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The sacking of a generation: Dr. Chris Echeta presents a ceramics socio-environmental metaphor and a global food-for-thought.

SO MUCH NOISE HAS BEEN MADE ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENT AND ITS SUSTAINABILITY BUT, IN REALITY, THE noise seems to be so many times over ahead of successes on the ground. The policy commitment and implementation do not align with social expectations, no wonder this magnitude of collective social disinheritance and loss, which are permanent. This work of art; The Sacking of a Generation dares to challenge both the 'shallowness' of policy formulation and the glaring lack of commitment at the implementation level. Were it not so, this string of humanity would not have been forcibly uprooted from their ancestral inheritance forever. It can be argued that, more often than not, gully erosions operate in slow motion. Even when they gather speed, they are still relatively slow. Unlike the tsunamis, which can proceed without warning, gully erosions can be checked if proper response mechanisms are in place, taking advantage of its slow rate of progression.

Ekpo, (2004), says that some tsunamis can "travel up to speeds of 1000km/hr". He goes on to emphasise that: "Given the speeds with which tsunamis travel, it is not often possible to evacuate people near the earthquake epicentre. However people living far away from the epicentre can be warned to evacuate before the arrival of tsunamis, thus saving lives, if not properties" (Ekpo, 2004).

From the sacking of this single generation, multiples of social ripples will have been set in motion that have the capacity to engulf economic fortunes, food security as well as national pride in diverse dimensions. The writer uses several literary images generated from clay and its environment to suggest ways through which global calamities can be pre-empted or minimised for the sake of humanity.

The word 'sacking' in the title of the work of art connotes a forceful ejection, irresistible departure, a compulsive leaving as well as immediacy of departure. The sacked generation was ejected from their original ancestral homes to elsewhere by forces beyond their control. The image has intervened socially to draw global and national attention to, what the writer terms, "areas of omission and commission". The following images point to the compulsive departure.

This metaphorical image anchor draws attention to the artist and his art as well as the social relevance of his work. This falls in line with the counsel of PinnelL, (2006): "Potters must know this. Potters will be taken seriously in the wider art world if 'meaning' is always there in their work." For the sacked generation, however, the beauty of art and its relevance are lost in the heat of their anguish. Their thought processes are consumed in what lies ahead for them and for their families, complete or incomplete. The search for shelter is yet far from conclusive; their new status as refugees instead of landlords is worrisome. Poverty, which has suddenly overtaken them, continuously threatens them.

A Story Behind the Story

The images captured in this write-up were preceded by a story behind the departure story. The seeds of their actions whose story is being told were planted in the days of their ancestors. The oldest in the sacked throng today must have been told by his great grandfather about how they themselves accompanied their own grandfathers to distant farms across a small village stream that flooded once a year during the rainy seasons. The stream space has matured into a three-mile square gully but the small stream remains small in its water content. It continues its endless journey meandering indifferently at the bottom of this frightening gully one kilometre down.

A Corporate Decision

Three villages out of nine had survived the environmental onslaught. Arable land, tree orchards and high-density population areas, which had developed as a result of village constriction, had also succumbed. The City Gate, which has been the only major access route to and from the villages, has come under threat, the collapse of which would permanently trap inhabitants. Beyond the gate are two 'consecutive' bridges washed aside by the erosion menace which, as a result, have lost their alignment to each other. Their heights are now much higher than the ground around them. In order not to be trapped in the gully quagmire, a tearful decision needed to be taken for and on behalf of the community--to permanently depart.

The Scramble through the City Gate

The city gate used to be a call-up venue in war situations. Now the same war ground is under an immense and irreversible pressure of environmental war. Over incalculable time, the gate had stood presenting a thoroughfare for the going and the returning, as it were, receiving salutations from every side. This gate now stands out in the middle of the human chain, (see artist's impression: Fig 5), as two pillars and a crossbar under which the escaping victims are passing. If they succeed in passing through the city gate and get to the high and non-aligned bridges, only a miracle can transport them onto the bridges (Fig 4). And if by any other master-stroke they get to the end of the second bridge ... what? It is a point where the only hope is a void, the sound of a personal death, a point where nothing means anything anymore, where answers remain one step ahead of solution. This is a threat too large to confront.

