An important theme in the anthropology of violence is subjectivity and that specific violent forms exert specific transformations of subjectivity. I analyze here new data about modern Ijaw warriors in the Niger Delta of Nigeria, petrol violence, and subjectivities.
I develop two theoretical points. First, that the power of everyday violence lies not only in unmaking social worlds but in creating at once unifying and destructive liminal subjectivities. Second, that the centrality of gender in understanding petrol violence reveals deep mimetic links between the iconic man—the potent warrior—and the impotent fugitive/transgressor/pirate.
Despite some outstanding research on the 1997-2010 series of complex rebellions waged against the establishments of the Nigerian government and the international petroleum-producing corporations, there is little research regarding how the transformation to warriorhood occurs for young Ijaw men. What are their motivations, emotions, and ideas regarding warriorhood? How is violence experienced and how does it form connections, create anxieties, or produce the iconic Ijaw man—the warrior in the war boat? What are the transformative processes?
For more than four years, at the onset of the conflict (1999-2001) to the height of the conflict (2005-2007), I lived among and participated in warriors’ routines, struggles, failures, and successes in the watery environment (creeks and riverways) throughout the key oil producing states in Nigeria (Rivers, Bayelsa, and Delta).
Focusing on the life of one fighter and his closest allies, I reveal painful transformations of an emergent fighting class as modern rites of passage to manhood and the normalizing demands of violence on Ijaw subjectivities and moral order. I demonstrate that these transformations are ambiguous endeavors for young men that resulted perpetual social liminality.