We are inviting submission for April issue, 2024 (Vol. 5, No. 1). For more details, visit the section "Call for Paper" on our official website.

The Unseen Realities of Nigeria: A Postcolonial Exploration of Ben Okri’s Novels

 


The Unseen Realities of Nigeria: A Postcolonial Exploration of Ben Okri’s Novels

Tabish Majid Wani

Ph. D. Research Scholar

Lovely Professional University

Punjab, India

 

ABSTRACT:

This paper aims to explore the unseen realities of Nigeria through a postcolonial lens in the novels of Ben Okri. The postcolonial perspective allows for a critical examination of the impacts of colonialism and the subsequent formation of a new nation state. The works of Ben Okri provide a unique perspective on the complexities of Nigeria's reality, as he weaves together themes of myth, spirituality, ancestors, and death with the political, social, and economic conditions of contemporary Nigeria. The paper will examine the ways in which Okri's use of stream of consciousness and experimentation with form reflects the ongoing cultural confrontation between foreign and indigenous traditions. Additionally, the paper will delve into the themes of biopower and necropolitics and how they are intertwined in the creation of resistance. Through a close reading of Okri's novels, this paper will shed light on the hidden realities of Nigeria and the ways in which they are intertwined with the country's postcolonial experience. 

Keywords: Postcolonial, Nigeria, Ben Okri, novels, unseen realities, colonialism, nation state, myth, foreign, necropolitics

Introduction

The novels of Nigerian writer Ben Okri have been widely acclaimed for their imaginative and innovative approach to exploring the complexities of postcolonial realities in Nigeria. In his works, Okri utilizes a range of literary techniques, including realism, modernism, and African oral tradition, to critically examine the political, social, and economic conditions of contemporary Nigeria, as well as its ongoing cultural confrontations between foreign and indigenous traditions. Through a close reading of his novels, this paper aims to shed light on the unseen realities of Nigeria, as depicted by Okri, by exploring themes such as racism, myth, spirituality, ancestors, and death. Furthermore, this paper also discusses the relationship between biopolitics and necropolitics, and how Okri renegotiates these elements in resistance to the necropolitical forces that shape contemporary Nigeria.

Ben Okri's novels provide a postcolonial perspective on Nigeria, examining the social, political, and economic realities of the country in the aftermath of colonialism. In his works, Okri explores the ongoing cultural confrontation between foreign and indigenous traditions, using elements of realism, modernism, and African oral tradition to offer a nuanced perspective on the complexities of postcolonial life in Nigeria. One of the central themes in Okri's works is the issue of racism. In his novels, Okri portrays the deeply ingrained prejudices and discrimination that persist in postcolonial Nigeria, reflecting the broader legacy of colonialism in the country. For example, in his novel "The Famished Road," Okri portrays the experiences of a young spirit-child, Azaro, who navigates the difficulties of life in a society plagued by poverty, corruption, and violence. Throughout the novel, Azaro is subject to racist slurs and insults, underscoring the pervasive nature of racism in Nigeria and its deep roots in the country's colonial past.

Another key theme in Okri's works is the role of myth, spirituality, and ancestors in shaping the postcolonial realities of Nigeria. In his novels, Okri portrays the deep connections that many Nigerians have to their cultural traditions and spiritual beliefs, even in the face of the forces of modernization and globalization. For example, in "Songs of Enchantment," Okri explores the relationship between the spiritual and physical worlds, showing how the experiences of spirits and ancestors can shape the lives of contemporary Nigerians. This theme of spirituality and ancestors also figures prominently in "The Famished Road," where Azaro's experiences are shaped by the spiritual forces that surround him, including his ancestors, the spirits of the forest, and the gods of the crossroads.

Okri's novels also critically examine the political, social, and economic conditions of contemporary Nigeria. Through a close reading of his works, it becomes clear that the postcolonial realities of Nigeria are marked by deep-seated corruption and violence. In "The Famished Road," for instance, Azaro's experiences are shaped by the constant presence of poverty, corruption, and violence in his community. The novel portrays the devastating effects of these forces on ordinary people, highlighting the way in which they undermine the ability of the nation-state to deliver basic services and protections to its citizens.

