Stone Rests On Stone: The Nature of Bullies. However deep one must dig to find the bedrock is where one must dig. It is only there that the stone rests.
NTOABOMA. A bully is not exactly a tough guy. Usually they come built tough, but not all the time. For those of us that President Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of Ghana, thought he could transform—from the Traditional African to a “modern” colonial clerk—we were dragged from our villages, literally, one by one, often times against the will of our fathers, and dumped into Colonial Missionary Boarding Schools very early as children. We had to learn quickly how to navigate our ways around grown men who were already established there, in these new colonial spaces—bullies.
I share with you one such way: A long time ago, I was dumped into a Boys Only Boarding School that was in pretty much the same shape as the violent, colonial British Empire had left it. The manner in which I got into this colonial missionary space can be likened to a kidnapping. Some of us from certain villages, who adored our African Traditional Ways, considered our presence here, in this Boarding School, a benign form of kidnapping.
At 12 years of age, I could cook my own food. I was already a well-trained freshwater fisherman. I could pretty much cultivate anything that grew in Ntoaboma—maize, cassava, palm, yam, etc. I could build my own house and carve out my own canoe. I could shoot a rifle and I was adept with machetes, axes and knives. I had started my Traditional Military training just two-years prior, thanks to my grandfather who kept the doors of the only remaining traditional vodun military cult in Ntoaboma still open at the time.
What at all was all the fuss about Kwame Nkrumah’s Boarding Schools? What was I supposed to learn in this place? Read books, write letters and eat what? I thought to myself: How are so many young men—from 12 years of age to as late as 20 years old—wasting away their lives in these schools, sitting at wooden desks, reading books, listening to their colonial teachers like robots, yet learning to do absolutely nothing, and going hungry while at it? And where exactly did they get all that food to feed these lazy, robotic young men dumped into one place?
These were some of the thoughts that went through my head. I wasn’t alone—two friends from around Ntoaboma who had also been brought here to receive a colonial missionary education were with me. Imagine being siphoned away from everything you knew as a young man, and thrown into a den—a disparate collection of young men from different customs, traditions, and religious backgrounds—and then being asked to lazy around just like them? Even the water we bathed, we didn’t fetch it ourselves. These colonialists had managed to build pipelines to draw water from the only freshwater river in the town down to this colonial school for these lazy, book-reading young men to waste.
How exactly are all these resources being paid for? That’s what I asked my first colonial teacher, Mr. Abednego. He raised his one bushy brow, looked at me intently and then he blurted out a scream: Come again? I pushed back, “What? What is the meaning of ‘come again’”? Mr. Abednego retorted, “What?” I said, “What?” He backed off. Then he asked, “What is your name, young man?” I answered directly, inhaling a lungful of fresh air and squaring my shoulders, “Narmer Amenuti.” Mr. Abednego fired back again, “From where?” I didn’t answer. At this point I pretended I did not understand the question. He came back, more intensely, “Master Narmer Amenuti, where are you from?”
You see in Ghana—even the colonial bullies know this—when someone enquires about your hometown, they want to know if you are the kind of person they can push around, that is bully! What they want to find out, really, in addition to your name (and clan) is whether they can bully you and get away with it. At this point I could tell Mr. Abednego that I was from Ntoaboma. But, I couldn’t do that—no one knew where Ntoaboma was located on a map of Ghana. So I reasoned that I ought to make it abundantly clear to Mr. Abednego that I meant him no harm. To do that, I needed to send Mr. Abednego the correct messaging for him to fully understand that any action he took against me was going to have first order, second order, and even third order implications for himself, his friends and his immediate family and his entire clan.
I drew in another fresh breath of air, and I told him: I am from Alakple, Volta Region. (This is not a lie, my own grandmother is from Alakple. But, I was not from Alakple. The thing is, according to African Tradition, I was from Ntoaboma, doesn’t matter that my grandmother came from someplace else. In this context however, since the whole boarding school system was a European setup the reality that I could hail from Alakple was entirely possible. Context you see?)
I could tell that Mr. Abednego did not take kindly to my questioning, and he was ready to fire up some threats against my person until he heard “Alakple.” You see. He calmed down, and then he said, “I have heard of that place.” I seized the opportunity and jumped. “What do you mean that you have heard of that place?” (Alakple is where General Kotoka hailed from – the colonial soldierman who master-minded the eventual overthrow of President Kwame Nkrumah).
Mr. Abednego’s entire disposition morphed into one of mutual understanding right after that exchange. “Master Narmer, you have come from far. How is the place treating you? Do you like it here so far?” And before I answered, Mr. Abednego continued, “Anything you need Master Narmer, just come over to my bungalow and knock on the door. I will be happy to help you settle in. Okay!” The man went from “what-what” to “mi casa es su casa.” By choosing to speak of Alakple rather than Ntoaboma, I was re-signifying what was already known and accepted wisdom: You can’t bully a person from Alakple unless you have skin in the game, or unless you can resolve the differential calculus of the first order, second order, and third order consequences of one’s own actions.
The Nature of the Bully is that he knows when to stop. A bully is not exactly a tough guy. Usually they come built tough, but not all the time. The bully philanders around until he meets something that can serve an equal and opposite reaction to the bully’s actions, if not more! Vodun philosophers would say, “Akpe-le-kpe-dzi,” or put another way, Stone Rests Upon Stone. That is to say, a piece of stone only stops moving until it comes into direct contact with an unmovable stone. So are the matters of the world. Nothing, not even ideas, can be stopped, or moved without force. Without real force.
However deep one must dig to find the bedrock is where one must dig. It is only there that the stone rests.