…As Dr. Nnia Nwodo, others, fought back tears.
According to Princess Naja Chinyere Njoku, the founder, DNA Tested African Descendants, a total of 27000 black families in the Caribbeans have through DNA traced their roots to Africa, a good number of them to Nigeria and a greater number to Igbo ancestry.
At this year’s Council of Igbo States in Americas (CISA) event held at Igbo village, Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton of Virginia, a total of 21 Caribbean families were able to reconnect with their Igbo root and were admitted into their Igbo ancestry in emotional but dream fulfilling ceremony.
On ground to receive these brave Igbo sons and daughters were His Majesty, Eze Chukwuemeka Eri (Eze Aka Ji Ovo Igbo, Ezeora 34th), Dr. Nwachukwu Anikwenze (Onowu Abagana) and Dr. Nina Nwodo (Ike Ukeh, the President General of Ohaneze Ndigbo) among others.
One after the other, their citations were read out by the President of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Dr. Nnia Nwodo, while His Majesty, Eze Chukwuemeka Eri, blessed them and admitted them into the Igbo family. The exercise which was deeply emotional saw ancestral naming certificate issued to everyone of them reflecting their new identity as many fought back tears while others rejoiced that a 400 year old shackles have been broken.
In attendance were people of Igbo ancestry from around the world that include; Prof. Akuma Kalu Njoku, (popularly called Ticha, meaning: Teaching Igbo Cultural Heritage in the Americas. He is the man behind the establishment of Igbo village in Virginia); Prof. Anthony Ejiofor, President of World Igbo Congress (WIC); Dr. Ignatius Ukpabi, the People’s Mayor; Rev. Dr. Stanislaus Maduabrochukwu Ogbonna (a Rev. Fr. with traditional building expertise that assisted with the construction of the Igbo village in Virginia); Chief Chude Asidianya (Agbanwodikeizu na Abagana, the planning committee chairman); Comrade Arinzechukwu Awogu, (guest of CISA and the Chairman of Ogbaru local government, Anambra state, Nigeria); Dr. Ruben Okorie ; Chief Ogbuehi Nwachukwu Okafor (President of Ohaneze Ndigbo North Carolina chapter); Barr. Jeff Azubuike (Ohaneze Ndigbo, South Africa), representatives of Yoruba diaspora and many others.
Black communities in Haiti, St Lucia, Barbados, Trinidad & Tobago, Guyana, Suriname, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Cuba, Colombia, Venezuela were all in attendance with exhibitions depicting their Igbo origin.
Miss Nnedi, formally known as Tiffany Green, from Trinidad, one of those whose Igbo ancestry was established by DNA said she will be visiting Anambra state as she strongly believes that she will find her family in areas around Onitsha and Ogbaru/Abor. She showed pictures of her great-great grand-parents and believed they were taken away around the lower belt of the river Niger. Hon. Awogu, who was on ground, and the closest person in the gathering from the area she mentioned offered to help in making her search a lot easier.
The Igbo village in Staunton, Virginia, the venue of the historical event is a tangible recognition of the contribution of the Igbo victims of the Atlantic slave trade to the development of Virginia and the greater American frontier culture. Enslaved Igbo men, women, and children who traveled by force from many specific locations in the hinterland of Igboland to North America, helped to build what is now known as the United States. A great majority of those who came to Virginia boarded slave ships in the coastal towns, of Calabar, Bonny and Brass. Evidently, one of the starting points of Igbo slave journeys is the ancient Cave Temple Complex in Arochukwu. Arochukwu traders supplied slaves to the market in Bende (later Uzuakoli) which became the source of slaves traveling directly from Bonny to Virginia and were mostly Igbos.
EFFORTS AT ESTABLISHING IGBO VILLAGE IN VIRGINIA, MANY THANKS TO PROF. AKUMA KALU NJOKU
In 2002, after retracing the hinterland routes of Igbo slave journeys in Abia State, Prof. Akuma Kalu Njoku, established a direct link between major markets and the points of embarkation. He realized the tourism potential of his research and approached the government of Abia State. The governor at the time provided some financial support and he worked with the staff of the Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism. The research team documented the cave in Arochukwu and other sites and monuments in Abia State. In 2007 a team of cavers from the Hoffman Institute from Western Kentucky University and Prof. Akuma Kalu Njoku went to explore how to protect the cave and nominated it for listing as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Working with the Nigerian National Commission on Museums and Monuments, the Arochukwu Cave is now on the preliminary list of the UNESCO World Heritage sites.
John Vlach, after hearing Prof. Akuma Kalu Njoku’s paper at an annual conference of the American Folklore Association in 2003, recommended him to American Frontier Culture Museum of Virginia. At that time, the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton of Virginia was planning a West African exhibit to complement the English Farm, Irish Farm, German Farm, and American Farm already in existence. Prof. Akuma Kalu Njoku became a member of the advisory board and later as the principal consultant for the Igbo Farm Village project.
WHY WAS IGBO CHOSEN INSTEAD OF ANY OTHER RACE IN AFRICA?
Let me quote from the Frontier Culture website:
“An Igbo Farmstead will represent the architectural patterns representing the areas from which the most number of slaves came to Virginia”. The Igbo were greater in number than all the other enslaved Africans put together in Virginia in the 1700s when tobacco was the mainstay of the colony’s economy. Some estimates put the number of Igbo imported from the Bight of Biafra at 40% of all the import to Virginia by 1775. “Their number continued to increase to the point that tobacco planters on the valley west of the Blue Ridge replaced their white indentured servants with Igbo slave workers”. The Igbo were among the first settlers, they were among those to cross the Cumberland Gap and open the gateway to the west.
In addition to making the tobacco the mainstay of the Virginian economy, they also provided the labor in the Black Belt that made cotton king. They have continued to contribute to nation building and culture in the United States. The Igbo Farmstead (Uno Ubi Igbo) in Staunton is, like the English, German, and Irish Farmsteads, “a tangible tribute to the Igbo settlers who helped to develop the frontier culture in America as well as in the territorial expansion of the United States.”
In March 2006, Museum staff and Prof. Akuma Kalu Njoku traveled to Nigeria to document examples of Igbo architecture. While in Nigeria, the staff of the National Commission of Museum and Monuments joined the research team and they traveled to many villages, compounds, and remote farm villages documenting house-types and building traditions. Mrs. Umebe Onyejekwe of the Nigerian National Commission for Museums and Monuments became their primary contact and consultant in Nigeria for the collection of building materials. By June 2008, the building materials, along with objects for furnishing the completed exhibit were on site.
Prof. Akuma Kalu Njoku opened discussions in the Igbo community in the United States and recruited Reverend Dr. Stanislaus Maduawuchi Ogbonna, a man with traditional building expertise to assist with the construction of the buildings and Dr. Kanayo Odeluga to mobilize and coordinate volunteers. The response was tremendous. Volunteers came from the greater Washington, D.C. area, Florida, Texas, Atlanta, Chicago, the Carolinas, Nashville, Bowling Green, Kentucky, California, and New Jersey. Today, the Igbo village stands tall with rich history as the white museum volunteer guide that takes people round the village will joyfully tell you the Igbo story as though he is one. In the final analysis, when all is taken away from Ndigbo, their place in the making of the new America is embedded in the history of the United States of America as demonstrated in Virginia where America of today began.