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EXILE AND GLOBALIZATION IN THE POETRY OF

TANURE OJAIDE: A STUDY OF WHEN IT NO LONGER


MATTERS WHERE YOU LIVE

BY

TERHEMBA SHIJA

DEPARTMENT OF ENGLISH
NASARAWA STATE UNIVERSITY, KEFFI

ABSTRACT
The twin concepts of Exile and Globalization are of great significance
to contemporary African Literature as some African writers live and
write in Exile while others deploy themes and styles that they
believe, make their works relevant to the global community.
Since the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the end of
the cold war at the end of the 20th Century, there has been a
triumphalism of liberal democracy, free-market economy and other
norms of the capitalist world order. Consequently there appears to be
an increasing tendency among scholars to homogenize or globalize
the practices and values canvassed by the advanced countries of the
west.
This paper analyses Tanure Oaides book, When It No Longer Matters
Where You Live in which the poet acknowledges the inevitability of
some African elits living exile in western cosmpopolitan centers but
rejects the uncritical notion inherent in globalization that western
culture and values were synongmous with universal norms or
superior to those of the Africans.

It was first Onookome Okome (2002: p. 15) who, after reading Ojaides poem,
No Longer our Country observed that exile seems a permanent option for
Tanure Ojaide in his quest to overcome the anguish and despair that befell postcolonial Nigeria. The poem in question reads:
We have lost it,
The country we were born into.
We can now sing dirges
Of the common wealth of yesterday
We live in a country
That is no longer our own(The blood of Peace 1991, page 8)
This is the tone of one who is discouraged. Ojaide who had waged a
relentless war against dictatorship, social insecurity, corruption,

and cultural domination in earlier works, appears to be losing the


war. Evidence of this loss is conveyed in the despondency and
docility of the masses potrayed in his works such as The Eagles
Vision, The Fate of Vultures and Delta Blues and Home Songs.
In the title poem, When it No Longer Matters where You Live,
Ojaide (1998) captures with the metaphor of an inferno, the harsh
conditions of living in Nigeria which create fertile grounds for exile:
Choking from the seasons flagellation,
droves of wailers comb the breath of the land
For healer hidden by the hysteria of gunsThey want to rid the body of its tumor.
Wild fires consumed barks and herbs
What are the chances of catching the lion alive?
Did I hear right that witches conjured
The healing power into a bottle that they corked
And threw into the depths of ravines?
The rumour of war days blaze memory
With harmattan drought always beware
Of falling from the spider-webs height (77).
The image of a country on fire is rife in this poem. The intensity of
the worsening conditions of living, which were compounded by
military

dictatorship,

is

conveyed

by

images

of

choking,

flagellation, wailers, hysteria of guns, tumor and wild fires.


The poet speaks of Nigeria where life had become unbearably hard
for members of the lower class, woes and droves of wailers
parading the streets looking for a saviour who is ironically a
murderer, who is hidden by a hysteria of guns. This phase
represents the indiscriminate and arbitrary use of force as an
instrument to instill dictatorship.

The beauty of Ojaides cherished country is also destroyed as the


barks and herbs that once adorned the landscapes are
consumed by the wild fires. The desecration of the environment
as in most of Ojaides poems dealing with the nature is symbolic of
the destruction of African culture and values. The hopelessness in
redeeming his country is captured in the image of metaphysical
elements conspiring with human beings to rob the country of
meaningful solutions to her heartless leadership of the country.
These factors constitute the two major reasons why most African
intellectuals flee their countries and head for the West.
If home is so unsafe for exiles, then are their countries of sojourn
any better? If home is a place of physical torture and deprivation,
are the exiles free from other forms of mental deprivation abroad?
Ojaides response to the above questions lie in the rather
paradoxical title of the poem, When It No Longer Matters Where
You Live. The poet re-states:
Except by returning to libate the soil
With the Cock of Abujas blood,
Will exile not offend martyred one?
For all its refuge, the foreign home
Remains a night whose dawn
I wish arrives before its time.
Theres none so hurt at home
Who forgets the pain outside
Thats the president ache one carries
Until homes safe to return to,
When it no longer matters
Where you choose to live (77).

