52 Years of Nigerian Literature: Onitsha Market Literature

by - 09:50

I paid homage to Nigerian authors such as Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and Flora Nwapa in my first post, but I couldn't quite celebrate 52 years of Nigerian Literature without mentioning the Onitsha Market Literature. I might be cheating a bit with this one as the first book of its genre came out in the late 1940s (a local bookshop published two booklets written by Cyprian Ekwensi in 1947), but it became popular in the 1960s (specifically 1960-1966) and I'm going with that as my rationale for including it in here (Like I said, I'm cheating a little).

Onitsha, a city on Niger River in southeastern Nigeria, gave us Onitsha Market Literature, inexpensive booklets and  pamphlets published by local presses which covered issues on love, sex, marriage, and money, as well as local history, folktales and proverbs. These were stories about the "masses", usually written by them and Emmanuel Obiechina, who wrote extensively about this literature, notes that  the most devoted readers were "grammar and elementary school boys and girls, lower-level office workers and journalists, primary school teachers, traders, mechanics, taxi-drivers, farmers and the new literates". With titles like Miss Cordelia in the Romance of Destiny, Miss Rosy in the Romance of True LoveNo Condition is Permanent, Why Boys Never Trust Money Monger Girls, Boys and Girls of Nowadays, The Way to Make Friends with Girls, Money Hard to Get but Easy to Spend and Drunkards Believe Bar is Heaven the pamphlets were trying to reflect the broad experiences of Nigeria's emerging urban working class at that time.  Sadly, it did not survive past the Nigerian civil war.


There is a great article which goes into more detail on the Onitsha Market Literature written by Cosmic Yoruba here, and if you really want to know more, "An African Popular Literature: A Study of Onitsha Market Literature" goes into even more detail. The University of Kansas have also digitised 21 pamphlets to "introduce these ‘invisible’ authors to the widest audience possible - the Internet, and provide a context to fully understand and appreciate this literature for the masses". The Onitsha Market Literature is a unique part of Nigeria's literary history so if you're interested in knowing what the "masses" read in Nigeria 50+ years ago, definitely check it out.  Plus you can't tell me you're not the slightest bit curious to find out Why Boys Don't Trust Their Girlfriends?

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