“Yellow-Yellow” is a neo-colonial novel written by Kaine Agary. Set in the oil-rich part of Nigeria, the novel focuses on the socio-economic problems confronting people living in the Niger Delta Area.
These include environmental degradation, exploitation, misgovernance, corruption, prostitution, struggle for survival and many among others.
In this article, the themes in Kaine Agary’s “Yellow-Yellow” shall be discussed at length. You therefore have no option but to read this literary analysis of the novel to the end.
Themes in “Yellow-Yellow”
1. Environmental Degradation
The theme of environmental degradation is largely discussed in the Yellow-Yellow. In fact, this theme is most predominant because it sets the novel in motion; every other topical issue that we find later in the plot account of the novel is tied to this theme.
From the perspective of Zilayefa, we see how people living in Niger Delta area suffer environmental degradation as a result of oil exploration.
Their land has been badly abused, polluted and or contaminated so that people find it very difficult to survive the harsh realities that are brought upon them.
As a result of the oil spillage from one of the burst pipes, the villagers are deprived of their source of livelihood. For instance, Binabei, Zileyafa’s mother could not farm on her land anymore because it is overrun by crude oil.
She says: “It was the first time I saw what crude oil looked like. I watch as the thick liquid spread out, covering more land and drowning small animals in its path” (Page 4).
Typically, this is the reality of the Niger Deltans in Nigeria today. Life has become so unbearable for them that surviving is a daily challenge.
Their waters are not safe for drinking neither are their ponds and their rivers home to aqua-creatures any longer as a result of chemical contamination from industrial wastes. Noise and air pollution among others rob them of a safe and hygienic environment.
Indeed, Agary couldn’t have explained the damning consequence of this inhumanity to man better than Zilayefa sums it up–“the day my mother’s farmland was overrun by crude oil is the day her dream for me started to wither.”
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Naturally, one expects that the presence of Western oil companies would bring massive growth and development to the people.
It is, however, amazing to realise that the reverse is the case in the Niger Delta area. Rather, the elites, oil companies and their workers plundered the lands and brings more woes to the indigenes.
To drive home this point, we are going to look at this theme of exploitation from two perspectives:
- Human Exploitation
This is one of the fundamental issues that are discussed in the Yellow-Yellow. The Indigenes of Niger Delta are abused humanly and sexually by the foreigners working with the Western oil companies.
The narrator stories how young girls are preyed upon by crazy Whites who often beat them up and use them as sex “toys.” According to Zilayefa, their abusers “pushed objects like bottles into their private parts as part of the fun” (page 37). It is that bad.
More often than not, this trend result in “born troways” like Yellow-Yellow who are a product of hit and run foreigners.
In Yellow-Yellow, the sexual exploitation of Binabei, Emem and other female folks in their prime are very significant.
- Environmental Exploitation
Reeling from the narration of Zilayefa, we see how the Niger Delta environment is exploited for selfish reasons. The oil companies would not have been successful at causing serious eco-damages to the Niger Delta area without the cooperation of the ruling elites.
The local leaders and elders connived with the oil companies to deprive the masses of a good life. While low-class people struggle to survive, their leaders feed fat on the packages or dividends that are meant for their welfare. Here, the character of Amananaowei is very relevant.
Agary through Zilayefa also draws our attention to the sorry state of social amenities in the Niger Delta area. They lack good roads, schools and electricity.
For Zilayefa and her co-victims of oppression, it is really a hostile society to live in, only the fittest survives.
3. Prostitution and Moral Laxity
Written from the female perspective, Kaine Agary intimates us with the odd things women do to thrive in the bedeviled region.
Most young girls of easy virtue have no option but to patronise the sex-manaic men for ephemeral things of this world.
The likes of Binabei, Emem, Zilayefa and other village girls are in this circumference. Aged between 17-18, they are easily enticed by flashy things to ‘getting belle’ and giving birth to children whose memories lack the presence of a father figure.
Binabei for one, gets pregnant for a Greek sailor she meets at a disco party in Port Harcourt. Like Zilayefa, Emem is also a product of mixed blood. Name them “ashawo pikin”, “father unknown”, “African profits” etc.
Describing the climax of the trend of moral laxity among young women in the Niger Delta region, Zilayefa says: “We are products of women of easy virtue who did not have morals to pass on to their children” (page 74).
Well, the case of Zilayefa’s is more interesting. How can a child that is sufficient in moral teachings, cash or kind become so cheap to satisfy the sexual desires of Sergio and Admiral?
4. Bribery and Corruption
In Yellow-Yellow, almost everybody is corrupt. From the low-class people to the high-class people represented in the novel, everyone finds their way through illegal means.
For example, Zilayefa skips the “normal procedure” which required a driving test to get her driver’s license (see page 85). The licensing officers did not insist on it after parting with three thousand naira.
Even some of the Niger Delta youth groups fighting for the emancipation of their land are corrupt. In Zilayefa’s words, they have “become well-oiled extortion machines all in the name of the struggle. They stole, blackmailed and vandalized for the progress and development of the Ijaw Nation, the Niger-Delta” (Page158).
Similarly, government agencies that are supposed to be upholding law and order engage in bribery and corruption. From the police to the judges and political officeholders.
According to the narrator, judges are also corrupt as a great number of them would deliberately adjourn cases “over and over again until the litigants and their lawyers got the message and [pay] some bribe to the judge (106).
Sadly, this is the reality of the Nigerian state as exposed by Kaine Agary in “Yellow-Yellow.”
5. Struggle for Freedom
The theme of the Struggle for emancipation can also be seen in “Yellow-Yellow” as the people of Niger Delta have no other option than to revolt against the actions of the Western oil companies and the corrupt self-centered leaders that have exploited them excruciatingly over time.
As we have seen earlier, the activities of the oil companies have made life unliveable for the indigenes. Their lands are arid, their waters are not safe, and neither is their air clean of pollutants.
Not forgetting that the press plays a prominent role in bringing “how the Ijaws and other ethnic groups are suffering and even dying, while the wealth of their soil feed others” to the consciousness of the Niger Deltas, the effort of the youth in making their grievances known to the government cannot be overlooked.
Like Ken Saro-Wiwa and Isaac Adaka Boro and many others who are notorious for inciting insurrection against the government during their lifetime, the young boys are not scared “of dying valiantly for the cause.”
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We have been able to discuss some of the themes that Kaine Agary intimates us with in “Yellow-Yellow”. From environmental degradation to exploitation, moral laxity among young girls, corruption and the struggle for emancipation. In all, we can see for ourselves the reality of the Niger Delta through the eyes of Zilayefa, the kid narrator.
- Kehinde, M.A: “Thematic Preoccupations of Kaine Agary’s Yellow-Yellow” Ibadan. pp 2-4
- Agary, Kaine. Yellow Yellow. Lagos: Dtalkshop, 2006
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