The Ghanaian Times 21st June, 2011
By Cameron Duodu
After seven years at Asiakwa Presbyterian Primary and Middle Schools –years which I won’t neglect to tell you about in future instalments — I left (at what was then Standard Four or later, Middle Form One) to seek greener pastures at Kyebi Government School.
Kyebi Government School had a fantastic reputation at Asiakwa. Our postal agent had attended it, and so had his nephew who had succeeded him as our postal agent. Of course, we were not in a position to know whether they had benefited much from their exposure to this particular school, for we didn’t know whether they performed the duties of a postal agent well or not — since we didn’t have access to their books. Also, in assessing someone else’s knowledge, the assessor must know more than he does. We didn’t possess that knowledge, but because they had been to a “Government School”, we foolishly assumed they were both brilliant guys.
Necessarily. This is the same mentality which makes a lot of people, as soon as they hear of the institution at which someone studied, assume that he is either bright or dumb. Entrance to an institution, however, is only one step in the direction of true erudition. This assumption that institutional excellence automatically rubs off on people, is also responsible for the fact that our [mainly illiterate] villagers almost invariably vote for lawyers and other ‘highly-educated’ people to go to Parliament. If they are educated — and thereby “better” than illiterate villagers –, then they must know how to govern us well. Necessarily!
It never occurs to us that they would go into government to improve their personal standards of living and leave us in the lurch with no electricity, a proliferation of very bad roads, dirty, dangerous water and no decent places to go and attend to nature’s call. Indeed, as soon as we elect these people to Parliament, they acquire houses in Accra (if they didn’t posses any before) on the grounds that their work obliges them staying in the capital. The real reason is, of course, that there are better amenities in Accra than in our villages.
Another attraction of the school to me was that it was in a different town. This meant that I would be a little more “independent” than I was at Asiakwa, where I was constantly under the thumb of my parents. Anyway, the fact that its name had the word “government” in it, made me assume that it would necessarily be a better school than ours. In fact, I built up fantasies around it – there would be little caning (how could the “government” allow its pupils to be caned mercilessly, when it made laws against “assaults” by members of the public?).
But above all, because the school was a “government school”, it would devote a lot more time to purely academic subjects and ignore the type of things that consumed so much time at Asiakwa Presbyterian, such as chewing hymns, Bible passages and Catechism, by heart, and being punished if one could not recite them flawlessly when called upon to do so.
My other mistake was in assuming that I would be “independent”. In fact, I was “put into the hands, or given” to a lorry driver friend of my father’s to “stay with”. This meant I was his unacknowledged servant, and I had to do all sorts of things I hadn’t been doing at Asiakwa. His wife stopped going to the river to fetch water, and it was I who had to go and fetch water twice in the morning before going to school.
The river was about a mile and a half away, so going to fetch water from it was no picnic. Our house was at a point where you climbed a hill going to the river, and you again climbed a hill coming from the river. Oh, how tired I used to get — and this was before going to school, where I was supposed to present my teacher with a fresh, rested mind for him to pump new knowledge into it! Sometimes, I even dropped off in class, when the lessons were particularly boring. When I got back from school too, I had to engage in hard labour — this time, I had to pound fufu in the evening for five mouths.
In addition, I had to go back to Asiakwa each weekend, go to my parents’ farm to collect foodstuffs, put it into a cocoa-bag and take it back to Kyebi each Monday morning. Sometimes I got to school late on Monday mornings, when finding a lorry was not easy. Yet — as you will discover later — getting to school late was not something to be courted.
I was only able to endure these burdens for about a year and then, having planted my feet firmly at Kyebi, found somewhere to hire a room for five shillings a month. I then became my own boss.
But my happiness was short-lived when I stupidly agreed to share the room with another boy from Asiakwa, KT, in consideration for his paying half the rent — two shillings and sixpence. It is not at all pleasant to be moving from house to house in a strange town, and when KT told me the difficulties he was having, I melted and took him in.
I should have asked him why he was moving house so often. For unfortunately for me, KT turned out to be a practised master-thief. He used to buy the same padlock as I used on my chop box, and raid my box of any tinned stuff I had brought from my father’s shop at Asiakwa. He even purloined my pocket money from me!
