Like the Nigerian poetic maestro, Niyi Osundare, I have always held that poetry is man making meaning to man. In this collection of poems have I seen a poet building bridges between himself and his target audience. In an age of computer games and multimedia apps cum multiple social media platforms, I am glad we still have a poet who is concerned about building the minds of the younger generations, instilling in them values as patriotism, hard work, honesty, and a sense of social justice whilst drawing their attention to the poetic art.
The poems in Echoes of our Voices are simple without being simplistic and contain memorizable verses that appeal to young minds. More so, the anthology provides annotations and questions to further readers’ comprehension and aid in understanding the building blocks of poetry.
As we say in the humanities, art humanizes man. It is good to teach young children about science and the world around them, but most importantly is the need to teach them to be human first. Following the Second World War, an anonymous survivor of the Holocaust; who had witnessed the horror and bodily mutilations in a German concentration camp; called for teachers to do more in teaching students the values of humanity. The letter he wrote reads thus:
I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no person should witness; gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot by high school and college graduates. So, I am suspicious of education.
My request is:
Help your children become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, or educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, and arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more humane. (qtd. in Paul Cowan and Henry Maitles 16)
True to fact, ‘doctors’ who engaged in these bodily mutilations were once students of certain teachers, someone’s sons, daughters, nephews, and nieces. That they turned out so unfeeling and no better than monsters is a pointer to the fact that the older generation has failed in instilling the values of humanity in them. So, we have a lot of work on our hands.
But say, what better way is there to pass on these values than through art? Do you still wonder why older generations of Africans in rural communities place a premium on storytelling and oral poetry? Art has always played the role of developing our humane aspects and furthering our knowledge of humanity, culture, and society. It is in this vein that the oral or literate artist sees himself as a historical, cultural, and moral bastion. Amadi Ekwutosilam Njoku assumes these roles of the artist and uses his art to project the values of humanity. We now have to ensure our wards do not grow up without reading this anthology.
Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy
19 June 2020
Cowan, Paul, and Maitles, Henry. Understanding and Teaching Holocaust Education. Sage: London, 2017.