NTOABOMA — Before I left home, my great grandmother called me into her living room. “Remember what you’ve been taught by that table,” as she pointed to my grandfather’s dining table. That table was where I learned to eat, for myself. That table was where I learned to commune with fellow men. That was how I learned to become a man from the tender age of five. That table was a rite de passage and it represented manhood; it represented an idea, a conviction, of what it meant to be a man in Ntoaboma. There I learned to eat scalding hot, fast and big.
With one arm, my great grandmother waved me over. I kneeled by her armchair as she nudged my head into her bosom. She kissed my forehead and whispered, “Don’t forget.” Such was the instruction. Brief. Concise. She was the tradition giver. Then she tapped me on the chest a few times, as I kneeled transfixed, expecting more words. She looked me in the eyes, “Go, you will miss the lorry.”
My great grandmother does not tolerate soft men. Crybabies. Men who complained. She had one advice every time I went to her for advice. “What is it,” she would ask? I would usually describe a conundrum: what way to handle one matter? This way or that way? She would probe, “What do you think?” I would settle on a tentative idea. She would retort waving me away with two hands, “Just do it!” As simple as that. She will dispatch you and she would discuss the matter no further.
So, on this fine rainy morning, when I was about to leave for college she dispatched me with the same emphatic hand. The University of Ghana, at Legon, was the destination. Go I must. The decision had been made.
I picked up the first of eight lorries from Ntoaboma, in order to finally set foot on that campus. The lorry got me to Amankwakrom, and then the second lorry to Forifori. From there, I took a third to reach Ekyiamenfrom, located on the second bank of the Volta Lake, south of Ntoaboma. I took a pontoon to cross over to Adowso. I hailed a fourth lorry to carry me through Kwahu Tafo, through Mpraeso, and across the Kwahu escarpment to Nkawkaw. I had travelled this distance for a good eight or ten times.
Over the Kwahu scarp, near Kwahu Tafo, an elegant high rocky projection, which looked like the spine of a volcano dotted the skyline. Here the scarp had a name: Bruku. Bruku was the embodiment of the guardian spirit of Kwahu. She guarded Kwahu from invasion.
One old lady travelling with us recounted some of the history behind Bruku. Any stranger who entered Kwahu land had to pay homage to this spirit or she will consider the individual an invader. Apart from the fact that people came from far and near and sought spiritual assistance in times of sickness, so fierce and so exacting was the spirit of Bruku that even as we drove by, older men tipped off their hats in respect of her. So revered was this God that even the Bruku Komfo interacted with her only on special occasions.
A slim-figured gentleman, not too tall, not particularly sharp, but dressed in a neat smock, and a matching pair of “guarantee” shoes, stationed two seats to the left and across, looked straight at me and said, “Bow your head,” while nodding in the direction of Bruku. Several times I had passed this location as a little boy with my uncle and this is the first time I was charged to nod my head in reverence of Bruku. I thought. I was certainly no stranger. I re-considered his advice for a second. After all, I was in Kwahu land, so I did. I gave the land my utmost respect. “Very wise,” the man said. “You are not an invader,” he continued. “No, I am not. I am just passing through,” I retorted.
The man studied me for a moment, seeing that I wasn’t too impressed, he smiled and said, “Not everyone just passes through. You must make your intentions known. You can never know others’ intentions.” I nodded in agreement. He continued, “Where are you from?” “Ntoaboma,” I replied. “Oh!” and he was now certainly amused. “You people won’t even allow a goat through Ntoaboma without paying homage to the Gods. Ha?” I nodded in agreement. “I have been once,” as he countered and looked out of his window. I was seriously trying to stop an unsolicited conversation. At this point I had been travelling for over seven hours!
When we got to Nkawkaw, finally over the scary humpy scarp—since the men in our esteemed country seemed incapable of building a tiny tunnel through a scarp—that is the Kwahu scarp, I changed lorries again and boarded my fifth to Suhum. From Suhum, it was a straight shot to Accra. My sixth lorry arrived in Accra without much fanfare. At Kaneshie, my first impressions of Accra remains a tale for another day. But allow me to state the obvious: I wasn’t, in the least impressed. I preferred Forifori better. Much better.
From Kaneshie I couldn’t get a straight Trotro to Legon-Madina so I transferred at the 37 Military Hospital into my eighth lorry. Finally I was at Legon. How excited I was, yet disappointed! That was an exaggeration. For a school that had Nkrumah’s name to it, although I was too tired to adequately tour every corner of it, I wondered what part of the school honored Ghana’s first hustler—Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah? The most remarkable thing over this terrain was the unremarkable sight of a man cutting through firewood, with an axe, for a beautiful lady who sold Kenkey and fried fish by the street-side. But for the pretty woman, the whole thing was boring.
I was ushered into my hall by friends who seemed to have caught on to the excitement about the camaraderie of a college education. But on the way to find a meal with these friends, before I could get myself together, something incredible caught my eye. A stony projection. So prominent was this statue that it reminded me of Bruku. I approached it so that I could pay my respects in the new land that was Legon. I scrutinized the statue: a bony short, rickety, ugly statue for a man. It had a name carved into stone afoot the statue: “Gandhi…” and the rest escapes my recollection.
