By: Lidabel Guzman Avila, Adelia Callear, Kendall Cruise, Madolley Donzo, Marlee Fancet, Kya Primm, and Nicholas Parks
Praised for its nutritional benefits and bitter taste, the garden egg, an eggplant variation predominantly grown in West African countries, is known as a ‘super-fruit,’ aiding in the consumption of vitamins, antioxidants and fiber. The fruit—sometimes perceived vegetable—assists in the digestion of food and protection of cells from damage, due to all of its valuable minerals. Heavily grown in Nigeria, it has acquired both an agricultural and cultural significance to the country’s inhabitants. The fruit is especially unique to Lagos, Nigeria, adding to people’s sense of national pride and togetherness because the city is a significant centerpiece to the country. Nnedi Okorafor’s Lagoon actualizes this dignified sense of community in Lagos, Nigeria, both through people’s connection to the garden eggs, and the city’s collective experiences with extraterrestrial beings that suddenly find themselves in the country in the 21st century. The coming of these ‘aliens’ catalyzes several series of events in the novel, where people, communities, and values seem to be sacrificed for the sake of different people’s peace during this apocalyptic instance. Apocalypse, as defined by Andrew Santana Kaplan, “primarily means to uncover, it shows that the world needs to end because it is cast in error,” (Kaplan 81). Here, Kaplan emphasizes that world-ending efforts are not only necessary, but inevitable in a lot of cases. They argue that occurrences of apocalypse—on individual and grand scales—happen over the course of people’s lives constantly, especially the lives of marginalized people. Okorafor’s Lagoon explores how needed these endings are, why they might occur, and how deserving people are of their super-fruit garden eggs at the end of these apocalypses.
The garden egg, by name, seems to suggest a type of poultry product, though in actuality, it is a plant species. Raw, the garden egg, also recognized as a type of eggplant, can be perceived as a vegetable because of its bitter taste, when in actuality, it is a fruit. The perceived deception of this taste and the general belief that fruits are meant to be sweet-tasting connects to the actual experience of the aliens, who do find garden eggs sweet, purely because of their status as a fruit. In a sense, the aliens take things just as they are defined to be, as they are experiencing things like tasting a fruit for the first time, without the social connotations that what typically classifies as fruit is much sweeter than garden eggs. So, when Ayodele gives up her life and her mist spreads to all people in the country (and seemingly beyond, too), many people sense the taste of garden eggs and the experience of one man is described through the lines, “He reached into his bag and brought out one of the smaller garden eggs he’d just purchased. He’d been hungry for them for hours” and “No one noticed as he bit it like it was the sweetest mango and continued on this way” (Okorafor 284). Many people now perceive the taste of garden eggs, especially when they’re raw, to be much sweeter than before.
The significance of garden eggs within Lagoon appears small, but in reality they pose a deeper connection between the human population and the extraterrestrials. Garden eggs are named after their resemblance to something else and are connected to the earth. They hold nutrition and a tasteful bitterness that makes them desirable and regarded highly above other foods mentioned within the book. Their nature is similar to how the aliens can resemble anything and are seemingly connected by one larger unit; they hold much more advanced technology and want to bring this innovative progression to the Nigerian population. Garden egg contains “egg” in the name, however, it is a plant and not a typical “egg” that we would think of; Ayodele is an alien, but she is just as much an alien as anyone else in Lagos, especially after her foggy departure and absorption into everyone, as seen through the peoples’ cravings for garden eggs afterwards. Within the novel as Ayodele died, she stated, “We are a collective. Every part of us, every tiny universe within us is conscious. I am we, I am we…You’ll all be a bit…alien.” (Okorafor 268). They are all connected within the larger picture of society as a whole, which the Lagos people find very hard to accept as they view the incoming of these foreign people as an impending doom that will end their own society. Rather, the actuality is that the aliens desire to improve the society they come to cohabit. Garden eggs are not represented effectively by the connotations of their name, just as Ayodele and the aliens are represented ineffectively by the name “alien” as they are no longer aliens to the humans of Lagos. Both find homes within Nigeria and improve the life of the present inhabitants. Garden eggs are in a way katechon–‘the restrainer [that] holds back the end of the world’ as described by The Nomos of the Earth in Kaplan’s essay–yet opposingly a catalyst for the apocalypse where we see them play a metaphorical role as a white flag raised in addition to the object that spurs the chaos for the rest of Nigeria as they become included in the context of the “apocalyptic” situation.
