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The Waters of the Niger Delta

by ayebainemi

POSTED: 30 April 2024

A new poetry commission exploring water spirits, queer relationships and gender fluidity in the context of the Niger Delta region

Written in English, pidgin and Nembe, this non-linear poetry piece follows a gender-fluid human-deity, indigenous to the Edumanom Forest Reserve located in Nembe, in the Niger Delta. Amongst this watery landscape, ayebainemi takes us on a journey of grief and anguish at the loss of livelihood in the region due to relentless crude oil spills and the extraction of natural resources by colonial forces.

ayebainemi’s focus on highlighting pleasure and romantic deviance within queer/trans relationships seeks to respond to and contrast anti-LGBTQIA+ attitudes within the region, imagining the practice of embodied, anti-colonial ways of loving. Through the process of writing this piece, ayebainemi has connected with the Nembe language of their ancestors, and is grateful for the support of Kesiye Felagha, a language teacher who has supported with the translations in this work.

This text was commissioned by Autograph as a response to our current exhibition Wilfred Ukpong: Niger-Delta / Future-Cosmos. You can read the text in full, or listen to ayebainemi read the work aloud below.

the waters of the niger-delta
bleed innocent blood -
your richearth body
sustains life
whilst tenderly
gasping for air

as my feet greets the depths
of the nembe river
my white etibo and wrapper turn black
wading through your bleeding waters
how does it feel to touch a watery death?

mama pulo ma bise̱ tio̱ re̱ gho̱ ḇo ma?
where did all this oil come from?

ḏumo̱ ḏumo̱ ḇubele ongu
many lovers
and i have journeyed
through this river
witnessing deities -
rippling and pulsating
in the flesh of edumanom's freshwater

tears drape owuamapu’s wooden face
travelling -
i am armed with the protection of egbesu
you feel so different

before oyinbo don step foot for ground
tings just dey kampe
pipo no sabi nonsense like;
'man' or 'woman'
'gay' or 'straight'

na humanspirit we be

make i yarn u sometin
e no be jesus wey stand for water o
that one na lie
plenty, plenty water-pipo
dey carry dis kain power
we dey float for water
we dey chop for water
na water we dey sotey
but that time dey before, before
the river don run black

you encapsulate my skin -
in glorified, dark brown
satin emulsions
and - black, slick, oil
is eroding my life
killing the mangroves
disintegrating my home

'wetin dey happen?'

one day in rainy season
two lovers
stood holding my hand
in the middle of the edumanom freshwater
i wanted to swim with them
hold them
excavate watery pleasures
on our skin -
something doesn't feel right
an explosion is bubbling
on the ground beneath us

'dis matter get k-leg o'

we stare at each other
holding our bodies closer
as the thick sludges of oil creep closer
unfurling and spreading
towards our bodies
we no fit get power
to fly for water again
na oyinbo pipo dey kpafuka our magic
thunder fire you!

look ahead

ḏumo̱ ḏumo̱ ḇubele ongu
many more lovers
approach us with heartbreak
the waters where we make love
are becoming contaminated

aní té furu?
what is that smell?

periwinkle snails float
crude oil traps air in their lungs
so it might be our time
to pass into the unseen world

ínì bele bei íwo̱ furute̱
you have stolen my tongue

the mouths of tilapia fish
are open
gasping for air
bloated bodies
eyes wide with shock
like our own eyes

ì bubele wo̱rio m’ongu ì na dugo
my many lovers speak for me

so i have no voice
but many genders
that emerge from my spirit
orbiting around my body
changing colours and shapes
just like my lovers
except when they open their mouths
they make sounds that vibrate

                                    on the surface of the waters
                                                          bodies of ocean drown
                                                                       your kaleidoscope of queer


of your body

against mine
you uncontaminate me
into clear waters
a love like no humandeities
have ever loved before
dripping -
your touch transforms my skin
we plunge -
into a maze of pleasure
easy to navigate
and find
           my way
to your

e dey say we ‘illegal’
‘sodomy ke?’
fourteen years una wan give us
because i dey love person
who no be ‘man’, ‘woman’ or ‘straight’
i dey knack pipo who no look ‘normal’
na spirit we be?
u tok like say i no fit get place in dis world

sometimes i want to wrap myself
in yards and yards of sekiapu’s spirit
through the fabric of their regalia
appearing through clouds of smoke
the azobé tree
and the fruit of you - leaves draping
spreads its wings
journeying towards me

words do not find me

ínì bele bei íwo̱ furute̱
you have stolen my tongue

masquerade your celestial body
cleanse these waters
wear your mask
take the form of an ancestor
light me a kerosene lamp
everything has turned to dark since
                                                                           sailed through

iridescent and ancient
i want to see you
our amanyanabo (ruler) has not heard us
so the sekiapu masquerade
must make noise!

o̱nua o
hello/welcome/thank you
you listened deeply
to our cries
and felt our pain
oh, slow poison
you, crude burden
make we dey float for water again

bio gbokuma
do not worry

our time don return
to play, love
and kiss
in the rivers of nembe se (kingdom)

thank you god

about the writer


ayebainemi is a queer, transmasculine/many/fluid, multi-dimensional artist, poet and embodied movement practitioner who is curious about using storytelling as a tool for remembering, praying, loving and imagining generative futures.

Their work aims to highlight the violent effects of colonialism on our bodies and realities, as well as illuminate the hidden experiences of queer and trans Nigerians/Africans who are alive and came before us. They relish in playing with language, themes of eroticism, intimacy, relationships and incompleteness. They are currently based in London and are of Nigerian (Nembe and Esan) descent.

Read More

part of the exhibition

Wilfred Ukpong: Niger-Delta / Future-Cosmos

16 Feb – 1 Jun 2024
Free exhibition

Tickets and more

part of Autograph's 2024 Open Call

An Autograph Commission

supported by

Banner image: Wilfred Ukpong, film still [detail] from FUTURE-WORLD-EXV, 2019. 30’00” min. From the series Blazing Century 1. Courtesy of the artist and Blazing Century Studios.

Exhibition image: Wilfred Ukpong, Strongly, We Believe In the Power of this Motile Thing That Will Take Us There #2, 2017. From the series Blazing Century 1: Niger-Delta/Future-Cosmos. Courtesy of the artist and Blazing Century Studios.