Onitsha, Nigeria was once home to the largest outdoor market in West Africa. From the late 1940s through the 1968 destruction of the market building and its renowned bookstalls during the Biafran War, its many Igbo consumers newly literate in English represented a vital reading public. The Onitsha Market Literature digital collection includes examples of the small books and pamphlets that were written, published and sold in and around this famously active marketplace. Scholarly interest in Onitsha Market Literature is wide ranging. The themes and subjects may be simplistic or amusing, but they represent cultural attitudes and the interest of a youthful (evidently mostly male) readership in mid-twentieth century Nigeria. The use of letterpresses and type sold secondhand by missions and government offices allows tracking their use through forensic clues in the type itself (sometimes mixed on a single page or line). The social milieu of the market offers a fascinating launching point for many perspectives surrounding these unassuming publications that in many ways resemble earlier British and American “pulp fiction” popular genres such as chapbooks or “dime novels.”

Further reading

Collins, Harold Reeves. 1968. The new English of the Onitsha chapbooks. Athens: Ohio University, Center for International Studies. LIBRARY WEST General Collection -- DT1.P33 no.1

Dodson, Don. 1973. “The role of the publisher in Onitsha Market Literature.” Research in African Literatures 4(2):172-188. Available online: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3818894 [Accessed Aug. 18, 2011].

Hogg, Peter C. and Ilse Sternberg. 1990. Market literature from Nigeria: a checklist. London: British Library. LIBRARY WEST: Reference -- PR9387.4.M371 1990

McCarthy, Cavan. 1984. “Printing in Onitsha: Some personal observations on the production of Onitsha Market Literature.” African Research and Documentation 35: 22-25. Available online: http://www.lsu.edu/faculty/mccarthy/OnitshaText.htm [Accessed Aug. 17, 2011; Online version includes scanned sample images].

Obiechina, Emmanuel N. 1973. An African popular literature: a study of Onitsha market pamphlets. Cambridge [Eng.]: University Press. LIBRARY WEST General Collection -- PR9387.85.O5O3

Owomoyela, Oyekan. 2008. The Columbia guide to West African literature in English since 1945. New York: Columbia University Press. LIBRARY WEST: Reference  -- PR9340.5.O96 2008

Thometz, Kurt. 2001. Life turns man up and down: high life, useful advice, and mad English: African market literature. New York: Pantheon Books. LIBRARY WEST General Collection -- PR9387.5.L54 2001

Collections available

Onitsha Market Literature: From the bookstalls of a Nigerian market. Lawrence: University of Kansas Libraries. Available online: http://onitsha.diglib.ku.edu [Accessed Aug. 17, 2011].

[Onitsha market literature]. 1967. Ibadan, Nigeria: Ibadan University Library, Photocopying Section. [“Collection of 78 indigenously published English language pamphlets from Nigeria of the ‘Onitsha market literature’ genre containing stories, plays, advice, moral discourses, and other forms of popular literature; pamphlets originally printed approx. 1948-1963.”]. LIBRARY WEST Microfilm -- PR9387.85.O5O55 1967

[Onitsha market literature]. London: British Library, 1992. Microfilm: 12 reels (8,501 fr.); 35 mm. LIBRARY WEST Microfilm -- ZN00179