Ojaides position on the question of exile is ironic. He appears


lukewarm in spite of the refuge it guarantees to sojourners. In a
diction tinged in rituals that celebrate his love for indigenous
practices, the poet calls for libation for the cleansing of his country,
Nigeria. He calls for the blood of the Cock of Abuja to be used in
the ritual, which is a euphemism for the assassination of the
President of Nigeria who rules from Abuja and by extension the
ousting of the prevailing administration. Ojaide views both his
home and his country of exile as equally strewn with hazards.
Accordingly, he notices a strange duality of fortunes, that of
freedom and the lack of it; joy and sorrow, happiness and tragedy
all stand close together on either side of the divide. The poet
juxtaposes the refuge in the foreign home with the uncertainty of
the long night whose dawn is reluctant to arrive. He also
compares the hurt at home with: the pain outside and arrives at
the conclusion that it no longer matters where you may choose to
live in the world.
Ojaides

philosophy

here

approximates

to

the

concept

of

globalization which seeks to promote ideas of universal human


rights, universal order, free trade controlled by market forces and
even the universal concept of liberal democracy. To critics like
Grifiths, King and Olaniyan, globalization means creating a new
hybrid culture and other new identities at the expense of nation
state

identities and culture.

As they reside and write in the West, most of these exiles are
caught up in the crisis of identity. They wish to be identified as
writing for their various Third World Countries but also engage in

issues in their new immigrant communities. Bruce King in an


article The Commonwealth Writer in Exile observes that the
works of exiles like Buchi Emecheta, Timothy Mo, V. S. Naipaul,
Shiya Naipul, Salman Rushdie, Zulfikar Ghose, Randolph Stow,
Mecna Alexander and A. K. Ranannuja are part of the literature of
England and the United States where they presently reside (39).
King argues that these exiles live in a time when the new nations
and multiculturalism have become important; consequently the
writer in exile has become the intermediary or the interpreter of the
new nations to the former colonial powers. At the turn of the
Twenty-first century the borders of nations states do not restrict
writers anymore. Social cultural changes, especially those caused
by rapid communication ease, Internet, Satellite, telephone and
television, radio and international air transportation all combine to
render the whole world a global village. Consequently, Olaniyan
announces that we are at the threshold of a Global age whose main
characteristics include relativization of the nation-state and the
consequently sourcing of nationalist particularism (86).
While this assertion could be true of earlier exiles like Naipul,
Rusdie, Emecheta and others, it cannot be true of contemporary
exiles like Tanure Ojaide, Ben Okri, Olu Oguibe and Uche
Udechukwu. It will be nave to assume that because the West has
given these writers a safe haven away from dictatorial regimes of
their home countries, they have become complacent of their anticolonialist agenda. That some exile are ambivalent in their
commitment to a particular cause is not merely as a result of their
exposure to instant communication facilities of their exposure to

information from both their home nation-states and the so-called


metropolitan West. After all, other writers in exile like Achebe and
Ngugi who are also their contemporaries and have access to the
same communication facilities demonstrate unalloyed commitment
to decolonization.
This unwarranted legislation by critics to produce a universalist
hybrid culture is as one-sided as the concept of universalism which
is western biased. The concept of globalization itself appears eurocentric in this context. Ngugi Wa Thiongo also shares this
skepticism when he says in his article, Moving The Centre: The
Struggle For Cultural freedoms that I dont see a large thriving
community of Iraqis in Mexico of Cambodia, or Americans and
Britons rushing in droves to catch the next flight to Nigeria or Idia
for want of a better life. Isnt globality, like modernity, another way
of the West to generalize its experience of history as the universal
experience of the world while making others pay the bills? (1993
p.25)
This message is conveyed more forcefully in Ojaides use of Pidgin
English, a variety of English Language spoken by Anglophone
countries along the West African Coast. The poem in question is
Immigrant Voice. Pidgin English is regarded as the idiom of the
poor in this area. Despite the persistent image laundering in
Hollywood films, Ojaide reveals that the capitalist and neocolonialist America is inhabited by millions of homeless people and
others living in squalor. Those who are lucky to get employment toil
on their jobs throughout the day without any proper remuneration.

