WHAT WOULD OUR ELDERS HAVE DONE WHEN ”DUMSↃ” STRUCK AT NIGHT?
By CAMERON DUODU
Actually, our “elders” would not have known what DUMSↃ was!
For they did not even have what our learned Minister of Finance, Mr Seth Terkper, irrelevantly calls “access to electricity”, much less know that electricity is only useful when it is on tap; i.e. that it becomes ”electricity” only when it can power appliances into life when summoned to do so by the pressing of an “ON” switch!
For what is the point of having “access” to electricity [Seth Terkper’s phrase] if it’s not there when asked to perform?
It’s like a man keeping a woman in his bed who resolutely insists on “locking” her vital body parts, right?
I mean — imagine asking one’s bachelor friends with an embarrassed air, ”Hey guys, anyone got any – um – any– ummm— ‘flesh’ to — um — s-s-s-pare? — You know — for p-p-p-pressing purposes — you know?”
”Ho, but you are married, man!”
“You keep reminding us of that fact whenever we ask you to join us at a w—w—w–ild party!?!”
”Well, the wife has of late repudiated that part of her marriage vows that relate to her “obeying” me — you know? Ever since I refused to allow her younger brother to transform the ”hall” part of our tiny “chamber-and-hall” into a hotel for himself and his rowdy friends, she turns away from me disdainfully whenever I try to press her flesh !! You know?”
“Oh—h—h—h—h—h–h! Poor old Joe! He’s become a by-force eunuch ohhh!!!”
“He’s being pussy-whipped ohhhhh!!”
“His ‘adored wife’ is nobbling his libido oooooh! “Saa ye ohhhhhhh!” [Put fire into the fight!]
“Yie-e-e-e-e-e! Is this you? You used to mock Ernest Hemingway for being a ‘macho’ guy who, you claimed, had become pitifully impotent in his later life, and that his book, To have and have not, was autobiographical, didn’t you?”
“Ei, the man has got Lysistrata herself installed in his bed ohhhh! Kai!”
“His wife has turned into the fantastically beautiful bird, Asantorofie; if you pick it up, you have collected load of taboo; yet if you let it go, you have left behind a much-treasured entity. There is even a song about it:
Wofa no a,
Wogyae no nso a,
Na wagyae sadier!
“What a bird that should be! Asantorofie Anomaa? I love that. The saying encapsulates the idea of a paradoxical conundrum immaculately! You can’t take it and yet you can’t leave it!”
”Ah, Tu Bra!” [Bring on the vocabs!] Paradoxical conundrum? I would have thought that that was an oxymoron?”
By the way: where did you lift that uncanny Asantrofie story from? You must have plagiarised it from somewhere?”
“No! I got it direct from the mouth of an uncle of mine! I can even give you his name: Papa Kofi Bunto. Tall, nice bloke; smallish head, with unusual varicose veins in his legs. Very good at snaring bush meat. Probably the good things he ate sweetened his tongue. He could tell a story as no-one else could. If you ask me, he was an illiterate Shakespeare!
“An ‘illiterate Shakespeare’? Now, that’s a thought for you!”
“Of course, only an ‘illiterate Shakespeare’ he could verbalise a linguistic monstrosity like ‘paradoxical conumdrum’!”
“You can laugh. But I tell you you’d amazed — if you looked into it — to find that many of our elders like him used their native wit to write their ideas into the brains of those of us among their young charges who had a fertile enough mind and goo enough ears to hear with. But, of course, many of us are so stupid that the moment we went to “school”, we allowed what we were taught by our new “educators” to overthrow or jettison what we had absorbed at home and its environs — the only real, authentic “education” because it was based on life. The consequence is that many of us can recite Shakespeare and even obscure guys like Thomas Grey or Lord Alfred Tennyson at the drop of a hat…..”
“Okay, give us some lines from Gray….”
“Ho! That is koko [easy]:
The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,
The plowman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me.
“Hey, you did that without batting an eyelid?”
