Obi of Onitsha Samuel Okosi I, the first Christian Obi of Onitsha. 1899

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Obi Onitsha Sam Okosi I, the first Christian Obi of Onitsha, who became Obi of Onitsha through British colonial and Roman Catholic intervention after the death of Obi Anazonwu in 1899, poses with European-style ‘royal’ regalia. Image Credit: <a href="http://X.com/ukpuru">Ukpuru on X </a>
Obi Onitsha Sam Okosi I, the first Christian Obi of Onitsha, who became Obi of Onitsha through British colonial and Roman Catholic intervention after the death of Obi Anazonwu in 1899, poses with European-style ‘royal’ regalia. Image courtesy: Ukpuru on X 

As we know, Onitsha’s significance extends beyond its economic prowess. It is a city rich in cultural heritage. Among the figures who shaped Onitsha’s trajectory is Obi John Samuel Okolo Okosi I, the first king to ascend the throne under a new political order.

Life Steeped in Faith

Born in Onitsha, Okosi’s life intertwined with the arrival of Christian missionaries in the mid-1800s. Embracing the new faith, he was baptized in 1862 and became a devoted member of the Christian Missionary Society (CMS). However, Okosi’s religious journey wasn’t linear. He briefly returned to a polygamous lifestyle, challenging the missionaries’ teachings. Yet, his faith remained strong, and he recommitted himself to the Catholic Church with renewed fervor.

This dedication was evident in 1890 when Okosi joined Father Lutz on his historic visit to Aguleri, highlighting his willingness to champion the Christian faith.

Missionaries Influence

The passing of Obi Anazonwu in 1899 left a void in Onitsha’s leadership. Okosi, having cultivated a strong relationship with the missionaries, emerged as a contender for the throne. Significantly influenced by the missionaries’ backing, Okosi was chosen as the new king in 1900.

This marked a turning point. Okosi became the first Obi of Onitsha under the new political system, officially recognized by the British government.

As king, Okosi leveraged his position to promote Christianity, particularly Catholicism. His actions were driven by a deep devotion to God. He displayed a crucifix above his throne, a symbol for veneration, and actively rejected traditional practices deemed incompatible with his faith.

Okosi’s reign ushered in a significant shift in Onitsha’s religious landscape. His embrace of Christianity paved the way for the religion’s continued growth and influence in the city.

Obi Okosi’s reign stands as a testament to a period of immense change in Onitsha. His story wakes us to consider the complexities of colonialism and the impact of Christian missions on Igbo society.


How do you think Obi Okosi’s influence affected Onitsha? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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The King in Every Man: Evolutionary Trends in Onitsha Ibo Society and Culture by Richard N. Henderson

A Deep Dive into Onitsha's Pre-Colonial Past

"The King in Every Man" by Richard N. Henderson is a weighty tome (clocking in at 600 pages) offering a rich exploration of the Igbo people of Onitsha, Nigeria. The book focuses particularly on their society and culture in the centuries leading up to colonialism.

While currently out of print, this book is considered a valuable resource for understanding Igbo history and culture. Here's a breakdown of what you can expect:

  • Focus: Ethno-historical reconstruction of Onitsha society before European arrival.
  • Content: Delves into social structures, political systems, religious beliefs, and cultural practices of the Onitsha people.
  • Significance: Provides insights into a way of life largely lost to the colonial era, offering a window into Igbo traditions and philosophies.
  • Source Reliability: The book's age (published in 2000) might necessitate consulting more recent scholarship for a fully comprehensive understanding.
  • Availability: Currently out of print, finding a physical copy may require searching online marketplaces or used bookstores.

Who Should Read This Book?

  • Anyone interested in Igbo history and culture, particularly the Onitsha people.
  • Scholars researching pre-colonial African societies.
  • Individuals with ancestral ties to Onitsha.

Igbo Archives Recommendation:

If the hefty length and potential difficulty in acquiring a copy don't deter you, "The King in Every Man" is a valuable resource for those with a deep interest in Onitsha's pre-colonial past. However, due to availability issues, it might be best suited for researchers or those willing to put in the extra effort to find a copy.

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Onyeka Nwokike
Onyeka Nwokike

Onyeka Nwokike, a graduate from the University of Nigeria Nsukka and a writer at Igbo Archives, is working to challenge common misconceptions and broaden understanding. He has curated a collection of historical photographs and artifacts for Igbo Archives, which helps to fill the educational gaps left by mainstream media and school curricula. His commitment to the celebration and conservation of Igbo heritage has made Igbo Archives an essential resource, cultivating a strong sense of pride and cultural identity within the Igbo community.

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