A Battle cry against Depravity: Lamenting generational Dispossession in Tanure Ojaide's 'Labyrinths of the Delta and the endless song'

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A Battle cry against Depravity: Lamenting generational Dispossession in Tanure Ojaide's 'Labyrinths of the Delta and the endless song'
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  VOLUME 5 (1) 2014 CONTENT  Articles A battle cry against depravity: Lamenting generational dispossession in Tanure Ojaide’s  Labyrinths of the Delta and The endless song     Niyi Akingbe   3 Towards a welcoming society: An examination of Stephen Alumenda’s The Girl who Couldn’t Dance  and  Anani the Albino Boy Anna Chitando   23 Africa’s natural heritage and ecological vision in the work of Bart Wolffe   Syned Mthatiwa   34  Novel-lm interface and postcolonial dystopia: A comparative analysis of Tsitsi Dangarembga’s novel and lm,  Nervous Conditions  and  Neria   Shadreck Nembaware   52 Vulgar acts of entrenchment: The depiction of the Zimbabwean postcolony in Chenjerai Hove’s  Palaver nish  Tasiyana D. Javangwe   60 Symbolism in the drama of J.P. Clark and Femi Ososan  Olaniyan Modupe Elizabeth   71 The one who is not   and cannot   in Alian Mabanckou’s  African Psycho   Tendayi Sithole   82 Portrait of a political liberation theologian: Liberation theology and the making of Abel Muzorewa’s autobiographical subjectivity in  Rise up and walk     Hazel Tafadzwa Ngoshi   97 Book Reviews Accented futures by Carli Coetzee  Khwezi Gule   110 Imbizo INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF AFRICAN LITERARY  AND COMPARATIVE STUDIES ISSN 2078-9785  Interview  Pumla Dineo Gqola interviewed by Grace A. Musila about  A renegade called Simphiwe (2013) at the Open Book Festival, Cape Town, 8 September 2013   Grace A. Musila   114 Short Story  The fty rand note   Tsitsi Nomsa Ngwenya   118  © Unisa Press Imbizo 5 (1) 2014 pp. 3– 22 3  ISSN 2078-9785 A battle cry against depravity: Lamenting generational dispossession in Tanure Ojaide’s Labyrinths  of the Delta and the endless song* Niyi AkingbeDepartment of English and Literary StudiesFederal University Oye-Ekiti, Nigeriadeniakingbe@yahoo.com ABSTRACT Themes of despoliation of fauna and the ecosystem of the oil rich Niger-Delta in Nigeria are often embodied in the works of Tanure Ojaide. Notably, the economic pillage of the region constitutes a major focus of his poetry which draws inferences from his Urhobo oral history and tradition in order to articulate the disturbing effect of this devastation. Nevertheless, Ojaide in Labyrinths of the Delta (1986) and the endless Song (1989) devoutly criticises the deprivation and dispossession of the common men and women of the pre-colonial Niger Delta by the Ogiso and Orodje  – the dreadful Bini and Urhobo traditional rulers who were eventually defeated by the masses. The paper’s overarching focus lies in its engagement with the poetic narrative of abuse of power constructed against the background of deprivation and within the context of a juxtaposition of the pre-colonial dispossession of the Niger Delta by her vicious traditional rulers against the postcolonial siphoning of her oil resources by the country’s successive political leaders. The paper adopts New Historicism as a theoretical framework to illustrate three discursive planks: to establish that tyranny is associated with the wielding of political power in pre-colonial Africa – and specically in the Niger Delta; an effort to establish that the current economic dispossession in the Niger Delta is grounded in the faulty colonial administrative system and further reinforced by the neo-colonial forces of multinational companies. Finally, the paper succinctly states that resistance culture is inherently rooted in the African psychology, and that the transformation of post-colonial society resides in the resolve of the masses to effect a political change during a given period. Keywords : battle cry, lamenting, deprivation, generational dispossession, Labyrinths of the Delta and The   endless song  , Tanure Ojaide Introduction The poet, like the historian, serves as a ubiquitous observer of universal occurrences, ir  - respective of his geographical location at any given time. Most often, his observations are  perspicaciously grounded in representations of the cultural, political, social and economic  4 Niyi Akingbe well-being of the past – and how this relates to the present experiences of the people in his immediate social milieu. By articulating the inextricable link between a society and its past in literature, the role of the literary artist in relation to that of the historian is unambiguously explicated by Nkosi (1991: 11) when he asserts that a literary artist’s  preoccupation is ‘to make the past present, to bring the distant near’(1981: 30). In the same vein, Theodora Akachi Ezeigbo also asserts the existence of a mutual relationship  between the literary artist and the historian in the course of literary production: [while] the duty of the historian is to record and interpret as objectively as humanly possible the events of the past. But the literary artist cannot be so restricted, for he is at liberty to interpret history to suit his purpose; he could dramatise and reconstruct moments in history which he considers important to the shaping of his people’s destiny. Above all his interpretation of his-tory is creative and does not have to comply strictly with historical reality. He could manipulate dates or the chronology of events without impairing the credibility of his historical and artistic vision. A historical literary work therefore, is not a textbook of history, but an imaginative reconstruction of history.”   