“Of course, I did! In my class at school, if you stumbled on even one line when you were asked to recite such a poem, you’d be whipped! It was literally drilled into our flesh and bones!”.
“But did you understand a word of it, man? I mean — what does curfew mean to an Asiakwa boy?”
“Ask me another!”
“What does “knell” mean?”
“Lea — now, what on earth is that?”
“Who had ever seen a plough at Asiakwa? Who’s a ploughman?”
“You see? That famous verse is only four lines or so. But almost three-quarters of it means nothing to an African boy plucked from the deep forest and dumped in a school set up by Englishmen or missionaries from Basel, Switzerland!”.
“Robots! That’s what they turned us into. Recite or get whipped!”
“Recite! And damn the meaning!”
“The best one without any meaning (as far as I was concerned) that was drilled into me by whip and whimper was the one about the game of cricket written by a guy called Sir Henry Newbolt. Even the title was meaningless, for we had not been taught Latin: I mean, what do you make of Vitae Lampada?:
There’s a breathless hush in the Close to-night – …. [What on earth is ”Close’‘?]
Ten [ of what?] to make [make as in make a mistake?Or what] and the match to win –
A bumping pitch [pitch? what’s that? How does it bump?] and a blinding light,
An hour to play [play what?] and the last man in [why is he last?]
And it’s not for the sake of a ribboned coat, [coat I understand, but what is ribboned?]
Or the selfish hope of a season’s fame,
But his Captain’s hand on his shoulder smote
“Play up! play up! and play the game!”
YIEEEEEEEEEEE! LONG LIVE RECITATION BY ROTE! MORE WINE! MORE WINE!
The sand of the desert is sodden red, [Awirade my Lord! What is sodden? A mistaken spelling of sudden?]
Red with the wreck of a square that broke; –
The Gatling’s jammed and the colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed his banks,
And England’s far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of schoolboy rallies the ranks,
“Play up! play up! and play the game!” [I can’t go on. Gatling? Jammed? Square that broke? We learnt about “square”in arithmetic. What’s it doing here — in poetry?]
“I can’t go on with it. The only thing I could understand in the rest of the poem was:
“Play up! play up! and play the game!”
“Yes, I can recite it straight out, but when I hear “talking drums” beating out the poetry that is so rich in my own language, telling me about things that happened in my own history, I am left standing. Dead!
What can I make of:
Nam seseaaa ase
“Wow! That’s beautiful! It’s full of alliteration!”
“And it rhymes in parts!”
“You can hear the rhythm — as if the words were actually being beaten out on the drums!”
“But what does it mean?”
It means Our King — or War Captain — moves in the midst of the thickets of the jungle like the stealthy leopard, silently rustling the leaves bribribribribri, but completely unseen — ready to pounce!
“I love that bribribribribri word that describes the rustling leaves. It is pure onomatopoeia!”
“What about imagery? Making The King a Leopard?”
“And apostrophe? With King and Leopard merged into one and the same being?”
“And it’s all contained in one single line? God! The people could create words that said a thousand things in one line”!
“But even when we heard such sayings from our elders; even when they took the trouble to explain them to us — we let the value of it vanish from our minds and lives. Is any of it left today? Where is it?
Even our chiefs are losing their drummers and other elements in their Talking Drum Orchestras. Because not all of them understand the beauty and wisdom contained in what they have inherited, and would much rather use the revenue they obtain from their Stool Lands and other sources to satisfy purely selfish needs, and those of their immediate families, instead of maintaining the institutions of their courts, which their ancestors preserved for them.”
“Hmm — I can hear you thinking! But let me go on: back in the days when oil wicker-lamps and flaming wood were our only source of light in the evenings….”
“….Oh — before I go any further, let me tell you that the background to the story I am about to tell you is that some of the elders in my house used to artlessly betray their fear of the onset of Darkness at night, without meaning to! Papa Kofi Bunto, for instance, used to describe what he called “bundles” or “loads” in “the sky” he claims to have seen swimming about above the roofs of our village, in the night sky. He said he had observed them pass over the roofs, twirling round and round, and going on to land somewhere unknown!
