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This paper examines the Nigerian novelist Helon Habila’s book Oil on Water from a broadly ecocritical perspective. Ecocentrism is examined and interrogated as a theoretical framework while simultaneously being brought into dialogue with the more well-known and well-established paradigm of postcolonialism.
Oil on Water is a leading example of the genre of petrofiction and of literature’s ability to represent and critique the flow of oil (from Nigeria) to the wider world and uses oil as a metonymic device to understand the outward trajectories of resources and the inward trajectory of excavation, exploitation and abandonment which characterise the Global North’s relationship with the Global South.
By turning a critical eye to the novel, narratives of economic exploitation and resource control in Nigeria’s Delta region are examined through a literary-critical perspective which aims to locate literature’s discursive power to represent and understand the ecological devastation being wrought on Nigeria’s Delta region.
These extractive industries in the Global South are placed under scrutiny to understand their role in the persistent underdevelopment of African society in the time of the post-colony as well as the psychic and somatic effects that they have on indigenous communities in Nigeria and the implications this has for a wider, more global critique of the extractive capacities of late-stage capitalism and the environmental destruction it entails.
The novel Oil on Water’s echoes and illusions to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness are also examined from an explicitly ecocritical perspective to draw attention to and relate the parallels and differences between colonial and postcolonial regimes of order and their attitudes towards nature and ecology. Thus, drawing explicit parallelism between the capitalism of Conrad’s colonial time and how these apparatuses have evolved over the course of the last century and the implications this has for local ecology and Global North/South relations.