Postcolonial Trauma and Environmental Despoliation in Helon Habila’s Oil on Water

Idakwo Ocholi Victor & Stephen Ogunpitan


This study looks at Helon Habila’s novel, Oil on Water (2012) in its engagement of the destruction of the landscape and reflection of the nature of socio-economic conditions of citizens of the Niger Delta of contemporary Nigeria.  The novel reveals the domestic and social ruptures that the devastation of the ecology by man’s hunt for fortune has occasioned. By using Frantz Fanon’s postcolonial notion of colonial mentality as a preferred approach to this discourse, the study critically analyses the novel and views the novelist’s utilization of the changing scenery as a creative trope for the description of trauma.  Through the pulsating narrative of the quest for the kidnapped British wife of an expatriate petroleum executive, the excesses of colonial institutions and the complicity of government functionaries in despoiling the region are brought to the fore.  Thus, personalities are redefined and communities are either restructured or dispersed in a fashion that re-events the colonial reality. The conclusion is drawn on the supposition that environmental wreckage resulting from industrial production reveals a paradox of lack in the midst of abundance for the individual and the community. The work enjoins literary artists to seek avenues for constructing new tales that will acknowledge the distortion and also fascinate readers beyond the parables that western trauma doctrine endorses. 

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