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Periodical article Periodical article Leiden University catalogue Leiden University catalogue WorldCat catalogue WorldCat
Title:'Landlords of Onitsha': Urban Land, Accumulation, and Debates Over Custom in Colonial Eastern Nigeria, ca. 1880-1945
Author:Mbajekwe, Patrick
Periodical:International Journal of African Historical Studies
Geographic term:Nigeria
Subjects:land tenure
land law
land conflicts
customary law
urban areas
social history
History and Exploration
Urbanization and Migration
Peoples of Africa (Ethnic Groups)
Abstract:Covering the period of c. 1880-1945, this paper presents a case study of a small family - the Mgebelekeke family - in the city of Onitsha (southeastern Nigeria) to show how urban land became a source of accumulation for some Africans during the colonial period, and to explore the multiple meanings embedded in the Onitsha peoples' struggles over and debates about property rights. Property was power in colonial Africa, not only as a source of wealth, but also as a foundation of authority and an instrument for negotiating power and debating custom. The Mgbelekeke family acquired wealth through land, but more than that, they acquired authority and influence in Onitsha. They took advantage of transformations in the land tenure system to transform themselves from an obscure fishing clan to a prosperous clan of urban landlords. The family was actively involved in shaping the emerging land tenure system in Onitsha in the early 20th century. Their many legal contests over land in Onitsha generated debates among Africans, and between Africans and their European rulers, about land and the meaning of custom. The Mgbelekeke were aided in their rise by the penetration of international commerce, the dramatic growth of Onitsha as a major river port and commercial centre, urban population growth, and the policies and contradictions of the colonial administration. Notes, ref. [ASC Leiden abstract]