Biafra as third space : reading the politics of belonging in Nigeria-Biafra civil war literature

David, Stephen Temitope (2019-12)

Thesis (PhD)--Stellenbosch University, 2019.

Thesis

ENGLISH ABSTRACT: The image of Biafra as a space of belonging has assumed currency in contemporary secessionist discourse. Wartime Biafran society is framed as a utopia where everyone belonged and felt safe. Consequently, this framing has birthed a robust following among Igbo youths who desperately seek an alternative to the ‘unfriendly’ Nigerian space. This deployment of memory/remembrance stirs up a need to question how people belonged within Biafra as well as the dimensions of violence that being ‘an outsider within’ might have created during the war. Thus, this thesis examines the representation of un/belonging in Biafra in selected literary texts to map the violence and layers of exclusion which the politics of belonging generates. This is to map and listen to those marginal voices that often ‘fall through the cracks’ in the war’s historicity. I employ Nira Yuval-Davis’s situated intersectionality as my methodological anchor in teasing out the unique experiences of vulnerable ‘Biafrans’ who were differently located within the wartime society as ‘outsiders within’ due to their ethnicity, gender, age, ability/disability, sexuality and class. I pay attention to the ways in which the interaction of these axes of identity creates characters whose fraught narratives of unbelonging spill outside the binary narrative frame of Nigeria-Biafra which is mostly deployed in writing and reading popular histories of the conflict. My reading is further moored to Nira-Yuval Davis’ conception of the politics of belonging and Homi Bhabha’s idea of third space. I position literary texts as my canvas in engaging with Biafra and Biafranness due to the poignant way fictional narratives represent private suffering. I read nine fictional narratives and two memoirs to curate a conversation between literature and history as ‘cotexts.’ Memoirs are selected across victims/hegemons divide to question the politics of memory and remembrance. I have selected texts written by erstwhile Biafrans due to the intimate manner in which they narrate the Biafran experience, and to facilitate my aim of listening to Biafran voices and stories. My aim is to get a more nuanced reading of the ‘Biafran’ experience by bringing the victims into conversation with the power brokers in wartime Biafra. The study finds that the unavowed narratives of Biafra that are trapped within the binary approach are revelatory of the excess which plagues most hegemonic accounts of the war. Within these stories from in-between, which I have framed as third space stories, the idea of Biafra as a homely space is unsettled to reveal the multiple forms of violence deployed against characters caught at the margins of belligerent positions in order to police belonging, ensure dogmatic solidarity, and to smelt a linear Biafran identity. These stories that emerge from the interstices of the Nigeria-Biafra dichotomy indicate that adopting an intersectional frame in thinking about the civil war produces a much more nuanced encounter with Biafra. More importantly, the voices that come to light within this mode of reading speak of excess and absences in a way that calls attention to an unfinished business of mourning and healing. They speak of a lack of return in the post-war moment, and of a continuity of trauma which is tied to a ruptured sense of belonging. These voices, and the stories they tell, also reveal that by creating spaces for narrative engagements where speaking and listening can thrive, unencumbered by hagiographical histories, a measure of belonging could blossom.

