Karin Barber’s “Popular Reactions to the Petro-Naira” provides an interesting context with which to view the cultural effects of capitalist endeavors in Nigeria through its analysis of two popular Yoruba plays. I will admit that what I expected from the beginning paragraph, due to its sociological diction and emphasis on the shift from agricultural life to urban centers, was a more anecdotal, story-based perspective of the developing Nigerian class system than what was, in actuality, a literary analysis-based lens of Nigerian culture based on the plays mentioned in the article.
This afore mentioned story-based approach to portraying the changing social atmosphere of Nigerian culture was actually employed in the film Sweet Crude, in which the viewer perceives life from the point-of-view of Nigerians who are being forced “class-consciousness” (p. 450), as it is termed in Barber’s article, by the effects of the oil companies’ presence in the Niger Delta. Though the documentary does rely somewhat on statistical support to measure the economic and environmental changes to the Nigerian cultural climate, its most admirable quality is its ability to measure the emotional cultural impact on the people. Through exploring the struggle to maintain their hold on their land, and more importantly, their freedom, the viewer can see the attachment to values and morality, to cultural standards, that are slowly being dismantled by a capitalist economic presence.
Though the two works essentially portray different sides of the changing attachment to values, one being through the cultural lens of Yoruba plays, the other in documented anecdotes, there is a clear shared emphasis on a much less discernible cultural effect: the struggle to keep the traditions of morality and hard work in the face of growing economic inequality. Barber regards the prayer in the play Gbangá dEkún as, though if not factual or necessarily believed by all who respond “Amen”, they “reaffirm that it is so because it ought to be so” (p. 450); that is to say, they cling what they know to be right in their culture even in the face of doubt and fear of economic hardship. Virtues have become embattled by more comparatively selfish opportunities for economic success. Though the story of the Niger Delta does not revolve around developing economic divisions as in the plays, the people in the film are at a crossroads between maintaining peace and tradition in their culture and turning to violence and destruction to fight back. The increased factions in the once-unified MEND movement are a clear display of the battle between morality and newer, foreign values impacting Nigerian culture.
What can essentially be drawn from the comparison between the two works is the presence threat to older values such as hard work, morality, and peacefulness, in the face of conflict induced by foreign economic endeavors. The question remains, however, whether the values and standards of the Nigerian people will remain in conflict with more modern obstacles to tradition, or if they can coalesce with more modern practices and the socially changing force of capitalism.