I beamed smiles as I entered the class. The students were already seated, waiting eagerly for what I was about to reveal to them. I’d warned them that anyone who wasn’t in class would lose ten marks in the final exams. Of course, I wouldn’t do that, but if you didn’t say such things from time to time, Nigerian students wouldn’t take you serious.
Just as expected, the stuffy lecture hall was full to the brim, with the majority of the students probably coming to my history class for the first time this semester. I let out a low chuckle, they were going to be dazzled by the information I was going to share.
“Good morning class,” I greeted them as I took the podium and set up the microphone I normally used for classes.
“Good morning sir,” they echoed. Most of them had already tuned me out. The serious ones, those who were ready to jot down my every word were already fixated on my lips. I smiled again, this is going to be interesting.
“Our class today is going to be on a forgotten Egyptian religion, Atenism. More importantly, I’ll tell you how that religion birthed the Igbo tribe,” I said, looking at much faces as I tried to ascertain how they would take it.
“But sir—” I expected her to say something. Chiamaka was among the serious ones, the ones who even corrected lecturers when they made mistakes. “—that topic isn’t in our syllabus.”
“Yes, it isn’t. But need I remind you that I am the one who teaches the course, and I can bring a topic that I feel is of relevance to you?”
“Ye-yes… sir,” she stammered.
“Good. Now, has anyone heard of Atenism before?”
There was absolute silence. Each student I looked in the eye quickly averted his/her eyes.
“I guess not,” I said, “well Atenism is a monotheistic religion introduced by the Pharaoh Akhenaten (formerly called Amenhotep IV) in the fifth year of his reign. As you may have known, the ancient Egyptians were polytheistic. So it was a huge change to their socio-cultural life, not to talk of their religious beliefs.
“According to historical and archaeological evidence, Akhenaten, in his ninth year, proclaimed Aten (the god he had instituted the worship of) the only god, essentially banishing the old Egyptian worship of multiple gods. Also, no image was to be made of this god, as the god didn’t manifest and could not be ‘seen’. The only representation of the sun is the flat solar disk—essentially the sun.
“Normally, when such a thing was done, there would be widespread protests, with some people still adhering to the old ways. But it wasn’t the case. It was as if the whole of Egypt wholeheartedly accepted this new belief system. There are some historians who believe that there might have been some who practiced the old ways during his reign, albeit secretly. This has led some to believe that Akhenaten employed ways of snuffing out opposition.
“Now, who is Aten? To the ancient Egyptians, that is prior to the reign of Akhenaten, Aten was part of the god, Ra. Aten was essentially one of his qualities—much like Christians attributes some qualities of love, mercy, omnipotence and the like to their god. But Akhenaten raised Aten to the status of a god, even banning the worship of Ra, the god he was culled from.
“There are many other things involved in this story but for the purposes of our class, I would stick to how this religion gave birth to the Igbo people. Akhenaten ruled for about twenty years, and when died, Atenism vanished as quickly as it came.
“What happened? This is where the story gets interesting. According to archaeological evidence, Akhenaten shouldn’t have been pharaoh at all. This is because his predecessor, Amenhotep III had a son, Thutmose. But when Amenhotep III died, Akhenaten took charge, and Thutmose seemed to have vanished. Some historians believe that he died, while some think that he escaped the plan of Akhenaten to have him killed. He fled Egypt with a band of people called the Hyksos. The Hyksos were a mysterious band of people in Egypt who were also adherents of Atenism. After Amenhotep III’s death, there was widespread disaster in Egypt, probably caused by the eruption of the volcanic mountain, Mount Thera. The resultant climatic changes could have been the reason Akhenaten chose to elevate the status of the sun as the main deity; it’s also interesting to note that during this period, the volcanic ash almost covered the sun. So you can imagine the nature of the panic that visited Egypt at the time.
“Back to Thutmose. The name ‘mose‘ in ancient Egyptian means ‘son’, and incidentally the Greek version of this word is ‘mosis‘. This has led some historians to believe that Thutmose might be the biblical Moses, as he had discarded the ‘thut‘ part of his name, which meant ‘god’.
“Thutmose and his followers fled to Chad, where they spent the next three thousand years trying to survive. Of course, the native inhabitants of Chad never assimilated them into their society, so they lived well apart from them. There were occasional intermarriages between the two societies, but they were few and far between.
“By now, their language has evolved and was now a complex mixture of ancient Egyptian, Greek and native Chad. They were also being called the ‘Eboes’, which loosely translates to ‘Lost Tribe’. Sounds familiar, right?
“Eventually, they were driven away from Chad when one of the Eboes killed the second son of a Chadian chieftain. Guess where they were driven to?”
By now, most of the students were interested in the story and a couple of hands spiked up. I pointed at one boy. He rose and replied, “They fled to Israel, sir.”
“Well, if they went to Israel, they wouldn’t have been the ancestors of the Igbo people, would they?”
Another student chipped in. “But sir, we were thought that the Igbos were of the lost tribes of Israel, that got separated when the Israelites fled from Egypt.”
“My dear boy,” I began, “I know what your history books tell you. But it might interest you to know that there is no single shred of evidence, no single archaeological proof that shows the Israelites—at least, the ones who took residence in Middle East—were ever in Egypt, or were ever in the desert they were supposed to have been according to the Bible. Therefore the journey in which the Igbos supposedly got separated from the main tribe didn’t happen.”
There were murmurs of shock, disbelief, and annoyance among them. I continued,” It then means that the Eboes had to go somewhere else. Where?”
A girl raised her hand, I pointed at her. “Nigeria?”
“That is in fact, correct. Given that Chad and Nigeria had a common boundary, Nigeria was the only place they could have gone to, as Egypt was out of bounds. Mind you, Nigeria (and probably Chad) wasn’t the name these places bore at the time.
“They came in through what is now Borno state and made their way inland, towards Benue state. There, they stayed for another five hundred years, with their language, culture and looks, changing over time.
“Just like before, they were forced to leave again. And they made their way further inland, till they came to Nri, where they were finally settled. This was in the year 948, with Eri being their leader at the time. It was here that they stayed and grew, creating one of the most advanced civilizations in the West African sphere. The first recorded king (the Eze Nri) of the Eboes was Ìfikuánim. With time, their culture, language, values, and most importantly their name morphed into what it is today.”
“Sir,” one fair-skinned boy asked, “how sure are you? I mean, about these things.”
“I’m not. But archaeologists and historians are eighty percent sure that’s how things played out. Initially, they were trying to find if Thutmose died in Egypt or if he survived the reign of Akhenaten. It was the discovery of the exodus of the Hyksos that made them to believe that Thutmose might have survived. Then the recent discoveries in Egypt, Chad, and Nigeria made it all the more plausible. Of course, there have been genetic comparison of the modern Igbos and the modern Egyptians, and the findings are startling. Plus the similarities in their cultures.”
“What are the comparisons sir?” their courserep asked.
“That is for you to find out. On that note, I’m given you an assignment on this topic: Find out the genetic and cultural similarities between the modern Egyptians and the modern Igbos, as well as their ancestors. To be submitted in my next class.”
There was a general murmur amongst the students. Some of them were already berating the courserep for asking the question that prompted the assignment. They need not be angry with him, I would have given the assignment anyway.
“On that note, ladies and gentlemen, I’ll take my leave. Have a nice day,” I said and left the classroom.