A Mighty Tree has fallen,

and the Birds who sheltered in its branches

Now have No Abode.

The title of our Website volume refers to this enigmatic statement made by people who know that a reigning King (Obi) of Onitsha has just died.  When an event of this magnitude has occurred, it must first be conveyed in parable, only much later may it become public knowledge.

This compilation deals primarily with studies in, about, and variously related to the Nigerian city of Onitsha,  mainly from the perspective of Richard and Helen Henderson, who lived there from 1960-62. (Long after the Biafra Civil War, when it again became feasible for us to return, we  briefly visited in 1992; see Chapter 7.)1 To a considerable degree we built our careers as social and cultural anthropologists on the base of those experiences, and we owe the city a permanent (and obviously unrepayable) debt for much of the good that came to us in the subsequent courses of our lives.  This book (if that is the right word to describe what we are doing here) is intended as an offering (in Igbo, ife nru, “to pay homage”).

These accounts of Onitsha and its contexts are not final results, nor is this a “first edition”.  Our previous Onitsha website has been available for some time, and like that previous home (now closed), this one is and will continue to be a work in progress, changing as we  are able to build it and improve it for the indefinite future.  You can see existing tables of contents on the bar to the right, and can enter any page we consider ready for public view, even some that remain in rough  and/or incomplete form. (For example, the Bibliography can be examined, although it is sketchy, far from complete at this point.)  Other pages will remain blocked as “password protected” for now; this is merely a device for indicating the presence of a section that is not ready for publication but is “in prgress”.  Our decision is not to delay publication of this revised and expanded  version any longer, preferring to present chapters as we come to see them as minimally complete. As one of our masters of language has put it, “Tomorow is uncertain; today is soon enough.”(Echi di ime; taa bu gboo; literally, “Tomorrow remains pregnant; today carries questions”.).2

For orientation to who we are, see the “About” page, which in addition to giving basic academic history also opens the door to the Memoir aspect of the text, which we deem essential for grasping observers’ points of view.


Onitsha Main Market Johnson Street July 1962

  1. We were placed on the Nigerian Federal Government’s No-Visit list for some years beginning around 1970 after the collapse of Biafra. [Return ↩]
  2. Chinua Achebe 1998. [Return ↩]