Ezeigbo’s assertion is, no doubt, ttingly corroborated in Tanure Ojaide’s  Labyrinths of the Delta (1986) and the endless song’s (1989)   ambitious rendering of the brutality, abuse of power, and dispossession of their people imposed by African traditional rulers. These atrocities were ostensibly perpetrated in pre-colonial Africa, but they correspond with the propensity of contemporary Nigeria’s leadership for theft of the nation’s wealth. In locating the Niger Delta’s generational degradation in pre-colonial and postcolonial  Nigeria, Ojaide strives to prove that there are corresponding trajectories of dispossession in the region; and that there are seldom clear-cut breaks between them. Relating the past to the present in the anthologies, clearly establishes Ojaide as a communal raconteur who is abreast of the social and political happenings of his society. In depicting the political subjugation and economic dispossession in the anthologies, Ojaide deploys the oppression and victimhood tropes common to the traditional African societies of Nigeria’s Niger Delta. He does so in order to bring to the foreground the is-sues of oppression and resistance and thereby establishes a background of dehumanisation and economic dispossession of the masses. This subjugation is seen to take place against the backdrop of contestation of power between the ruler and the ruled in contemporary  Nigeria. The contesting of power in the Niger Delta has necessitated the establishment of a discourse platform in The Labyrinths of the Delta and the endless song, for the ar-ticulation of: …the space between power and authority created by the coercive absolutism of power as the site of confrontation between power and the word-or the wielder of the word, the poet. Through millennia of human history, power has always been portrayed as oppressive, unjust, unfair and egotistical... The history of empires is one long tale of human savagery, misanthropy and the abuse of power, as the power-wielding classes practiced iniquitous barbarity on their less-privileged compatriots and commoners’’(Anyokwu 2009: 4). In assessing the past abuse of power in the pre-colonial Niger Delta, Ojaide relays the enormity of the distillation of gratuitous cruelty by the Ogiso and Orodje  and concomi-  A battle cry against depravity: Lamenting generational dispossession in Tanure Ojaide’s Labyrinths ...  5 tantly exposes the abuse of power by Nigeria’s contemporary political leaders. He illus-trates the latter using their immense and almost immeasurable theft of the Niger Delta’s economic resources. In the context of the postcolonial Niger Delta’s resistance against despoliation, the lan - guage of marginality continues to revolve around the metaphors of degradation and, by extension, rapacious exploitation. The poetic parallelism in the depiction of the despolia -tion of the Niger Delta in the anthologies is clearly intended to provide the essential push for social change – and indeed to mobilise it. Beneath this parallelism, Ojaide’s narra -tive thrust in depicting the Niger Delta’s depredation in the pre-colonial era is largely mythological and is rendered in the Urhobo oral tradition. However, the depiction of the depredation of the Niger Delta in the postcolonial period is encapsulated in a more direct,  poetic expression grounded in metaphors of despoilation. The comparison of the Niger Delta’s degradation in the pre-colonial era with what happened in postcolonial Nigeria is reinforced by the inclusion of recognisably real gures and immediately relevant politi - cal contexts in the anthologies – better to articulate the signication of dispossession in  Nigeria’s Niger Delta discourse. By invoking the discursive paradigm of subjugation in the two anthologies, Ojaide brings to the foreground an interplay of the imagery of vigour and metaphors of exuberance and resistance in order to condemn the dispossession of the masses’ collective heritage by the corrupt and repressive rulers represented in the images of the Orodje  and Ogiso .Appropriating the inherent dialogic of dispossession in the anthologies enables him to construct for the reader the reprehensible economic exploitation and its attendant consequences on the people and the environment in the Niger Delta. In articulating the signication of dispossession in the anthologies, Ojaide has, nonetheless, put forward an incisive comment on the intertwining pre-colonial and postcolonial economic devastation of the region which has led to its marginality in the past decades. The paper will endeavour to illustrate how Ojaide’s criticism of the deprivation and dispos-session of the Nigerian masses by the political éliteis is sustained through his deployment of nature, animal and aquatic metaphors and images in  Labyrinths of the Delta and the endless song  . The paper is primarily premised on three discursive planks: an attempt to establish that tyranny is associated with the wielding of political power in pre-colonial Africa, and specically in Nigeria’s Niger Delta; an effort to establish that the current economic dispossession in the Niger Delta was srcinally grounded in the faulty colonial administrative system. This point of view is further reinforced by the neo-colonial forces of multinational companies. Finally, the paper endeavours to state succinctly that resis - tance culture is inherently rooted in the African psychology, and that the transformation of post-colonial society resides in the resolve of the masses to effect a political change in a given periodFurthermore in recognising the necessity to account succinctly for the import of both pre- colonial and postcolonial dispossession of the Niger Delta, the paper will demonstrate how Ojaide – in conformity with the tenets of New Historicism – has employed the three
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