Igbo Market Literature

Nigeria embraced a vast diversity of different ethnic groups. How can you create a unified nation composed of people who speak a number of different languages. The answer most often was to accept the only common language they had—the language of the colonizers. For Nigeria this meant using English as the language of the nation even though it was the "first" language of very few people. Furthermore since these languages had often not been turned into written languages, people had to learn to read and write in a foreign language. This led to the next dilemma. If you are a writer and you want to reach an audience you have to adapt your thoughts to a foreign language or reshape the foreign language to your needs. The early efforts to do this in eastern Nigeria are present in Igbo Market Literature. Igbo writers created short plays, stories, novellas and sold them to publishers who printed them in inexpensive books to be sold in local markets in Igboland. The plots and character conflicts reveal the issues confronting people in a society moving toward independence, urbanization and fuller participation in the world economy—all at the same time and in the span of a generation or two.

You have an opportunity to read a portion of one of these plays. What are the issues that seem to be most important for the story?  How does the author portray traditional values (Chief Jombo) and the goals sought by the newly educated citizens of the eastern region (Pauline and Veronica)? How does the author emphasize the differences between the two perspectives?

From Emmanuel Obeichina (ed.), Onitsha Market Literature (NY: Africana Publishing Corporation, 1972), 44-53

Veronica Makes Up Her Own Mind

From: Veronica My Daughter
by Ogali A. Ogali


CHIEF JOMBO: What kind trouble dis be. My daughter get trong ear too much. I flogam tire, no change. I talk tire, no change. Dis boy Mikere go killi my daughter. Misisi! M-i-s-i-s-i-o ! ! Misisi (he calls). [What a life is this! I have got an incorrigible daughter. I have beaten her with the whip, talked to her till I was blue in the face to no avail. This boy, Michael, will be my daughter's undoing. Wife! Woman! Where is my wife!]

[Note: Translation appears in brackets of the West African Pidgin-English in which Chief Jombo expresses himself.]

PAULINA: Yes, my dear.

CHIEF JOMBO: Come for here, now now!

(Enter PAULINA.)

JOMBO continues: What do you talk for dis your daughter wey wan cut my hair for trong ear sake? I do everything I tire, Veronica no listen my word. Any place Mikere dey, Veronica dey. I tell Veronica leave Mikere, Veronica say no. I tell Mikere leave Veronica, Mikere say no. Wetin you say make I do? Talk! (He stamps his right foot very heavily on the floor). [Come here quickly! What do you say to your daughter's strong-headedness? She is driving me bald with worry. I have tried everything conceivable to make her see reason but she would not be persuaded. Wherever you find Michael, you are sure to find Veronica there. I have asked Veronica to give up Michael but she would not. I have spoken to Michael with no better luck. What am I expected to do now, tell me!]

PAULINA: Well dear, I don't quite agree with your threats. If Veronica loves Michael, why not leave her alone...

CHIEF JOMBO: Misisi! Know wetin you dey talk! [Woman, do you know what you are saying?]

PAULINA: Just allow me to finish.

CHIEF JOMBO: GO on, talk all the grammarian you sabi, I go hear all today today no be tomorrow. [Come on, begin spouting your modernist rubbish. I am here to listen to all of it today, not tomorrow.]

PAULINA:  After all, Vero is of age and can please herself. She is the only person to check and guard herself as far as this matter of friendship is concerned, not you, not me. She is of age, I said before. If she likes to become useless, that's her own look-out and not yours or mine. You have done your best, ! have done mine and the remaining part is her duty. Her mates after all are all married and she is the only girl in our villa who has read up to standard six.

CHIEF JOMBO: Ah-ah! Carry on! Talk your mind, me I go talk my head and we go sabi who be masa for dis house wey I builded twenty years before your mama born you. [All right woman, go on talking like that. ! shall have time to say my own and we shall know who the real master of this family is, you or myself who built this very house years before you were born.]

PAULINA: Vero being in love with Mike has nothing to do with her studies. Mike has even been encouraging her to read harder and has on many occasions bought for her new and interesting books. I could remember when Mike bought for her books on political, social and economic life of a woman, stating emphatically that she must not base her studies on class work. That's that.

CHIEF JOMBO: Am see, Misisi! Because Mikere dey buy Veronica book for read na him make you say him go marriam. Dam book wey Mikere buy foram and all the cloth and chop and plenty plenty book and school fees wey I dey givam which one big pass? [Woman, I can understand your logic. Michael buys books for Veronica therefore you want to marry Veronica to him. What do you say to all the clothes, food, books and school fees which I have expended on her? Who has a better claim to being listened to, Michael or myself?] 

PAULINA:  Just allow me, before you can say anything you like.

