28.01.2023 Feature Article

The Delightful Idleness Of Youth

The Delightful Idleness Of Youth
28.01.2023 LISTEN

One thing I shall never regret about growing up in a “rustic” village, and which enables me to gladly embrace the allegedly derogatory term, “kookooase kuraaseni” [villager who dwells under the cocoa trees] is the availability of plenty of leisure time in such places.

On a typical afternoon, one would be able to partake in games of all sorts: (1) dame [draughts or checkers]; or (2) ɔware [a traditional game played with the seeds of a climber plant found in the deep forest; or (3) ntɛ [another game played with seeds.] One needed special skills – dexterity of hand; a mind that was good at calculating speedily, and general smartness, in order to be good at these games.

Ludo, one of the few foreign imports we enjoyed, also demanded calculation, and we took to it gladly, like ducks to water. When we grew up a little more, we became attached to Monopoly – again, good for building up skills of mental arithmetic or secret calculation.

With dame, too, one needed an ability to calculate sums in one’s head quickly and silently. The idea was to deny the opponent the slightest inkling that one was piling up material, in order to spring a “trap” on him.

My elder brother , Kwasi Kwaakye, was exceptionally good at dame. He polished up his skills when he went to live at Koforidua, a big town in our area, where dame was used for gambling – i.e. played for money.

Kwaakye was supposed to be attending a secondary school there, but truant that he was, he spent some of his school days playing dame at Jackson’s Park. This was a notorious den of gamblers, where cards and all sorts of forbidden games were indulged in by “professional” gamblers. Every boy from a village nearby going to Koforidua was warned not to go Jackson’s Park, but….

In fact, my father was always complaining that he spent too much money on Kwasi: ”Today, he says his rent has gone up; tomorrow, he writes to say that some bad boys have robbed him of his pocket-money on his way to school!”

Playing against the “professionals” made my brother very skilful at dame: so much so that when he came home on holidays, no-one in our village could match him.

Actually, he had two challengers, but since they were not always available to play him, he had the draughts laurels to himself. One of his bitterest opponents was called Kofi Missah – a tall, lanky guy with a huge parting, called abɔe, planted right inn the middle of his skull.

The other challenger to Kwasi Kwaakye at dame was the village postal agent, whose name no-one knew. It was a delight to watch the postman play, because he kept rendering a running a commentary on his own play. That in itself wouldn’t have attracted much notice, because everyone ran his mouth when playing. But he ran his commentary in broken Twi, which he punctuated now and then with his native Ga.

He was, however, completely unaware that there was anything wrong with the way he spoke Twi. So, if, for instance, he obtained the advantage called “kwakwa” in the game, he would yell at the top of is voice, “OWHAHA! “

Everyone would burst out laughing,. He didn’t realise, of course, that they were laughing at his Twi accent, but rather mistook their laughter for approbation of the skilful manner in which he played the game.

So, the postman, undeterred, would go ahead making other wisecracks in atrocious Twi. One of hid best was when he trapped someone and managed to make a good “kill”. He would taunt his opponent by asking him, “Wodwen sɛ mebɛtɔn ahwere wɔ ha?” [Do you think I came here to sell sugar-cane?”

The irrelevance of the question, plus his complete unawareness of the way his accent made everything worse, raised the volume of laughter. He enjoyed that, for he obviously thought he was exhibiting a great sense of humour.

Personally, the game I enjoyed most was one called tukunya. It was played with boiled guinea-fowl eggs (ansaa wolor). You bought a boiled guinea fowl-egg from an “ansaa wolor” girl, who came with boiled eggs in a pan she carried on her head. And a rival of yours also bought one.

Then, both of you squared up to each other., holding your egg in the cupped palm of your hand. Then you would knock your eggs against each other – at the top of the egg! The one whose eggshell broke or got punctured, would have lost! And his opponent would take the “broken” egg from him!

The “conquered” eggs were nice to eat all right. But our delight did not only come from that. It was the fact that coincidence had played into our hands, so to speak.

We were not there when the guinea-fowl laid the egg, were we? No!

We were not there when the ansaa wolor girl boiled the egg, were we?

And yet by some magic, one egg had been “stronger” than the other! And one boy who was luckier than the other, had bought that particular egg and had conquered the other boy’s egg with it. How did that happen?

Thank God,! Sweet egg!