We thought it was oil, But it was blood

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.