Nations and tribes all over the world have their own origin or creation myths and Africa is no exception to this. The Greek have theirs, so do the Egyptians and the Yoruba. In the olden days, people probably all believed their own creation myths.
However, I suppose that with a better understanding of the universe, we now all tend to agree that we all probably share common ancestors and origin. While some nations believe they were directly created by their own deities in their current locations, others believe that they arrived from some other places.
The Yoruba of West Africa have a creation myth that involved a deity Olodumare creating humans from earth. Among the Igbo, apart from the Nri creation story, most myths suggest that they originated from some others either from powerful neighbours or distant famous nations.
As already stated, while the creation myths have been relegated to folk culture, entertainment and bedtime story for the kids, the origin stories interestingly continue to gather weight and momentum both from professional historians and amateurs trying to make a point.
The problem I suppose is that there is a blurred line between these origin myths and what looks like history. What worries me though is when Africans try to trace their own origin outside the continent.
While most of the scientific world agrees that humans originated from Africa either through biological evolution or any other means, and moved to colonise the rest of the earth, I find it a bit absurd that some Africans want to tell a reverse story. It is often a desire to get associated with better recognised nations.
The most common is the widespread insistence by some black people both in and outside the continent that that Africans were the original Jews though I struggled to find a single scholarly article on this. One guy from East Africa spent a whole evening trying to sell this idea to me. They claim most of the stories in the Old Testament were about them but have been corrupted and falsified by others.
They even find references in some of the verses to prove their points. I see this as completely pointless. The Jewish mythology is just one of the thousands that have existed all over the world. It doesn’t have any more credibility than the Japanese or Benin myths just because they have become popularised through written record. There are more ancient records of human origins that even if we were in search, we have to go back further in time.
There are many other African nations with myths that trace their origin to places as far as Japan and Egypt. Very often, the only trace would be any two or three words that mean the same thing in both languages or any traditions with close resemblance.
The closest one to me is the belief by the Igbos of Eastern Nigeria that they originated from Israel. This myth has become so rampant that a film has been made about it and many have opted to convert to Judaism to be in line with their roots.
There is even a strong movement to support this. Obviously, there is nothing wrong with people adhering to any religion of their choice, but I am concerned that this myth has gradually become main stream. I am more than certain that humans inhabited the territory of Igbo land way before they got to the Middle East.
The mass conversion to Christianity means people are doing whatever is possible to cleanse their ancestors of their pagan past with most mortem judaification. During my recent visit to Nigeria, I even saw a woman of doubtful sanity loudly preaching at the bus stop by blaming all the ills of the Igbo society on the fact that people have turned away from the Jewish route. The most common resemblances mentioned are the naming system, circumcision, priest kings or absence of kings, etc.
The Igbos are not alone in this desperate attempt to make every part of their history and mythology to fit into the Jewish ones especially. In her book “Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria“, Noo Saro-Wiwa talked about loads of examples of museum tour guides trying to precisely do the same.
A speaker at the recent Africa Writes Festival also tried to modify names in ancient Yoruba mythology to fit biblical names and events. I see all of these as a sign of lack of self-confidence. While it is true that nations have moved from place to place, have been under various empires, and have intermingled, we have to accept the indisputable fact that Africans originated from Africa and nowhere else.
The fact that some civilisation documented their mythologies and histories is no reason to use them as the only reference point. I am sure that if we look hard enough, we can find the origin of our traditions locally without leaving the continent. So let us all agree that Africans come from Africa.