• Nigeria’s Igbo Jews: Jewish identity and practice in Abuja

    Shai Afsai (see profile)
    Nigeria, Igbo (African people)--Religion, Eastern Nigeria, Nigerian Civil War (Nigeria , Israel, Orthodox Judaism, Lost tribes of Israel, Zionism, Nigeria--Abuja (Federal Capital Territory), Jews--Identity
    Item Type:
    Ethiopian Jews, African religion, Nigerian Peoples and Cultures, Igbo, Orthodox Judaism, zionism, Israel, lost tribes, Jewish identity, Biafra
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    The now widespread Igbo belief in a Jewish ancestry goes back to the 18th century. However, it was during and after the Nigerian civil war (1967–1970), in which at least one million Igbo died in the failed bid for Biafran independence, that Igbo identification with and as Jews concretized. Igbo saw themselves as sufferers of genocide, like the Jews of World War II in Europe, and as inhabitants of a beleaguered plot of land surrounded by hostile forces, similar to the state of Israel. The civil war and its disastrous consequences initiated a still ongoing period of intense questioning among the Igbo concerning their history, present predicaments, and future prospects. A small number of Igbo began to question why, if they were in fact Jews, they should continue practising Christianity. Their community now numbers between 2,000 and 5,000 people throughout Nigeria. There are three established Nigerian synagogues in Abuja, the federal capital, most of whose members are Igbo. The significance of Biafra, the centrality of the state of Israel, pride in Jewish ancestry and practice, and questions surrounding the range of Jewish skin colour, predominate in Igbo Jews' discussions of their identity. In contrast to the vast majority of Igbo who, if they maintain a sense of Jewish identity, do so while practising Christianity, Igbo Jews have severed themselves from the now dominant religion. Understanding themselves to be part of the global Jewish community of the diaspora and the state of Israel, the Igbo practising Judaism in Nigeria are eager for religious and political recognition from world Jewry and the Jewish state. However, self-identifying Jewish groups without documented historical connections to more established Jewish communities face considerable challenges in gaining such recognition, particularly as genealogical Jews.
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    Journal article    
    Last Updated:
    1 year ago


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