27 pages 54 minutes read

Ovo Adagha

The Plantation

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 2010

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Summary: “The Plantation”

Ovo Adagha’s “The Plantation” is a short story that dramatizes the 1998 pipeline explosion in Jesse, Nigeria. It was published in A Life in Full and Other Stories, a collection of submissions for the 2010 Caine Prize for African Writing. The story focuses on several themes, including the struggle between nature and civilization, the effects of colonization and modernization, the moral and physical costs of greed, and the consequences of stubbornness.

Namidi is a farmer who grows rubber trees. A petroleum pipeline runs under his farm. From depictions of the greenery and the rubber trees to the whistling of the birds and the “cold drizzle of early morning dew” (76), the plantation’s wild beauty stands in contrast to the signs of human activity that intrude upon this natural place.

Namidi notices the smell of petrol (gasoline). The smell brings to Namidi’s mind men in khaki uniforms from the city who installed the pipeline. Namidi recognizes that the pipeline must have a leak, and he thinks he should alert the villagers. Instead, his greed overtakes his impulse to help, and he goes home. Seeing Ochuko, his six-year-old son, he looks at the boy with his oversized pants and feels shame. The pants remind Namidi that missionaries started a school outside the village two years before, but he is poor. His earnings from his farm aren’t enough to pay for the boy’s schooling.

His shame prompts him to gather as much petrol as possible. He sees his red clay hut, dreams of wealth, and tells Ochuko to fetch his mother, Mama Efe. Trying to hurry, Namidi tells his wife that he worries that nosy villagers will discover the leak. Namidi takes Mama Efe, Ochuko, and his twin elder children, Emi and Efe, to the plantation with large cans. His wife worries about the consequences of the theft and can only imagine what terrible things will befall his family. Imagining a great fire, Mama Efe hesitates, but Namidi reassures her.

As an owl passes over and lets out “a doleful note” (80), Mama Efe keeps her fears to herself, for she knows Namidi is too rigid and stubborn to give up. On a third trip to the plantation, the family encounters Jackson, whom the narrator describes as “a greasy-looking youth from the village with a Boy Scouts scarf tied around this neck” (81). Jackson follows Namidi and his family until he hears the leak and smells the petrol, and then he runs toward the village to spread the news of the leak.

Upon learning of the leak, villagers and people from nearby villages converge on the plantation, hoping to gather as much petrol as possible. Ochuko is tasked with guarding his family’s things. As more and more people overrun Namidi’s plantation, and the conflict builds between villagers trying to scoop up petrol, his son plays with his friend, Onome. The two boys lose themselves in playing soldier.

As Ochuko ducks behind a tree to avoid an imaginary shot from his friend, a real explosion occurs, and Onome falls silent and still on the ground. Ochuko runs from the plantation as explosions and fires rage behind him at the site of the leak. Running home, Ochuko hides under his mother’s bed. Waiting for his siblings, he remains under the bed for a long time. Venturing outside after he gets cold, Ochuko hears footsteps as people run past the house.

Ochuko is fearful and retreats again to the safety of his mother’s bed. He waits once more, and an oil lamp his mother maintained eventually goes out, enveloping the house in darkness. In the darkness, a group of rats converges near the cooking utensils and an army of ants crawls across Ochuko’s back as he lies underneath his mother’s bed. Paralyzed by fear, he remains still until he hears a bird. Dawn has come, but his family has not.

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