archaeology will suffice. In cultural chronology, the Bronze Age is
supposed to precede the Iron Age. In
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
and climate of
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
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
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
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
point before we leave the question of the environment of
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
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.
for zoological purposes fall into two main groups – the
In the family
of man, or the Hominidae clearly identifiable forms had been found in
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
It is however,
in the period one to ten million years ago that the unequivocal story of man
Australopithecus robustus or forms assigned to this species
have been found in
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
must stand out from our consideration of the stages of human evolution in
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
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
of the languages of
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,
It is clear
then that the linguistic differentiation of peoples in the central area of
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
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
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
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
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.
reasons, this is the pattern of agriculture and cultural development which may
have diffused into
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
word. The environment of Nd’Igbo is
no longer the isolationist hot-bed of past ages. It is
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 ọchịchị anyị, Nd'Eze, Nd'Ibe, Nd’Ọbịa okwum agwụla.
Ekele dịrị ụnụ. Onye na nke ya, onye na nke ya.
Onye chọ ihe ọma, ka ọhụ ihe ọma. Igbo Kwenu, Kwenu Kwezuonu.
THIS LECTURE IS DEDICATED TO
The mythical ancestor of the Anya Clan of Abiriba, warrior, farmer, technologist,
AND TO MY GRAND-FATHER
CHIEF ANYA OKO ANYA EGBURUONU
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
CITATION ON AHIAJOKU LECTURE, 1982
CHAIRMAN AHIAJOKU LECTURE Planning Committee
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.
ACKNOWLEDGING THE MAN BEHIND THE MASK
Being a Citation on
PROFESSOR ANYA OKO ANYA
B.SC. (Special) HONS (
Professor of Zoology,
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 mmanwụ, 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.
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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