Sydney chooses to begin an engaging essay with a quote from over 40 years ago: “Remember your seventy year-old grandmother who still farms before she eats; remember also your poverty-stricken people; remember too your petroleum which is being pumped out daily from your veins, and then fight for your freedom.”-Isaac Adaka Boro, Niger Delta Volunteer Service, 1966.
Continuing from this introduction, Sydney examines “Now is the Time” by Oronto Douglas. “I hear echoes of Martin Luther King Jr. giving his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and the vision of America he brought to the Lincoln Memorial. I also hear Barack Obama’s honesty he brought about America’s economic status and also a message of hope during his 2008 presidential campaign in Douglas’ article.” And “…I see the power, the constructive and deconstructive capabilities of humankind in Kaine Agary’s ‘My Blessing, My Curse.’ Kaine Agary analogizes her body as Nigeria creating a personally deep connection with her land and demonstrates that the world stands idle with blinders strapped on.”
After examining and articulately discussing the works of Douglas and Agary in the essay, Sydney presents a personal perspective,”…I recognize that hope is evident—specifically in the articles —a great first step in the socio-political economic right direction. But, is hope enough?”
Sydney explores that hope when looking at images in the book. [Left] “I see lack of contentment specifically in the closed eyes of the mother…Her child is one who potentially could transform the Niger Delta into a place that is more livable, healthy and vibrant than it is now.” Like Amy Gilbert in an earlier essay, Sydney recognizes the mother’s commitment and intimacy -“…a necessary dependency…”- with the child. Interestingly, they both comment on the mother’s facial expression – despair connected with hope of a new generation.
[Below] “In the background there are men with umbrellas as she walks confidently without one. To me, she brings a hope amidst the cloudy, rainy day and finds a way to fend for herself when there is not an easy way to do that … She brings innovation, utilizing her only available apparatus. This image is hope. There is hope; it just needs to be enacted by a generation who sees the potential to fix corruption caused by oil companies large enough to corrupt the figures in power that possess the handle and control strings attached to the marionette puppet—its people.”
Sydney, thank you for your valuable contribution, your observations of hope, and for asking us all to reflect “…as noted in Douglas’ piece by the biblical Ecclesiastes ‘To everything a season’, —the season is now to remember and to act.”
Please click below to read the entire essay.
GSI: Tara Dosumu Diener
Short Paper on Curse of the Black Gold
Sacred and Profane: Personal Insights on Pictures and Text from Curse of the Black Gold Photographsby Ed Kashi and Edited by Michael Watts
“Remember your seventy year-old grandmother who still farms before she eats; remember also your poverty-stricken people; remember too your petroleum which is being pumped out daily from your veins, and then fight for your freedom.”-Isaac Adaka Boro, Niger Delta Volunteer Service, 1966 (Page 143 in Curse of the Black Gold)
“Now is the Time” by Oronto Douglas describes what citizens in the Niger Delta need to accomplish as well as describing the situation through someone who has seen, felt, and lived the Niger Delta. I see the power, the constructive and deconstructive capabilities of humankind in Kaine Agary’s “My Blessing, My Curse.” I hear echoes of Martin Luther King Jr. giving his “I Have a Dream” speech and the vision of America he brought to the Lincoln Memorial. I also hear Barack Obama’s honesty he brought about America’s economic status and also a message of hope during his 2008 presidential campaign in Douglas’ article.
After hearing Ed Kashi and Michael Watts speak about and after personally reading their book on the oil conflict in the Niger Delta–how it is affecting its citizens (including rebels), oil companies in the area and as an industry as a whole, and youth among many other groups of people in the area and beyond Nigeria’s boundaries–I recognize the impact of the oil companies and the complexities of their presence. The integration of Kashi’s photographs and Watts’ collection of text blended together creates the most potent combination. Blending words with pictures and pictures with words compliment each other to create a fuller, more colorful and dimensional image in my mind. The combination of photographs and text bring breadth and depth that would not have been achieved had the two not been paired together.
Douglas describes, in his article “Now is the Time,” how justice is necessary and cannot afford to go “under the radar” in the Niger Delta. He explains an inability to talk “directly and plainly” about the matter that has “led to the corporate prescription of hangman’s solution…of resource ownership, control, use, and management.” Douglas describes how the people living in the Niger Delta desire absolute control of resources exported from their homeland and how they should be profiting from oil found. This, evidently, is demonstrated in lifestyles emphasized in Kashi’s photographs and Watts’ selection of articles written by various people impacted at all levels and distances from the Niger Delta oil quandary. Douglas explains, “The government turns a blind eye until the source of the rents and royalties is threatened by youths and community people who are condemned as militants and terrorists.” People need to take action. MEND needs to evaporate and there needs to be a transformation of youth mentality from standing idly by with payoffs into youth movements promoting justice. Douglas urges Niger Delta citizens to have complete control of their lives in all aspects because when they possess organizing of their lives, they can have assured “safety” and “well-being” and obtain the highest potential level of justice for the suffering brought upon the Delta’s citizenry.
