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MOBA ’97 and memories of life in Mfantsipim

BY: Graphic.com.gh
MOBA ’97 and memories of life in Mfantsipim
Aerial view of the academic site of mfantsipim

Of Hills and vales

MOBA ’97 and memories of life in Mfantsipim

The call

January 1995. Cape Coast called. Some were drawn to the seaside. Others loved the colours of the crow. A privileged few, some 500 strong, were called up the Hill. Yes, Mfantsipim chose us, and what an honour it was to be counted among the elect. From the northernmost part of Ghana, to Cape Three Points, we journeyed to the sanctuary at the throbbing heart of Ghana’s secondary education. Balmer-Acquaah House greeted us from the small roundabout. Stretching about 50 metres across and 10 metres high, the paint on its walls had faded. But the glory of Mfantsipim had not, and in no wise was The School’s pedigree and glory to be judged by the pigment upon the exterior walls of a building.

First scenes

From the underbelly of paint-thirsty Balmer-Acquaah to Bartels-Sneath House, black metal trunks patterned with red crescents covered the foothills of Kwabotwe, as the distinctive scent of greenhorns filled the air. A wooden box (chop box) accompanied each trunk, like husband and wife at a church couples retreat. There were as many mattresses and pillows as there were trunks and chop boxes – some mattresses draped, others naked. The domestic site was a bustling sight - like the trade port of Zanzibar in olden days. Boys in white shirts and different shades of khaki trousers moved about with some purpose. Some trousers were tailored to fit. Others, sewn to last their wearers for 10 years – a manifestation of the residual effects of the austerity measures of the 1980s. Parents spoke heartily with their boys - from encouragement and advice, through cautions to downright warnings - if you get sacked, don’t ever come back home! Eyes of mothers welled with tears…hugs…goodbyes…nightfall. Thus a new journey began.

The journey


As we travelled over the course of 9 terms in Kwabotwe, we climbed hills and descended valleys – literally and figuratively. We had a kaleidoscope of experiences. So many were they that we cannot do even half justice to them here. At best, we can only select a few from the vast memory storehouse and do what our English teachers taught us on the hill – summarise.

First day at morning assembly

Next morning, we were up bright and early. Many had barely slept. Some were denied sleep by senior boys who had scores to settle. Unbeknownst to us, another thriller was waiting in the wings at morning assembly. Morning devotion happened incident-free. Corro mounted the lectern to address the assembly of light blue, orange and white-shirted boys. Sixth formers wore the enviable light blue shirts. Senior Secondary School (SSS) boys in years 2 and 3 wore light orange. The 500 boys in white needed no description of status - even the monkeys in the forested hillsides and valleys of Kwabotwe knew who we were.

As we listened intently to Corro’s sermonic advice, an excessively loud, sharply-piercing and instantaneously-confusing sound suddenly hit our eardrums. It sounded alarmingly-electronic and horrifically-natural all at once. It was like the desperate cry of a large mysterious bird from Jurassic park, warding us off its territory - perhaps threatening to lift us away in pairs of 10 within its powerful claws. Hearts leapt within us like impalas at the sight of a marauding pride of lions. The senior boys, unmoved by the odd, petrifying sound, laughed at us. Poor greenhorns! The clock had struck 7, triggering the powerful siren to blare atop of the assembly hall. We later knew that the siren could be heard from Kotokuraba and farther afield.

Homos exam

Like seekers of discipleship in an ashram, a test awaited us. Around 4pm on day 2, we were marched to the academic site, wearing white shirts and matching white shorts. We looked like army recruits on day 1 of boot camp. The only thing missing was the so-called identification haircut. As the procession moved uphill, to the tolling of a bell, we sang: “we are the greenhorns of this great institution and we submit ourselves to the rules of the school.” Forget the ten, eleven and twelve 1s on your BECE results slip - the homos exam was the fate decider. “You fail, Mfantsipim spews you out!” That was what some senior boys told us. For some lads, this was an unjust, confusing and scary prospect rolled in one. But some boys did not look unsettled at all. Were they scholars par excellence, or did they know something the majority of us did not? One couldn’t help but wonder.

At the academic site, we were divided into the classrooms on the G-Block opposite the assembly hall. Stern-faced senior boys issued instructions, the bell tolled, work started. The thought of the exam was unsettling enough, but the exam questions were even more nerve-racking: What is the alphabetical construction of your human dignity? What is the numerical significance of your human existence?…. Still, some boys showed admirable composure in the face of events. Others looked like they had been conscripted in a dawn swoop, while they slept after a drunken spree. Another category of junior boys looked like they had been carried away in an alien spacecraft in a flash and dropped in a strange wilderness. They came unprepared – not even with a Bic pen in hand.

Meanwhile, the school’s old mammy wagon, aka boneshaker, was waiting close to the administration block like the fabled horned devil with a pitchfork. At the slightest suspicion, boys were charged with unacceptable examination conduct and instantly uprooted from the exam room like a poisonous weed among a king’s choicest herbs. Boys were even removed for showing anxiety, fear and panic. We had been forewarned that showing such emotions when faced with a test of wit was ‘UnMfantsipim”.