In his novels, Okri employs a range of innovative narrative techniques to explore these themes. For example, he uses a stream of consciousness style, which allows him to delve deeply into the inner thoughts and experiences of his characters. This technique allows Okri to offer a vivid and nuanced portrayal of the realities of postcolonial life in Nigeria, capturing the complex interplay of emotions and thoughts that shape the experiences of his characters.

One of the most striking aspects of Okri's novels is the way in which he renegotiates the necropolitical elements of resistance. Necropolitics refers to the ways in which political power is exercised over the dead and the living, often resulting in the violence and exploitation of vulnerable populations. In his novels, Okri critically examines the ways in which necropolitical forces shape contemporary Nigeria, exploring the relationship between biopower and necropolitics in the country. Through his depictions of corruption, poverty, and violence, Okri shows how these necropolitical forces undermine the ability of the nation-state to provide basic services and protections to its citizens.

The novels of Ben Okri offer a powerful postcolonial perspective on the realities of contemporary Nigeria. Through his innovative use of form, as well as his exploration of themes such as racism, myth, spirituality, ancestors, and death, Okri provides a nuanced and vivid portrayal of the complexities of postcolonial life in the country.

The novels of Ben Okri provide a rich and complex exploration of the postcolonial realities of Nigeria. Through his use of innovative narrative techniques, such as stream of consciousness and surreal imagery, Okri sheds light on the ongoing cultural, political, social, and economic conflicts that have arisen in the wake of colonialism. Through his themes of resistance, racism, myth, spirits, ancestors, and death, Okri highlights the complexities of the postcolonial condition, and the ways in which these forces interact to shape the lives of ordinary people. Finally, the author's focus on biopolitics and necropolitics reveals the deep interconnectedness of these themes, and the ways in which they contribute to the ongoing struggles and challenges faced by contemporary Nigerians. Ultimately, Okri's work provides a powerful critique of the postcolonial realities of Nigeria, and a moving tribute to the resilience and perseverance of its people.

Legacy of colonialism in Ben Okri works

The legacy of colonialism can be seen in the works of Ben Okri in several ways. Through his writing, Okri explores the impact of colonialism on the lives of Africans and how it continues to shape the reality of postcolonial Africa. One of the key themes in his works is the confrontation between the foreign and indigenous traditions in postcolonial Africa, as well as the ongoing struggle for cultural identity in the aftermath of colonialism.

Okri also critiques the political, social and economic conditions of contemporary Nigeria, which have been shaped by colonialism and its aftermath. He highlights the corruption and violence that pervades Nigerian society, as well as the ongoing exploitation of the country's resources by foreign powers. In his novels, Okri often explores the complex relationship between power, oppression and resistance, and how these dynamics continue to play out in postcolonial Africa.

In his works, Okri also explores the concept of necropolitics, which refers to the ways in which political power is exercised over death, bodies and the dead. Through his writing, Okri shows how necropolitical power is used to control and suppress the populations of postcolonial Africa, and how this legacy of colonialism continues to shape contemporary reality.

In conclusion, the legacy of colonialism is a central theme in the works of Ben Okri, as he explores the ongoing impact of colonialism on the lives of Africans and the political, social and economic realities of contemporary Africa. Through his writing, Okri sheds light on the ongoing struggles for cultural identity, political power and resistance in postcolonial Africa, and how these struggles are rooted in the legacy of colonialism.

Famished Road

In Ben Okri's novel "The Famished Road," postcolonial realities are reflected in a number of ways. One of the most prominent ways is through the theme of identity, as the protagonist Azaro struggles to reconcile his dual identity as both an African and a spirit being. The novel also explores the lasting effects of colonialism, as seen through the exploitation and marginalization of the indigenous people, as well as the corrupt and unjust political and economic systems that were established during colonial rule. Additionally, the novel reflects the ongoing cultural confrontation between foreign and indigenous traditions, as Azaro's journey reveals the tension between traditional African beliefs and the influence of Western cultural norms. Overall, "The Famished Road" provides a powerful critique of the legacy of colonialism in contemporary Nigeria and highlights the ongoing struggles of postcolonial Africans to assert their cultural identity and reclaim their dignity and power in a world marked by injustice and oppression.

