[Texas] “is no longer a mere geographical space” — John O’Sullivan, 1845
n my early youth, two books I won in a competition brought some locations in the Americas so close that I could physically touch those places. The names Colorado and Colombia rang in my ears like booming sounds at a distance. The abundance of water touching down from great heights was vivid. Everything could rank with paradise. I traveled freely in my imagination. Adventure stole my heart and took me away from my shadows.
Years later, as I watched late night movies, it began to settle in that films I watched were often about Dallas. Texas then occupied a place as an abode of the unscrupulous oil magnates. I recall a Texaco (The Texas Company) filling station close to our house. Decades later, when huge oil was discovered in São Tomé and Principe, there was outrage among some of us over that country’s links with Texas, which included sudden daily commercial flights.
I discovered another America in Germany. There, America found a fantasy land where life all seemed like bowling and filling a giant plastic cup with Coca-cola at the tap while you enjoyed a discussion. I interacted with Americans, who were mostly soldiers. Every American was bound to tell me, “You know what, Shinedu, you need to visit Missouri (or Atlanta or Virginia) at some time.”
The attitude conveyed was that it was in the US, naturally, like a surname. That was, until you met a Texan who had got only Texas without the US: like Chinweizu. You see; you can roll with just a single name. He would waive the Texan rather than the American flag.
At a social club in Wiesbaden, Germany, we usually organized occasional speech making activities over dinner, whereby people came to present speeches, then they would go for competitions at regional, state and international levels, and come back with trophies. One of us at a time was a Texan. His speech presentations always gave one something to think about. Once, when he was announced, as he took his hat with him to the lectern, we knew a speech on Texas was on the cards. His voice was big and his Texas accent the type NBC, America would enlist for Good Morning America. Away from speech making, during discussions, he spoke as if Texas was an independent country. A nice fellow, you wouldn’t wait long to hear the Texan take out other American regions piece by piece. “Oh, forget about New York. Overrated.” The discussion would get going and he would tear into Virginians. “We Texans are real, unlike these Americans, these Virginians.”
In Texas, it is not always all about oil. Look at just sports. Wouldn’t two Major League Baseball (MLB) teams, two National Football League (NFL) teams and three National Basketball Association (NBA) clubs be too much for a state to handle if you’re not California? Not Texas. For MLB, you have Houston Astros and Texas Rangers in Texas. There is the NFL club Houston Texans, then Dallas Cowboys for which, as a child, I would have thought the place may be full of cowboys. When you may be thinking about San Antonio Spurs that is in Texas, remember that Houston Rockets is also in that state. Go over to Dallas and behold another NBA club, The Dallas Mavericks. In the NBA, the three Texas teams have always been in the playoffs. Think of it; neither Houston, Dallas nor San Antonio is the capital of Texas, but meek Austin.
A country of its own, slave dealer James Fannin’s Texas at a time had been under contention between the United States and Mexico. In 1845, Texas ceased being a country and was added to the US through annexation under President James Polk. Oregon was acquired from Britain in 1846. Then the Mexican War of 1846-48 produced California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada. What this means is that California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Nevada had been Mexican territories. During the First World War, Britain intercepted a Zimmermann Telegram sent to Mexico from Germany. In the message, Germany promised to help Mexico recover Texas, New Mexico and Arizona in exchange for Mexican support. It quickened US entry into the war.
Prior to these events, John O’Sullivan had in 1845 written a piece on Texas entitled ‘Annexation.’ In the article, O’Sullivan uses the words ‘mere geographical.’ He asserts that Texas “is no longer a mere geographical space – a certain combination of coast, plain, mountain, valley, forest and stream. ...” This term has been used several times by Nigerians, who quote Obafemi Awolowo´s famous 1948 statement “Nigeria is a mere geographical expression.” This is an engaging play of words. Like many people of African descent, Nigerians hardly have the discipline to scrutinize anything. For several years, I had always traced those words to John O Sullivan. At least, the Nigerian vice president, a professor, also knew they weren’t Awolowo’s.
When you read especially American literature, you stumble onto expressions bandied about by Nigerian public figures, who end up owning the words. Nigerian writers have often, for book titles, poem captions and lines for their poems, fed on Walt Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass.’ You have to stop reading to check to see how one of Nigeria’s greatest poems is powered by lines from ‘Leaves of Grass.’ Coincidentally, ‘Leaves of Grass,’ on the Goliad Massacre, in a section of ‘Song of Myself,’ dwells on the annexation of Texas, the taking over of Oregon and the brutal Mexican War. Editorials of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, while Whitman was the editor, showed Whitman’s attachment to 1840s’ Texas.
It is from this Texas, the Lone Star state, that Liberia stole the Lone Star; that, to go with naming their capital Monrovia, after American President Monroe, for his racist intentions. This was Whitman’s time and everything reechoes the man’s “Now I tell what I knew in Texas in my early youth.”
Dr. Ogoke, a novelist, scholar and translator has taught Literature in Nigerian and German universities