The conditions of living are so harsh that an average worker barely


manages to survive. The following lines explain further:
This na America with homeless for every corner
That I think I de na numberless world?
Where all the fine things in that picture
Everybody dress kamkpe that I think
Na angels, Hollywood heaven they misspell?
Now I work standing so te for minimum wage,
Get dollars for one hand and give them out for the
other
I come back from work so dead I cant eat or sleep
And before dawn I don get up to begin another slave
day
When I reply their letters from home saying
Here no be what they think they see for their minds,
They no gree with me and call me lie-lie man (p.
105).
Ojaides account of the living conditions in America rendered in the
dialect of the poor captures the senseless material consciousness of
the capitalist society that negates all positive values of humanity,
but continuously presents itself to us as modernity or civilization.
In comparison with the conditions prevalent in Africa and the Third
World, the poet only stops short of saying that he wants to return
home to face the criminals in government. He is certainly disgusted
with the pretensions of modernity of the Americans and the unjust
subjugation of the subalterns. Ojaide resorts:
America na big photo-trick to me.
If say big thief no boku fo home
And they no give man chance to live softly,
America no be place to live for one whole day.
The streets de explode kpa-a like Biafra,
Dead body no de fear anybody:
You no know whether the person saying Hi

Want to shoot, rob or rape you.


Neighbour no de, friend no de except them dog.
You de for your own like craze-man de pursue dollar
Which no de stay for your hand they say na capitalism
When dollar the circulate, circulate without rest.
beggar, thief, poor poor, all dem de boku
sometimes I cry my eyes red for night in bed
Wetin my eye don see for here pass pepper (p. 105 6)
Another poem that has challenged the assumptions of superiority
of Western values, goods and services is the one titled Dinner,
Onboard British Airways. In it the poet exposes the hypocrisy of
the so-called people of superior race who are either not discerning
enough or are too committed to their national pride that they
overlook the need to be objective in their judgment. Why did every
British national on board the British Airways opt for beef instead of
chicken in spite of the open secret that their country was infested
with mad cow disease? When it was the turn of the poet to be
served his meal, the steward maliciously failed to offer him the
option of choosing either beef or chicken:
So when the hostess began asking,
Chicken of Beef? no-one but
the British and they couldnt
make a dent on board chose beef
for love of their island country.
The trolley was a stack of beef
In the market, unsold wholesale.
As she thrust smiles and beef
At me saying, Only beefs left
I said, No, thanks for one
Half-minute she looked at me
Smiles erased, paler than ever;
She withdrew the pack. No doubt,
She heard my unspoken words;
No compliment to HMs kingdom (P. 21).

In the above poem, the colonial power of the world is variously


referred to as island country and HMs kingdom as a way of
exposing European parochialism in dealing with Africa and the
Third World. By reminding us that Britain is an island, the poet
draws our attention to the symbolism of a secluded lonely country
removed from the rest of the world. He wants us to know that this
country that once colonized almost half of the worlds population is
merely an island and its cultural norms should ordinarily only
apply to the people that inhabit it. Perhaps that is the reason why,
no-one but/the British chose beef for dinner onboard the British
Airways. The mention of HMs Kingdom is similarly an allusion to
the private and individualistic tendencies of the West which
contradict the norms in African societies where the community is
superior to the individual. The poet clearly looks at the situation in
which her majestys position dominates every other citizen of the
country as imperialist, undemocratic and unintelllectual.
The question Ojaide seems to be asking is this: If the Europeans
are really committed to the tenets of globalization, why are they so
parochial as not to appreciate other peoples point of view or admit
their shortcomings? This arrogant posture snacks of the age-long
belief that the Europeans were superior and more civilized than
other races in the Third World. This poem, like Wole Soyinkas
Telephone Conversation in which a similar dialogue is recorded
between a black speaker and a white landlady, is built on sarcasm
and satire. While the black speaker in Soyinkas Telephone
Conversation uses words with negative connotations to describe
the racist landlady, the poet-persona in :Dinner, Onboard British

