I read “Struggle for Money” for my assigned Onitsha reading. When compared with what I heard from other people’s summaries, this particular Onitsha was rather tame. Of course, the word tame is relative and it is employed because “Struggle for Money” made no questionable moral statements and accusations that placed women below the status of money and material things. A quick recap, my story spoke of the many trials and tribulations of Bueke, young man who is left with nothing from his deceased father. Throughout his life, he experimented with many forms of employment, as a houseboy, apprentice trader, a leather tanner, and a raider. Likewise, he had varying degrees of success and failure. However, in the end, he ended up being murdered.
I know it sounds very anti-climactic compared to everyone else’s and I was pondering about the moral implication of this piece of literature. However, the story ended by showing that Bueke had struggled all his life to make money and in the end, he still died. The cynics in the class will see this as no matter how hard one tries, you still die. I actually see this more as a statement about how life is not all about the pursuit of money and by extension, material things. In addition, unlike the other sex-filled Onitshas, there were no references to overt violence or sex for the sake of customer appeal.
This differentiation in morals and content of Onitshas highlights a very important point. Onitshas, despite being knocked by the academic elite and literary critics, are on par with world renowned works that garner global acclaim. This equality comes from obviously not the quality or a dazzling literary complexity. It resonates from the Onitsha’s purpose as a piece of local literature. Its popularity amongst Nigerian society comes from the fact that it is catered to local tastes and ideas. A major point of literature is to provide to the reader a moment or a glimpse into another world. This glimpse may or may not provide a moral message. However, because it is written by and read by Nigerians, the Onitsha should be given credit, as being just as African as established and acclaimed works.
Yet, this is not the case. For “Struggle for Money”, there was foreword, more of a self-loathing or condescending disclaimer, stating how the contents of this book were for simple minded people in need of relaxation. This belittlement is extended by critics, who cite the “binary and simplistic stereotypes”. This may be true, but it is also relative. What is chicken scratch to some, is Shakespeare to others. Therefore, removing polished lenses of literary analysis, one should easily see that the Onitsha, despite its many shortcomings, deserves much credit, as it is an indicator of Nigerian literature, history, and culture on an equal level as the works of Adichie and so forth.