The New Gong Magazine

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FROM ONITSHA MARKET
LITERATURE TO HOME MOVIES

By Uzor Maxim Uzoatu

Whenever Onitsha gets into any business, other cities take the back
seat. When market literature was in vogue, Onitsha was the leader.
Now that home movies have taken over, Onitsha has shot ahead as
the centre of the booming trade.
According to a study published by the British Library in 1990, Market
Literature from Nigeria: A Checklist, there was zero publishing output
in Onitsha as at 1949 when Lagos could boast of as many as 19
titles. By 1950-54, Lagos accounted for 30 books while Onitsha had
only seven titles. From 1955 to 1959, Onitsha gained ascendancy
with 56 books as against 31 from Lagos. In the boom years of 1960
to 1966, Onitsha published a whopping 411 titles while Lagos had
only 65 books. Of course the civil war years of 1967 to 1970 dealt a
heavy blow to the growth of market literature in Onitsha, but that is
another story.
Onitsha market literature was made up of inexpensive booklets and
pamphlets comprising genres such as fiction, plays, verses, current
affairs, language primers, social etiquette, religious tracts, history,
biography, manuals, collections of proverbs, letter-writing, traditional
customs and, of course, money-making. There is actually a title How
to get Rich Overnight by H. O. Ogu.
Colonialism and its education somewhat “opened the eyes” of the
authors of the market literature. Some of the soldiers who had
travelled to Burma and other sectors of the Second World War came
back with exotic ideas. The economic prosperity that followed the war
provided extra income for leisure reading. As large numbers of rural
dwellers trooped to Onitsha, the book market shot up especially as
there was massive expansion in primary and secondary education
after the war. The Onitsha publishers made up of a close-knit group
of families from some surrounding towns were in effective control of
apprenticeships, sub-contracts and agencies while organising the
distribution of their titles to all parts of Nigeria and indeed West Africa.
Sales of the booklets ranged from three thousand copies per title to
100,000 copies for bestsellers such as Ogali A. Ogali’s play,
Veronica My Daughter. Scholars and writers like Chinua Achebe,
Emmanuel Obiechina, Ulli Beier, Michael Echeruo, Ernest Emenyonu,
Ime Ikiddeh, Bernth Lindfors, John Reed, Alain Ricard, Adrian
Roscoe etc. have written extensively on the Onitsha market literature
phenomenon.
A quotable quote from one of the titles, from the recently deceased
Ogali’s Veronica My Daughter, goes thus: “As I was descending from
a declivity yesterday with such an excessive velocity I suddenly lost
the centre of my gravity and was precipitated on the macadamised
thoroughfare.” The next character then says: “I hope your bones
were mercilessly broken.” The reply from Bomber Billy of bombast
comes this way: “Don’t put my mind under perturbation!”
Some of the more prominent Onitsha authors and their titles include:
J. Abiakam How to Speak to Girls and Win their Love; Cyril Aririguzo
Miss Appolo’s Pride Leads her to be Unmarried; S. Eze How to know
when a Girl Loves You or Hates You; Thomas Iguh $9000,000,000
Man still says No Money; Highbred Maxwell Public Opinion on Lovers;
Nathan Njoku Beware of Women and My Seven Daughters are after
Young Boys; Marius Nkwoh Cocktail Ladies and Talking about Love
(with Mr Really Fact at St Bottles’ Church); Joseph Nnadozie Beware
of Harlots and Many Friends; Raphael Obioha Beauty is a Trouble;
Ogali A. Ogali Veronica My Daughter and No Heaven for the Priest; H.
O. Ogu Rose Only Loved My Money  and How a Passenger Collector
Posed and got a Lady Teacher in Love; Rufus Okonkwo Why Boys
Never Trust Money Monger Girls; Anthony Okwesa The Strange
Death of Israel Njemanze; Okenwa Olisah Money Hard to get but
Easy to Spend and Drunkards Believe Bar as Heaven; Speedy Eric
Mabel the Sweet Honey that Poured Away; Felix Stephen Lack of
Money is not Lack of Sense etc.
In the audio-visual age of today, what Onitsha has lost in market
literature it has more than gained in the production and marketing of
home movies especially at the celebrated 51 Iweka Road.


This article which first appeared in the NIGERIA MONTHLY is
reprinted here with the author's permission.