Airways disarms the discriminatory hostess with his taciturnity


and his snobbish bi-syllabic answers: No, thanks.
The next poem, Safe Journey more than any other in the volume
presents a vivid picture of political intolerance which culminates
into voluntary and involuntary exile to the imperial centres of the
West. With his attention focused on people in the Latin America,
the poet reinforces the global vision of the country of origin or the
stages

of

their

countries

social,

political

and

economic

development. The poor find in each others plight a comradeship


and solidarity that inspires them to challenge the continuous
subjugation of their societies by the ruling class.
Dedicated to Deborah Ortega, a Nicaraguan lady, the poem, Safe
Journey, contemplative in tone and sounding like a blues song,
narrates the story of the poor Latin American people in relation to
the United States. This poem brings to mind, Immigrant Voice
which the poet had written on Nigeria. In both poems, the people of
developing countries are obsessed with the prospects of finding
solace in exile. Apart from the menace of poverty, crime deprivation
and disease, the Sandinista guerrilla fighters are engaged in a civil
war government forces in Nicaragua. To most of the poor who
cannot change the political system or their economic fortunes, exile
is seen as the best option. In the poem, Immigrant Voice, Ojaides
kinsmen in Nigeria accuse him of unjustly discouraging them from
enjoying life in America on the pretext that life was unbearably
harsh there. In the poem, Safe Journey the Nicaraguans undergo
all kinds of indignities to gain access into the United States where
they hope to end their curse of poverty. The following lines tell the

story of Deborah Ortegas escape from her country and her illegal
entry into the United States in search of better life:
Cant forget the many bribes
at checkpoints because
your father looked different
with a fraction of Chinese blood,
not the Mayan bronze they expected
of Nicaraguans or Mexicans.
The five-hour detention in Belize
Blew open the enormity of the flight.
They floated you across the Rio Grande,
with dollars sewed to your underpants,
invisible to the American guards.
I can see the two armed fortune-hunters
holding you and your sister in a motel
until your mother paid for their stealing you
from the South to the North, away from poverty.
The motelers daughter was your saviour
from the hard-boiled hostage takers (P.81).
Deborah Ortegas odyssey constitutes Ojaides poetic invocation of
the disparity between the advanced countries and the Third World,
between the North and the South and between the colonizer and
the colonized. The task of former colonized people aspiring to be
like their colonizers is as arduous as Deborah Ortegas journey
from Nicaragua to the United State. She is stolen and floated
across the Rio Grande river; she sews dollars to her underpants
to conceal them from armed officials, she is detained in a motel and
her mother pays money for stealing her from the South to the
North. This is a symbolic journey of self-discovery for Deborah
Ortega and other exiles like her.
There is a note of accomplishment after the whole exercise. The
poet persona appears to congratulate Deborah Ortega. However,

once she sneaks into the United States, she faces a new life of
relative peace, but not without its psychological side effects. Like
Ojaide who escapes from Nigeria, she temporarily gets reliefs in
America but prepares for her eventual return to the land of her
birth. Ojaide expresses solidarity with her not only because they
share

the

same country

of exile

but because their home

backgrounds are similar with regards to political upheaval and


social disorientation. They are both overwhelmed by the desire to
bring succor to their home countries and not only to find comfort
for themselves in the United States. The following lines recount the
complex social problems encountered by Deborah Ortegas family
which are reminiscent of those encountered anywhere in the third
World:
The house on the hill has been
Hurled into the sea by a hurricane.
Your father seeks your blessing
For a third marriage and to make
More babies from your age-mate.
Your mother twice married
Cares as no mother would
For your fathers other children.
Your younger sister refusing to leave
Her love and Nicaragua, pregnant,
And your uncle, Vice-Minister,
Sitting on top of money
a fallen Marxist angel
like many I know at home (P.82).
The metaphor of the house on the hill is symbolic of the cultural
heritage of Deborah Ortega which was once highly esteemed before
the twine force of colonialism and neo- colonialism came like a
hurricane and hurled it into the sea. Since then the Nicarguan

society, has witnessed a degeneration of its norms. We see Deborah


Ortegas parents marrying several times to different spouses, her
younger sister getting a baby out of wedlock, and her uncle, a
fallen Marxist angel denouncing his ideology. This myriad of
problems are enough to discourage anyone who escaped into exile
from returning home. However, the poet says Deborah Ortega make
her money in the United States and sends home as an indication
that she would one day return home alive. With the Deborah
Ortegas example, the poet buttresses his position that both home
countries and countries of exile have their fair share of advantages
and disadvantages. It may therefore not really matter where one
lived at any given time.

