On Igbo Ancestry... A History Perspective By Olu Oguibe
Most Igbo groups and clans do not recognize or accept the tradition of Eri ancestry. The Mbaise, Ngwa, Owere, Olu, Nsuka, Ohafia, Abakeleke and Aro Igbo, to name but a few, most certainly have no oral traditions of Eri ancestry. In most part, the attempt to project a universal Igbo tradition of Eri common ancestry is the work of one man: M Angulu Onwuejeogwu. The Nri and Aguleri probably descend from a common ancestor named Eri. For the rest of the Igbo, that’s just another cock and bull story without scientific foundation. It’s as though in his work, Onwuejeogwu set out to revive the mission of Nri hegemony, this time foisting it over Igbo history. Much credit to him for his assiduous work to lay the foundations of an articulate, collective Igbo history. Unfortunately, much of that work is baseless. And if Eri is not some kind of common ancestor of the Igbo but of only a town or two, then, it doesn’t really matter much where he came from. What the science tells is that on the chromosomal tree of human evolution, the Igbo are an older people than either Egyptians, Jews, or any Afro-Asiatic group. On the mitochondrial evolutionary tree, the Igbo belong to the L1 group, which follows immediately from the L0 group at the beginning of human existence. In other words, we carry matrilineal DNA that goes back 107,300 - 174,000 years. The oldest mtDNA haplogroup in North Africa including Egypt is only 50,000 years old. We were around for at the very least 50,000 years before Egyptians evolved. Jews are even much younger on the evolutionary tree.
On the patrilineal Y-chromosomal tree, the dominant DNA strand among the Igbo places them in the much discussed but often misrepresented E1b1a haplogroup. It’s probably the most controversial haplogroup in sequencing, but only because people ignore the science and make up all kinds of idiotic, fantastical claims. Some of the misleading claims come even from the scientists who discovered the parent stem of the group. Long and short of it, though, is that no, Egyptians do not carry the E1b1a Y chromosome. So, if Eri is the common ancestor of the Igbo and he came from Egypt, he probably lost his Y-chromosome in the Sahara before making his way to Nri.
Now, for those who want to be Jews, science has some starkly disappointing news. Beside the fact that the matrilineal DNA pools show that Jews are at least 75,000 - 140,000 years more recent as a group than the Igbo, the patrilineal evidence also places the greater percentage of Jews in the E1b1b1 haplogroup, another smaller but substantial percentage in the J haplogroup, and the rest in the R1 haplogroup. No Jews are known to belong in the same haplogroup as the Igbo, namely, the E1b1a. Needless to restate that the E1b1a haplogroup also predates the E1b1b1 haplogroup by thousands of years.
Like most Central and coastal West African groups, we are an ancient people. According to science, we predate the Egyptians and the Jews by tens of thousands of years. We should be proud of that.
Written by Olu Oguibe