This physical gate, over time, had become an icon of arrivals and departures for, perhaps, centuries of human habitation in that village or community. Playing a double role, it also symbolised the security structure, as mentioned previously, which defended that society from the erosion of social traditions due to the onslaught of the urbanisation that many 'closed' societies resist. Furthermore, the gate stood as a focal point where peace pacts were negotiated with other surrounding settlements to preempt inter-ethnic hostilities. 'Today', the revered gate stands abandoned by its architects painfully supervising the traumatic exit of its owners, who now barely noticed its presence. More painful still to note is that the only activity at this point was departure and no longer arrival.

The once cherished gate has now become a gate to nowhere, an entrance to a void, a passage into a vacuum, a derelict pair of much burdened pillars with the weight of a sagging crossbar. She watches helplessly as her 'children' abandon her in flight. They scamper through hurriedly turning their backs on her for the last time; each carrying the extra luggage of bruised psychology, an irreversible burden indeed. What a farewell without a welfare. A dirge below rendered as poetry captures the day of departure and the temperament of the circumstance.

One does not fully perceive the enormity of the forced dispersal imposed from an impersonal level on the generation in question. Physical relocation is one thing, the affliction of a bruised psychology is another. Social dislocations and family fractures bring along with them the annulment of long-standing collective legacies. All these form an alliance of captivity against this unfortunate throng. Hurry, which seems to underline their departure, denies them the comfort of picking and carrying along with them some immediately-needed 'essential commodities'.

Having abandoned their remaining farmlands and orchards at various levels of maturity, perhaps at harvest time, fractures are likely to impose their own doses of hardship. Like a swarm of locusts settling on a village, which eventually spills over to the next due to its numerical strength, this relocating community is not likely to land and settle on one continuous landscape. Spillovers are expected. The comparatively undersized shelter, (see artist's impression: Fig 6), into which every one of them aspires to rush, symbolises the inability of the host community to accommodate all. Definitely, the shelter appears not to have the volumetric capacity to take them all. The implication is that family dislocations are likely to be a part of the inevitable price attached to this survival rush. In any case, the desperate struggle to sustain their 'heads upon their shoulders', which not all of them can successfully do, far overrides all other considerations.

The 'Sacking' of Clay

At one point or the other, one wonders if the 'sacking' of clay as the main raw material was not transferred to this 'sacked' generation. This is because clay, as the principal raw material, has a chain of 'sackings' along its path of formation.

Today's clay was in the loins of igneous rocks which, through the forces of geologic change, came into being. Feldspars, which are also of igneous origin, are the forebears of clays. In remote time distances, these feldspars were broken down by chemical activities to become clay. Rhodes states that, "About two billion years ago, the forces of geologic change began to act on the recently cooled igneous rocks ..." (Rhodes, 1973:4).

This clay, in turn, was transformed by the action of heat into biscuit or terracotta. In other words, there were two irreversible displacements (sackings) that resulted in the making of The Sacking of a Generation.

It is important here to note the enabling environments that brought about the transformations. The first was 'time distance' through which other inputs were allowed to take place, while the second is 'heat', during kiln firing. Linking this to the principle of irreversible 'sacking', igneous rocks were sacked to become clay by time, while clay was sacked, by heat, to become terracotta, which is also irreversible and the generation was irreversibly sacked from their inheritance.

The Sacking of a Generation represents one of such journeys through the gates. The 'gate' factor here connotes the irreversibility of a transformation or passage. This 'gate' interpretation of irreversibility is restricted to the fundamental chemical transformations that exist along a certain line of activities. Examples of these are situations where feldspars change into clay through the irreversibility of the time stream and then to terracotta through heat treatment known as firing. As mentioned earlier, these are the 'sackings' of the original status to new varieties of the old materials. This is as a result of chemical changes that have established themselves along the time. Strangely, The Sacking of a Generation joins this list of the journeys through the 'gates'--Irreversibly. Why?

The 'Sacking' Tradition

Human dispersal and displacement entail no chemical dimensions to justify chemical changes (which are irreversible). From the work, the entire human throng faces one direction--the direction that, by their judgement, presents the least danger and most possibility of finding shelter, (see Fig 7).

