In Nigeria, garden eggs are what Americans know as eggplants. They are cooked in many Nigerian dishes. Yet, it is garden eggs in their raw form which are most relevant to the “apocalyptic” novel Lagoon by Nnedi Okorafor. Instead of being a delicious component of a meal, these raw garden eggs are harbingers of the end of the humanity Lagoon’s characters had known—but they are not harbingers of the apocalypse.
I want to take my definition of the word “apocalypse” from Andrew Santana Kaplan’s article, “Notes Toward (Inhabiting) the Black Messianic in Afro-Pessimism’s Apocalyptic Thought,” which analyzes the potential for an apocalypse which ends the all-consuming modern system of whiteness. According to Santana Kaplan:
“Blackness…is the messianic remnant of modernity. This means that following Paul’s model of being a slave to the Messiah today calls for contemplating the unthinkable: “being” a slave to Blackness—that is, “being” a slave to the Slave of modernity. This does not amount to raising the Black to a sovereign position, but instead entails “abolishing sovereignty” altogether (Sexton 9, as cited in Kaplan Santana 78).
Sovereignty here indicates a system of power in which one group restricts the autonomy of the other. An apocalypse is, therefore, not simply change. Instead, it must totally reverse the social order, defying all forms of power so that systems of sovereignty can be destroyed rather than living on in another form. While Santana Kaplan is writing in order to address the idea of the Black messianic, an idea which is specific to the overturn of whiteness, I want to expand their understanding of the messianic to an interpretation of Lagoon. That is to say, I want to consider whether or not Lagoon is an apocalyptic novel based on whether sovereignty is overturned within it.
After Ayodele, the extraterrestrial ambassador to Earth, sacrifices herself, her essence causes everyone in Lagos to develop a craving for raw garden eggs. This change is unprecedented, as the extraterrestrials usually only alter people in order to give them what they want, if they are not acting defensively. A craving for garden eggs is so characteristic of the extraterrestrials, as they have different tastes from humans, yet is such a mundane trait to pass onto them. However, the fact that people develop this craving reveals the fact that humans fundamentally do not control the impact of the extraterrestrial visitation. They are not in control save for when they start attacking—they are changing due to the extraterrestrials whether they want to or not. They are therefore rapidly losing sovereignty. One might assume that this loss of human sovereignty, and therefore the disruption of known order, is indicative of an apocalypse beginning within the novel.
However, even though humans are losing sovereignty, sovereignty is not abolished, but rather replaced. While the extraterrestrials state that they are “guests who wish to become citizens,” and attempt to use their power without hierarchy or dominion by giving people what they want, they are also becoming political actors (Okorafor 111). Ayodele tells the people of Lagos that “We come to bring you together and refuel your future” (Okorafor 113). The extraterrestrials do so by usurping extant human power, such as that of the president, healing him and conferring with him. Of course, the healed man remains in power rather than dying and leaving a power vacuum in his wake. He uses his resurrected position to declare that the Nigerian people should accept the extraterrestrial influence, and that he will be working alongside them for the sake of the country being “powerful again” (Okorafor 272). It seems that rather than abolishing sovereignty, the extraterrestrials are willing to reinforce it alongside the president.
In this course, titled Black Apocalyptic Fiction, we are reading about various forms of the apocalypse as they are imagined by human authors. These apocalypses generally explore ways of thinking about power. The contradiction between the extraterrestrials’ good intentions and their sovereignty suggests that the audience question the nature of the change in our world. The extraterrestrials are kind, and they change Lagos drastically, but even they become entwined with the human concept of sovereignty. Even post-visitation, there is still a clear political hierarchy, one which is now more inhuman than non-existent. Even when our world fundamentally changes due to a force beyond human control, it is difficult to remove sovereignty from even a fundamentally altered world.