Language plays vital role in artistic composition. Oribhabor’s collection of poems is novel in diction, craft and aesthetic. Language takes centre stage not only as a means of communication but of construction of artistic artifacts. The collection consists of over fifty poems with divergent thematic thrusts. The poems were not classed into thematic categories but left for the reader to find semantics from the corpus of meaty cornucopia. The language used in the composition is the Nigerian Pidgin Language which the poet prefers to refer to as Naija Langwej. Although, Oribhabor is not the first Nigerian poet to use Pidgin Language in poetic composition, the poet, a grammarian of the Naija Langwej wants to use a stone to kill two birds: To show how Pidgin could be used as an independent linguistic mode and to validate the notion that apart from standard British English, Pidgin Language could be used in the manufacturing of beautiful literary artifacts.
The first poem in the collection, “Abuja Na Hevun, na Kpangba,” eulogizes the splendor and tranquility of the Federal Capital Territory. “Abuja koret/na ples we get/bam bam haus/beta beta rod/we kari plan” (1). The poet persona observes that social amenities are functional in Abuja: “NEPA de wok” and there is abundance of money, “kudi de fo graund” (2). It is obvious that the poet lives in Abuja, “Abuja na di ples/na di veri ples/I de kamkpe no bi lai” (3) Across ten stanzas, the poet captures the divergent faces of Abuja and concludes that “Abuja na kpangba” (4). The poet juxtaposes the portrait of Abuja with that of Lagos, in “Ol Join,” and declares that the latter is dirty and unkempt. The poem is a photographic shot of major Nigerian cities and the nature of their plights. The poet observes that Lagos is fine architecturally, but “yeye de smel/yama-yama de du im oun.” (20)The poet is saying that Lagos is dirty and filthy albeit the government is trying to remedy the situation.
The poet was kind enough to provide interpretation of some words and phrases which could pose a threat to a non-Nigerian reader or even a Nigerian who is not conversant with the Pidgin system. In the poem “Na fo haus yu swim?” The poet reminisces upon the past and how he and his age mates play freely in the wild and even “swim for damba-damba” (11). In the footnote, the poet explains “damba-damba” as “stagnant pool of rain water collected in dugout sand pits.” As a child, he played in the sand, and even “du as wi laik,” and “…baf autsaid.” But in the contemporary world, children’s liberty is curtailed and they are cordon off in fenced houses in towns and cities; even if they are not cordon off, they are not allowed to play freely, “damba-damba de dash okrikpoto/ojuju de kach/dem most swim fo haus.” (i2). Okrikpoto is explained in the footnote as “ringworm” and “ojuju” as “masquerade.” We see similarity of theme in the poem “Wich neshon yu bi?.” The poet reminisces upon the days he was growing up with his disciplinarian of a father. The father of the poet handles the children with iron hands. Although it is not that he exhibits tyrannous disposition towards them, it is evident that the father lives on the injunction “spare the rod and spoil the child.” The father beats them when they erred, corrects them verbally when they go astray and taught them many things. Since most of his children are boys,” I gada os laik gels” (17) and handles them properly.
The collection is an amalgam of poems on diverse themes. Thus, in the poem “Laif na jangalova,” the poet reflects on the essence of human life on earth and concludes that life is like a swing. It is unstable, and could be sweet or bitter sometimes: “laif na shuga/na bita laif/ol join.” (18) This swinging pattern of life is explored in the poem “Gi mi yestade.” The poet reflects on life in the 70s, 80s and 90s before things begin to fall apart. The poet noticed that, “pepe no de laik befo.” (25) ‘pepe’ here refers to money. In those days after graduation, “dem giv mi wok/dem folo am wit fo leg.” After graduation, you would be given a job, “wok” and attached with a car “fo leg.” But today, the reverse is the case: “bifo bifo na laif/laif de du revais.” In “Tumoro go kom,” on the other hand, the poet admonishes that no man knows the shape of tomorrow so we should use what we have today to build our tomorrow: “gada tode/si tumoro/I don land fo yo hand.” (34)
The poem “Wich Landa Broda,” challenges the claim that Europeans discovered Africa or other historical sites in Africa. The Lander Brothers claimed that they discovered the mouth of River Niger. The poet questions such claims by asserting that Niger has been with Nigerians for ages before the arrival of the Lander Brothers, so how could they lay claim to the discovery of what was not lost. It was Nigerians who took them to the mouth of the River. We see a different preoccupation in the poem, “Homa de hama.” The poem captures social stratification. The poet persona laments that he and his age mates were friends, “we sabi bifo bifo,” before some of them became wealthy, “wen tins no blend.” (30) However, as some of them succeeded in their enterprises and bought Hummer jeeps, “brij kom enta mata” division arises, “levul don chenj langwej.” Wealth, therefore, ultimately leads to social stratification. There is a note of consolation in the poem “Evribodi get im tie.” Every man has his own cross to carry and his own time of glory. The poet encourages everyone to focus on his own business and eschew laziness, “sidon luk na dog nem” (32) so, “laif na ogbonge tie/evribodi get im tie/tie yo oun.”