His conclusion is suggestive of the

universalist solidarity amongst exiles who share Deborah Ortegas


fate and concern for their home countries:
You send money to relatives
as we do all who believe
a safe journey takes you back alive.
I have had vision of you
in different lives and lands
and now dont blame me
for this brewing hurricane.
Thanks for the privilege
of making me see you and me
as just one traveler in flight (P. 82).
Deborah Ortegas story of migration to the United State is a story of
alienation from the country she loves but cannot at present
inhabit. The destruction of her Nicaraguan home exemplifies the
destruction of her cultural and spiritual essence which she seeks to
rebuild by sending her earnings in the US home for its
rehabilitation. Exile, the poet seems to explain, may have its

phyrric victory and its temporary comfort but it is accompanied by


a deep sense of alienation and other consequences. The United
States, the country of exile itself has its fair share of the
downtrodden who are discriminated against and subjugated by the
privileged members of that society on account of race, colour, social
and economic status. Ojaides regret is that even these lowly
subjects of the United states and European countries who could
have found compatibility with these African and Latin American
exiles, look down on them because they come from Third World
countries.
After analyzing a series of poems from, When it No Longer matters
Where You, live it is obvious that Ojaide, like Ngugi, questions the
modern concept of globalization based, on the positive mutual
sharing

of

global

resources.

His

paradoxical

acceptance

of

globalization is however within the context of the universal


depiction of the conditions of the living of the subaltern all over the
world. The poor and the downtrodden in Africa and the Third World
are portrayed as not too different from one another and from those
in the advanced industrialized nations. They suffer all sorts of
discriminations, prejudices and subjugations in the hands of the
ruling class which seeks to increase their materials worth in the
context of global technological accomplishments. In this regard,
Ojaide justifiably says, from the point of view of a revolutionary
artist, that irrespective of whether one lives in the First or Third
World, it does not really matter.

WORKS CITED
King, Bruce, The Commonwealth writer in Exile in From
Commonwealth to Post Colonial (ed) Ann
Rutherford, Sydney: Dangaroo Press, 1992.
Ojaide, Tanure, When It No Longer Matters Where You Live,
Calabar: University of Calabar Press, 1998.
Ojaide, Tanure, The Blood of Peace and Other Poems, Oxford:
Heinemann, 1991.
Okome, Onookome (ed) Writing the Homeland: The Poetry and
Politics of Tanure Ojaide, Bayreauth, University
Press 2002
Olaniyan, Tejumola, African Writers, Exile and the Politics of a
Global Diaspora in West Africa review, Vol.4, 2003
Wa Thiongo, Ngugi, Moving The Centre: The Struggle For Cultural
Freedom; London: James Currey 1993.

Terhemba Shija holds a PhD degree in African Literature from the Benue
State University. Makurdi Nigeria (2005). He also received a MA (Creative
Writing) from the university of Maiduguri in 1988.
He is the author of a novel, Whispers of Distant Drums, a collection
of short stories, Serenades of Zaki-Biam and a volume of poetry
Cantos for the Benue. Dr. Shija is at present a lecturer in African
literature, Letrary theory and creative writing at the Nasarawa State
University, Keffi in Nigeria.

Prof Rob Fisher,


I hereby send a copy of my Paper titled: Exile and Globalization in
the Poetry of Tanure Ojaide: a case study of When it no longer
matters where you live intended to be presented at the 3rd Global
Conference in Salzburg, Austria.

Sincerely,

Dr. Terhemba Shija