“He was very convincing!! Yet? I mean – come on: “bundles” of exactly what? “Swimming about” in the sky? And – conveniently — only he saw them? At night?
“Well, nowadays, I am no longer dismissive of such stories. Why would anyone else be there when he saw those things? Obviously, he must have been walking by himself in the night. For if he had been walking with someone else, they would have engaged in conversation, wouldn’t they, in which case, the heavenly object(s) would have
sailed by, unseen?”
“Hmmm! I must admit you’re making a convincing case!”
“I am glad to hear you say that. But I’d add this: ask yourself, why would the guy lie? And, especially, lie to us kids — with whom, unlike his peers, he wasn’t competing for anything — such as social status?
“Also remember that being alone in the dark does sharpens the senses! I mean, one is always slightly afraid of “The Dark”, no matter how brave one thinks one is, no?! And so, one’s eyes begin to see things in a “sharper” focus or form, so to speak, as the hidden fear subconsciously tries to help one to prepare to defend oneself — in case dwarfs or ghosts should suddenly appear!”
“Hey! You’re making me shudder! I’ve felt like that when walking alone in the dark at night.!”
“I prefer the idea of ghosts! Do you know that the ghosts of people who die through motor-car accidents aren’t supposed to stay dead but hang about, frightening people? Such a ghost is called an otorfuor. Another variety is called Osaman Twentwen — its very name tells who it is: the ghost who “waits-and-waits” before making it to The Other World!! Another name for one variety is Osaman-te-fie (the ghost that stays at home!) And another is called Osaman-nkwankyen (the ghost that lurks about in the pathways).”
“You’re laughing? Do you think it’s a joke? Can you give a name to something that doesn’t exist?”
“Yes, you can! I have heard from the mouths of two separate women — two mind you! — that “Love does not exist!”
“Fool! You believed them? They were only saying that to repel your advances! I bet they were either married or had long-established relationships with other men! It is the self-defence mechanism of such women kicking in. Women like stable relationships. They don’t want to undermine their relationships by going with passionate newcomers, so they tell you they didn’t believe in ”Love”. But you should see women when it is they who are in love! If you tell them, then, that ”love does not exist”, they will kill you! And make a bonfire of your flesh and bones, no less!”
“I must say I cherish the idea of a ghost-in-waiting: osaman twentwen! Waiting for what?”
“Well, some of them are said to have enjoyed life so much that when they die, they don’t want to leave their life behind. Being cut off so suddenly by an accident fazes them and they try to hang around on earth as long as possible before going to Asamando![The Home of Ghosts]. Until one day, Sasabonsam himself, the king of “The Underworld,” comes with his long legs and arms, to pluck them and take them up, up and away, to let them know that dade bi twa dade bim’ — some “iron can cut through other pieces of iron!” Yes, apparently, some spirits are much more powerful than other spirits!”
“Agyei! Here comes The Sixth and Seventh Books of Moses!” [This book apparently classifies spirits in line with what services they can provide to men who invoke them! For instance, sportsmen try to invoke a guy called “St Anthony”.]
“In any case, is the idea of “loads” or bundles swimming about in the sky (if I may return to the subject) really such a “load” of crap? I mean, is it not possible that what Papa Kofi Bunto had witnessed was the fall of what we know as fragments from disintegrated “asteroids”? When asteroids get out of orbit and break up in the sky, don’t some of them leave outer space and enter the earth’s atmosphere, where they disintegrate even moire and become balls of fire? Can’t they assume the shape of “bundles?” I mean — a guy who has never seen anything like that could imagine it was a “bundle” of some sort — anything that comes to his mind, in fact. And if he believed in supernatural things, a “bundle” would be perfect, wouldn’t it! I mean — think! Wasn’t the Tigare bosom or fetish — which was extremely popular all over the Akan areas only sixty or so years ago — supposed to reside inside a mysterious “bundle” [botor] made with red leather and smeared with blood and kola-nuts?