As the feldspars get 'sacked' to become clay, and clay 'sacked' to become biscuit (terracotta), these victims have been 'sacked' from their original status as 'landlords' to 'refugees'. They have been disinherited by geo-environmental forces and, as a result, have lost control over their individual and corporate destinies. Geo-environmental abuses are likely to have been the primary cause of this situation. The victims, however, ought not to be abandoned to their fate. This is more so when, according to Anijah-Obi, (2001), "the environment has always been so much taken for granted that it is wantonly abused by both the rich and the poor." Mbang (2001), in response to environmental questions refers to the need for sustainability as he discusses rural deforestation and its courses as well as its consequences. According to businessdictionary. com, environmental sustainability is the maintenance of the factors and practices that contribute to the quality of environment in a long-term basis. For Wikipedia, free encyclopedia, sustainability is the capacity to endure. It goes ahead to say that: "Sustainability interfaces with economics through the social and ecological consequences of economic activity. Sustainability economics involve ecological economics where social, cultural, health-related and monetary/financial aspects are integrated. Moving towards sustainability is also a social challenge that entails international and national law, urban planning and transport, local and individual lifestyles and ethical consumerism." *

In effect, the above position brings in government policy direction, education, health-related matters and economic lifestyle. The first two factors will direct the population on which way to go.


The scattered and lethal fragments gleaned from the debris of perceived insensitivity and nonchalance through a simple lesson taught by this ceramics metaphor can be transformed to the raw materials of a pro-active blueprint where environmental misfortune can be preempted or arrested. Regional as well as global policies need to be updated with their access to the ICT to match every level of environmental challenge. The same root and levels of insensitivity still operate, not just in geo-environmental issues but are also implicated in the innumerable patchments of ethnic and regional violence currently ravaging humanity. These are too many to be listed. No doubt, the sacking of this generation has taken place but the global food-for-thought is whether it ought to have happened in the first place. If this took the world by surprise, in spite of gully slow-motion development, is another likely? The world may have even done its best sincerely, but it may still be worthwhile to go ahead and taste the 'global food-for-thought'. It may contain untasted condiments of unhealed history to which humanity must respond if it must make the world a much better place.


Anijah-Obi, F N. 2001, Fundamentals of Environmental Education and Management. Calabar: University of Calabar Press.

Ekpo, IJ. 2004, Environmental Hazards: Events and Valuation Techniques. Calabar: St. Paul's Publishing and Printing Company. Retrieved 27.2.2013.11.01pm.

Mgbang, U E. 2001, "Rural Deforestation: Its Causes and Causes and Consequences" Natural Resource Use & Conservation Systems for Sustainable Rural Developments. Bisong (Ed). Calabar: Baaj. p 39-51.

Pinnell, P. 2006, "A Critique" Clay Times. Waterford, Virginia, US: Clay Times Inc. Vol 12. No 3. May/June. 23-24, 72.

Rhodes, D. 1973. Clay and Glazes for the Potter, Pennsylvania: Chilton Book Company. 27.2.2013.11.20.


Oh, What a Day!

   From that distance,
      The old war horse lay abandoned,
      Weak and spent.
   Memories of by-gone battles
   Hover in the firmament.

      The clip-clops of her hoofs
   Lost their timing.
   The neighing went unheeded.
   The mane uncaressed
   The trophies of swordsmen
   Remain unclaimed,
   And the home-coming uncelebrated.

   "Samson, S-a-m-s-o-n....!
   The Philistines are here"
   A familiar battle cry,
   A spirited move,
   And a desperate effort,
   To dance to the old music.

   But nay!
   The music went unaccompanied
   The manifestation of strength,
   Lay in the twitching of the hoofs.
   Open eyes bereft of sight,
   Open mouth denied of sound.

      The mud gate ensconced in the
   Currency of the past.
      An eloquent testimony of passage,
   Awaiting the diggers and their
   Instruments of time measurement
   If you ask me.
   Oh, what a day!

Dr Chris Echeta is a Senior Lecturer at the Federal University, Lafia, Nasarawa State, Nigeria where he teaches Ceramics. He is also the sitting Head of Department of Visual and Creative Arts in the same university.
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Author:Echeta, Chris
Publication:Ceramics Technical
Date:Nov 1, 2013
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