I couldn’t accuse him openly of anything, because I had no hard evidence — if someone asked me,”But don’t you have a padlock on your chop box? Has it been broken?”) I would have had to admit that I did have a padlock, and that it had not been broken. And I couldn’t prove that the chap had a key that could open my padlock! In those days, manufacturers cheated us — how can you manufacture padlocks whose keys could open other padlocks of the same make? In fact, until KT set to work on me, I didn’t even know that padlocks were being made in such a fraudulent fashion. I mean, what a con. You bought the thing in good faith to protect you. And a master-thief would just be laughing at you and commandeering your stuff to his selfish ends.
Thus, KT frustrated me and made my life a misery and as soon as the next term came round, I found another room to hire and left the old one to him. All this moving house sort of thing wasn’t earning me a good reputation with my parents, who, of course, had no idea how wicked the world could be to a 14-year-old boy trying to make his way in a strange town. I wouldn’t tell them my troubles, of course, for it was I who had decided, by myself, to move to another town, not they who had sent me away, and I most certainly wasn’t going to lose face by admitting that my “wonderful” idea had not turned out to be so clever, after all. Being “precocious” has its price, I tell you.
I also discovered that I had been wrong in assuming that there would be less caning at the “government school.” There was one teacher on the staff who used the cane more profusely than anyone at Asiakwa. And whereas at Asiakwa, each teacher only caned pupils in his own class, at Kyebi, this particular teacher could cane any pupil. I think he was the glorified head-teacher, though his formal title might have been deputy head. In fact, at the government school, there was no head-teacher as such, but a “principal teacher” who didn’t teach a particular class (unless a teacher was absent or there was a temporary vacancy). Our principal teacher left much of the routine disciplinary matters to this cane-happy teacher and occupied himself with wshjatever took his interest, And these were many.
We called the cane-lover “Kwasi Kckcc” (Kwasi The Red One) because he was fair-coloured. His usual invitation for caning us came when we engaged in “bad behaviour” – such as coming to school late (my forte on Monday mornings); not paying attention to him at assembly time; or tittering and giggling whilst he was taking assembly.
The practice we had of trying — unsuccessfully — to suppress our laughter when he was addressing us was what got him more victims to cane than anything else. You see, he did not know how to pronounce our names well, and yet he didn’t know that he was doing anything odd when he called one of us by name. So there was a constant, unrelenting provocation to us on his part to laugh; and the more we laughed, the angrier he became. For as he did not know the reason why we were laughing and giggling when he was engaged in the serious work of disciplining us, he became confused and puzzled, and the more puzzled he got, the worse grew his temper, and the more temperamental he became, the fiercer grew the urge in him to cane us.
For instance, to him, I was Dordu! So, whenever he called me, someone else who couldn’t help himself laughed. And Kwasi Kckcc would call the guy to the front of the assembly and order him, “Touch your toes.” Then Pah! Pah! would come the sound of the cane.
It went on for so long that I had to wonder why he attempted to call names he could never pronounce properly. I even suspected that he might have done it purposely in order to get pupils to cane. But that seemed far-fetched. The prosaic truth was that, in this school as in many others, the teachers had no idea at all about what went on inside their pupils’ heads.
To him, Opoku became Opuku! (This, naturally, evoked lots of laughter).
Aboagye became Aborji (Laughter followed by Pah! Pah!)
Tenkorang became Otinkling; Frempomaa became Farimpoomah (Pah!Pah!Pah! “Don’t laugh when I am taking assembly, idiots!”)
Buabeng became Borbing; and Frempong became – well, he had such difficulty with this one that he stopped pronouncing it altogether and rather used the boy’s village to designate him, and so Frempong became simply “that Apejor boy”. Apejor, I shall let you into the secret, stood for “Apedwa”, a famous village about six miles from Kyebi, well-known for a sensational murder that occurred there in 1943, and also, for the tasty nsibire mushrooms that were sold at the junction which took one from the main Accra-Kumasi road to the village.
In fact, this guy Yaw Frempong was more unfortunate than most of us, because in addition to becoming a bad advertisement for his village, what with his name changed to “that Apejor boy”, he carried a very funnily-shaped head, and so he had a second nickname: “the chap with the cinema-van head”.
