Literature of the Month – Onitsha Market Literature

Some of the reasons why boys and girls get married are:

1. Boys marry to get children

2. To satisfy nature’s desire

3. It is a pressing debt

4. A wife is honorable property

5. Wife helps to avoid useless expenditures.

A woman’s reason is pretty much the same, plus the fact that they depend on men for their needs and well, women are to be married.

One word summarises the Onitsha Market tales. Hilarious and informative! You will laugh and cry as you go through this collection of plays, advice and tales which showed the dynamics, social problems, creativity and color of Nigeria in the 60s. It is set in the Nigerian post-colonial era which is understandable because some things written there made my mouth drop.

I suggested it to my friend, and he came back saying it was the funniest thing he read last month and maybe in his life.

If you can’t tell already, the name is derived from the fact that they were published and sold in the bookstalls of Onitsha Market. The voice of the everyday man is heard. From the mechanic to the trader, the primary school teacher to the taxi driver, everyone had their own take on relationships, money and general behavior. It is a book that was originally written for an African audience but has found its way outside and even to the digital library of Kansas University.

The titles are sure to draw you in. I mean wouldn’t you want to know ‘why boys don’t trust their girlfriends‘, or read about ‘Elekere Agwo: the quack doctor‘?

For the bachelors out there fancy reading ‘African bachelor’s guide and lady’s guide, (to be read before marriage and after it)’ or even ‘How to play love’? Maybe you’ll learn a thing or two about getting that woman to marry you. (Disclaimer- I never said it would work).

It is intriguing, amusing, shocking, but most importantly you’ll learn what society was like back in the day and what was the norm. You will also see how far we’ve come in the last 55 years.

Once you get over the crudeness and appalling things that are written, in true African fashion, the pamphlets goes on to advise readers on various topics such as things that happen and bring harm to society like using quack doctors/illegal medication, living together in happiness as a family, how bribery and corruption hurts society etc (Funny how some of these things are still chanted today).

The preface of my seven daughters are after young boys (I’m sure a lot of fathers with daughters out there would like to know how to keep their girls away from pesky boys) says ‘When ever you are annoyed, take up this booklet and go through it. You will come across very funny items that will make you forget all about your anger‘ and I agree. It is also my advice to everyone. If you’re looking to forget your sorrows, anger and problems for a while please go through the collection.

It is unfortunate that while these pamphlets were a big hit then, tales of their authors, some of which include Abiakam, J.C, Akaosa, Mrs. Chinwe, Akuneme, D. Nkem and others are not being sung like Chinua Achebe or Chimamnda Adichie.

You can find 21 of the 101 pamphlets here. It is however disappointing to me that this hasn’t been preserved by Nigeria and I had to search the internet to find it. If researchers find it interesting because they feel it helps to understand the social conditions of that time, why are we not also interested in learning about our history and preserving it for the future Nigerian generation?