“I mean — when a rookie fetish priest completed his apprenticeship and was initiated by the Tigare chief priest at Nkwatanang, in the Kwahu District, or Iphala in the Northern Region, what did they say about him when he returned to hus own village and began to practice as a Tigare priest? Didn’t they say:“Wakogye botor!” [He has gone and collected a bundle!] So, there’s nothing strange or extraordinary in Papa Kofi Bunto saying that what he saw — which he didn’t know were asteroid fragments falling to the ground, were in the shape of a “bundle”, is there? I mean — the guy was steeped in fetish knowledge; his very name, Bunto, was the name of the festish after whom he was named! By the weasy, his fatherr musdt have been an incredibly spiritual person: every child of his was named after a fetish — after Kofi Bunto, he gave birth to Kweasi Aade [named after the god Adade] who was followed by Yaa Ade, and Ama Ade! I bet that god Adade must have been very powerful in his time, which must be roughly about ninety or so years ago, for although he vanished from the scene before Tigare appeared, his name is still to be found in many parts of Ghana.
“ But back to bortor — what prevents the splinters of matter from outer space taking on the shape of “bundles”, some big and some small – in the eyes of a person with an imaginative mind, who believed in on a weird mixture of eerie creatures from “Another Dimension”, such as ghosts, dwarfs, Sasabonsam and angels? Especially in Deep Darkness at Night? I mean — doesn’t the human eye try to accustom itself to what it is seeing for the first time by relating it to what it has seen before, in order to allow the brain to make sense of it?
“So, I think that because Papa Kofi Bunto knew what a bortor looked like, he used that word to describe what he saw — even if it wasn’t exactly a bortor as you and I we know it!!”
At this point, someone interjected: “Bortor! I like the sound of that word! It conveys mystery; it manages to communicate the idea of something not quite known, although its ordinary meaning is so trite — “bundle” or “load”! For instance: who knows exactly what is inside the Tigare bortor we have heard about? Inside that blood-smeared red leather reeking f kola-nut sputum?”
“You’re right! Think! Think! Who knows exactly what is inside the bortor or deep pockets of a Zabrama man’s long and baggy twakoto [half-length trousers] ?”
“That reminds me of Zawuni, the Zabrama man who carried his pampam store [tray of wares and goods] on his head to our village every now and then and sold us tae [strips of rubber] for our catapults.”
“You can laugh, but I want you to accept the undisputed fact that scientists — especially geologists and archaeologists — come across fascinating, space-originated objects all the time. These things are usually found in craters formed on the earth’s surface when the objects land and splinter. Besides, what are “shooting stars” anyway? Or “comets”?
“Wouldn’t your Papa Kofi Bunto have been pleased if told that no less a person than ‘Paa Willy’ Shakespeare himself, corroborates his observations?”
“Good man! You’re right — ‘Paa Willy’ Shakespeare was basically talking about flaming ”bundles” in the sky when he wrote in Julius Caesar that :
“When beggars die,
There are no comets seen;
The heavens themselves
Blaze forth the death of princes.”
“You know, when Shakespeare writes things liker that, we embrace it and chew it by heart so well that we can “pour” it out — or recall it — without batting an eyelid. But when the Kofi Buntos of this world say it, then we laugh at them and call them “superstitious”, or at best “fantasists” who “imagine” things they think they have seen in The Dark! But blast it! — I ask you– what was Shakespeare, if not a “fantasist” who imagined all manner of “Dark Happenings” — such as in the Kingdom of Denmark, if you still remember your Hamlet?”
“Remember Hamlet? Who could forget Hamlet?”
“Okay, then, was Hamlet The Prince of Denmark any the less real because Shakespeare imagined him into existence? Listen to this: what could be more true than that?:
Heaven and earth,
Must I remember?
Why, she would hang on him
As if increase of appetite had grown
By what it fed on, and yet, within a month—
Let me not think on ’t.
Frailty, thy name is woman!
“Hey, the cobwebs haven’t reached that part of the guy’s brain yet!”
