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Poetry as a genre of literature is a channel of expression where sound, form and words meet in order to achieve meaning. J.O.J Nwachukwu-Agbada quoted Kuo Mojo, the Chinese poet, in describing poetry as the “music invoked from men`s hearts by the age in which they live” (African 5). Thus, for Kuo Mojo, it is a rhythm born from the inner man to express the physical. Ezenwa Ohaeto uses this rhythm as a media in addressing societal ills in order to redirect the mindset of the people through the voice of dynamic, cultural features. 

1.2. Purpose of Study

This study critically examines the subject matter and style in Ezenwa Ohaeto `s The Voice of the Night Masquerade, The Chants of a Minstrel and If to Say I Bi Soja. This research helps readers to understand some of the prominent issues in society which are: the need for man to re-assert the significance of his relationship with the supernatural, the global developments prominent around Europe and the issue of moral decadence especially in Nigeria. All these are expressed through his poems. It also appreciates the artistic quality of his style.

1.3. Scope of Study

Ezenwa Ohaeto is a contemporary poet who uses poetry as a means to address the dominant issues in the twenty –first century. He weaves together strands of African culture and figurative language as his style of approach. He has written six collections of poetry. This research is a survey of the subject matter and style in three of his collections which are The Chants of a Minstrel, The Voice of the Night Masquerade, and If To Say I Bi Soja. His other collections include Bullets for Buntings, Songs of a Traveller and I Wan Bi President.

I have chosen to work on The Voice of the Night Masquerade, If To Say I Bi Soja and The Chants of a Minstrel because they are his most recent collections. Their year of publication range from 1996-2003, while the other collections fall within 1986-1988. Also in relation to their subject matter, they reflect more of the contemporary issues Ohaeto tries to project through his work. Furthermore, there is no much difference in style between the texts for this study and the other collections. Ohaeto employs almost the same artistic features.

1.4.Review of Related Literature

Critics have made a lot of contributions to various aspects of Ezenwa Ohaeto `s poetry. Rodophi, in an online article, describes Ohaeto as someone who “unmasked ideas and meanings hidden in the folds of literary works” (Series and Journals). For Rodophi, Ohaeto is a poet who unveils the objectives and significance of literature through his writings.

J.O.J Nwachukwu- Agbada examines the poet’s approach to the concept of national development. He quotes

His poet- personae are individuals in motion-physical, mental astral and spiritual. Some of them include the random traveller, the drunkard, the madman, the urchin, the village gossip, the night masquerade, and the minstrel... These are the people Ezenwa Ohaeto deployed to wake us out of our doldrums ... this ability to wake us up from our slumber using satire and humour to cajole us remains his approach to national awareness and development. 

(African Literature and Development 6)

From Nwachukwu-Agbada’ s point of view, Ohaeto employs what can be described as the aesthetics of levity in expressing issues that concern national development. He uses this technique to awaken the society from their mediocrity towards development.

Also in criticism of The Voice of the Night Masquerade, Nwachukwu-Agbada states: “In his use of the night masquerade, Ezenwa Ohaeto addresses not just the local community and clans and villages but the entire Nigeria and sometimes Africa (African 11)”.The ‘night masquerade’ is a symbol of the African indigenous culture. For Nwachukwu-Agbada, the persona’s audience cuts across African cultural and geographical boundaries. He addresses Africa as a whole. Nwachukwu- Agbada further describes the function of the ‘minstrel’ in The Chants of a Minstrel thus: “The poet’s voice buries much of what he has to say in lyrics and repetitive beats which tend to hide the seriousness of the poet’s themes” (African 11). He expresses that the poet employs musical elements which create an unserious atmosphere through which he expresses his themes.

In addition to Agbada’s view, Egya Sule, states that “Ezenwa Ohaeto examines the issues of racism, equity in international relationships and as a characteristic of his oeuvre, the moral and ethical failures of the leaders in Africa (179-192)”. Egya points out these features as some of the themes Ohaeto expresses through The Chants using what he describes as a ‘transnational imagination’ in addressing the issue of leadership in Africa. Agbada also comments on Ohaeto’s depiction of ‘poor leadership’ in the poem “I Like my Kontri People” from the collection ‘If to Say I Bi Soja. He states that the poet paints a “picture of confusion and a chaotic approach to leadership” (9). He uses this as a means to satirize the government. 

Echezona also contributes to Nwachukwu-Agbada` s view on the collection

The poet condemns the lawlessness, high-handedness, intimidation, unlimited privileges and immunities, self-centeredness and exploitative tendencies that characterize military administration in Nigeria. 

(International Journal of Language 157-172)

Ohaeto addresses the prominent ills in the military regime through his collection If To Say I Bi Soja.

