Makayla Garrison, Jenna McFarland, Marisa Greaney, Sage Kearney, Lauryn Bennett, Katie Lyons, McKinley Skala
In Nnedi Okorafor’s novel, Lagoon, the ‘aliens’ play multiple roles in Lagos, Nigeria. To some, depending on the perspective , their roles were carried out negatively to some characters and positively to others. The ‘aliens’ act as a form of katechon, despite the chaos that has erupted from their arrival. Humans have created their own problems, while the aliens just want to coexist with them. The existence of the ‘aliens’ almost prevents them from spiraling into total apocalypse despite the fact that they have been viewed as, and treated, very negatively throughout the book. They have not acted evil of their own volition, but mostly in response to the evil done to them by humans. When they witness something horrific done by humans, they step in to rectify their evil.
The definition of ‘alien’ does not have any negative denotations, though society gives this word a negative connotation. If we used ‘alien’ according to its denotative meaning, then it would just simply mean someone different from a foreign place, which would also connote change. Most often alien is a term used to describe immigrants or those from one country seeking to gain entry into another one. In this novel, the connotation of aliens being from outer space, or extraterrestrial, is used more prominently. This is a topic that has become highly politicized as there is much stigma surrounding people who are different and from another place seeking entry into a different nation. These same negative feelings connect to the way the people in Lagoon react to the water people arriving, as they simply desire to coexist with humans. They have never declared any negative intentions. Humans in the novel begin to react negatively and spiral into chaos as a reaction, but it stems from their own bad faith as the water people have not done anything harmful to humans when they first arrived.
When comparing perceptions, generally adults and children have different and sometimes conflicting views of situations. Children are inherently good. They don’t have reason to fear the worst until they have been taught to do so, either by upbringing or experience. In the context of the novel, as the aliens arrive, the children view it positively and are eager to welcome these new beings, “Kola squealed with glee and exclaimed, ‘This is the happiest night of my life!’” (Okorafor, 180). Kola is eager to interact and meet these beings because they are new and exciting. Her reaction contrasts with the way many of the adults are either scared or condemn their presence without prior justification. The way that stigma is placed on aspects of society and that the humans have overreacted to the arrival of these aliens is highlighted throughout the children’s reactions, because they have not given any reason to suspect harm. Adults have already lived through countless harmful and deceitful experiences, so they already have reasons to doubt strangers (especially aliens, especially so given the negative connotation of the word). Adults do not have the innocent and trusting minds that they once had when they were children themselves. It takes time to trust in strangers whereas children start with trust and develop suspicions and doubts with time. When Ayodele proved who she was to the president and his advisors, “the soldiers guarding the president dropped their guns, the wives screamed, and one of his advisor’s fainted. The pilot fell to his knees and began to vomit. The president watched with wide eyes” (Okorafor, 217). These adults of such high status and power reacted in ways that resembled the actions of an infant. They cried, vomited, ran, and shied away from Ayodele as they immediately perceived her as a threat to themselves and the human race. The president managed to bring himself together as he knew he had a major role to play in the bringing together of Nigeria and Ayodele’s people.
From each character introduced in Lagoon, the reader is able to clearly determine whether that character deems the alien emergence as an invasion or an arrival of the city of Lagos. For example, Fisayo believed Ayodele’s intentions were to take over Nigeria. Fisayo believed, “the alien woman had hijacked her phone. She was speaking about taking over Nigeria. Fissayo shut her phone … This was the rapture, the apocalypse, the end.” (Okorafor, 129). Ayodele was merely announcing the arrival of her people and was emphasizing their wish to coexist with the people of Nigeria. Fisayo came to this conclusion simply because there was a foreign individual on her phone announcing their sudden arrival. She reacted negatively based on pre-existing notions of aliens and what their arrival has been interpreted as based on stigma and negative representations. Fisayo’s blind fear caused her to instill fear and panic in those around her, particularly with her sign: “Repent. Lagos will never be destroyed” and her split-second killings of innocent Lagosians. Many other Lagosians initially reacted in a similar way to Fisayo, and sought to rid their city of these trespassers with whatever means necessary. People automatically believed these otherworldly creatures as invaders of Lagos and intended to cause harm to its citizens, but they have only communicated that they wish to live in harmony with humans. Ayodele announces to the world, “In less than twenty-four hours, I have seen love, hate, greed, ambition, and obsession among you … I have seen compassion, love, hope, sadness, insecurity, art, intelligence, ingenuity, corruption, curiosity, and violence. This is life. We love life” (Okorafor, 112). From the short time that Ayodele has been on Earth, she has witnessed all of these concepts in action. Ayodele realized that humans are intense, emotional beings and are constantly acting in their own self-interest. Humans took on the idea of us versus everyone else to get through this time of stress and the unknown. Humans protected themselves and their loved ones and left everyone else to fend for themselves. She has viewed all the good and bad, and despite the bad, still did not wish to cause harm to the people of Lagos. Humans have not recognized this as they cannot see past her existence as someone foreign and unknown.