In a matter of minutes, a sizeable group of boys had been rounded up and declared unworthy of association with the Mfantsipim brand. What fate awaited them? Banishment! Shaken to the bone, they were ordered to board the boneshaker. A prayer for journey mercies was said for them, after which the senior boys bade them farewell. The ‘ill-fated’ were to be conveyed in the old Bedford wagon to a transit point – Yamoransa. From there, they were to make their onward journeys home on their own. Imagine the thoughts running through the minds of young teenage boys, some of whom had never travelled outside their home regions. Now, Yamoransa connects to different regions in Ghana. But it is also a production hub and trade post for Fante kenkey. So, at least, boys could buy Fante kenkey as souvenirs to convince doubting folks back home that they really went to the Central Region.

Apparently, “there is no art to find the mind’s construction in the face”. Well, Shakespeare was wrong! Aboard the boneshaker, faces mirrored the construction of minds. The facial expressions of the unwilling passengers reflected hues and shades of gloom and doom. But there seems to be something about hills and divine interventions. Just before the boneshaker’s descent downhill, the bell tolled again from outside the G-block. It was all a prank! We were all staying! Whew! Thank holy Heavens! The energy from the collective sigh of relief could have shifted the Earth from its orbital path. To the homebound crew especially, the tolling of the bell was like the moment the Red sea parted for the Israelites. Hats off to the senior boys. They made sure every act, every scene played out like a 21st century Hollywood movie in high definition. Maybe they were all members of the school drama club. Looking back at these 2 events alone, it was a miracle that no greenhorn passed out from confusion or shock, or both.


Aerial view of the domestic site of mfantsipim

School rules

So yes, we sang about obeying school rules on our way up the hill for homos exams. But where was the parchment upon which the rules of Mfantsipim were inscribed in old calligraphic style? Well, there was a rule book - one we could hold and mow like GAST, Aki Ola, Naa Afarley, KOV’s series, Cocastic Koola series, Abbot... But, intriguingly, all the rules of Mfantsipim were summed up in one seemingly simplistic, yet profoundly powerful statement - “A breach of common sense is a breach of school rules!” This timelessly definitive statement meant one thing and one thing only – Responsibility! There were no gray pages in the book of rules. Oh, don’t you simply love this school? Even our archrivals secretly did! How did we know this? We knew because some of them defected and pitched camp with us. And the traffic was only one way – inbound to Mfantsipim. So much for surprises up the hill.

Interco

Talking about archrivals brings to mind the Inter-colleges athletics competition – “Interco”. Perhaps, interco was the biggest stage where we locked horns with our archrivals, Augusco. The Augustinians had a sprinter nicknamed June-July. Light as air and swift as lightning, he was one of our nemeses in our first interco. At the chant of “June-July”, the Augustinian speed machine would respond “mighty rainfall”. And mighty rains did he pour on our winning chances. Year 1, year 2, our sworn enemies had the bragging rights. In the blessed year 1997, Mfantsipim hosted interco. Like Pharaoh in the days of Moses, Augusco stood in our way again. But we were determined to host-and-win. Kwabotwe had a great team in great shape. On top of that, we had brimming faith and hope in one of our own - Moses Sakyi, aka “Flexy”.

Flexy had exploded onto the Kwabotwe sporting scene like a thunderbolt from the seventy-seven gods of Cape Coast. With ferocious power and superb agility, nothing could outpace him in the sprints. And upon the big stage, Flexy did not disappoint. He beat Augusco’s fastest man in the finals of the 100 and 200 metre sprints. He crowned it with a delightful finish in the 4x100 metres relay, throwing the crowd at the school field into rapturous jubilations which reverberated from earth’s wide bounds to the farthest ends of the solar system. . What a sprinter!  What an anchor! Kwabotwe’s host- and-win mantra had become reality. And it didn’t stop there. We marched on like mighty mounted men-at-arms and went on to win the Super Zonals. And so did we close the chapter on athletics on a high note. And so did we give Corro cause to smile.

“Corro”

Definitely worth a couple more words. Corro is the abridged version of Corrosive. The bearer of this nickname was our dear Headmaster, the late Mr. B.K. Dontwi. He was a fine blend of silk and steel. Of pure Mfantsipim breed, he epitomised discipline, simplicity, morality, passion for a cause, devotion to duty and service. You could not punch holes in this man’s integrity - just as his trousers often had no belt holes. The waist just fitted well. “Go and shave your upper lip. At Mfantsipim, we train boys, not men”. He’d call you and issue this order at the sight of the faintest moustache. Corro was not about the business of pleasing anyone. He just did what he knew was right for us. Tough love would be a fitting phrase for his leadership style.

Once upon a time, boys wanted to enjoy May Day holiday. Word got to Corro, and this is what he told us at morning assembly: “I know today is a holiday and I hear you want to enjoy it. Well, you are students, not workers. You will proceed to your various classrooms and you will study”. Softly spoken words with the power to crush a hyena’s jaw. We remember our father for many things. We fondly remember him for this famous aphorism: “When folks are destroying themselves they say they are enjoying”. May his gentle soul find rest among the saints.