Ifeyinwa Ogbaazi further examines the objective of the poet. She states that “in The Voice of the Night Masquerade, the poet thus appeared to appeal to the people’s conscience, to admonish, to correct, to counsel, and to point the way forward...” (130). For Ogbaazi, the poet is on a mission to revolutionize the mindset of the people and to correct the ills in the system of the society.

Ngozi Chuma-Udeh also adds that “social realism is the main concern” of Ohaeto` s poetry. She believes that the poet’s contention is that “poetry should carry the necessary volatile force for challenging the excesses of the political system” (139). In Chuma-Udeh’s opinion, the poet is a Marxist who portrays the society objectively through poetry thereby criticizing its ills. This view can be justified in her description of The Voice of the Night Masquerade as a “powerful evocation of an attempt to address societal ills with a societal language” (140).

Ralph Uzoezie also examines the ‘theme’, ‘language’ and ‘audience’ in Ohaeto’s poetry. He states that ‘Achebe’ and ‘Ohaeto’ express similar themes in their writings. Both writers ‘lash out’ against the political system in the society (188). Political decadence is a prominent theme in Ohaeto` s poetry. Uzoezie further explains the nature of the poet’s language:

Because his audience includes the masses of Nigeria, he uses a language that can fully get across to them, the informal language of the urban market place, the language of inter-ethnic communication, the language that cuts across social strata (197)

Ohaeto uses a colloquial form of language in his poetry in order to communicate to all classes of people in the society notwithstanding their socio-cultural background.

Ema Ebo and Canice Nwosu also examine the cultural significance of “night” and “death” in Ohaeto` s poems: 

The poet shows in these poems that there are cultural practices and traditions in Africa enriched with metaphors, imageries and codes that embody the cultural values that constitute African worldviews. These practices influence the African’s perception of ‘Night’ and ‘Death (202).

In Ema and Nwosu’s view, Ohaeto tries to project the African’s perception of ‘night’ and ‘death’. The poet uses these elements to symbolize certain sacred practices in the African culture. These practices are embedded with mysteries that affect the individual life of the African.

Furthermore, in examining the similarities between the literary language in The Voice of the Night Masquerade and the Igbo culture, George Onwudiwe and Thecla Obiora also add:

Ezenwa Ohaeto’s The Voice of the Night Masquerade is a record of the Igbo culture. His clinch to the Igbo culture ranges from his transliteration of some popular Igbo proverbs and idioms. It also includes code switching and code-mixing (211).

Ohaeto employs a style of writing that reflects his socio-cultural background. He uses strands from the Igbo culture to add colour to his poetry. Onwudiwe and Obiora further illustrate an example of these features which is the transliteration of Igbo proverbs to English language, as shown below:

Igbo laIIgbo language English language

‘O ruola mgbe a ga-ama mbe naabo nke bu Oke. ‘It is time to know 

Among the two tortoise

The one that is a male’


Ohaeto’s use of features of oral tradition gives his poetry what Onwudiwe and Obiora describe as an “original effect”. 

Aliyu-Ibrahim further points out more of these features as he states:

The masquerade in Ohaeto’s collection uses words which are iconic images of performance. These include ‘dance’, ‘chant’, ‘call’, ‘song’, ‘voice’, ‘flute’, ‘drums’ and ‘public square’, occur throughout the collection. These words further impress on the reader’s mind, the image of performance (40)

Uche Onyali also adds that the poet employs “stylistic features of orature” such as ‘reptition’ and ‘sobriquets’ (Perspectives of Language and Literature 361). These devices help to foster orality in Ohaeto` s The Voice. They also have a foregrounding effect on the reader. Onyali further adds that the use of repetition “makes more forceful the poet’s messages” (362) and "sobriquets make the masquerade’s aura reverberate and the masses shudder at it. They make the masquerade command more respect (366)”. Ohaeto uses repetition to make his messages to have an emphatic impact on his audience and sobriquets to project the value of the masquerade in the Igbo culture. 

1.5. Justification of Topic

The review of related criticism examined above reveals that various literary scholars have focussed on the political themes in Ezenwa Ohaeto’s poetry and the cultural relativity of his style. But, there are still aspects that have not been fully detailed. They include: 

The relationship between man and the supernatural

The global age

The issue of moral decadence

The aesthetics of levity


The use of Nigerian Pidgin.

Therefore, I have chosen to examine these features from a critical angle in order to contribute to scholarship. 

1.6. Thesis Statement

This essay discusses how The Voice of the Night Masquerade presents the significance of man’s relationship with the supernatural. It further examines how the poet synthesizes features in the global age through his description of Europe in The Chants of the Minstrel. It also analyzes the issue of moral decadence and evaluates the aesthetics of levity, satire and the use of Nigerian Pidgin in the collection If to Say I Bi Soja.

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