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By Okey Maduforo, Correspondent, Awka
Though it is regarded in some quarters, especially in white communities as a mere mythology or simply as a fable, it has become one of the most historic rendition of the courageous spirit of the black man.
Igbo Landing, according to history records is used to detail how a full cargo of Igbo slaves being brought to America took a plunge into the sea to commit mass suicide rather than become slaves to the white man.
The spirit of those who died in that remarkable event is today re-echoing in distant lands, making the living turn in their sleep. It is against this backdrop that they are looking for the only singular, viable option to redeem the situation, which is going back to history. The living has simply discovered that they will know no rest until the souls of the dead are freed from the bondage of the past.
That journey back to the roots is currently in the offing. It was one that brought all the emotions back as the rendition of the black American singer Roycee’s old tune entitled “I can feel the pain” wafted through the air painting a vivid imagery of the feeling of nostalgia at the palace of Eze Eri on that day at Aguleri in Anambra East Local Government Area of Anambra State.
Roycee had sang: “I wasn’t there when the slave masters whipped my great grandfather into the ship.
“I wasn’t there when he cried into slavery, but I can feel the pain.”
It was Monday, June 18. On hand were Professor Catherine Acholonu, an academic and anthropological researcher, Ezeri Chukwuemeka Eri, Ezeoru the 34th of Eri, an American soldier but of Ethiopian-Jew stock, Mr. Sidney Louis Davis Jr, and a female American, Kween Malaika relived the old flame of the roots of the Igbo race and the beginning of creation and civilisation.
The three visitors had come to see the ***Ezeri*** to commence the mission – freeing the souls of Igbo slaves who were taken away from the Omanabala –Ezu River confluence to Georgia in the United States of America, but chose to commit suicide by drowning en-mass.
Reports have it that till date the sound of the slave chains still reverberates at the Georgian sea port, where the incident was recorded to have taken place in the wee hours of the morning.
Consequent upon this, the delegation had come to find out the cultural and traditional rites that needed to be performed in order to settle their angry spirits.
Davis, who is the Director Igbo Landing Project US, said the event, which he described as the most significant freedom march by Africans in America took place in 1803, on St. Simmons Island Georgina by slave-bound African captives on American soil and waters.
Ferrying its human cargo aboard The Schooner York the slaves rebelled at Bluff of Dunbar Creek in mid may 1803. In the confusion, the ship’s overseer and two sailors jumped overboard and drowned in their attempt to reach shore.
Some, of the slaves, according to a woman survivor, swam ashore, singing a hymn that seemed to beckon on the river to take them back home. “Orimiri Omambala bu anyi bia. Orimiri Omambala ka anyi ga ejina. (The water spirit brought us, the water spirit will take us home) as they walked in unison into the creek.
At least 10 of them were said to have drowned, ostensibly accepting the protection of their God, Chukwu and death over the slavery alternative.
Survivors, according to the legend, were taken to Sapelo Island and Cannon’s Point on St. Simon Island where they passed on their recollections of the event to their children.
Information collected since 1980 in Africa and the United States, including a detailed account by the slave importer who had sold the slaves, is said to have verified the factual basis of the legend and its historical content.
“It is no longer a legend. It is a historical fact, a historical fact that has come full circle back to Igbo land. Even today there are ghost stories about unrequited Igbo spirits and recurring reports of unsubstantiated sounds and shadows in the marshes at Igbo Landing. The voice of our ancestors at Igbo Landing cries out still from those foreign waters to come home to Igbo land.
“The St. Simmons Island event is not the only one of its kind involving Igbo slave mass suicide. There are reports of similar events in Haiti and in Belize. These acts of courage and ultimate defiance of slavery by the Igbo did give rise to a deep-seated fear of Igbo and their indomitable spirit among slavers. The ghost of Igbo Landing still haunts the creeks of Georgia and in the days of slavery ‘Igbo’ was a word of pride for African slaves,” the delegation told their host.
The foundation to the events that led to the visit, was said to have been laid in September 2002, when The St. Simmons African American Heritage Coalition, was said to have organised a two-day remembrance event for the heroes of the historic event.