Academics

If Cape Coast was the Rome of secondary education, Mfantsipim was the marbled senate where the giants of scholarship met. Academic competition was not synthetically engineered in Kwabotwe. It was naturally-occurring. It was one of the living spirits of the ancestral Faithful Eight. It was in the air you breathed. Compε was competitive. Boys would rather go for Compε and tear wastage than sleep and snort. And we were not only competing among ourselves up the hill. Corro cleverly pitched us against our sisters (and chics) in Debu (Wesley Girls High School). It wasn’t about how well an Mfantsipim cohort had done in their own right; it was also about how well their success in exams compared with that of their sisters…and chics. And that was how our headmaster masterfully stoked the already blazing fire of scholarship in us.

Sadly, we did not win the Brillant Science and Maths Quiz competition. We had a solid team of sharks: Israel Owusu Boateng, Jeffrey Lamptey and Charles Asiedu. This trio apart, there was still no want of sharp brains upon the hill. By all standards, we were top contenders for the crown. But the crown eluded us in the semi-finals. The events surrounding the loss made it a lingering heartbreak. Prempeh College had been eliminated in the preliminary rounds, but they made it to the next round as the eliminated school with the highest score. Then they came and poured sand into our rich gari soakings. Upsets do not only happen in the English Premier League. But the Kwabotwe trio showed what real scholars they were. They came back home and won the Central Regional GAST Quiz competition. The loss to Prempeh College was a sad one indeed. What an icing it would have been on the 1997 speech day cake.

Speech day

Second Saturday of November every year: It’s marked on Heaven’s calendar. We looked forward to speech day like a groom awaiting his beloved bride. We prepared like the Lord Himself was coming. Music played a big part in speech day, as indeed it did in many ceremonies at Mfantsipim. Mr. Lite was the music master in our final year. He was a burly, light-skinned figure with a thunderous voice to match. We nicknamed him MC Lyte. He’d abruptly stop us a few seconds into the start of a hymn and say “The attack is weak! Sopranos and contraltos attack!!!”. One morning, during singing practice for speech day, we sang from 7 to 9. Most boys had not eaten. At 9am, our ‘captor’ mercifully released us and we tottered downhill towards D-hall for breakfast.

Many are the rich reminiscences about speech day: Rumors and speculations about who’d win what prize…names of prize winners published on the notice board in front of D-hall… the homecoming…the cadet parade…the frenzied atmosphere on speech day’s eve… the arrivals on the morning of speech day…the Head boy’s speech…carefully rehearsed under the guidance of the late Miss Aggrey…delivered extemporaneously… studded with shié … names of prize winners sounding over the public address system…surnames first, initials next…the applause…the hymns…Lord while for all mankind we prayWe come unto our Fathers ‘God…the School song Dwen Hwε Kan, the School anthem For All the Saints… the Old Boys…the special speech day jollof…the home chow…endless reminiscences…

Space is not our friend here. It won’t allow us to talk about homos night, growing ribs, stepping, La rice, beff and syrup, bombing by chief servers and landing by inexperienced server at D-hall, khaki soup, shooting for ice water after supper, shooting to become a prefect, mounting the bench at D-hall, spoons slipping and falling out of pockets in the assembly hall, Saturday morning inspection, Apian way, the Nike, Fila and Reebok foots, La-borrows, Solace, Ka bi we, Russian tanker, bɔ wo mu adze, bɔ hɔ, Berlin wall, yorks, the letter boy, the scrubash, Powa the sly photographer, AFS night, clubs and societies, breakdancing, staying time…

A quarter of a century after leaving Mfantsipim is no mean feat. It is by the grace of God and with the help of men that we are what we are today. So with grateful hearts and in one accord, we say what we used to say after bible readings at church service – “thanks be to God”. To our fallen comrades, we say soldier on from the higher realms. You remain in our hearts. To our Founding Fathers, thank you for your complete devotion to that singular creed - Dwen Hwε Kan. To our parents, guardians, teachers and all who in diverse ways helped to bring our boat safely ashore, whether in flesh living or gone on to glory, we say this from the top of the hill and from the depths of our hearts - Thank you and God bless you.

Editorial team:

Writer: Laud E. Nyampong Freeman (MOBA ’97)

Editors: Mawuena Agbenoto & Ernest Collison (MOBA ’97)

Images: Paa Kwesi Asuamah Thompson (MOBA '03): @ Kwesi Nfoni

Commissioned by: MOBA ’97 Silver Jubilee Committee

 

Glossary:

Augusco – St. Augustine’s College

Chic – girlfriend

Compε – to study after official prep hours

D-hall – Dining hall

Dwen Hwε Kan – Think and look ahead/ Think and envision the future

Gari soakings – a meal of gari, sugar, milk and roasted groundnuts mixed with water

Home chow – homemade food

Kotokuraba – A popular market centre in Cape Coast

Mow -To study

Shark - A very intelligent student

Shiée – big, fancy words

To tear wastage – To be unproductive while pretending to be studying hard