“We are all victims,” Douglas notes, and that is not an over exaggeration in my mind. He continues describing victimization; “from fraud to maladministration” there are seemingly (to me at least) almost too many problems for the existence of a viable solution. Personally, I recognize that hope is evident—specifically in the articles—a great first step in the socio-political economic right direction. But, is hope enough? The pictures demonstrate little hope with blazing fires in the backgrounds from oil pipes, shacks constructed of scraps, and people living off of little. I see lack of contentment specifically in the closed eyes of the mother who is breast-feeding her child surrounded by belongings on a tightly packed boat spread on pages 158 and 159. Her child is one
who potentially could transform the Niger Delta into a place that is more livable, healthy and vibrant than it is now. (Footnote: I love the intricacies of this picture. The mother and child’s intimacy with one another depict a necessary dependency. The mother needs the closeness of her daughter and the satisfaction of knowing that the child is nearby on such a crammed boat. The child needs the mother for life and sustenance through care, food, and protection from others on the boat and their belongings. Everyone in this picture is doing something—some are relaxing, others taking in the view, and some are collecting and protecting their items. There is a case of sprite amongst the other goods—a sign of commodity colonization.) I turn to the image on page 146 of the girl in the red dress with a shirt stretched over her head to keep it protected from getting wet during a summer rain shower. In the background there are men with umbrellas as she walks confidently without one. To me, she brings a hope amidst the cloudy, rainy day and finds a way to fend for herself when there is not an easy way to do that (like if she had an umbrella similarly to the other men in the picture). She brings innovation, utilizing her only available apparatus. This image is hope. There is hope; it just needs to be enacted by a generation who sees the potential to fix corruption caused by oil companies large enough to corrupt the figures in power that possess the handle and control strings attached to the marionette puppet—its people.
Later Douglas asks, “But must Shell, Chevron, Agip, Exxon Mobil, TotalFinaElf be allowed-or expected-to provide the water we drink when we are thirsty, build the hospitals we attend when we are sick, fund the schools in which we instruct our youth? Must Big Oil act as our road builders? What in other words is the business of the governments that represent us?” The questions Douglas poses are provocative, heart-felt, and necessary to examine when quantifying if the oil companies bring anything beneficial to the Delta region. Sure, they are bringing schools, healthcare, and water. Are those material items for citizens enough for land that is being demolished for oil and dividends passed out to the people in power and the socio-political economic status in high distress? I would consider alternatives to the seemingly heavier destruction than the “reparations” paid by the oil companies. I would also ask would there be water, hospitals and schools otherwise? We can reverse the complexities brought by oil companies, Douglas notes and I personally agree, by respecting elders and having communal institutions to gather together. Customary rule and ways prior to the infiltration of oil companies need to be re-established and promoted. There cannot be joint ventures between the government and the oil companies and dialogue is more important than ever.
Douglas powerfully and directly acknowledges, “The rest of the world is not waiting for us [citizens of the Niger Delta].” Kaine Agary analogizes her body as Nigeria creating a personally deep connection with her land and demonstrates that the world stands idle with blinders strapped on. She describes her pores full of palm oil, her legs long and strong like rubber trees and in her mouth were once many fish to feed her children, her breasts full of milk, and that there was a treasure waiting to be uncovered in a secret place no lover has touched before. This was her paradise. Each time she saw a ship in the Atlantic, it was an opportunity it receive a new lover and satiate their cravings to be nourished. Her reference to colonialists made them seem as if they brought “a way to heaven and a way to wealth,” attractive possibilities. Nothing provided in the same satiating way compared to her life previously. She married a lover and a landlord, analogous to “the rest of the world” as mentioned above, did nothing but take pleasure in seeing Agary suffer as she lost her body and treasure to the lover that spread her secret to unknown strangers.
“With each barrel of my treasure that they took from me, an ounce of my energy went. My beauty, the milk that fed my children, the fist that swam aplenty in my mouth, the plantains on my head, all diminished with every barrel that was taken away.” News of the situation was spread to other places, but people did not understand completely. Love seems to have been misinterpreted or falsified. “I lay here unconscious;” I see this as Agary’s description of the status of the land. The treasure between her legs is symbolic of the barrels of oil located as the heart or riches of the Niger Delta. Now she is infertile of everything she once possessed because of the temptations taken from the government and oil companies. What once was a blessing evolved into a greedy curse as a result of the oil conflict in the Niger Delta and relations with oil companies vying for barrels of treasure.
We need to act now as proven by Douglas, Agary, the little girl with the shirt over her head for protection, and for the suckling child who could have a bright future if the Niger Delta is organized into a functional system where respect and consideration for its people exists. “To everything a season,” as noted in Douglas’ piece by the biblical Ecclesiastes—the season is now to remember and to act.