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Ogaga Okuyade, African literature and culture, African American and African diasporic studies and the English novel in the Department of English and Literary Studies, Niger Delta University, Wilberforce Island, Nigeria.
The world into which I was born has changed drastically over the years. It has gone without being replenished … But the major problem had to do with the discovery of oil in the Delta. The oil boom became doom for inhabitants of the region. (Ojaide 1996: 122)
Crimes against humanity require new means of redress, a mechanism that records hidden histories of atrocity, didactically promotes collective memory, and gives victims a place of respect, dignity, and agency in the process. (Cole 2007: 171)
The writer of fiction can be and must be the pathfinder. (Ngu∼gı∼ wa Thiong'o 1986: 85)
What is left of Nigeria's Niger Delta today is its residual ecological image. Bearing in mind the total significance of what the habitat once represented for the inhabitants of this capriciously vanishing wetland, the need to salvage what is left is absolutely imperative. The aftermath of the mindless and soulless exploration and exploitation of crude oil in the area has led to the destruction of the major part of ecolife in the Niger Delta. Life has become precarious for the human inhabitants and other living beings that make up the ecosystem of this wetland as a result of the nightmarish consequences of oil exploitation, captured in the apocalyptic images of river oil slicks and hellish flares against the night sky. As a consequence, numerous creek communities, both human and animal, which form part of an interconnected natural web, have evacuated and continue to evacuate this area. Therefore, one often observes flocks of migratory birds circling the skies, struggling to locate their former habitat, then in frustration changing direction to alternative feeding sites. Animals are either burnt to death by uncontrolled gas flares or die of starvation. The most stunning of the ecological disasters in the area are the dead rivers, a product of constant blow-outs and oil spillages. It is important to note that the activities of multinational oil firms in the Niger Delta have completely destroyed local biodiversity and devastated local economies. Migratory birds are now seldom seen in this area. Many freshwater plant species have become extinct, and fishing – once a primary source of income for local people – has come to a tragic end. With the transformations to the creeks and wetlands, the climate also continues to change with the passage of time.
Environmental and animal studies are rapidly growing areas of interest across a number of disciplines. Natures of Africa is one of the first edited volumes which encompasses transdisciplinary approaches to a number of cultural forms, including fiction, non-fiction, oral expression and digital media. The volume features new research from East Africa and Zimbabwe, as well as the ecocritical and eco-activist ‘powerhouses’ of Nigeria and South Africa. The chapters engage one another conceptually and epistemologically without an enforced consensus of approach. In their conversation with dominant ideas about nature and animals, they reveal unexpected insights into forms of cultural expression of local communities in Africa. The analyses explore different apprehensions of the connections between humans, animals and the environment, and suggest alternative ways of addressing the challenges facing the continent. These include the problems of global warming, desertification, floods, animal extinctions and environmental destruction attendant upon fossil fuel extraction. There are few books that show how nature in Africa is represented, celebrated, mourned or commoditised. Natures of Africa weaves together studies of narratives – from folklore, travel writing, novels and popular songs – with the insights of poetry and contemporary reflections of Africa on the worldwide web. The chapters test disciplinary and conceptual boundaries, highlighting the ways in which the environmental concerns of African communities cannot be disentangled from social, cultural and political questions. This volume draws on and will appeal to scholars and teachers of oral tradition and indigenous cultures, literature, religion, sociology and anthropology, environmental and animal studies, as well as media and digital cultures in an African context.
The idea of an extraordinary Nigerian destiny underwent a collective shock with the eruption of the Nigerian civil war. The high hopes offered by the departure of the colonialist from Nigerian's political scape were completely eroded by the crisis of the immediate post-independence era. What was initially a tribal military discord within the elitist cadre of the Nigerian military degenerated into a destructive tangle of national tragedy. Thus, after an inchoate euphoric ecstasy of self-rule, disillusion set in, resulting from what Neil Lazarus (1986) describes as Africa's ‘preliminary overestimation of emancipatory potential’ (p. 50).
The Nigerian civil war is about the ugliest moment in the history of post-colonial Nigeria – a moment of hatreds and sufferings. Benjamin Stora (1999) describes the war scape as a place ‘where gunpowder is in the air and where the combatants' weakness and heroism are revealed’ (p. 80). This period recorded a bumper harvest of artistic and imaginative creativity – most of which painted an apocalyptic vision. Numerous voices spoke of the tragedy and cruelty of the war. Commissioned and non-commissioned officers of the military cabal, Nigerian nationalists, scholars, students and politicians of all sides produced a plethora of print, ranging from autobiographies and memoirs to pamphlets, plays, poetry collections and poems, scattered across the pages of journals and anthologies.
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