Decolonizing the Mind Onitsha-Style: Reexamining Ogali A. Ogali's Cultural Nationalism in The Juju Priest

Terri Ochiagha

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As revolutionary as Achebe's Things Fall Apart was for the Nigerian elite in the immediate aftermath of its publication, the Onitsha Market writers were initially oblivious and later impervious to the novel's groundbreaking feat. Few pamphleteers engaged with the colonial theme and their exertions—admittedly not beholden to Achebe's work—have not received scholarly attention. After the heyday of the Onitsha Market phenomenon, its most famous writer, Ogali A.Ogali, composed his first full-length novel, The Juju Priest (1977). While Ogali had previously dealt with colonialism in earlier pamphlets, Achebe's formal, stylistic, and ideological influence became apparent in this first novel. This essay reads Ogali A. Ogali's The Juju Priest as a window into a non-elite experience with the convolutions of mental colonization and cultural nationalism and complicates Peter Ayers and Reinhard Sander's reading of the novel by arguing that The Juju Priest is an allegory of Ogali's particular process of mental decolonization. I set the scene by discussing the peculiarities of Ogali's booming career as an Onitsha pamphleteer and then examine The Juju Priest at three distinct levels: first, by exploring Ogali's striking mimesis and subversion of colonial discourse in the first part of the novel, which coincides with his use of the cynical-satirical mode; second, by discussing his comic-satirical construction of colonial mimics and cultural nationalists; and finally, by looping back to the author's earlier works, The History of Item (1960), the unpublished pamphlet No Country Is Civilized (1964–65), and “No Heaven for a Priest” (1971). Intriguingly, the intertextual relationship between Ogali's The Juju Priest and Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart seems to indicate Ogali's latent wish to transcend his status as a popular writer. Throughout my analysis, I flesh out Achebe's influence on Ogali's novel and then zoom in on the convergences and divergences in the two writers' engagement with the colonial encounter and epistemic violence in the final part of the essay.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)90-106
Number of pages17
JournalResearch in African Literatures
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2015

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