Ojebeta Encounters the Onitsha Market

George P. Landow, Professor of English and Art History, Brown University

On the way to sell Ojebeta into slavery, her brother Okolie brings her to "the Onitsha market called Otu, one of West Africa's big meeting places," which looks to the young girl

like a whole city. It was a complete market landscape that seemed to stretch for miles. People swarmed and buzzed like insects. Most were dressed up fashionably but some, like the canoe men and the people selling fresh fish, wore only very meagre cloths wrapped kite-like round their loins. Apart from the Igbo traders, there were Yoruba stalls where you could buy different kinds of root medicine and the black dyed cloth called iyaji (in fact it was more a navy blue but to the Igbos, who loved things colourful, bright and flowery, anything darkish and plain was black). Even the Northerners -- the Hausas, and the tall, graceful Fulani shepherds with their leather knapsacks, leather slippers, long whitish robes and dark brown turbans -- had stalls. Some of their families had settled permanently in the houses along Otu market and sold delicious Hausa dishes, such as corn and bean dumplings laced with roasted meat in honey, and the beef known as eh Awusa. Their women had large holes in their ears through which they wedged bright coral beads bought with the money they made buying and selling in Igbo towns.[38]

Note how many ways Emecheta uses this passage: first, it not only tells us much about the geopolitical situation of the country but it also shows how Nigeria comprises various peoles -- here the Igbo, Fulani, and Yoruba. At whom is this passage directed more, Nigerian or English readers? What role does it play in characterization? In advancing the narrative?

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