“That stupid headmaster of yours; he thinks he is a smart man. But I outsmarted him. He thought I am a fool, by paying me only half of what it costs to sculpt a real statue. I intentionally sculpted that wretched statue of St. Peter in proportion to how much Josef Glatzel paid me.”
That was Mr. Kofi Agbenu bragging, apologetically, to us Form-One B students. It seemed to make quite a bit of sense at the time. After all, did not the old maxim say that: “Nothing bought, nothing paid for”?
If, indeed, “Owudo” was not willing to pay handsomely for the sculpting of a statue that needed to magnificently represent the frontage of our Kwahu University, then PERSCO definitely deserved the indescribable mess of ugliness that Mr. Agbenu's artistry (for want of a better term) determined to encapsulate the image and spirit of the greatest apostle of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. And so I continued to think until I broached this matter with my elder brother, then a fresh alumnus of Takoradi's GSTS, which was also our father's alma mater.
“That is rather stupid of that art master of yours,” said Kwasi Ayimadu.
“Why?” I demanded to know, feeling stultified and even a little agitated; for all of a sudden, I began to realize how equally stupid it had been of me to have considered Mr. Agbenu's pretext for his ugly statue as a mark of genius.
“Isn't your headmaster a white man?” my brother asked.
“Of course,” I proudly offered and promptly added, “German, to be precise.”
“In whose country is this ugly statue of St. Peter that you're talking about located?'
“Ours. Ghana, of course!”
“Then what is the sense in sculpting such an ugly statue, since this white man, Josef Glatzel, would eventually leave it behind for us and go back to his country, anyway?”
From that day forth, I was convinced that, indeed, Mr. J. K. Agbenu was not an intelligent man. The fact that year-in, year-out not more than three to five students decided to take Art to the GCE “O”-Level Examinations, further convinced me of what a pedagogical mess Mr. Agbenu was.
As was to be expected, in terms of pedagogical ineptitude, Mr. Agbenu fell squarely among the piddling minority. The man was also known to yearly look forward to the GCE “O”-Level Art Examinations. Specifically, Mr. Agbenu looked forward to that section of the Art examinations that dealt with something called “Still Life.” Legend had it that the Art master would ask every one of the GCE “O”-Level Art candidates to buy a bucket-full of fresh fish. Of this lot, he would set only one dead fish in front of the class and ask all the students to observe and draw it. Later when one of our best PERSCO Art students, Stephen Peprah, who was a year ahead of me, had the chance to attend Sixth-Form at Prempeh College, Senior Peprah discovered to his utter horror and chagrin that he had been given all the wrong art lessons at PERSCO, including even such basic technique as the mixing of colors. It was, in sum, virtually a miracle that Peprah had gotten Grade-2 in Art at all.
But another classmate of Peprah's, Humphrey Quaye, was not so lucky. Quaye, who was widely believed to be a far better artist than Peprah, ended up with Grade-5, or some such horrible grade. Here also, legend had it that a statuary molding which Senior Quaye had sculpted had, curiously, gotten some parts of it broken up while in transit to the headquarters of the West African Examinations Council (WAEC). What makes this narrative tragic is not the mere fact of Quaye's quite sexually attractive statuette of a naked Ghanaian matron getting practically destroyed while in transit, for this was not an uncommon narrative. The tragedy lay either in the abject failure or flat refusal of Mr. Agbenu to write an explanatory and mitigating note to the Chief Examiner of WAEC, in order for this pure accident not to be held against the student artist. We shall later learn that the art master had deliberately neglected to append a mitigating note to Humphrey Quaye's broken sculpture merely because during one of PERSCO's intercollegiate sporting activities, Humphrey had refused to volunteer as a scoreboard recorder.
Herr Atsu, another one of the quite remarkable number of Ewe teachers at St. Peter's, on the other hand, was almost the exact opposite of Mr. Kofi Agbenu. Herr Atsu was our German teacher; and his heart was as huge as his body was small. And to be certain, some of us students even wondered whether Jonathan Swift had not had Herr Atsu in mind when the great English writer sat down to write his timeless classic, Gulliver's Travels.