The quest for materialism has broken so many homes in contemporary Nigeria. Nigerians flock to the West in search of greener pastures which often breaks up the home and affect adversely the sanctity of the family. The poem narrates the story of a family whose members have all travelled abroad leaving the father alone in Nigeria. The family is in disarray, “Mama don travul/papa don trai taya/I stil de” (35). The husband and wife fall apart and the marriage crumbled: “broda don los/anti no mari/papa and mama don tie pepa.”
Nigerians have been deprived of so many basic social amenities which include electricity. In the poem, “Mai paspot,” electricity is seen as the passport one needs to crossover from the class of the deprived to that of the haves. However, the poet is of the opinion that, “NEPA ful fo op/I de go op an daun/bot im leg no toch daun” (51) that is the upper class have light while the other part “daun” don’t have. The poet observes that it has been long that Nigerians are being deceived about the “megawaz,” however, since there is no hope of stable power supply from the government, it becomes imperative for the poet to procure his own power generating system so as to climb up the social ladder. Electricity thus becomes a source of prestige. The last poem in the collection, “Naija Joni,” captures the plight of Nigerian road users. The roads are broken and more of death-traps. Therefore, since the roads are in bad shape, the journey is lengthened. The poet says, “mai bele don si nwen,” (56) This expresses the tumult in the poet’s stomach as the vehicle plunges in and out of gallops and potholes. He feels dizzy and dazed: “mai hed don de kolo” and above all, we see a picture of the car struggling to maneuver through the broken road in this line, “wi de drag wit rod.” At last, the poet reaches his destination.
The language used constitutes an aspect of aesthetics. The poet relies on local imageries, and idiophonic troupes to pass across his message. Many instances abound but we shall consider few of them. In “Homa de hama,” the use of repetition and rhyme makes the poem to be musical. In the first stanza, we have
A waka mai oun
Yu waka yo oun
Du yo oun
A do mai oun (30)
We see the repetition of “oun” which is at the end of each line. In the second stanza, “blend,” and “bifo” are used at the end of the lines, and in the third stanza we have “mata” rhyming to create musicality.
The poet makes use of repetition, assonance and pun a lot. The word “tie” is played with in the following lines: “laif na ogbonge tie/evribodi get im tie/tie yo oun.” (32) The first and second “tie” is noun while the last one is a verb denoting an action. The poet plays with the word, “moi-moi” in the poem, “Laif no bi panyan.” “Moi-moi na fo chop/laif no bi moi-moi.” (33)
The poem, “Wetin dem no du,” the poet makes use of rhyming couplets. Words like “sabi, du, trai,” rhyme in the first, second and third stanzas. Likewise the use of rhyme is employed in the poem, “If i get as i bi.” The poet plays with “hun” in the lines, “If mata kom hun hun hun/ iye go opun fo graund/hun hun hun go hun.” (38)
In “Ikoro plenti,” the poet makes use of metaphor in the lines: “onli fo nait/dia hat na ston/dem bon AIDS.” (8) While we see personification in “de trowe tumoro.” In “Mek somtin no du yu,” the poet makes use of different troupes to drive home his message. In the lines, “som taim mai hed/go de ron raund laik se/dem giv am dog injeshon,” the poet uses two distinct figures, synecdoche and simile. While we see repetition in “I go go ye, go die/go yonda, go dis we.” However, the poet uses assonance in the line, “som taim mai maind…,” while he uses simile in “hevun wan fol laik se no bi pat of mi.” In the poem “A get sista,” the poet uses alliteration in the line, “No bi boi bi di tin,” (12)
Many instances abound. The use of idiophones gives the poems local scent. Repetition of words abound and this makes the poem to be like spoken word poems. A deeper study of the aesthetic components of the poetry collection will suffice so as to bring to the fore the beauty and essence of the poems.
The poet, Eriata Oribhabor has constructed poems using the Naija Langwej which is novel in the history of Nigerian poetry. In his works, Nigerian Pidgin ceases from being the language of the subaltern class, or of embellishment to create local flavor as language of art. The language which has been debased by many Nigerian writers has been given a place of prominence in Oribhabor. What he has done should be appreciated by all and sundry especially those promoting Pidgin Language. Poets and writers should be bold enough to make use of Naija Langwej in their works so as to publicize our own brand of English. In his quest to produce poems in the so-called Naija Langwej, he went to the extent of writing some poems that are shallow, devoid of elegance, sublimity and ambiguity. Language is not the ultimate in poetic composition but elegance of diction, depth of thought and freshness of language which jolt the reader to awake to new reality. In this light, poems like “Mai Buk,” “Life no bi panyan,” “Konzotant vesos profeso,” “Beta pas gud,” “Wi de wok,” “Gi mi kpekere,” “Somtin de,” are not elegant and sublime and lack semanticity to a large extent. They resemble the lyrics of Terry G. It is pertinent for the poet to harmonize form and content. Giving impetus to content alone will breed poems that are substandard and intellectually shallow.
Above all, the Naija Langwej is not different to a large extent from the Nigerian Pidgin. In Nigerian Pidgin, English words are stripped of their English semanticity and phonological domains. However, what we see in some of the words used by the poet is but corruption of the spelling system of English. The proposed language depends on English language for survival. Ninety percent of the words have their roots in English and thus, an English native speaker could read some of the poems and decode their meaning. However, it is imperative for more words from Nigerian languages to be adopted into the corpus of the Langwej system and publicize so as to give the language credibility and national outlook.