Songs of innocence

The postcolonial reality in Ben Okri's "Songs of Innocence" is characterized by a world in which the legacy of colonialism and the trauma of its aftermath continue to shape the lives of people in Africa. The novel explores the way in which colonialism has impacted the culture, beliefs, and values of African society, and how these have been adapted, transformed and sometimes subverted in response to the colonial experience. Through its depiction of the lives of ordinary people in Nigeria, the novel highlights the ongoing cultural, political, and economic struggles that they face, as well as their attempts to resist and overcome these challenges. In particular, "Songs of Innocence" sheds light on the ways in which colonialism has impacted the sense of identity, belonging, and agency of its characters, and how they are grappling with these legacies in the present. 

Infinite Riches

In Ben Okri's novel "Infinite Riches", postcolonial realities are reflected through the experiences of the protagonist, Azaro, who is an abiku, a spirit child in Yoruba culture. The novel is set in a postcolonial Nigeria and highlights the ongoing cultural confrontation between foreign and indigenous traditions. The legacy of colonialism is evident in the political and social conditions of contemporary Nigeria, as corruption and violence are ubiquitous and the government is ineffective in addressing these issues. The novel also explores themes of myth, spirit, ancestors, and death, and their relationship to contemporary society. Okri's use of stream-of-consciousness and a blend of realist, modernist, and African oral storytelling techniques further emphasizes the complexities and challenges of postcolonial reality in Nigeria. Through Azaro's experiences, the novel offers a critique of postcolonial conditions in Nigeria and raises questions about the possibilities for resistance and change. 

Dangerous Love

Dangerous Love, a novel by Ben Okri, reflects postcolonial realities through its exploration of themes such as cultural identity, power struggles, and the lingering effects of colonialism in post-independence Nigeria. The protagonist, Azaro, is caught between the traditional spirituality of his parents and the materialistic Western-influenced world of his neighbors. The conflict between these two worlds highlights the ongoing cultural confrontation between foreign and indigenous traditions in postcolonial Africa. Okri also portrays the political and economic realities of contemporary Nigeria, including corruption and poverty. Through Azaro's experiences and the interactions between different characters, the novel highlights the legacy of colonialism and the challenges that face postcolonial societies. The theme of power and control is also prominent, as the government and those in positions of authority are depicted as abusive and oppressive, reflecting the reality of the unequal distribution of power and resources in postcolonial Africa. Dangerous Love offers a vivid depiction of postcolonial realities in Nigeria, showing the ongoing challenges and difficulties faced by people in a society struggling to come to terms with its colonial past and find its place in the world. Through its use of magical realism and its focus on themes of cultural identity and power, Dangerous Love provides a unique and powerful portrayal of the realities of postcolonial life in Africa.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the works of Ben Okri provide a vivid representation of the postcolonial realities of Nigeria, reflecting the legacy of colonialism and the ongoing cultural, political, social and economic struggles in the country. Through his novels, including "The Famished Road," "Songs of Innocence," "Infinite Riches" and "Dangerous Love," Okri critiques the ubiquity of corruption, violence and exploitation and explores the complexities of the relationship between the indigenous and foreign traditions, as well as the themes of racism, myth, spirit, ancestors and death. By using techniques such as stream of consciousness and a mix of realism, modernism and African oral tradition, Ben Okri provides a unique and insightful portrayal of the complexities of the postcolonial era in Nigeria.

References

Okri , Ben. The Famished Road. London:Phoenix, 1991. Print.

Okri, Ben. Song of Enchantment. London: Phoenix, 1993. Print.

Okri, Ben . Infinite Riches. London: Phoenix,1999. Print.

Ashcroft, Bill & et al. The Empire Writes Back. London: Routledge, 1989. Print.

Achebe, C. The Trouble with Nigeria. Enugu: Fourth Dimension, 1983. Print.

Garuba, H. “Ben Okri Animist Realism and Famished Genre.” The Guardian; Saturday 13 march, 1993.