AFRIKAANSE OPSOMMING: Die beeld van Biafra as 'n ruimte van samehorigheid het ʼn vorm van ruilmiddel geraak in huidige afskeidingsdiskoers. Die Biafra-samelewing in die oorlogstyd word voorgestel as 'n utopie waar almal ‘n gevoel van veiligheid en samehorigheid gedeel het. Hierdie raamwerk het gevolglik 'n stewige navolging onder Igbo-jeugdiges – wat desperaat na 'n alternatief vir die 'onvriendelike' Nigeriese ruimte soek – opgebou. Hierdie ontplooiing van memorisering / herinnering wek 'n behoefte om te bevraagteken tot watter mate mense binne Biafra die area as ʼn tuiste ervaar het, asook die dimensies van geweld wat ‘binnebuitestanders' gedurende die oorlog geskep/ervaar het. Hierdie tesis ondersoek dus die voorstelling van on / samehorigheid in Biafra in geselekteerde literêre tekste om die geweld en lae van uitsluiting wat die politiek van samehorigheid genereer, te karteer. Dit beoog om na die marginale stemme wat deur die krake val van die oorlog soos histories uitgebeeld, te luister en ook op te teken. Ek gebruik Nira Yuval-Davis se toepaslike konsep van interseksionaliteit as my metodologiese anker om die unieke ervarings van kwesbare 'Biafrane' wat anders in die oorlog gemeenskap geleë was, as 'binne-buitestaanders' – as gevolg van hul etnisiteit, geslag, ouderdom, vermoë / gestremdheid, seksualiteit of klas – uit te lig. Ek let op die maniere waarop die interseksie tussen hierdie asse van identiteit karakters skep wie se gekwelde verhale van on-samehorigheid buite die binêre narratiewe raamwerk van Nigerië-Biafra val – ‘n raamwerk wat meestal ontplooi word in die skryf- en leesvaardighede van gewilde geskiedenisse van die konflik. My perspektief word verder vasgemeer aan Nira-Yuval Davis se opvatting van die politiek van samehorigheid, asook Homi Bhabha se idee van die derde ruimte. Ek lees literêre tekste in gesprek met Biafra as beide ʼn historiese werklikheid en ʼn gekose identiteit as gevolg van die aangrypende wyse waarop fiktiewe vertellings private lyding uitbeeld. Ek lees nege fiktiewe vertellings en twee memoires ten einde 'n gesprek tussen literatuur en geskiedenis as ‘ko-tekste’ saam te stel. Memoires word geselekteer om die slagoffer / heerser verdeling wat geskep is binne die politiek van herinnering en herdenking te bevraagteken. Ek het tekste gekies wat deur destydse Biafrane geskryf is, vanweë die intieme manier waarop hulle die Biafra-ervaring vertel, en om my doel (om te luister na Biafraanse stemme en verhale) te bereik. Ek beoog om 'n meer genuanseerde lesing van die 'Biafra'-ervaring te kry deur die slagoffers in gesprek te bring met die krag-makelaars van die oorlog. Die studie bevind dat die onerkende vertellings oor Biafra wat vasgevang is binne die binêre benadering, die oorskot van onverklaarbaarheid wat die meeste hegemoniese verhale van die oorlog teister, belig. In hierdie tussentydse verhale, wat ek as derde-ruimte verhale bespreek, word die idee van Biafra as 'n verwelkomende tuiste ontwrig, om die veelvuldige vorme van geweld wat ontplooi word teen karakters vasgevang op die rand van vyandige posisies te onthul. Sulke vertellings weier om samehorigheid te polisieer, dogmatiese solidariteit te verseker, en binne 'n lineêre Biafraanse identiteit te versmelt. Hierdie verhale wat uit die kernpunte van die Nigerië-Biafra-digotomie te voorskyn kom, dui daarop dat die aanvaarding van 'n interseksionele raamwerk in die verdere na-denke oor die burgeroorlog, 'n veel meer genuanseerde ontmoeting met Biafra oplewer. Die stemme wat na vore kom in hierdie leeswyse spreek van oormatigheid en afwesigheid op 'n manier wat aandag gee aan 'n onafgehandelde taak van rou en genesing. Hulle artikuleer die gebrek aan terugkeer na die na-oorlogse oomblik, en spreek van 'n kontinuïteit van trauma wat gekoppel is aan 'n gebroke samehorigheid. Hierdie stemme, en die verhale wat hulle vertel, onthul ook dat, deur ruimtes te skep vir narratiewe verbintenisse waar praat en luister kan floreer, sonder om hagiografiese geskiedenis na te streef, wel 'n mate van samehorigheid sou kon kweek.

Please refer to this item in SUNScholar by using the following persistent URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10019.1/107096
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