The Trauma of Displacement: A Review of Romeo Oriogun’s Nomad By Nket Godwin

In Romeo Oriogun’s Nomad, a collection of exile and migration poetics, trauma is signatory of displacement. Both people and place share in this trauma. Oriogun reveals that exile is much more than just leaving home. It means leaving certain aspect of one’s being behind; it means being jolted by the quest for survival out of a place that is dear to one, being compelled by the force of survival to move away from the people and memories that define one’s being and identity, for, as he writes in “Late December in Abidjan”, “survival repeats itself again and again/knocking on the door of every city”, and anyone who answers such call often “travels through terror”— the terror of displacement.

Hence, the persona, in most of the poems, either pines for the place and people he has left behind or languish in the realisation of the loss of memory of such place and/or people; or the irony of existence which welcomes him into the new place; or, perhaps, the sense of detachment which comes as a result of the fact that, like the “fallowed land” (in “Before the Arrival of Rain”), one is “dared to begin again”, anew—from knowing people and being known to getting one’s footing in the new land. All these result in uncertainties and skepticism inherent in such trauma. This feeling pervades the tone and mood implicit in the first poem, “The Beginning”, in which the persona begins to lament:

The sudden silence wherein an old world is lost,

a new world is created and in leaving

we seek the unfurling of new wings, the naming

of new cities, the gift of green rolling hills (1).

In this collection, Oriogun mythologises displacement by showing that it does not leave the victims—the person leaving or the place/people being left behind—neutral. Hence, in “Mist”, we’re told that even the places we leave behind also share in this trauma of displacement: being abandoned for somewhere else, when he writes that: “…from afar/ I could imagine the houses/on the hills of my birth/the houses leaning into each other like old souls falling/into the slow embrace of pity” (2). “Pity” is a lineament of trauma, and vice versa.

Sometimes, it seems, our lives are tied to where we are from and not where we have moved into. Having realised that there’s a severance of bond between him and the place he’s from, as well as the people in his life, in the poem “Everyone I Love Is Alive Tonight”, Oriogun tries to console himself that “there is no death, tonight/no decay/everyone I love is alive,” then proceeds on a utopian invocation of his dead mother and brother, all in a bid to recreate a world that is not altered, a world that could still retain the memories and radiance it once had. But all these soon become futile, as he finds out that the world he left behind did not actually wait for him, as decay has taken over. Hence, he accepts his fate, noting that: “I am dancing to the incomplete nature of existence” (27).

A significant verity of displacement is hinted at here: the realisation that it gives one an incomplete existence, because certain memories, places, and people are detached from one’s life. Hence, for the persona in the poems in Nomad, life becomes terror, as though one dwells in the wild, which one must embrace like the bird in “The World Demands from Us Our Existence” that later “discovers heaven is emptiness and does not lament” (6).

In Nomad, Oriogun also tackles cultural and linguistic displacement, as corollary of the insistence to rather cling to a “wild” existence in exile. For instance, in “Late December in Abidjan”, after the “muezzin call”, the persona only realises that he “does not understand Arabic” (emphasis added). Sometimes, as one crosses the borders, travels through the seas, or the desert, one’s linguistic being gradually fades into mere “murmur.” Hence, in a subsection of “Cotonou,” subtitled “Voices”, the persona laments: “The voice of exile is a murmur crossing rivers/and seas, crossing empty roads until it washes/over a man, baptism of loss” (10).

The declaration that it is a ‘baptism of loss’ simply underpins the inevitability of the loss of one’s language and its cultural appeal, while in exile. Hence, how does a pigeon find “home, cooing in the language of voyages?” (“Wind Whisperer”). In “A Train Stop in the Sahara”, he laments: “I have no language of belonging” (93).

The lack of “language of belonging” presages a starved existence, like the experience in a café in Florence, Italy, with “black boys, shouting shurroty/not knowing its meaning/other than I am starving outside language” (“Offerings”).

In almost all the 67 poems in Nomad, Oriogun laments the trauma of displacement reflective of life outside the border of one’s loved ones, environment, the border of one’s culture, and country; reflective of life in exile, life as a migrant. Such displacement is equally conscious (and reflective) of history, especially colonial and postcolonial history; it also takes cultural, social, geographic and demographic precedence and antecedence. In these poems of exile and migration, Oriogun shows that displacement is inevitable, and always often traumatic. This collection is reckoned oeuvre for the discourse on displacement in contemporary diasporic literature.

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Nket Godwin is a poet, literary critic and book reviewer. His works have appeared or forthcoming on Afrocritik, Africanwriter, Afreecan, Conscio magazine, Eboquill, local and international anthologies, and elsewhere. He writes from the city of Port Harcourt, Rivers State.