The human reaction to the alien arrival showed their true nature; they took the arrival of the aliens as a reason to go off the rails and cause mass destruction, and stigma against the arrival of something new and different from them. Even when they had the opportunity to show their humanity in this situation, they rather showed selfishness and betrayal. Although the alien arrival did spark this behavior, the humans showed that they were always capable of this violence because there was nothing forcing them to react in this way. They have proven to be the actual evil despite their fear, “He could almost smell her. Peasant he thought. Rubbish. Filth. But he would take her money” (Okorafor, 59). Father Oke is a prime example of the problem of judgment, greed, and overall evil within society before the presence of the water people had even become widely known. Multiple other examples also protrude throughout the book with the discourse among the 419 hackers, the plan of Moziz and Philo to steal Ayodele, and the area boys aiming to provide nothing but torment to the surrounding area. There was already so much negativity pent up, that the humans used the arrival of this new species to unleash it all, “Agu understood that they were angry at Lagos, angry at Nigeria, angry at the world. The alien invasion was just an excuse to let it all out” (Okorafor, 173). Agu presents this sentence in a way that seems to almost justify their actions, due to their anger at the world, but humans also created the problems that curated such frustration. The refusal to change even went as far as to be rooted within the government, “When had the Nigerian government and military done anything for its people?” As soon as the opportunity presented itself, the humans took advantage of what they perceived as the apocalypse to steal objects, harm others, and basically do what they wanted while they had the chance. They used this opportunity for bad, rather than good. The president even reveals this in his broadcasted speech to Nigeria, “We tore at our own flesh last night, as we have done many times in the past. Now, as we hurt from the pain and loss, let our minds clear. And see” (Okorafor, 277). It was not the aliens who burned buildings, destroyed cars, beat people, and wreaked havoc in the streets of Lagos; it was human beings. The president urges the people of Nigeria to open their eyes and set aside their internal perceptions to make room for change and the betterment of their country. The evil of the humans generates strong contrast between their actions and the actual good that the arrival of this new species has presented. Ayodele sought to heal a human child, despite the fact that she had bee greatly harmed. Not only this, but others of the same species were able to change the mindset of people who were previously very comfortable with harming others for their own gain, “But this woke me up. The coming of Ijele. I am not being melodramatic and I am not crazy. And I am not out of danger. But I will never practice fraud again. Never. I swear” (Okorafor 199). They have no reason to be kind to the society that has been nothing but malicious and skeptical towards them, but still aim to protect humans nevertheless.
Throughout Lagoon we see many instances of humans eager to cause destruction and harm without thinking twice. These actions highlight the way that humanity has already had a problem to be solved, and that the aliens have brought no real harm to them. In fact, they have mostly had a positive impact on the lives of many who have interacted with them throughout the book. If anything, the aliens themselves are the katechontic force preventing them from spiraling totally out of control. Whenever something truly threatens the humans, the aliens would step in and save them. The actions that the humans had taken during the first instance of stress, when the aliens landed off the coast of Bar Beach, the Nigerian Government had instantly assumed the worst. This skepticism carried on throughout the novel within the country despite the fact that they had not overtly caused any real harm to humans. When the situation turned out to be much more intense, but not dangerous, than initially expected, Lagos erupted into chaos. Many took advantage of that chaos to cause more harm than the aliens had ever intended. These actions can reflect more broadly on the hesitation of humans to accept good change. The same applies to both extraterrestrial aliens, and the aliens that deal with foreigners traveling between nations. Humans apply the same evil both ways.