Book review | Rhymes from Africa: Re-orienting The African Child

Book Title: Rhymes From Africa
Author: Ibraheem Dooba
Publisher: AMAB Books, Minna
Pages: 39
Year: 2017
Reviewer: Paul Liam

The role of literature in the entrenchment of colonial ideals in the minds of Africans remains a subject of critical discourse among intellectuals and scholars in understudying the impact of colonialism on the psyche of colonised people of the world. It has been established that European colonializers used their literatures in perpetuating cultural imperialism that unfortunately continues till today. Africans, nay Nigerians are more inclined to the foreign than the local, a precarious adventure which has led the scholar-critic Professor Sule Emmanuel Egya (E. E Sule) to tag the emergent generation of Nigerian writers as the "exogenous generation." Through encounters with western literatures, Africans gained insights into the cultural, religious and value systems of the whites. European epistemology subsequently became the prime wisdom and the mirror through which Africans imagined themselves among other nations of the world. But, to the rescue emerged pioneers like Achebe and others who rose to the occasion, by providing for Africa new prisms from hence Africans could re-imagine themselves and assert their own unique humanity in the world. Things Fall Apart is one of the redeeming miracles of Africa's cultural revival.

The import of the above premise underscores the truism that literature possesses the power to exert control over a people and to determine how a society re-imagines itself. African children even after independence still live their childhood in the shadows of their European counterparts through the foreign rhymes and stories they are made to consume in schools. Through these rhymes, African children encounter the views and ideals of the foreign thereby alienating them from their own cultural realities. Although, there have been several commendable efforts to decolonise the minds of African children by way of introducing them to African rhymes and stories drawn from their own cultural milieu, more work still needs to be done. These books do not only educate them about their own cultures and legends, but builds in them a genuine sense of patriotism to their fatherland. Perhaps, this reality influenced Ibraheem Dooba's collection of rhymes for the African child.

Ibraheem Dooba, a Harvard Alumnus and Data expert is also a politician and communication expert. For a politician to have found time to think and write for children speaks in volume of the kind of father he must be to his own children, and his potential as a leader. This is considering that Nigerian politicians can't find enough time to read anything other than newspapers, not to talk about dedicating hours to meditation and writing for children. Dooba's is an unusual example and a worthy precedence that others should strive to emulate.

Dooba's Rhymes From Africa is another important collection of rhymes carefully written for the consumption of African children. With this collection, African children have a worthy book that exposes them to their own immediate environment and peculiar circumstances. Dooba, through the elegant rhymes re-imagines Africa and Nigeria in particular for the school child. There isn't the need anymore to chant foreign rhymes in classes about a London bridge that is falling down, a pussy cat going to the see Doctor, a Mr Piper picking a piece of pickled paper, when they can easily chant about the rare bravery of the "hunter," the beauty of the Zebra in "I am the Zebra" or recite "Flattering the queen of Africa" respectively.

It is a psychological supposition that children learn by association and imitation and by creating a concrete connection with their environment through rhymes, they become aware of their own realities through the images they are conditioned to see. For example, in the rhyme "Africa" the child encounters the uniqueness that defines the continent and its beauty. The rhyme describes Africa as a land "where fruits sprout in colours of the rainbow." "And the Sunset sets the sky ablaze." (9). In a more symbolic rhyme "I'm the Zebra", the persona creates a contrast between the Zebra and a Horse. It is a beautiful rhyme that draws attention to details. The horse may be stronger but the zebra is more elegant. The persona of the rhyme relays thus:

I am the zebra.
I am a horse.
But I'm more.
But I'm more.
I've got the stripes
That horses lack.
I march in steps
That soldiers like.
But I'm a horse that they can't ride (8)

"The Myth" is a fine rhyme that re-echoes the notorious myth held by the west, of Africa as a place where humans live on trees. The persona declares:

In Africa:
we live in trees,
marry in threes,
we sire like the bees,
as many as the fleas. (6)

In twenty-six rhymes, collected in the thirty-nine page book, divided into four parts, Dooba presents an unforgettable experience for the schoolchild. The rhymes speak of different issues as might be interested to a child in nursery or primary school. Although, some words appear to be too complex for the comprehension of nursery school children, e.g, "barbarian" "Cadmium", "effeminate" etc, and some rhymes equally bear profound messages that come off as being a bit above the level of beginners, chanters may find it challenging to interpret or understand their imports. A rhyme like "Multiple Intelligent Child" might create a challenge when it comes to memorising it, it is quite long, it has about fifty-four lines. Usually, rhymes come in short witty forms for easy memorisation and understanding.

Dooba has joined the league of children writers like Teresa Ameh Oyibo, Hussaini Kodo, Chinyere Obi-Obasi and others who have dedicated their creative energies to writing for children. Rhymes From Africa is a noble work that is poised to re-orienting the African child about himself and his environment, as well as helping him realise the greatness in him and also strengthen his belief in his continent and skin. This book deserves to be in the hands of every schoolchild in Africa.

Paul Liam is a poet, essayist and book reviewer with numerous works to his credit. He is a former Assistant Secretary of the Association of Nigerian Authors, Niger State. He mentors a coterie of aspiring writers and edits as well. He is co-editor of Ebedi Review.