Deeping children in a cultural brew
Folk songs and poetry, in the form of nursery rhymes, have proven to be tools parents deploy to bring up their young ones by steeping them in the moral ethics and norms of their culture. They often act as unifying and binding forces for children and foster in them a sense of belonging in their cultural milieu. In Nigeria today, many children are ignorant of their places of origin and cultural background and cannot even speak their mother tongues.
In schools where their socialization begins, they are accustomed to foreign poems like Humpty Dumpty, London Bridge and so many others at the expense of their indigenous ones like Onye tiri nwa n’ebe akwa, Papangolo pangolo and the likes which tell stories about their culture and teach morals.
Therefore, any work that encourages children to become more aware of their culture while inculcating knowledge of the same cultural norms and values would go a long way to in reorientation of Nigeria’s young ones. Ukwuani Nursery Rhymes, a compilation of poems in Ukwuani language in Delta State, written by Ozah Micheal Ozah, addresses this need and provides a form of enlightenment for the children of Ukwuani extraction and members of the Igbo community at large.
The poems illustrate the Ukwuani philosophy and views from a child’s perspective, revealing the ways they are taught by their mothers and elders, the age-old values inherent in them and the beauty of Ukwuani cultural heritage. There are 50 poems in Ukwuani Nursery Rhymes which cut across the life of an Ukwuani child, experiences, teachings and lessons learnt by them in various ways.
The first poem Ma gwa nne I (I Will Tell Your Mother) reminds children of their mothers’ wrath if she finds out they have eaten a strangers’ meal or a meal not belonging to her. It teaches children contentment and how they should compose themselves around other people’s belongings. This poem is also similar to Ebu mkpishi eka (Song of the fingers) and Ojugbeli mkpilite (Ojugbeli of mortar fame), which also serves as a reminder for children to uphold the virtues taught to them by their parents when they are not around to guild them.
The poems not only teach morals, but also educate the children. A child who reads these poems would have gained knowledge not obtainable in classrooms on animals and nature. In this aspect poems like Okuko ocha (White chick), One azu (Which fish), Me je (I kept going), Nwa nnunu na tu ukpa (The little bird that hops), Ndidei, yemu esu m (Earthworm, give me my jewelry), Umu azu (Little fish) come aptly reflect nature and the child’s worldview and relationship to it. Moreso, in the area of classroom education Wan, Waliji stands out.
The poem teaches numeral counting of one to 10. An illustration is given below: One, wali ije ni ite/Two, tuku akobo ta/Three, ebe eto The poem continues in this rhythmic mode until it counts to 10. Most of the poems in Ukwuani Nursery Rhymes also entertain children and teach them brotherly and sisterly love and co-habitation among themselves such as Otu m mbene nio and Ashigwa.
In order to realise the lyrical quality of the poems, alliteration, onomatopia and other literary devices are employed with pictorial representations that make it easy and interesting for children to read. The book includes a glossary where difficult Ukwuani words are explained. Ukwuani Nursery Rhymes comes highly recommended to everyone interested in learning the ways Ukwuani people acculturate their children to their ways of life so they could be responsible members of society ready to carry pass on the people’s value to the next generation. Ukwuani parents will find the book immensely useful teaching aid for their children.