Now, cinema vans in those days — each boldly inscribed with the words, “MOBILE CINEMA” — were very funny vehicles — in our view. They had a narrow base like other Bedford three-ton trucks, but the top was raised high and the sides widened, to enable it to carry the cinema screen with which it showed (usually silent) movies to villagers. This caused the van’s to look as if it was skewing across the road and would be causing the van to roll on its side at any moment. Its ko-soro-kobor [lopsided] movements thus amused us a great deal. And because Yaw Frempong’s head amused us too, we added two to two and got “his head is like a cinema van.” For someone whose head was like a cinema van to be also called “that Apejor boy” tuned him into a walking trap for us and there was never a time he was called to the front without Kwasi Kckcc getting some “rascals” to whip. It never occurred to us that Yaw Frempong himself would be a miserable boy, having thus been made the unwitting butt of our mockery, whilst getting whipped on top of that.
But “Cinema-van-head” was all right compared to three other guys. This ‘gang of three’ were guaranteed late-comers, for they walked to school every day on foot, from Adadientam (three or so miles from Kyebi). And they all had very difficult names.
So, whenever Kwasi Kckcc was calling the names of “late-comers” for punishment, we would hold our sides and wait.
Then out would pop from his mouth, “Korakoo!” (For: Kwa ‘Ako, shortened from of Kwadwo Ako.)
The guy would anzwer “Sah!” and move to the front of the assembly.
(And we would burst out: Hahahahaha!)
“Stop laughing! You, you, you …Touch your toes!” Pah! Pah! Pah!
“Who are the fools laughing? Come here you! Touch your toes!” Pah! Pah! Pah!
This was admittedly a very difficult name: the original was ‘Ohwenpoporoh.’ In fact, since I left school, I have never heard anyone else called by the name, Owhenpoporoh. Nor, come to think of it, Onipadu, either. Who gave them such strange names? How did they contrive to get their names together on the same late-comers’ list every day like that? They were like magnets, attracting victims for Kwasi Kckcc!
Followed by “Yieeeeeeeeeee!…. Hahahahahahahah!”
And Kwasi Kckcc’s angry riposte: “Have I not told you a thousand times to behave at assembly time? You!….You!… You! And you! Come here! Touch your toes.” Pah! Pah! Pah!
Despite his penchant for whipping, Kwasi Kckcc was one of the most intelligent teachers I came across in the school. He used to call one of my favourite class teachers, Mr Awuah Peasah, “Akora”. I didn’t know it at the time but I later got to know that it meant they had been schoolmates at Achimota Teachers Training College.
At assembly one day, after he had whipped us to his heart’s content, he just out of nowhere came out with the idea, which he imparted to us, that “the radio proves the existence of God!”
Many of us thought that no-one could prove the existence of God, but we listened. Kwasi Kckcc said: “As you are standing here right now, you do not know that radio programmes are in the air all around you because you can neither see nor hear the sound waves.The air is as quiet as if there was no sound travelling through it. But if you bring a wireless set here right now, and you have an aerial, and you switch the radio on, and you tune it to a station that is broadcasting, you will hear a radio programme that only a moment ago, was non-existent to you. In the same way, God exists, but you have to tune in to Him before you can know He is there. So science proves the existence of God, and not the other way round, as some scientists will have you believe”. I have never heard any convincing refutation of that argument since I heard it more than fifty years ago.
The funny things is that this was an even more powerful religious message than I had been subjected to at Asiakwa Presbyterian, where we had been taught to chew things by heart, but not to use our reason to think about God. Yet one of my hopes had been that at “government school”, I would be emancipated from religion. Wasn’t that ironical?
It wasn’t Kwasi Kckccc alone who administered the cane to us with great abandon. If we escaped his cane at assembly time, we would find the “principal teacher” Mr Dadzie, waiting for us when we went for “singing” lessons at the end of the morning, just before breaking off for lunch. Teaching songs with cane in hand? Yes!
These singing lessons were very difficult to endure, for at the end of the morning, we were all dying to go home and find some lunch to eat. By then, also, most of the pupils had developed bad breath, and gathering together the pupils of four classes and bundling them into one classroom meant that a huge amount of smelly, hot air was inevitably exuded. And, of course, because our digestive systems were crying out for something to chew on, quite a few pupils broke wind, and even if they were able, by a superhuman effort, to repress the sound, they couldn’t do anything about the smell that poured out of their rear-ends! There would be a ruckus, as the suspects were jeered at by those in their immediate vicinity, which meant a lot of pupils would be called to the front and whipped.