Onitsha History, Kingship and Changing Cultures

“Otu-Onicha” (Onitsha “Waterside”)

[Note:  Click on any image you may want to enlarge.]

On this page we provide the briefest of pictorial and written introductions to the city.  A much more detailed and illuminating description appears in Chapter Two, under an almost identical heading.  Here we merely open some doors,  so to speak.

Below, the prime destination for Ndi-Olu canoe-based traders: the stairways leading to the mid-20th century Onitsha Main Market. The span of these concrete stairways (built in the 1950s to replace earthen ramps that tended to become very muddy) was designed to accommodate maximal seasonal flooding of the River (here, the river was considerably lower in July of 1962). Note the cranes at the United Africa Company loading docks, prime real estate that gave the “ancestors” of this company control of the marketplace from the 1890s onward.

Onitsha Main Market canoe stairway; UAC cranes

We will examine a wider range of Otu features in Chapter Two. Here, I present just a few images to give an introductory sense of its complexity.

Below, a view from on high of the mighty Onitsha Main Market in 1962 (taken from the top of the market’s water-tower) where we see an expanse of buildings and pathways teeming with traders and their customers, the vast majority of whom in 1962 are Ndi-Igbo. Every space is filled with noises of people pursuing the business of business. (Here again, you also see the salient geography of the River beyond: at upper right, the vast flat stretch of the Anambra Floodplain in a dark hue; at upper left, the Asaba Uplands rises to the northwest; in between, the Ubom stretches down the left-center portion of the Plenitude of Waters.)

Main Market from Watertower; GBO at left; Produce Market central

Below, a street-level view of the Produce Market. (In the foreground, women petty traders have laid small patches of grain out on the floor to dry, hoping to sell small quantities that will enable them to trade another day .)

In the Produce Market; women drying cereal

Below, people’s clothing styles in and around the Main Market and other centers of commerce are adapted primarily to work, though even in their everyday apparel women’s wear is often eye-catching.

At the Main Market roundabout; petty trader clothing styles

Below, we turn now to look in the opposite direction, where New Market Road, its numerous side-ways extensions of trading establishments, runs out from the Main Market toward the uplands (from lower right to upper left). Nearly all of what you see here is called Otu, “Waterside”, and most of its residents are Ndi-Igbo immigrants. But on the horizon, a green dome with scattered giant trees, rising at image center, marks the second major “heart” of Onitsha Town: Enu-Onicha (“High-Onitsha”), also called the Inland Town, the ancient location of Ndi-Onicha, the self-designated “Onitsha People”, led by their King (Obi) and Chiefs (Ndi-Ichie) and who in precolonial times controlled the entire area where Onitsha Town now lies. They deem themselves as historically renown for their disdain of others1

From the Watertower, looking up New Market Road, 1962
  1. See Azikiwe quotation. []
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