The Blood of Peace

Dialogues
The poetry in The Blood of Peace deals with issues of colonialism, racism, religion, and allows the reader an
inside look at the molestation of an innocent people and their land by the colonizers.

Ojaide was born in 1948 in Okpara Inland in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. As a boy, he had very little contact with his father as he was raised primarily by his grandmother. His father felt that Tanure would be safe from war if he remained in his grandmother's care. In 1960, Nigeria gained independence from the British. Ojaide was able to go to school and receive an education, but this newfound independence still seemed to leave the people of Nigeria stifled in
terms of their religious beliefs and cultural practices. Tanure, upon entering school, had the name Moses thrust upon him by the administration. The children were expected to follow the lead of the Roman Catholic church and were degraded because their beliefs did not conform to the church's. When Tanure was asked his name by the teacher, he replied, "Moware." The teacher laughed at this and asked Tanure's "European" name. When Tanure could not think of one, the teacher named him Moses (Ojaide; Great Boys: An African Childhood 119). He came to the United States, earned his MA from Syracuse and went on to earn a Ph.D. He now teaches African Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Top
  Dialogues

Ojaide's The Blood of Peace and Chinua Achebe's Arrow of God have much in common in terms of the discussions and attitudes
toward colonialism. In Achebe's book, Ezeulu is the Chief Priest of Ulu. In the book, Ezeulu and his people have been befriended by a British administrator named Winterbottom. However, I see this friendship as deceitful in every way because Winterbottom and his
people, in an effort to implement the practice of Indirect Rule, send for Ezeulu and ask him to be their intermediary between the native Nigerians and the British colonizers. Ezeulu refuses to do such a thing to his people. But, the end of the novel shows the Christians coming in to harvest the yams in the village and the native people giving their own yams to the Christians as a means of preventing the wrath of Christ. As Achebe writes in the last lines of the novel, "In his extremity many a man sent his son with a yam or two to offer the new religion and to bring back the promised immunity. Thereafter any yam harvested in his fields was harvested in the name of the son" (Achebe 230). The colonizers forced themselves upon every part of the Nigerian culture and destroyed many natives in the process. The British saw it as their right to impose their beliefs upon a people that they considered to be heathens.

Ojaide's poetry gives readers insight into the cultural and religious practices of the Nigerian people. But more than that, I would say that many of the poems are also meant to cross cultural, religious, and continental boundaries. He writes, in some of the poems, about the horrors and losses suffered by any people in a country that has fallen victim to harsh treatment by colonizers and neocolonial exploitation. In his poem "Annals of the Tribe," Ojaide writes: "They wailed and wailed to themselves...they sat upon their losses...they lost their hearts...they lost their gods and shadows,/they lost their eyes and ears...they lost themselves" (110-111). In these few lines, the connection to Achebe's book is clear. Just as Achebe talks about the Christians moving in to harvest the yams and convert the people, so to does Ojaide make the same statement. As a consequence of colonialism, the people of Nigeria lost their identities; they could no longer practice their religions as their ancestors had; they couldn't even keep their own names or speak their own languages. Everything that they had now belonged to strangers.

Another of Ojaide's poems that addresses the issue of colonialism is "No Longer Our Own Country." In it Ojaide writes about
how the African people have lost their land and homes to these colonizers. "Our sacred trees have been cut down/to make armchairs for the rich and titled;/our totem eagle...has been shot at...Our borders have been broken loose...our flag ripped off by uncaring hands...you can tell that we live in a country/that is no longer our own" (9). One can almost see the colonizers ripping across the land tearing down anything and everything they think will make them money and that will strip the African's of their lives and dignities. At the end of this poem however, Ojaide writes that "...we will not perish in this other country...We expect the return of good days...For now we live in a country/that is no longer our own" (10). There is an optimism in the last stanza that seems so close and yet far away at the same time. The prospect of having their own country back and being able to live in peace is not something that is taken lightly, which is as it should be. But, at the same time, the people know that the reality is a long way off.

