Great Boys: An African Childhood / Edition 1

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Few coming-of-age accounts have come to us from Africa. Ojaide, a distinguished poet, is a fresh voice. The author writes: "I consider myself fortunate to have experienced traditional African culture firsthand before its transformation by modernity. Great Boys: An African Childhood is about my upbringing in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria. My grandmother who raised me told me the beginning of my life, including my father's visit to seek my mother's hand and why my father at my birth reported to relatives that I was a girl. I took over my story from when I was about three and a half years."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780865435742
  • Publisher: Africa World Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/1998
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 220
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.85 (h) x 0.77 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 14

The Fire of God

Sometime after the rains in 1958, about late October, Shell-BP came. A lot of people, mainly from cities, came to our area. They came wearing helmets, in pickups and jeeps. They wore boots and marched, so to say, into the bushes around us. Though I had not seen a soldier in my life, they did not fit into that military sketch. After all, they did not carry guns and did not behave violently like madman as soldiers were said to be. Dressed in those yellow helmets, dark boots, and orange overalls, they were not sanitary inspectors, the dread of villagers. Nor were they road makers. They tore through forests, through rubber plantations, through farmlands and through creeks, cutting paths that one could only go through in a single file. They said they were looking for oil, not palm oil, but petrol oil. I did not know that there were other types of oil beside palm oil and groundnut oil.

Politicians had become louder of late about Nigeria becoming very rich after the British left and about the new black people's government that would take care of everybody. The free elementary education would be extended to secondary and university levels. The oracle was Awo, who had recently been to Warri, Orerokpe and Ughelli in a small plane with his name inscribed on a banner that stretched for a hundred yards for everyone to see.

The helmeted men in boots cut narrow paths through the bush, through other people's lands. They were like elephants or buffalo trampling yams and cassava underfoot.

"Have they no heads that they are killing our crops?" Akoro told Onisogho.

"Don't you know that these townspeople are crazy? Can't you see how they are dressed?"

For some days, nobody knew what was really happening or how to deal with the intruders. Peoples whose lands and property were being trespassed grumbled loudly, threatening and at the same time fearing that the white man might have brought them to incite the indigenes into a clash so as to use their guns to kill. The white man starts trouble by provoking you with a light hand and then slamming you with an iron hand. Some of the very old men like Iniovo knew what had happened in Benin so long ago when those who were foolish enough not to flee were all massacred. Never again would they face guns with machetes.

While this air of uncertainty and restrained fear pervaded the place, sons of the land who came from Warri threw some light into the confusion. They explained the mission of the bootmen; to do the dirty work before white men and black oyibos came to get the wealth from deep inside the ground. They said owners of land s and property destroyed in the oil-prospecting process would be compensated. The hitherto close-lipped supervisors almost immediately started to ask for the landowners to come forward so that their claims could be assessed. This would take a few weeks, the landowners were told.

Many expected to make a fortune from the several yards of land they owned that was crossed by a goat path. The dreamers had prospects of marrying more wives and building blocks houses with the income from compensation. My grandpa, who lived on water, would receive quite a sum, he surmised, that he would use to buy ige nets. The former grumblers felt lucky that the path passed through their lands.

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Table of Contents

Chapter 1: My Beginnings
Chapter 2: The Girl who became a Boy
Chapter 3: Parents
Chapter 4: My Birth Cord
Chapter 5: New Road
Chapter 6: Grandma
Chapter 7: Visiting My Father
Chapter 8: Mother
Chapter 9: Family
Chapter 10: Friends
Chapter 11: Men
Chapter 12: Entering the School House
Chapter 13: School Days
Chapter 14: The Fire of God
Chapter 15: 1960
Chapter 16: St. George's College
Chapter 17: Sapele
Chapter 18: Holidays
Chapter 19: The Midwest Democratic Front
Chapter 20: Our College
Chapter 21: Swings (1965)
Chapter 22: Iron Chapter


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