Omaricha Abu Umuaka: The Return Of Igbo Folk Poetry For Children
LITERATURE has been tested and proven by reputable scholars from ages past to be a veritable educational tool. As a genre of literature, poetry is no exception to this utilitarian function of literature as a vehicle for the education of man in particular and society in general.
In modern Africa, indigenous language literature, more often than not, takes the back seat whenever the literary output of any African country is being considered. There are, therefore, fewer writers of indigenous language literature than those who write in foreign languages. This anomaly, expectedly, has not in any way helped the development of these indigenous languages; it rather calls attention to these languages going extinct. As children, one of the ways through which we were taught the vagaries and morals of existence was through the use of folk songs and poetry. Examples of such poetic folk songs include Nwa Nnunu Nwa Nnunu Nta, Udara Mu Puo amongst others.
When we grew up, we realised that these songs were meant not only to entertain, but to educate us. The unfortunate scenario today is that these songs are gradually going into extinction. The major reason for this is that these songs are denigrated, as fetish. You do not expect a parent to teach his child that which he denigrates.
Any effort to reverse the ugly trend is a welcome development and must be seen as a rescue mission. This is why the publication of the book Omaricha: Abu Umuaka, a collection of original and unique Igbo folk poetry for children, must be seen as a welcome development.
The author Nnenna Ihebom is a prolific writer who has written quality, incisive and instructive works in virtually all the genres of literature – drama, poetry, prose and children’s literature. Her writing equally extends to Igbo language. Her Igbo novel Odogwu Be Anyi won the 2007 ANA/Ken Nnamani Prize for Igbo Literature, while Patriots and Sinners, one of her novels in English has been accepted for publication in the maiden edition of Nigeria Writer Series.
Omaricha: Abu Umuaka is her sixth literary effort in Igbo language. Others includes, Igirigi Ututu (poetry collection), Mkpanaka Igbo (a collection of short stories and grammar), Egwu a gwara Ogwa (poetry) and Akamkpo Chinedu (prose).
There are a total of thirty Igbo poems (folk songs) in Omaricha: Abu Umuaka. These poems thematically cut across all aspects of Igbo worldview. Hence one can aptly describe the book as a compendium or encyclopedia of Igbo culture. They touch on every aspect of life and Igbo cosmology. The first poem ‘Orobuba’ is a nature or romantic poem which extols the virtues and enchanting qualities of the butterfly.
One salient lesson which the child takes away from this work is that the Igbo nomenclature for butterfly is Orobuba. This is also the same case with the other poems such as ‘Nwapia’ (the long-beaked bird) and Udara (African apple). ‘Deede Ndanda’ is an interesting analysis of the lifestyle and wisdom of the ant. It is a known but sad fact that most Igbo children have forgotten the Igbo names of the plants and animals around them. Reading through this timely collection of poems serves as a corrective measure for this fundamental error.
From poem to poem, the poet leads the reader through an in-depth excursion in Igbo ontology, cosmology and metaphysics. The child who reads through the poems in this collection would have gone through a priceless and invaluable educational excursion into Igbo customs and traditions. In the aspect of direct language education, the poem ‘Ogu Mkpi na Mkpi’ stands out, especially in its use of alliteration, known as ‘biambiamgbochi’ in Igbo language. The poem sets out to teach children the fundamentals of Igbo alphabets using the analogy of a scuffle between two He-goats. The poet, in telling the story of the fight, uses the Igbo alphabet known as “A B CH”. An illustration will suffice here,
‘A B CH D
Ogu mkpi na mkpi
E F G GB
Weta mpi soo mpi
GH GW H I
O gini na-ese?’
The poem continues in this rhythmical mode until the last set of alphabets.
‘V W Y Z
Ogu mkpi na mkpi’
A lot of the poems in Omaricha: Abu Umuaka are what may be described as deep-rooted morality poems. An apt instance is ‘Onye Ntutu’ (criminally minded person) in which the poet exposes and educates the children on the immorality and illegality of crime, as its fruit is usually unsavoury. The last stanza of the poem goes thus,
‘Ukwu na-aga wam wam
Anya a na-aga zam zam
O ga-erukwa otu ubochi
Ekete ekpudo onye ntutu.’
(As the leg is going
The eye is also looking
It will get to one day
The basket will trap the criminal.)
Ihebom, in order to totally drive the diverse messages of these poems home, deploys all the literary and Igbo linguistic tools at her disposal. These poems are filled with vivid Igbo imageries, metaphor, simile, paradox, hyperbole, onomatopoeia, alliteration, etc. The effective deployment of these devices helps the reader to better appreciate the works.
Another enticing aspect of Omaricha: Abu Umuaka is the packaging. It is colourful with apt pictorial illustrations accompanying every poem. This is an effort to make the work appealing to young readers who are its target audience. The poet included a glossary in which difficult words are explained to ease understanding. Needless to say the book comes recommended to all lovers of Igbo language, to all parents who wish to redirect their children’s mind to Igbo language and to the general public.
* Nwokedi Sylvester is Owerri-based playwright and movie producer