The other day
We danced in the street
Joy in our hearts
We thought we were free
Three young folks fell to our right
Countless more fell to our left
Looking up,
Far from the crowd
We beheld
Red-hot guns

We thought it was oil
But it was blood
We thought it was oil
But this was blood

Heart jumping
Into our mouths
Floating on
Emotion’s dry wells
We leapt in fury
Knowing it wasn’t funny
Then we beheld
Bright red pools

We thought it was oil
But it was blood
We thought it was oil
But this was blood

Tears don’t flow
When you are scarred
First it was the Ogoni*
Today it is Ijaws*
Who will be slain the next day?
We see open mouths
But hear no screams
Standing in a pool
Up to our knees

We thought it was oil
But it was blood
We thought it was oil
But this was blood

Dried tear bags
Polluted streams
Things are real
When found in dreams
We see their Shells
Behind military shields:
Evil, horrible, gallows called oil rigs
Drilling our souls

We thought it was oil
But it was blood
We thought it was oil
But this was blood

The heavens are open
Above our heads
Toasted dreams in a flared
And scrambled sky
A million black holes
In a burnt up sky
Their pipes may burst
But our dreams won’t burst

We thought it was oil
But it was blood
We thought it was oil
But this was blood

This we tell you
They may kill all
But the blood will speak
They may gain all
But the soil will RISE
We may die but stay alive
Placed on the slab
Slaughtered by the day
We are the living
Long sacrificed

We thought it was oil
But it was blood
We thought it was oil
But this was blood.

Nnimmo Bassey is a prominent Nigerian environmentalist activist and poet.

* Ogoni and Ijaws are indigenous groups living in the oil-rich Niger Delta who have opposed the Shell Oil Company’s presence. In 1993, 300,000 Ogonis demonstrated against the environmental destruction and economic marginalization brought about by Shell drilling on Ogoni lands. Many were killed and the activist leaders, including Ken Saro Wiwa, were imprisoned and eventually executed by the government. Today the Ijaws are protesting.
For many indigenous peoples, the earth is a living being and oil is considered to be her blood, therefore the words blood and oil have a double meaning.
Oil production in Nigeria has caused severe environmental and human consequences since it was “discovered” by oil companies in the 1950s.

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