  Notes

Upon reading Dr. Ojaide's poetry, I found that I had a few questions concerning the meanings of some of the imagery in the poetry. In much of the poetry, there is a lot of bird imagery and I wondered about the significance of that imagery. I had the honor and privilege of being able to ask Dr. Ojaide personally some of the questions that I had via e-mail. I sent him an e-mail asking about the "totem eagle" in "No Longer Our Own Country." There are a number of references to birds in The Blood of Peace. Dr. Ojaide wrote me back and told me "...the bird is significant in my poetry and society. The bird is a symbol of freedom not only in my own society but worldwide. It can fly wherever it chooses to. It inhabits both land and the air, so it has something which a human does not possess--the ability to fly." I must say that I have read those words over and over and I can't emphasize how important they really are. Images such as these can be seen in other African and African-American Literature as well. There is a short story by Julius Lester called "People Who Could Fly." In this story the white men lead slaves onto a boat without realizing that there is a witch doctor on board. The setting of the story is in a field with all of the slaves being driven by a white man on a horse. The witch doctor has made it so that all of the slaves are able to fly. So, when he says "Now" and speaks a certain word, all of the slaves flap their arms like wings and fly off through the sky.

I don't exactly know why the birds jumped out at me like they did in The Blood of Peace, but I found them fascinating and just
had to find out more about them. The significance of these beautiful creatures is no longer a mystery to me in terms of African and African-American Literature. As a child I had always thought that I would like to fly like a bird, and sometimes I still do. But, I can't imagine thinking or even knowing that turning into a bird and flying away would be my only hope for freedom. Many people died still dreaming that they were birds; still dreaming that they were flying high, and far away from those who were torturing them. The only way out of the grasp of the colonizer's fist was to fly like a bird. That is something no human can do.

 

  Links

*** Post Express Address given by Dr. Ojaide on Arts and Culture in Nigeria. A discussion of Nigerian Literature and those authors who paved the way for many others.

*** newafrica.com This site gives a pretty straightforward explanation of Indirect Rule and some of the changes that took place in Nigeria’s constitution.

*** africaresource.com This is a great site to explore for those who are interested in African poetry. There is a link on the page to some of Dr. Ojaide's poems.

 

  Teaching

My suggestions for teaching The Blood of Peace would be to have your students explore colonialism, but also to get to know
about the people of Africa. Students should also read Dr. Ojaide's autobiography Great Boys: An African Childhood. In doing this,
the students will gain a deeper understanding of the poet's background as well as his people's culture. Great Boys is a must have for anyone seeking to learn more about what is behind some of Dr. Ojaide's poetry. I have found that there are not many resources available on Dr. Ojaide's work other than what he has written. But, for those of us who like to get the information right from the horse's mouth, so to speak, we needn't look much further. However, in order to really explore the ins and outs of any artist's work, one must be willing to venture outside of the text and explore the many different avenues that have lead to a certain poem or short story or painting. These works by Dr. Ojaide--and they are not the only ones--are a great resource to have. It would also benefit the student to explore the political climate in Nigeria and other parts of Africa around the time these works were published. How much of an influence did the political structure in Nigeria influence Dr. Ojaide's writing? What I have covered in this page is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of studying African Literature and the effects of colonialism. Dr. Ojaide is one of many great African writers, so there is much work to be done.

  Citations

Achebe, Chinua. Arrow of God. New York: Anchor Books. 1969.

Lester, Julius. "People Who Could Fly." African-American Literature: An Anthology 2nd ed. Pgs. 11-13 Eds.
Demetrice A.Worley and Jesse Perry, Jr. Lincolnwood, Ill: NTC Publishing Group. 1998.

Ojaide, Tanure. Great Boys: An African Childhood. Trenton, NJ/Asmara, ERITREA: Africa World Press, Inc. 1998.

Ojaide, Tanure. The Blood of Peace: And Other Poems. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. 1991.

 

Colonial & Postcolonial Literary Dialogues

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Last Updated: 4/22/02