The Igbo of Eastern Nigeria is one of the most itinerant tribes on earth. The Igbo love to travel out of their immediate place of birth and settle somewhere else. In Igbo land, many parents encourage their children to ‘move to the city’ and learn a trade or become an apprentice especially if such parents cannot send them to school.
And wherever they settle, they pursue success very aggressively and mostly legitimately too.
Perhaps, the best way to illustrate the itinerant nature of the Igbo is to quote some portions of “Umu Igbo“, a popular song made good by Flavour, an Igbo man. The beginning of the lyrics says:
‘Anywhere you go oo, anywhere you goo, If you no see Ịgbọ man, nwanne gị bòchaa.”
A direct translation of this beautiful song by Flavour is but a simple piece of advice for one to run if you get to any place and fail to encounter an Igbo man. In his view, such a place is cursed. According to the song, no matter how difficult a place is, Igbos enter there and become successful.
Why the Igbo make exodus to the east during Christmas and New Year festivities
During Christmas and New Year festivities, all roads lead to the east. A visit to motor parks, airports and bus terminals during these periods will give one a glimpse of how the Igbo value their hometowns.
Igbos living abroad, in Lagos, Abuja, Kano, Benue and every other part of Nigeria prepare very well to visit home and reunite with kit and kin.
For an average Igbo person, this is usually a yearly ritual except if they cannot afford it. But if an Igbo man has failed to make the journey home the previous two, three, or four years, there comes a time when he vows he must visit home even if it means dragging only a handbag and clutching just a loaf of bread.
Many people have often wondered why this is so. The reason is simple: Many Igbos see the need to travel back and reunite with kit and kin after spending the whole year away from home. When they engage in their businesses during the year, they often have no time at all to think too much of home, they focus on being successful first, then travel during the yuletide.
Another reason that can be adduced for this is also seen in Flavour’s song. Another interesting part of the song says:
“Obodo sịrị ike ka ndị Ịgbọ ná-abanye. Ha banye ébé ahụ hà ebulu ike wee pụta.”
According to Flavour, no matter how dry or difficult a place is, Igbos enter there and become hugely successful.
And of course, it is only natural that when a man becomes successful, he goes home to share some of it with his people and to also put smiles on the faces of kit and kin. This is one important reason the Igbo transit to the east during Christmas – to give wrappers, money, food and other gift items to kit and kin after becoming successful. This is commonly known as ‘akuluouno’ meaning that you are not yet successful until your success is felt at home.
One other important reason why the Igbo make the exodus home yearly is to partake in traditional meetings. Apart from general family meetings, it is during festivities that town unions and community associations hold their activities. Many Igbos like to be part of these traditions which they grew up knowing, hence they must make the journey home no matter where they are.
Also, many Igbos go home during Christmas to get married or take part in an already-planned wedding popularly called Igbankwu.
While the ladies visit home to look for suitors, the men who intend to marry also travel home to look for suitable wives. Some of the would-be couples may already have been talking on the phone and decide to meet in the village by Christmas. Some men or ladies already have ‘wives’ or ‘husbands’ arranged for them by their families and Christmas or New year is the only period for them to travel and see each other.
The Igbo yearly exodus is not new and won’t stop soon
History shows that the Igbo who live outside their homeland did not start to travel back home recently. It has in fact become a kind of tradition instilled in even newborns who are regularly told that they have a hometown they must always return to.
Also, the question surrounding why they do so is not a recent thing.
The Igbos themselves have been making efforts to explain this to those who do not understand. For instance, in a 2019 interview included in an article published by the Blueprint Newspaper, an Igbo man named Mr Tony Oji gave some reasons why Igbos visit the east, some mostly only during the New Year festivities.
“The New Year is usually packed full with activities such as traditional and matrimonial weddings, village, town and kindred meetings unlike the Christmas season.
“In the zone, people don’t usually excuse themselves from those meetings because of the consequences. It is during the New Year that wise decisions and laws binding on the community members both within and in the Diaspora are made. This is also where taxpaying male adults of most communities/kindreds share the lands inherited from their forefathers, accordingly.
“High fines which individual members of these communities and groups might find hard to pay are usually imposed on absentees to discourage them from staying away from homes (the meetings). This is why some will decide to attend the meetings rather to absente themselves and pay fine which they might not even recover from while transacting their businesses this period. You know also that workers are usually on holidays then.”
For this and other reasons, the yearly exodus of the Igbo have become a tradition that may not stop soon, even with the recent insecurity plaguing the south east.