Oprah, Magic Johnson & Other Igbo Americans

By Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo
Aug. 19, 2006

"Search through the records of African history and you will fail to find an occasion when, in any pitched battle, any African nation has either marched across Ibo territory or subjected the Ibo nation to a humiliating conquest. Instead, there is record to show that the martial prowess of the Ibo, at all stages of human history, has enabled them not only to survive persecution, but also to adapt themselves to the role thus thrust upon them by history, of preserving all that is best and most noble in African culture and tradition. Placed in this high estate, the Ibo cannot shirk the responsibility conferred on it by its manifest destiny. Having undergone a course of suffering the Ibo must therefore enter into its heritage by asserting its birthright, without apologies." - Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, 1949

Even before Oladuah Equiano documented his travel from Africa through the middle passage, a group of African slaves had performed a feat unknown in the annals of slave-master relationship. These slaves picked up from the Igbo nation in West Africa in 1802 arrived in chains at the shores of Georgia. As they embarked from the ship and beheld the life that awaited them as slaves, they chose instead to all walk back into the sea rather than live the life of slaves. The Dunbar Creek in Georgia where they performed this feat is today known as Ibo Landing.

The Igbo of West Africa have characteristics shared by very few ethnic groups around the globe. Apart from being industrious, hardworking and survivalists, they are most of all people who are beyond enslavement. Irrespective of the situation the Igbo finds him or herself, the Igbo will work hard to extricates him or herself from the situation and achieve freedom.

When I hear Charles Bakery brag that he would be the governor of Alabama, I visualize leaders like Nnamdi Azikiwe challenging the British colonial masters in Nigeria's fight for independence. When I see Magic Johnson transforming black neighborhoods through his entrepreneur ventures, I see the Igbo man in him. Oprah is an epitome of an Igbo woman - triumphant in spite of all odds, hardworking and at the center of the Igbo family.

An Igbo man or woman is not afraid of challenges. The leaders of the civil right movement are the Igbo of America. Just like Aba women in 1921 started a revolution against the British, in difficult situations, the Igbo has always risen to leadership role. Martin Luther King Jr. did not just have the oratory of Mbonu Ejike, he had the physical attributes of the Igbo people of the lower Niger.

In one of the classics of African literature, Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe, presented to the world the lives of the Igbo people before the coming of the Europeans. He portrayed a structured society where hard work and industry are celebrated while indolence and dependency is abhorred. During those days, when the God of the Igbo was not yet retired, an Igbo man or woman who says yes, his or her chi concurs. It has remained the same since - wherever in the world an Igbo is, when the Igbo says yes, that he or she will survive and thrive in spite of the odds.

An Igbo man or woman, no matter his or her life circumstance, does not resort to begging or survival on alms. The Igbo will always find something to do that will guarantee dignity and set the path for independent living. The sight of disabled Biafran veterans on the roads begging for alms since the end of the Nigerian-Biafran war had been a constant source of humiliation for the Igbo. A healthy American Igbo man or woman will neither live on welfare nor wait for government handout of any kind.

African-Americans, and all black people in the Diaspora who have triumphed over their subjugation and enslavement are those who are true to their Igbo DNA. They will always be alive and thriving. And one day, they will realize where they came from, reunited with the Igbo across the globe and help in launching the long awaited Black Renaissance.

As we strive to uplift the plight of Africans in Diaspora, this may be the time to remind ourselves of our distinctive origins and how we are not all structured to fail. Far from being a means of splitting ourselves further up, such distinctions could inspire in many a sense of not being destined to fail. It could also bring about a sense of betrayal of our forefathers and our heritage, a proud and honorable heritage many have not embraced.

Africa is full of several ethnic groups with several characteristics. Some are great entertainers. Some are great traders. Some are great artisans. Some are great doctors. Some are great athletes. Some are great cooks. Upon examination, every ethnic group has something great about them. There is no reason why Africans in the Diaspora, irrespective of how long they have been away from Africa, should not have in themselves one or more of these great attributes of our fore-parents.

Despite years of mixing up, Africans in the Diaspora still maintain dominant features, characteristics, and DNA of one of these African ethnic groups. Knowing what these characteristics are, adopting them, and living up to them are one way of instilling greater confidence.

We can start by noting that the Igbo do not accept enslavement. It is the first principle. And as we say in Igbo land, when a man or woman says yes, his or her personal God, the chi, concurs. All that Africans in the Diaspora need to do is to rediscover our essence, say yes to it and our chi will concur.


About the author: Rudolf Ogoo Okonkwo is the author of Children of a Retired God. To order the book, visit Amazon.com, or irokoproductions.com. You can also order Children of A Retired God at any bookstore near you.

Email: rudolfokonkwo@aim.com

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