Herr Atsu stood at 4-foot-11 and weighed approximately 120 pounds. But for his fast-graying beard, one could readily have mistaken him for a first-year student or “subbo.” He looked to be about the same age as Mr. Agbenu, fortyish, although Herr Atsu looked remarkably more handsome and cheerful. But he was also easily the most feared faculty member on campus, with the exception of “Owudo,” our headmaster, of course. The “Herr” prefix to his name, he announced to us during our first day of class, was the German equivalent of “Mister.” Herr Atsu had no first name; if he did, almost none among the entire student population knew it. Instead of a first name, Herr Atsu had two initials… “A. A.” The name-plate in front of his bungalow read “Mr. A. A. Atsu.”
Herr Atsu was morbidly feared, particularly by the senior students, because he brooked no nonsense. And he wasted no breath in communicating the same to us freshmen.
“I hate bullies!” he bellowed to us on our first day of class, after having theatrically introduced himself.
“If any of your seniors maltreat you, report them immediately to me. I will punish them! I have been here for more than ten years; I know every one of them. I saw them enter this campus like toddlers carrying their trunks and chop-boxes!”
“I don't care whatever level they are; if any of your seniors maltreat you, just walk up to my house and report them to me. I will punish them! I am your Senior Housemaster. All grievances pass through me before they get to your headmaster.”
Actually, the laid-down procedure was for serious grievances to be passed from the Senior Housemaster to the Assistant Headmaster. The latter was Mr. Gyimah, a Ghanaian. Legend had it that Father Glatzel gave preferential treatment to Herr Atsu because the latter had lived and studied in Germany and was even said to speak German with the fluency of a native speaker. It was also widely rumored that at faculty meetings, Father Glatzel routinely ignored decorum by speaking at length in German to Herr Atsu, while their colleagues looked on practically stultified.
“Only Germans and speakers of German have good sense,” Father Glatzel was widely reported to have proclaimed at one memorable faculty meeting. Herr Atsu was also said to be Father Glatzel's Ghanaian ear of last resort, whatever that meant.
No doubt, Herr Atsu significantly inoculated us “subbos” against the morbid fear that came with being young and new to the sterile culture of an all-boys boarding school. Unfortunately, 1976 was not a particularly propitious year for Herr Atsu. That year, some of our senior students went on “strike”; these were mainly the Form-Four students. I would soon learn at PERSCO that Form-Four was a critical stage of mass-madness.
The “strike,” as was quite common throughout the country, was about the poor quality of food served in our dining hall. I, in particular, do not remember the food at St. Peter's being exceptionally bad. This, no doubt, was due largely to the fact that I was on a doctor-prescribed “Special Diet.” I had come down with a near-fatal bout of Jaundice, and the doctor had determined that the best way for me to stay healthy was to stay away from fatty foods. And so for more than a decade, my regular meals would contain the barest minimum of fat.
In any case, in 1976, the Form-Four boys of PERSCO went on “strike.” It started at midnight with somebody switching off the main and thus plunging the entire campus into Stygian darkness. Then another person with a gravelly voice started chanting a series of obscenities about the jumbo genitals of almost every one of our then-four housemasters as well as the genitals of their wives and mothers. And then in a symphonic response that seemed to rock the old dormitory block to its foundations, these students embarked on a rampage. Before they did so, however, the Form-Four students conducted a roll-call from dorm to dorm to ensure that all forms one through three students were in our beds. The move, evidently, was to ensure that all potential snitches had been smoked out.
By the time that the strike subsided, sometime a little before dawn, it had become obvious that the planners, or conspirators, had only been partially successful. They had merely succeeded in breaking up window panes and beating up some of our housemasters including, of course, Herr Atsu, our senior housemaster, who promptly resigned his largely voluntary post. A list of the ringleaders had, however, been found. At the top of the list was Senior Daniel Acheampong, son of then-Head-of-State, Gen. Ignatius Kutu Acheampong. Almost everyone on the ringleaders' list was expelled, with quite a remarkable number of these ringleaders ending up at such middle-level schools as Ofori-Panin Secondary School (OPASS), Okuapeman Secondary School (OKUASS) and Ahmadyya Secondary School (AMASS).
Senior Daniel Acheampong, the story went, had attempted to use his father's presidential powers to reenter PERSCO but to no avail. He had returned to campus, led by an Army Major, to strong-arm the imperious “Owudo,” only to be promptly rebuffed with a rude invitation to his father to take over PERSCO's headmastership and thereby facilitate the readmission of his evidently, clinically delinquent son. Another one of “Owudo's” admirable moments.
*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is the author of “The New Scapegoats: Colored-on-Black Racism” (iUniverse.com, 2005). E-mail: [email protected]
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