” Haha! I strongly believe that Papa Kofi Bunto and other elders in my household were very good at telling us very interesting truths – mainly when we gathered around the fire at night. Some of these were things they had seen with their own eyes. But others were pure fiction – Anansesem — a term which, if you recall, is derived originally from the “doings” and “words about” the ever-present, mythical figure of Kwaku Ananse, but was later broadened to encompass all our folk tales.
“Now listen — was this next story fiction or fact-based? As for me, I don’t know and I don’t care which it was. I don’t know! I am only interested in the illumination it provides for some of the happenings in life. It goes like this: A married woman who, unlike the one we met earlier, hadn’t withdrawn her services from her husband….”
” Indeed, she was so much in love with him that she was anxious to cook a “super-sweet” soup for him. So what she did was to pile into the soup, everything that she had heard could make a soup delicious – goat meat, chicken meat, akrantier [grass-cutter] snails, prawns, salted pork trotters (prako ntwereh) dried fish (including koobi (!) and a lot of other “sweet” additives. All together!
“Afterwards, she tasted the soup to see whether she had achieved her aim. But what she tasted on her tongue was very bitter! And then, just as she was wondering what she could do to rescue the soup, her husband arrived home.
“Desperate, the woman got hold of a pot of honey she’d bought to eat koko (porridge) with. Honey was sweeter than anything on earth, wasn’t it? That was what everybody said. Yeah — that would rescue the soup.
“So, she poured the pot of honey into the soup. Then she served the soup, with the cocoyam fufuo her husband loved so much, to him. Then she modestly went to sit in her kitchen to await the words of endearment that she thought her husband would be addressing to her momentarily.
“But what she heard was her husband spitting soup out of his mouth with a mighty splutter and yelling as if he was in deep pain.
“Hohh! Whath kind of thoup ith thith?” the husband exploded.
The woman quickly rushed to his side and enquired, ”Oh why, don’t you like this most delicious soup I have cooked for you? I took so much trouble over it! I put in….”
“SHUTH UP, WOMAN!” the man shouted. “Delithious thoup? If this is whath you call delithious thoup, then what would you call thoup made with quinine?” He quickly got up and began to wash his mouth with water.
”Quinine? Did you say quinine?” the woman roared. She was now sobbing uncontrollably.
“Yeth!” the man shouted, disappointment having turned him quite sadistic. He could not conceive of the idea that his wife might have made a mistake but had meant no harm. Waxing even more eloquent, he continued: “That thoup tastes as if it conthains not just quinine, but quinine with the bile of an aperser added to it!” (An aperser is a member of the grass-cutter family. Its meat is tender and extremely tasty, but the animal is endowed with a bile that is so overpowering in its bitterness that if, on cutting up its body, one makes a mistake and cuts open the bile by accident, the entire body would be suffused with a bitter taste and become quite inedible.)
“At that final insult, the woman began to pack her bags. She was convinced that her husband no longer loved her and had used the soup as an excuse to get rid of her in favour of a new woman he had met whom she didn’t know about.
“The man, for his part, thought that no woman who could put such a horrible soup before him could possibly love him. So he watched her unmoved as she packed her pots and pans and her clothes and made her way back to her family home…
What the poor woman had not appreciated was that when some types of sweetness are piled on to other types, the superfluity of it all creates an end-result that is utterly opposite to what was envisaged. And that is why our elders told us that “Bebirebe ye mmusuo!”, meaning: “Too much of everything is bad!”
“Now, do you appreciate how our elders used to teach us wisdom around the fireside? Imagine children sitting in a circle by a fire and hearing ten such stories per night! All enveloped in a little lesson — or “moral” — that taught us what life was about! Can we ever get back, that noble art of oral story-telling that we have allowed ourselves — so stupidly — to just lose? Had we not lost that art, we would be welcoming ”DUMSↃ” each night, like Scheherazade in the Arabian Nights stories, instead of endlessly cursing our dark nights!”
Editor’s Note: Indeed: What is done these days when DUMSↃ” strikes, and the television and radio can no longer tell stories to their owners? Ten Cedis for the most convincing and entertaining answer!