Unimagining and Reimagining the Niger Delta
This chapter focuses on Nigerian author Ben Okri’s 1987 short story “What the Tapster Saw” as an illuminating example of petro-magic-realism, a literary mode that arose during the Nigerian oil boom. Petro-magic-realism uses tropes drawn from Yoruba narrative tradition to contend with the state violence and environmental degradation that defined oil exploration in the Niger Delta. In 1958, two years before Independence, Nigeria exported its first barrel of oil from Port Harcourt. That year also saw the publication in London of Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart. The timing of Nigeria’s simultaneous entry into global print and petrocapitalisms on the eve of its independence may have been a historical coincidence, but the imbrication of oil and literature in national imagining and international circulation has continued for decades. From the vantage of the Niger Delta, it is evident that oil has fueled national imagining from the beginning, and that the contradictions within such a project are perhaps better read as an unimagining of national community.
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