Onitsha History, Kingship and Changing Cultures

A Mighty Tree has fallen,

and the Birds who sheltered in its branches

Now have No Abode.

(Note:  Click on any image you may want to enlarge.)

The title of our Website publication derives from the enigmatic statement just presented here above in bold italics.  These words were traditionally spoken by  members of the ancient community of Onitsha (who call themselves Ndi-Onicha, “Onitsha People”)  when they learn that a reigning King (Obi) of Onitsha, Nigeria, has just died.  When an event of this magnitude has occurred, its meanings must at first be conveyed in parable, only much later may the full facts become public knowledge.

Our book 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. (we briefly returned, in 1992 — long after the Biafra Civil War when it again became feasible for us to enter Nigeria; see Chapter Seven.)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 debt for much of the good that came to us in the subsequent courses of our lives.  This book is an offering  (in Igbo, ife nru, “to pay homage”) to all people who care or have cared about the town.

These accounts of Onitsha and its contexts are not final results, nor is this a “first edition”.  An earlier version of our Onitsha website was available for some years, 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 minimally ready for public view, even some that remain in rough  and/or incomplete form.2  Other pages will remain blocked as “password protected” for now, which is a device for indicating a section in a much too-disorderly state of  “progress”.  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, “Tomorrow is uncertain; today is soon enough.”(Echi di ime; taa bu gboo; literally, “Tomorrow remains pregnant; today carries questions”.).3

For details regarding who we are, see the “About the Authors” page — About the Primary Authors.

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, following the defeat of the rebellious nation of Biafra, due apparently to our voiced calls requesting justice for the people of the former Eastern Region of Nigeria, and our Biafra Children’s Relief Fulnd, run by Helen Henderson, Anne Scheffler, and Barbara Tapper from 1968-1970. []
  2. For example, the Bibliography can be examined, although it is sketchy, far from complete at this point. The “Nigerian Spokesmen” pages in Chapter Seven (“Aftermaths”) are currently mere listings of events deemed salient.  And so on. []
  3. Chinua Achebe 1998. []
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