Versifying the environment and the ‘Oil Encounter’ : Tanure Ojaide’s Delta Blues & home songs

Aghoghovwia, Philip Onoriode (2013)

CITATION: Aghoghovwia, P. O. 2013. Versifying the environment and the ‘Oil Encounter’ : Tanure Ojaide’s Delta Blues & home songs. Alternation, 6:175-196.

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This paper focuses on Nigeria’s Niger Delta using literary representations from the region to interrogate the oil encounter and an exploration of its impact on social and environmental structures. The paper situates Tanure Ojaide’s Delta Blues & Home Songs (1998) within the discourse of environmental justice and ecocriticism, reflecting on the poet’s excoriation of the oil encounter as the harbinger of environmental degradation. Of particular interest is the unique and alternative insight – a kind of insider/indigenous knowledge – this text provides in the agitations for environmental remediation and social justice. The paper argues that through the geography of lived and imagined memory of the pre-oil exploration past, the poet stretches our scientific and technological imagination in proffering solutions to the environmental and social challenges that attend the oil encounter. The poet calls for a lived kind of environmentalism as he invites the reader to inhabit the cultural world of his Niger Delta where he imaginatively recalls the past – of his childhood – of fishing and farming; when ‘the old ways were still very vibrant’ (Ojaide, Poetic Imagination 1996:121). The paper concludes that this near utopian past which the poet versifies, becomes a model for the remediation of the oil-polluted Niger Delta environment. Part of the work of this paper, then, reflects on the particular contributions that literary and cultural perspectives can offer in apprehending the twin issues of justice – environmental and social – occasioned by the oil encounter, and how these perspectives might fruitfully enter into a conversation that is largely dominated by the sciences.

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