The history of the Igbo has many versions. It really depends on who you want to listen to. While much is saturated with myth and opinion, thankfully there are also conclusions supported by irrefutable fact. These facts are in turn the end result of a lifetime of dedicated research and information verification by a crop of spectacular Igbo Historians.
This is an attempt by The Awareness to celebrate their contributions towards keeping the Igbo story not just honest and accurate, but showing the world that we are quite capable of telling our own story without outside help. We have entitled it "Celebrating the True Igbo Historians."
Though Thurstan Shaw was born in Plymouth, England, and was quasi European, looking past skin colour he truly was one of us. He would die an Igbo Lord and be bestowed with two Chieftaincy titles which he cherished just as much as those given to him by the Queen of England herself.
I have always maintained that while east Africa may have had LSB Leakey - we had Thurstan Shaw. He was the first trained archeological specialist to work in what was then British West Africa and ironically came to the region following the advice of Leakey himself. It was a move that neither he, Leakey or us Igbo would ever regret but grow to cherish.
Shaw specialized in the ancient cultures of present-day Ghana and Nigeria. Shaw worked on expanding communications about African archaeology; in 1964, he founded the West African Archaeological Newsletter, which he edited until 1970; from 1971-1975, he edited the West African Journal of Archaeology. .While this display of extraordinary penmanship at both the University of Ghana and Ibadan was impressive on its own, it was his excavations at Igbo-Ukwu, which revealed a 9th-century indigenous culture that created sophisticated work in bronze metalworking, independent of any Arab or European influence, that was his crowning glory. Add to the fact that this civilization existed centuries before others that were better known at the time of discovery, makes this an even more gargantuan event.
Peter Ucko, Alex Okpoko and Thurstan Shaw at Igbo-Ukwu, Nigeria, 1989. Professor Shaw is wearing the regalia of “Onuna-Ekwulu-Ora” of the Igbo-Ukwu, which translates as “the mouth that speaks on behalf ” of the Igbo-Ukwu.
So, in other words, while many had classified the Igbo as being a migratory tribe from other parts of west and central Africa, with some presently even claiming roots in places as far as southern Sudan and Israel, Shaw clearly established the existence of a sophisticated people who were already indigenous and stationary to modern Anambra State.
Shaw's finding came as a result of a threefold excavation exercise at Igbo-Ukwu. He named the sites Igbo Isaiah, Igbo Richard and Igbo Jonah, The latter two were discovered almost twenty years after the initial one. The first artifacts exhumed included a small staff, a head of a ram, a large manilla, an intricately designed crescent-shaped vessel and a small pendant in the shape of a local chief's head with Ichi tribal marks on the face and initially were not deemed as old as they really were.
However, Shaw had a premonition and sent them to be carbon-dated, first in Senegal which had the only facility in the area at that time, and then later on in the UK by the Historical Society itself. It was then their true age became apparent. His subsequent digs unearthed other items like pottery and beads and gave further proof that his initial work was not speculative but based on solid history which science could readily back up. The Nay Sayers and doubters could question theory, but not fact as shown in a laboratory.
Shaw celebrating his 75th birthday in Ibadan
So it came to be accepted, albeit grudgingly, that if there had been indeed any migration among the sub Bantu tribes it was not inward, but outward from Igbo land and that the Igbo were among the earliest people in the area, if not the earliest. Based on this, it goes without saying that just as LSB Leakey rewrote the history of human evolution by tracing its origins to the Rift Valley in east Africa, Shaw accomplished the same for west Africa and the Igbo. It is upon his shoulders that other accomplished historians such as Kenneth Dike, Adiele Afigbo and a slew of other indigenous African historians would stand and continue to question existing theories that continued to unjustly credit development to only Hamitic influences while bringing their own voice to the narrative.
For helping us Igbos understand our true selves and origin as a tribe and one people, Shaw should forever be put on a pedestal as he has deservedly carved himself a niche in our hearts. And to that, you can add a Kpom and a Kwem!
Chief Thurstan Shaw Onuna Ekwulu Nri & Onyafuonka of Igboland CBE FBA FSA .
27 June 1914 - 8 March 2013
Please watch Onunaekwuluora! The legacy of Thurstan Shaw below: