About the book
Manners Maketb Man: Adventures of a Bo School Boy is the story of an alumnus of a prominent public school in Sierra Leone. Its episodes depict growing up in fifties and sixties Sierra Leone generally, and in its schools in particular. It is a story about the survival, self-fulfilment, and growth of an individual. It is also a story about institutional structures and strictures; about inter-school rivalry and competition; and about the role of schools in forging solidarity in the midst of ethnic diversity. It illustrates the culture and essence of Bo School, revealing the elements that enshrine it in the hearts of its alumni. It reminds one that, ?School days are the best'.
About the author
Siaka Kroma was born in Sierra Leone. He is an alumnus of St. Andrew?s Secondary School (UCC), Bo, the Government Secondary School Bo, Albert Academy, Njala University, Edinburgh University, and University of Toronto. He has taught in schools and universities in Sierra Leone and the United States. He is presently retired and living in Nairobi, Kenya. He regularly visits Sierra Leone. He is the author of, Gomna?s Children, A Corner of Time, Manners Maketh Man, Climbing Lilies, and Tales from the Fireside: Oral narratives retold for young readers (in progress)
My name is Bandami; BandamiSenessie. Bandami in Mende is a question, asking, ?Where do you lay him?? So mine is the only name I know that is a question and should end with a question mark, but it does not. I am an old Bo School Boy. My admission number, 1XX3. The number of digits indicates my generation; the Xs represent other identifying numbers in that generation. My story begins in a small village in the Kailahun District, in the eastern part of Sierra Leone.
I was born on the day the fearsome Nyangomba attacked the sun, an epic cosmic battle, a solar eclipse, that lasted a full hour. While it raged, all the villagers came out to support the sun, beating on pots, pans, drums, anything that could produce a raucous distraction for Nyangomba. At last Nyangomba relented; the sun triumphed, and the people regained their sunlight. It was the main topic of conversation for the rest of the day; it eclipsed the news that MattuYeppeh, my mother, had given birth to a boy. In the coming days, however, the latter event would overshadow all other news as villagers in Malema traded the details of my birth. I came as a heavy child, too big for my young mother. People who called to pay their respect would ask my parents, ?Bandami?? meaning ?Where do you lay him?? With time this became my name, BandamiSenessie, effectively suppressing my true name Sondifu, given four days after my birth, as was the custom.
During the Second World War, food was scarce among the local people. People had to contribute a quota of rice to support the troops overseas. This was known as kotabei (quota rice). After giving the kotabei, many families had little to feed themselves. My parents were among those whose resources were so stretched. This situation was however eased by a kind stranger. A contingent of the First Battalion, Royal Sierra Leone Military Forces had camped two miles out of Malema, a small town in the Yawei chiefdom in Sierra Leone. The town was situated on a newly constructed road that connected the diamond fields of the Kono District, twenty one miles north, to the railway station thirty miles south of Malema. The army had camped there to protect the mines from a potential attack. During one of his excursions into the town, an army officer chanced upon my mother dutifully carrying a load on her head. The officer was struck by two things: one, the fact that the load on my mother?s head was a baby and two, when he saw how nourished this baby appeared when most people in the community were lacking in the staple food. Thereupon, he ordered a regular supply of army rations for my mother. My mother and I enjoyed this kind gesture until the war ended and the battalion moved out.
I was sent to live with my grandparents the moment I could take my first steps. Medicine men in Malema had warned my parents that my life was in danger from witchcraft. The witches and wizards in the village were planning to ?eat? me. My parents, believing what they had been told, and not bearing the thought of losing me, decided in the middle of the night to take me to Mano, three miles away, where my mother?s family lived. There I stayed with my grandfather and my grandmother; I should say my grandmothers because that was what all of my grandfather?s wives were to me.
My grandfather was JemisiGomna, his real name, NgevauLahai. JemisiGomna was a nickname given to him by his peers when Governor Sir James Shaw Hayes toured the Kailahun district and passed through Mano. My grandfather was in his teens then. The nickname started as a tease; then it stuck for the rest of my grandfather?s life. Even when he became chief after his father, he remained Gomna to most people. Only his mother and elders in the town called him Ngevau out of respect for his own grandfather who had borne that name before him.
Colonial Sierra Leone had a protectorate and a colony, each differently administered. The protectorate was demarcated into provinces, districts, and chiefdoms, with a descending order of powers and authority. Provincial and district administrators were Puubla (British). The chiefdoms were ruled by traditional rulers known as paramount chiefs. Each chiefdom was further subdivided into sections headed by section chiefs and then the village or town chief. These chiefs were the traditional rulers in the scheme scholars? dubbed ?indirect rule.?
Colonization created new challenges and opportunities, as well as new strategies for survival. Those who understood the new game fared well while those who did not or who resisted change perished or stagnated. My grandfather was one of the first chiefs who understood this new game, the requirement to educate children the white man?s way. He sent two sons to school one of whom went on to join the army. At the time of my birth, Uncle Jusu was away in Burma fighting in World War II. His second son, Uncle Kava, was in a boarding school run by the Evangelical United Brethren Church (EUB) twenty-four miles to the north. My uncles being sent to school marked the turning point in the history of our family.
Life with my grandfather was both entertaining and educative. I went everywhere with him. I got glimpses into how the Mende educated their children, settled disputes, and how male adults spent their evenings. Storytelling was a regular form of entertainment. Adults took turns sharing their stories in the presence of children. These intergenerational interactions through which the myths, legends, and true stories of the people were disseminated were the means by which the young were educated by the elders. History was transmitted this way.
Adults also played postprandial games that both entertained and engaged children. One game that I remember with fondness featured the koningei, a string instrument that was like a bow, only that the string on the bow was what produced the sound. The player used a flexible straw to strike the string at various points while holding it against his open mouth. Variations in the sound so produced depended on the narrowing and widening of the player?s mouth. The instrument was often used to accompany games. In one game, one or two people would be made to leave the group; a riddle would be told in their absence. They would have to guess at the riddle on their return. The koningei served to help them know when they were hot or cold on their clues. Things were also hidden and found in a similar fashion.
Cases were also frequently adjudicated after the evening meal in the presence of children. One case that remains in my memory involved the issue of ownership. FayiaFangamandu, a Kissi man, had settled in Mano and married Bondu, a daughter of KombaNdomahina, a Kono man who had also settled in Mano. They had all become an integral part of the Mano community. One evening, Bondu brought a suit to my grandfather claiming that her husband had seized a kerosene tin of palm oil from her and sold it without her consent and knowledge. As usual, Bondu was advised to return after the evening dinner. She did and the matter was formally put before my grandfather and his assessors. Fayia was summoned and asked to respond to the complaint. In response, he admitted selling Bondu?s palm oil but in his defense asserted that Bondu was his wife and therefore he did not need her permission to sell her oil; that the oil equally belonged to him for the same reason.
After his defense, my grandfather decided to settle the matter without bothering the other elders. He said to them, ?Ye ji ta mu tewekutu ma (We will cut this one short).? He then addressed Fayia.
?Fayia, our people say, ?You may own the hen but the hen owns her egg, for only she can decide whether to hatch it or not.? You the owner have nothing to do about that. Similarly Fayia, Bondu may be your wife but what she owns is her own; she is not a slave, mind you.? Then he asked the elders, ?Is it not so, family members?? They all nodded their heads in the affirmative. And so the case was decided in Bondu?s favor. Fayia was ordered to pay restitution to his wife. In disgust some muttered, ?What kind of a man would snatch food from a baby??
Uncle Jusu came from the war in 1945. My first memory of him was that of a tall man dressed in the most horrifying clothes. He walked with something on his feet which nobody in the village wore. Everybody walked barefoot. His appearance put me in awe of him. I instinctively took cover with Uncle Kava, who I knew very well because he always came home for his holidays. In any case he never dressed in the ridiculous way that Uncle Jusu dressed. Nothing Uncle Jusu did could entice me to go near him.
From the start, Uncle Jusu was very fond of me and he devised ingenuous ways to get my attention. Eventually what worked was to carry me while I was sleeping. I would wake up in his arms and see his smiling face looking down at me. With time, a friendship of sorts developed between us, a friendship that grew stronger as he led me into the secrets of his world. He would invite me to eat with him. He would send me to fetch his boots, his watch, or his cigarettes. The other children of the household envied me, and the more they did, the more I grew to like what I was being made to do. After spending six months in the village, Uncle Jusu disappeared again just when I had grown to really like him. He no longer lived in the village with us instead he came occasionally. Our interactions would resume when he came and cease when he left. Even so, he always had something for me when he visited.
Another grandmother I was attached to was Mama Satta, my father?s mother. From time to time she would come and release me from my exile home and take me back only for my parents to come and pick me up later. She never relented. She came regularly. While I lived with her, she did all she could to make my life eventful. She had converted to Christianity and did not believe in witchcraft the way my father and mother did. She would therefore defy their wishes and take me to Malema only for my parents to take me back at the earliest opportunity. She attended church services and classes regularly and she would take me along with her. On Wednesday nights we would go to the small village church for one of the class meetings. At the end they would call out names and people would answer and announce how much they had for class that evening. They would call my grandmother, ?SattaSenessie? and she would answer, ?Plejen pay torpenji (Present, paying three pence).? After service, the members would process in song around the village past our peewa (big house) where my grandmother lived with the wives of her nephews and cousins. The group would bid her goodnight and disperse to their own homes. Mama Satta was like the grand matron for most in the village.
I played happily between the forces of witchcraft and the attractions of the village church. The latter were mainly the songs and the stories both of which were invariably rendered with an African tint. Numerous didactic songs had been composed in Mende to challenge the local beliefs, songs like ?NgiBaomoiloa? (I have seen the Saviour) with the refrain ?Ngetortorgbeboma, ngiBaomoiloa (I don?t consult diviners anymore, I have seen the Saviour).? I enjoyed dancing to the rhythm of such songs as we processed back home.
On other evenings, I was attracted to displays in the town square, displays like the dress rehearsals of Bondo initiates, the roving storyteller, or the odd magician. Unlike church events, all of these occurred in the season of plenty, after the harvest. Mama Satta did not mind my attending them. What she detested was Kemei, the witch hunter. Whenever one was in town it always proved a struggle between Grandma and me. I would sneak to the dance and as many times as I did, she would fetch me back till, overcome by tiredness, I would go to sleep on her laps.
In my last year with Mama Satta, a magician came to town whose feats left people talking long after he had gone. He came to Malema shortly after Christmas and stayed a good two months at the largesse of a mystified and captivated audience. In his first week he played the usual tricks: handkerchiefs, rings, and rabbits. In that same week, he claimed that he could kill someone and keep that dead person in communication with living people, then bring him or her back to life. The whole town dared him do that. On the Friday of that week, the magician ?shot? a young man in front of the curious audience. To everyone?s horror the man fell down dead. He was then carried away by a group of young men to his gborji (shrine), a spot by the main road he had established as his sacred grounds forbidden to all but a few young men. For days following the ?shooting? anyone who passed along the main road would be greeted by name by Ndoumoi, (the man beneath the earth). Ndoumoi could even tell remarkable details like the type and colourof the clothes the person was wearing. The person would then be entreated to leave something for Ndoumoi which people usually did in sympathy for his miserable life down below. The people lived in this deception till the appointed day when the young man who had been shot was brought back to life in another elaborate hoax. It was years later that I discovered the secrets of this particular display.
Typically a magician who did this trick spent his first two weeks recruiting and training accomplices among the young men in a town. When he was confident in his accomplices, he put on the elaborate show of shooting a man in the presence of an audience. This was always an outside event that took place at night; lighting conditions would favor the magician. The gun that he used would have no bullets. Underground passages were laid in the magician?s gborji from reasonable distances from both sides of the ?grave? where Ndoumoi would lie. Accomplices would watch from the entrances of these tunnels. When they saw people approaching they would observe the details of the person or group and relay it to Ndoumoi. Other attendants would tell Ndoumoi who had come and from which direction; simple but perplexing to the uninformed.
One day, several weeks after my parents had returned me to my grandfather, Uncle Jusu came home accompanied by Mama Satta. He had gone first to Malema before coming to Mano. He told me that he wanted me to go and live with him in Segbwema, which was a big town. He mentioned that he was going to send me to school where I would play with many other children and have lots of toys to play with.
?Would you like lots of toys??
?What about new clothes? You will have new clothes, some for school and some for play. Would you like that??
?A big lorry will take you to Segbwema. Have you sat in a lorry??
I shook my head.
?Would you like to sit in a lorry??
?No. With Kava, your uncle.?
?Yes, yes. I would like to.?
He dipped his right hand into his pocket.
?Give me your hand.?
I offered my right hand as is the custom when you receive something from anyone.
?Open your palm.?
I did so.
?Close your eyes.?
I did so with great anticipation. In a minute or less, I felt something in my palm, something familiar but I did not quite know what.
?Now open your eyes.?
I should have known. It was toffee, the type he used to give me when he first came home from the war. This one was wrapped in colourful papers.
?There will be plenty of these in Segbwema. Now go and share these with your friends.?
He dispatched me with a few more toffees and I rushed to show off my treasures to my cousins and other playmates. At the end of the day, I returned to Malema with Mama Satta to await Uncle Kava. There I learnt that my going to live with Uncle Jusu was with the consent of my parents. It was not until Uncle Kava arrived four days later that my conversation with Uncle Jusu truly registered; my heart had been more on the toffees than on the promises that Uncle Jusu had made. Even then, I did not fully understand what was about to happen to me.