Uncommon Stories

The 80s: Sundays In Onitsha

Cooking rice on Sundays was the unwritten commandment. Not any kind of rice, but rice with Akwu soup or tomato stew. Cooking jollof rice on a Sunday was taboo. And it was magical how quick it was on Sundays to prepare rice.

In the ’80s, it took an entire week to prepare for Sundays. Everybody looked their best: siblings dressed in matching uniforms, and adults wore their clothes stored in the bottom of their boxes. You could never tell how handsome or beautiful a man or woman in Onitsha was until you met her prepared for church service.

There were many denominations in those days: white garment churches, the Baptist, Cherubim and Seraphin. Anglicans and Catholics dominated Onitsha, and they reserved every Sunday for the show of strength. Families always went to church as a unit. Daddy would sit next to Mummy, and they would channel the children to the Sunday School classes in the church.

Being the only day every market and office in Onitsha would be under lock and keys, Sundays were the sole day of the week families in Onitsha stayed together. It was always a festival. Cooking rice on Sundays was the unwritten commandment. Not any kind of rice, but rice with Akwu soup or tomato stew. Cooking jollof rice on a Sunday was taboo. And it was magical how quick it was on Sundays to prepare rice. Kids in those days in Onitsha had a song for this special dish. With tiny voices, they sang:

Rice ubochi uka, o na e-waste oge? – Mba!

Is it time-consuming to cook rice on Sundays? – No

Because Sundays were also visiting days, every house in Onitsha cooked more than enough. There were no mobile phones in those days, and only the rich could afford telephones. No one knew when a visitor would visit. Visitors were entitled to a plate from your pot on Sundays.

Since the adults were always around, kids had the liberty to play after church service. And at 4 pm, they all reassembled in their house to watch television.

Broadcasts started earlier on Sundays, but family programs like Mike Oli Ife Di Mma, Nze Odira, Jaguar, Tales by moonlight are shown around 4 p.m.

Today, many things have changed. People still go to church but not like before. Again, the special aura of Sundays of the 80s has thinned down. People in Onitsha hardly visit people on Sundays, and the kids are no longer excited about the Television. The only practice about Sundays that is yet to die is the cooking of rice. When that tradition dies; then, the Sundays of the 80s would become history.

Ozii Baba, a TedX Speaker, is an Onitsha-based storyteller and social entrepreneur. He works directly with children and young people.

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