CHIEF JOMBO: Talk all your grammatical, I go hear, but wait Misisi make I askam you one small questions. Why you no tell dam boy Mikere we white like crab make him give Veronica my daughter dam one pounds wey I givam yesterday for take buy three book! [Go on with your wise-cracking, woman, I am here to hear you out. But first, answer me one thing. Why not ask that crab-like boy, Michael, to refund to me that one pound I gave Veronica yesterday to buy three books with.]

PAULINA: Am not after that you know. Let me ask you one simple question too. Do you know how you yourself worried me when I was in the College?

CHIEF JOMBO: Talk nonsense! (He stamps his right hand on the table and his left leg heavily on the floor). How I worry you, you no wan marry? [Do not talk nonsense, woman! Are you trying to imply you were opposed to our marriage?]

PAULINA: I think I should have got my Higher Elementary Certificate by now, but you advised my illiterate parents to withdraw me from doing the course, stating that my Lower Elementary Certificate was even too high for me.

CHIEF JOMBO: Your people wan money and I givam dcm das all. Money dey talk pass book. Big man na money! [Your people wanted money and I gave it to them and that was that. Money speaks more eloquently than book knowledge. The bigness of a man depends on how big a purse he has.]

PAULINA:  Most of my mates who completed the course are now heading full primary schools and some are teaching in Colleges and here I am a grade three teacher. Mike's case with Veronica is quite a different one. While you discouraged me from reading any further, Mike is encouraging Vero to read further.

CHIEF JOMBO: Aha! See now!! You no read plenty yet you no allow me drink water for house with your grammarian talk talk. If you read plenty plenty, dat mean say if I talk, you for dey crack me for head, God no listen. [With a limited education you won't allow me peace from your tiresome display of superior talk. Were you better educated you would never have allowed me the freedom to hold any opinions. God forbid such impertinence.]

PAULINA: I don't care what you may say but the only thing I have to tell you is to leave them alone. If Veronica's love with Mike is a real one, time tells. Just allow Vero and let her have settled mind, for she does not smile again neither does she move freely nor eats happily.

CHIEF JOMBO: Yes! Big Politician. I don hear you. So wetin Mikere and Veronica my daughter do, you causam. Because you go college for America, me I go my own for farm when I talk say wetin Mikere and Veronica my daughter do no good, you begin preach politician. If you wan preach politician go for Enugu dcm plenty. Wetin I say bi, you sabi grammar me ! sabi money pass you. I go tell you say money pass book. MeMo! MOMO-O!! MOMO!COME - O! (He calls and Memo hurriedly runs in.)  Come hear my wife preach politician because Veronica my daughter no listen my word. [My Politician, I am charmed by your cleverness. No doubt you are behind Michael and Veronica. Because you went to college in America while I went to mine in the farm, when I rebuke Michael and Veronica you begin making clever, insinuating speeches. If you want to talk like a politician, then go to Enugu. You will find many like you there. My own view is that educated as you may be, I have more money than you. And Money is more important than book learning.  Memo, come and hear my wife lecturing me because I have condemned my daughter Veronica's obstinacy.] 

And the concluding exchange:

PAULINA:  As I said before, you have to allow Vero to have her way. It is now obvious that she has made up her mind to marry Mike. It is your right to approve it. After all, Chief Bassey is forty-nine years of age while Vero is eighteen. Mike is twenty-four and you can know the reason why Vero prefers Mike to Chief Bassey with all his wealth.

CHIEF JOMBO: I don die again number two time! Na years you dey marry or na money? Chief Bassey na big big money man wey get plenty house for town. Mikere be small boy wey fine for body for nothing. Before moon don, Mikere don broke pass beggarman because small boy now too like for do big man thing. Any way, I go do wetin you talk but make I tell you say for my next world, I go go college because book don do me something. But if I no go, I no go marry woman we go book because they too sabi plenty. If I born daughter for my next world, him too no go go school because they too like poor poor boys wey dey give them sweets an biscuits because dcm too go book and dcm work small clerk work. Chief Bassey get money, Veronica my daughter say him no likare. Well, send Tom to call my friend and neighbours and dcm Head-man, say make dcm come tomorrow evening. [I have died a second time! Is it age or money that people marry? Chief Bassey is a very wealthy man and he has many houses in town. Michael is a young man. He is handsome that's all. Before the end of every month, Michael is already more broke than a beggar because young men nowadays try to live big. Anyway, I shall follow your advice but let me make this clear: when I come back to life next time, I shall go to college because lack of book-learning has cost me much. If I do not go to college however, then I wont dare marry a woman who has because such women are too officious. If I have a daughter in the world, I shall make sure she does not go to school because educated daughters like to marry very poor boys who buy them sweets and biscuits and display their book-learning and little clerical jobs. Chief Bassey is a wealthy man but my daughter Veronica will not have him. Well, send Tom to call all my friends and neighbours and the Headmaster. Let them all assemble in my house tomorrow evening.]

PAULINA: Thank you dear, that's splendid.

CHIEF JOMBO: Tank you too, dar splendid.