My disappointment upon arriving at the University of Ghana escalated. It climbed a scale beyond comprehension. I had read about a man called “Gandhi.” Once! An unwholesome story, especially one for my part of the world.
I asked my newfound friends whether this was the same man who had protested the decision of Johannesburg municipal authorities in 1904 for allowing South Africans to live alongside Indians. Is this the same man who wrote in that year that the Apartheid government of South Africa “must withdraw the Kaffirs (Africans) from the location?” That mixing of the Kaffirs with Indians was “unfair to the Indian population” and that it was “an undue tax on even the proverbial patience of his countrymen?”
Is this the same “Gandhi” who noted once in his response to the White League’s agitation against Indian immigration and the proposed importation of Chinese labor into South Africa in 1903 that: “We believe also that the white race in South Africa should be the predominating race?”
My friends were flabbergasted with open arms.
How come from far-far away in Ntoaboma, some eight lorries far away, where lighting kerosene lanterns and fetching river-water from three miles away were the norm every evening, every night, and which was some nineteen hours of travel from Accra, how come I knew about a reprobate, a Shaitan as indolent and as racist as “Gandhi” but the university officials here, with all the pomp and pageantry of pipe-borne water and electricity, who allowed the statue to be erected on Ga-Dangme land, had no idea?
Or perhaps did they know and still remained moronic in its construction at the University of Ghana? How a statue of a man, from another country, from another continent, who believed in the superiority of the white race (if there was any such thing); who not only believed himself a “superb” descendant of an Aryan race but believed in its white supremacist inclinations dotted the landscape of my intellectual security and sanity in my own country, beat me. This is what my cocoa farming family, my Akpesteshie boiling family, and my yam producing family paid their taxes for?
I circled the statue weighing my disbelief alongside the wisdom of Bruku. Why will the Ga-Dangme allow a foreign hero, an Indian “god,” on their land? If the Indians were passing through, on a visit, didn’t traditional wisdom insist that they rather pay their respects to Ga-Dangme Gods, Ghana’s Gods, and our heroes?
I was torn between finding food, sleeping on the matter or doing something about it instantly. This was my very first day on campus. But I recalled my great grandmother’s advice: “Just do it.” I asked my new friends to wait behind as I quickly sought after the man I had seen with the axe and the firewood. I begged him for the axe and promised the pretty lady who sold Kenkey that I would repay her in kind: by cutting her some twenty logs of firewood in return for her worthy gesture.
When I returned to the site, my newfound friends had vanished. I skimmed the horizon. They were nowhere to be found. So much for a college camaraderie amongst men. I climbed the statue and started swaying and digging at it. A little crowd begun to gather. One lady shouted on top of her lungs: “Oh my God, you are in trouble!” I turned and I looked her in the eye. “I am from Ntoaboma. This is Ghana and this “god” of the Indians belongs in Indian, not here!” The crowd giggled, some clapped and others begun shouting appellations of joy, of courage and of bravery, “Pull it down! Pull it down!”
Within moments, others had tied a rope around the neck of the statue. Within moments, a truck was ready, the rope tied to the statue and the truck revving its engine. At this point the size of the crowd had swelled out of proportion. Some could not find their way through to where the statue stood. The crowd became ecstatic, expecting the obvious. Shouts, songs and screams could be heard from those who were for it and a demonstrable sullen demeanor from those who never could be relied upon to understand the import of our actions.
But for me, if Legon was the campus, the land on which my college education was going to be built, forged and cast, the racist “Gandhi” and I could never share the same space. This is Ghana, and when Indians get here, they must pay their respects, or they must be considered invaders. I repeated this reasoning to the crowd and with a shout they understood the wisdom from their respective villages. The truck revved and revved and finally pulled the statue down and away into one tired part of a nearby bush. There, we adorned the statue with placards of “RACIST” written and tagged to the front and back.
We urinated over it. We spat on it, amidst jubilation and some much needed merry making. I realized this campus needed it. They craved this raw Ntoaboma oomph! I felt my energy swell back up, even after nineteen hours of travel.
Then, I heard gun shots. Gun shots! One. Two. Three… and then there was commotion. People started shouting, “Police, Police, Police!” Folks begun to run for the bushes. As I turned to look, I locked my gaze with an attired cop, approaching, wielding what looked more and more, as he approached closer and closer, like an American imposed rifle. I heard another distant shot, as the police man I was watching raised his firearm and pointed it at me, “Hands up, hands up, hands up,” he continued to implore my patience. I swirled left and right, raised my axe and dashed for him in a zig-zag Atsiagbekor fashion, murmuring a chant of war. I got to him more quickly than he could cock his gun. I brandished my axe, arched my torso to generate the maximum power for the kill blow, ready to chop off his head, only to wake up sweating. Profusely.
I looked out the window. It was pouring. A dream. It was all just a dream. My thatch mattress was soaked. But I was glad, I was happy it wasn’t true—the statue I saw at the University of Ghana, Legon.