This “apocalyptic” situation, for Lagosians and other Nigerians alike, presents itself as the arrival of Ayodele and her people. Upon their introduction, there is an uncovering of corruption, during Ayodele’s discussion to “bring [them] together and refuel [their] future. Your land is full of a fuel that is tearing you apart…We are here to nurture your world.” Ayodele made it clear to the Lagosians that their corruption was preventing their country from prospering with the resources they possessed. While the connotation of her desire to ‘nurture the Lagosians’ would be to help them stop corruption, following the release of the fog, we came to realize that Ayoldele was actually referring to the literal meaning of her phrase. Ayodele had intended to literally stop their corruption through the spreading of garden eggs, aka a superfruit. Rather than allowing themselves to heed the warnings and understand the preachings of Ayodele, the people of Lagos set out to kill and destroy anyone they deem aliens, turning their back on family and friends alike. Fisayo, one of the witnesses of the oncoming apocalypse––Ayodele walking out of the water––, decides that “Lagos is hopeless” and begins killing people she deems unsafe. While this is happening, the people who were surrounding Adaora’s home, awaiting Anthony’s free performance, loot televisions, computers, and anything else they can get their hands on because despite the impending end of what they once knew to be Nigeria, they find themselves needing to commit these acts of corruption. Even the Area boys in the streets near Bar Beach find themselves running around with machetes, assaulting people, stealing cars, and allowing their base needs to take root in whatever is happening. This ‘uncovering’ that Ayodele has alluded to––the idea that her people aren’t creating the chaos taking over Nigeria, but only exposing it––is the basis of the apocalypse in Nigeria. The aliens believe that Nigeria’s old way of living, that the corruption plaguing them needs to be exhibited before it can be abolished.
With that being said, the fog, with its “faint tomatoey scent of…garden eggs” is seemingly the end of what we consider Nigeria’s apocalypse to be. After Ayodele’s sacrifice, not only was “everyone in Lagos craving garden eggs,” but a calmness had blanketed them. Once the screens of televisions and phones flashed on for the second time, many Nigerians listened attentively to the message presented by the president. A message stating that “Last night, Lagos burned. But like a phoenix, it will rise from ashes–a greater creature than ever before.” This is the end of corruption in Nigeria. The end of their oil mining efforts. The end of the pollution of their home. And the beginning of a “transitional shift.” For this momentous point in Nigerian history marks a new way of life for every citizen of Nigeria. They now carry a bit of alien-ness in every one of them, allowing them to see through their base needs and proceed toward the progress of a better Nigeria. But with this revelation to the rest of the world, with the president’s nationalistic pride within his speech, many other countries find themselves jealous of what Nigeria is experiencing, signifying a universal apocalypse. “Other people in other parts of the world…agreed…Lagos is a cancer…[they] wish to cut…out before it spreads.” This fear of what is happening in Nigeria––specifically Lagos––has caused people around the world to notice the unrest occurring around them and now, the only option is for them to stop Nigeria from succeeding in their collaboration with the aliens or it will mean the end for their own nations. It is an uncovering to the rest of the world. A show of how they will fall as Nigeria rises. And an end to what they once knew to be the world they lived in.
Returning to Santana Kaplan’s definition of the apocalypse and its ability to uncover this sentiment rings true in relation to the aliens within the body of this novel. Before the aliens arrived in Lagos, the oil companies had been allowed to run rampant and corrupt government officials had continued to allow it to occur. This then harmed the natural world of Lagos, “They [oil companies] brought the stench of dryness, then they brought the noise and made the world bleed black ooze that left poison rainbows on the water’s surface” (Okorafor 3). The aliens sought to correct this corruption by changing the composition of the water around Lagos to make it more beneficial for the creatures who lived in the waters, even if that made it more harmful to humans, since the water is the home of the animals while the land is the home of the humans. The aliens then bring new technology that can help buffer the losses in the economy due to the ceasing of the oil companies as directed by the President after the leaders of Nigeria and the aliens meet and compromise. These ideas of uncovering, aliens, and the garden eggs come together to merge in the real world towards our interpretation of the aliens in the book being symbolic of immigrants/refugees in our world as supported by statements like the one Ayodele makes when addressing the public at large saying, “‘…We are guests who wish to become citizens…here.” (Okorafor 111).
The real life connotations of this book come from its ability to teach humanity as a whole the importance of learning from one another. . This is just as the change in perspectives of the garden eggs, which were once colloquially thought of as bitter-tasting “vegetables,” but after Ayodele’s sacrifice, they begin to taste like sweet fruit to the people of Lagos. This shows how welcoming in new ideas of others from the outside—in regard to foods, ideals, or policies—into the body of the country/space they are now inhabiting can result in a shift in the perspectives of those who already lived there. The defamiliarization of their views could be one that makes the country they all collectively inhabit more enjoyable, like in the way the aliens made the natural world of Nigeria healthier and the taste of the garden egg sweeter: the perfect treat after an accumulation of apocalyptic events.