Igbo American

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Igbo American
Ṇ́dị́ Ígbò n'Emerịkà
William Drew Robeson (1845-1918).jpgPaul Robeson 1942.jpgBlyden E W 3c35638r.jpgJohn brown.jpgEdward James Roye2.jpg
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Throughout the entire South (especially Virginia) as well as the New York, Philadelphia, Newark, New Jersey, Los Angeles, Miami, Boston, Chicago, Houston municipal areas, and Puerto Rico.
American English, African American Vernacular English, Igbo
Majority: Roman Catholic
Others: Anglicanism, Baptist, Methodist, and many other Protestant denominations.
Related ethnic groups
Igbo people, African Americans

Igbo Americans, or Americans of Igbo ancestry, (Igbo: Ṇ́dị́ Ígbò n'Emerịkà) are people in the United States that maintain an identity of a varying level of Igbo people ethnic identity that now call the US their chief place of residence (and may also have US citizenship). Many were taken to the US from Nigeria the result of Slavery in the United States or the effects of the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970) (or the Nigerian-Biafran War).

In the United States Igbo slaves were erroneously referred to by a couple of names corrupted from Igbo such as Ibo and Eboe. Some Igbo slaves were also referred to as 'bites', denoting their Bight of Biafra origin, their new slave names were often given to them denoting their origin in Africa such as Bonna for a slave that arrived through the port of Bonny. Their presence in the United States was met with mixed feelings by American plantation owners.


Atlantic slave trade[edit]

The Igbo were affected heavily by the Atlantic slave trade in the 18th century. Igbo slaves were known for being rebellious and having a high count of suicide in defiance of slavery.[3][4][5] In the United States the Igbo were most numerous in the states of Maryland (coincidentally where there is a predominant population of recent Igbo immigrants)[6] and Virginia,[7] so much so that some historians have denominated colonial Virginia as “Igbo land.”[7]

With a total of 37,000 Africans that arrived in Virginia from Calabar in the 18th century, 30,000 were Igbo according to Douglas B. Chambers.[7] The Frontier Culture Museum of Virginia estimates around 38% of captives taken to Virginia were from the Bight of Biafra.[8] Igbo peoples constituted the majority of enslaved Africans in Maryland.[7] Chambers has been quoted saying "My research suggests that perhaps 60 percent of black Americans have at least one Igbo ancestor..."[9]


Slave notice from Williamsburg, Virginia for a runaway "Ibo Negro"

Virginia was the colony that took in the largest percentage of Igbo slaves. Researchers such as David Eltis estimate between 30—45% of the 'imported' slaves were from the Bight of Biafra, of these slaves 80% were likely Igbo. A so-called conservative estimate of the amount of Igbo taken into Virginia between 1698 and 1778 is placed at 25,000. The Igbo concentration was especially high in the Tidewater and Piedmont regions of the Virginia interior.[10] One of the reasons for this high number of Igbo slaves in Virginia was the domination of the Bight of Biafra region of Africa by Bristol and Liverpool English merchants who frequently brought Bight of Biafra slaves to British colonies, Virginia being one of these colonies. The high concentration of Igbo slaves in Virginia was contributed to further by neighboring states. Planters in South Carolina and Georgia looked down on Igbo slaves because many were rebellious. Because of this the majority of Igbo slaves were taken and sold to Virginian planters.

Some possible Igbo names were also found among slave records in Virginia. Names found in records such as Anica, or Anakey, Breechy and Juba may originate respectively from the Igbo names Nneka, meaning the mother is superior, and mburichi, male members of the Kingdom of Nri and Jiugba, meaning yam barn. Some had their ethnicity added to their names such as Eboe Sarah and plain Ebo.[11] These hints of Igbo influence go along with cultural remnants pointing towards the Igbo presence in Virginia, one of which is the use of the Eboe drum in music. The Igbo presence in Virginia also brought new practices such as the cultivation of Okra, a plant whose name derives from the Igbo language. Slaves in Virginia relied on sweet potato which is argued by Douglas Chambers to be an indication of a substitute for yam, the Igbo staple crop.


The state of Kentucky, which was carved out of the Colony of Virginia had received many of Virginia's slave drivers and slaves as people started migrating westward. These migrations spread out the population of African slaves in America, including Igbo slaves. Here the Igbo population had already become heavily creoleized alongside other African ethnicity's that were taken in significant numbers to America.


