Igbo Landing (also called Ibo Landing, Ebo Landing, or Ebos Landing) is a historic site at Dunbar Creek on St. Simons Island.
In May 1803 a shipload of captive West Africans, upon surviving the Middle Passage, were landed by U.S.-paid captors in Savannah by a slave ship, to be auctioned off at one of the local slave markets. The ship’s enslaved passengers included a number of Igbo people from what is now Nigeria. The Igbo were known by planters and slavers of the American South for being fiercely independent and resistant to chattel slavery. The group of 75 enslaved Igbo people were forced into labor on their plantations in St. Simons Island for $100 each.
The chained enslaved people were packed under the deck of a small vessel named The Schooner York to be shipped to the Island. During this voyage the Igbo slaves rose up in rebellion, taking control of the ship and drowning their captors, in the process causing the grounding of the Morovia in Dunbar Creek at the site now locally known as Igbo Landing.
The following sequence of events is unclear.
There are several versions of the revolt’s development, some of which are considered mythological. Apparently, the Africans went ashore and subsequently, under the direction of a high Igbo chief among them. They walked in unison into the creek. Together they sang in the Igbo language “The Water Spirit brought us, the Water Spirit will take us home”.
They thereby accepted the protection of their god Chukwu and death over the alternative of slavery. Roswell King, an overseer on a nearby plantation, wrote one of the few accounts of the incident. It stated that when the Igbo landed on St. Simons, they died by suicide by walking into Dunbar Creek.
Igbo Landing was the final scene of events that amounted to a “major act of resistance” by the Africans.
These events have had enduring symbolic importance in African-American folklore and literary history. The mutiny by the Igbo people has been referred to as the first “freedom march” in the history of America. For more than two centuries most authorities considered the accounts to be an Afro-American folktale. But research accumulated since 1980 has verified the factual basis of the legend and its historical content.
The story of the Igbo slaves who chose death over a life of slavery is a recurring story in African-American and Gullah history.
The myth of the water-walking Africans is a Gullah incorporates many themes common to the events at Igbo Landing. The myth tells West Africans resolved to risk their lives by walking home over the water rather than submit to slavery.
As the tale has it, the tribespeople disembark from the ship, and as a group, turned around and walked along the water, traveling in the opposite direction from the arrival port. As they took this march together, the West Africans joined in song. They are reported to have sung a hymn in which the lyrics assert that the water spirits will take them home. While versions of this story vary in nuance, all attest to the courage in rebellion displayed by the enslaved Igbo.
Another popular legend associated with Igbo Landing is known as the myth of the flying Africans.
The myth states that the Africans grew wings, or turned into vultures, before flying back home to freedom in Africa. Off the coast of St. Simon’s Island, the enslaved cargo, who had “suffered much by mismanagement,” “rose” from their confinement in the small vessel, and revolted against the crew, forcing them into the water where they drowned. After the ship ran aground, the Igbos “took to the marsh” and drowned themselves. Most scholars call the act a deliberate, collective suicide. The site of their fatal immersion was named Ebos Landing.
Local people claim that the Igbo Landing and Dunbar Creek are haunted by the souls who were enslaved. The Igbo slave escape in Dunbar Creek, and the associated myth, have inspired and influenced a number of artists.
- Nobel laureate Toni Morrison used the myth of the flying Africans in her novel, Song of Solomon
- Alex Haley, who retells the story in his book Roots.
- The Paule Marshall novel Praisesong for the Widow also was inspired by these events.
- They are retold from the context of the Gullah descendants in the feature film Daughters of the Dust.
- The 1994 Ngozi Onwurah film Welcome II the Terrordome, in which Igbo Landing frames the main setting.
- In the 2018 Marvel film Black Panther, Michael B. Jordan, as Killmonger, references Igbo Landing during his death scene. “Bury me in the ocean with my ancestors who jumped from ships, ’cause they knew death was better than bondage.”