Reports had it that African Americans and Africans from parts of North America and Nigeria came for the event with one of in attendance saying he came from Nigeria to take their spirits home.
“For 199 years the ghost of Igbo Landing still haunts St. Simmons Creek, Georgia. But not only ghosts of millions of men, women and children taken out of Africa and dehumanised by slavery and those born into slavery who never knew what it meant to be free, least of all to be human,” said Acholonu.
She said it was an opportunity for the millions and their descendants in the African Diaspora to return home at last and to find peace through a decent “symbolic” burial.
The idea for a symbolic burial, Acholonu, added stemmed from the native Igbo song which the heroes were singing as they were drowning, which was a call to the spirit of the great Omamabala lake of Aguleri in Anambra State.
She also asserts that the reason the ghosts of the victims had refused to rest was because Aguleri and the whole Eri clan was a holy land and a people set apart by the righteous god Eri and by all gods of Igbo land making it an anathema for the people to be enslaved.
“Any outcast or slave who sets foot on Eri land was automatically free. Eri brethren are the only people in Igbo land mandated by the gods of the land to cleanse abominations whether they are communal in nature or individual. Eri priests and kings are the only priests with the sacred power from the Supreme Being and from the earth principle to restore spiritual order where disorder has set in as a result of abominations, such as was occasioned by slavery of the African people,” Acholonu says.
Davies recalled also the songs and chanting of the slaves at Georgia being laid by a female slave before the mass suicide.
Speaking in the same vein, Achalonu, who has been on research on ancient civilisation and the place of African, made a startling revelation of ancient civilization, laying credence to the belief that creation actually started in Eri Omambala plane.
Hear her: “The Igbo were the first people before the biblical Adam. Archeologists have proven that the first language in the world came from West African and it was Igbo language. Some schools had claimed that it was Yoruba. But recent findings have shown that the father of Yoruba, Oduduwa left Eri in Igbo land to relocate to another place.
“Secondly the first king of Egypt was called Aka Nri Nwashor and I came to discover that they were dwarfs and in Eri this part of Igbo land, Akanri means dwarfs,” she said. Acholonu who stressed the contradiction in which the Egyptians were aware of this historical fact, which most Igbo were ignorant of, stated that even parts of Benue and Yourba kingdoms, actually traced their roots to Igbo land.
She contended that the origin of the Igbo was Enugwu-Aguleri, which currently habours the palace of Ezeri.
At arrival of the palace of the monarch, the female American soldier, Kween Malaika in her mid-30s went into a rather emotional drama. Removing her shoes and bare-footed, she stopped and pointed at three old trees that had their roots joined together saying they were calling her.
Efforts to stop her proved abortive as she ran to the trees and walked into a deep groove in one of them saying she had returned home.
“For away in America, I had everything but I felt empty. I felt unfulfilled despite what I have achieved. It was when I came here that I had that void that has been in me filled up. Essentially I have found peace and sense of fulfillment,” she said.
It was later confirmed that the trees were actually the remains of late Eze Agwuve, Ezeoa II who reigned from 1033BC to 958BC.
The monarch, it was recalled was sick due to old age and prayed his subjects to bury him exactly where the three trees are today.
He was said to have however died and decomposed when the subjects had gone to farm in far away land and when he was discovered his remains were gathered and buried and years later the trees sprang up and were discovered to be the monarch.
Welcoming his visitors, the monarch washed their feet as a form of spiritual cleansing and re-admittance in Igbo land, by which the two American soldiers became sons and daughters of Eri.
Already arrangements are in top gear for the traditional burial for the over one million Igbo slaves involved in the Igbo Landing mass suicide.
According to Acholonu: “It is going to be great occasion which will attract the international community – Africa, Europe and America. They are coming home to their roots and the known fact that, Eri, Igbo land is the cradle of creation.”
The occasion which has been slated to take place in November this year is seen by academic scholars and researchers as the only process to ensure that the heroes of the historic event could return at last to their beloved water spirit in Igboland.
Davis added: “The anguish cries of Igbo forced into slavery in USA, UISA, who chose mass suicide rather than slavery, are now to be answered in Igbo land.”