As Haiti continues to struggle to build a democracy, we poise to remember one root of our democracy. Although the word democracy is from Greece, the concept of democracy arose independently in other societies. It arose among the Ibo people of today’s Nigeria, where people’s right to have a voice in how they are ruled was respected. The ancient Ibo people of Nigeria had a democratic state. Unlike their neighbors, the Nago, the Guedevi, and the Mayi, who were ruled by a noble class, the Ibo people were not ruled by monarchs. They had no kings, nor queens. The Ibo people were their own authority. Here in the song, this concept is presented as Ibo Granmoun, meaning the Ibos take orders from no one.
The Ibo people were ruled by a parliament called Igwe. This body was comprised of elders nominated from each lakou, the Haitian term for an extended family compound. As a result of this ancient Ibo democratic government, today there is a popular expression among the Ibo people of modern day Nigeria: Ibo ama eze, which means the Ibos are their own authority. Across the Atlantic, Ibo ama eze has been translated into Creole as Ibo granmoun.
So intolerant were the Ibo people of taking orders, that Ibo victims of enslavement in Haiti and throughout the Americas had a higher suicide rate than other Africans. This high suicide rate is remembered in the Vodou expression Ibo touye tèt li. In the United States there is a region called Ibo Landing in Georgia which is thought to have been a place where a group of Ibo people committed suicide rather than be enslaved.
Among the many Ibo influences present in Haiti, perhaps the most enduring is the Ibo passion for self-determination. That passion helped to fuel our fore-parents efforts to combat slavery. As their descendants, we continue to honor the Ibo and all the other nations who fought to create a more democratic Haiti. No Africans in Haiti were willingly enslaved and people of all African nations rebelled against slavery. Nonetheless, because of the Ibo passion for democracy, they became the group most associated with rebellion against slavery. As such, in Haiti, when we honor the memory of Ibo Ancestors we commonly perform dance movements symbolic of their breaking the chains of enslavement. In Haiti, this rebellious way of dancing is called the Ibo dance. Other Ibo influences in Haitian culture are numerous and include the term sou for community banking and the use of M as a short form for mwen (me).
Although the Ibo people are remembered throughout Haiti, most of the world knows the Ibo people through the writings of the internationally acclaimed writer, the late, Chinua Achebe. His book, Things Fall Apart, is the most widely read modern African book in the world. His success is just another way of showing Ibo granmoun.
CNN interviews the acclaimed Ibo writer, Chinua Achebe