African cultures were heavily suppressed in the American slave era. The plantation and slave owners made sure to suppress African cultures through intimidation and torture, stripping away slaves' names and heritage. As expected, Igbo culture faced the same oppression, however some cultural remnants of Igbo origin was found and can still be found in the United States. Most of these cultural remnants can be found in music and entertainment. Igbo culture manifested in America through the Jonkonnu festivals that once took residence in the black slave population in Virginia. This masquerade bears similarity with the masking traditions of the Okonko secret society who still operate in the Igbo hinterland. The maskers wear horns which further shows similarity to Igbo culture and the Ikenga deity. Heavily African influenced American music genres such as Jazz and Ragtime stem from a mix of African cultures that creolized in the Americas. Although these genres could be described as a mix, there are elements of American music that have specific origin and Igbo instruments, such as the 'Eboe Drum'. The Igbo opi flute is similar to the drum and fife traditions.


The majority of Igbo Americans identify as Christian, with a significant amount of adherents to Roman Catholicism. Protestantism including Anglicanism, Seventh day Adventist, Baptist, Methodist and non-denomiational churches make up the other denominations of Igbo Christians.

Igbo landmarks in America[edit]

The language spread of Kru, Igbo and Yoruba in the United States according to[12] U. S. Census 2000.

Igbo village in Virginia[edit]

The Frontier Culture Museum of Virginia has completed an Igbo single-family farmers compound to acknowledge the prevalence of the Igbo in 19th century Virginia.[8]

Igbo Landing[edit]

Main article: Igbo Landing

Igbo Landing is a historic site in Dunbar Creek of St. Simons Island, Glynn County, Georgia, United States. In 1803 it was the location of a mass suicide by Igbo slaves in resistance to slavery in the United States, and is of symbolic importance in African American folklore and literary history.[13]

Genealogy tracing[edit]

In the 2003 PBS program African American Lives, Bishop T.D. Jakes had his DNA analyzed; his Y chromosome showed that he is descended from the Igbo.[14] American actors Forest Whitaker and Blair Underwood have traced their genealogy back to the Igbo people.[15][16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Undiscovered Paul Robeson, An Artist's Journey, 1898–1939 (Hardcover). ISBN 0-471-24265-9. 
  2. ^ "Edward Wilmot Blyden". Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2008. Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. 
  3. ^ Lovejoy, Paul E. (2003). Trans-Atlantic Dimensions of Ethnicity in the African Diaspora. Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 92–93. ISBN 0-8264-4907-7. 
  4. ^ Isichei, Elizabeth Allo (2002). Voices of the Poor in Africa. Boydell & Brewer. p. 81. ISBN 1-58046-107-7. 
  5. ^ Rucker, Walter C. (2006). The River Flows on: Black Resistance, Culture, and Identity Formation in Early America. LSU Press. p. 52. ISBN 0-8071-3109-1. 
  6. ^ "Languages in America #25 along with Kru and Yoruba". U.S.ENGLISH Foundation, Inc. Retrieved 2009-05-08. 
  7. ^ a b c d Chambers, Douglas B. (March 1, 2005). Murder at Montpelier: Igbo Africans in Virginia. University Press of Mississippi. p. 23. ISBN 1-57806-706-5. 
  8. ^ a b "West Africa: Why the Igbo?". Frontier Culture Museum of Virginia. Retrieved 2009-05-02. [dead link]
  9. ^ "Southern Miss history professor made chief in Nigerian royal lineage". University of Southern Mississippi. April 15, 2005. Retrieved 2009-05-02. 
  10. ^ Chambers, Douglas B. (2005). Murder at Montpelier: Igbo Africans in Virginia (illustrated ed.). Univ. Press of Mississippi. pp. 13, 160. ISBN 1-57806-706-5. 
  11. ^ Chambers, Douglas B. (2005). Murder at Montpelier: Igbo Africans in Virginia (illustrated ed.). Univ. Press of Mississippi. pp. 101–102, 160. ISBN 1-57806-706-5. 
  12. ^ "Census 2000 Gateway". Census.gov. Retrieved 2008-11-19. 
  13. ^ Linda S. Watts, Encyclopedia of American Folklore, Infobase Publishing, 2006 p. 211
  14. ^ http://www.wvwc.edu/lib/wv_authors/authors/a_jakes.htm West Virginia Wesleyan College - "Jakes was born in South Charleston, West Virginia on June 9, 1957."
  15. ^ 9th paragraph "I wanted to understand what it was like to be Ugandan, even though my roots are in Nigeria and other parts of West Africa.”
  16. ^ http://www.africanancestry.com/testimonials/index.html "A welcome surprise that my people are from Nigeria & Ibo people" - Blair Underwood - Africanancestry.com

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]