By Henry M. Mamulu, student and eye witness.
One of the things I am accused of is that I seem to never want to grow up. “A Long Summer Running.” It is a strength, not a weakness. But in a city like Me, Myself and I, where we begin to be big boys as soon as we put on long pants and girls become women long before their tay-tay can grow, that strength can keep you unemployed.
You see, it is about appearances. Appearing to be doing something instead of actually doing it is what is important in Me, Myself and I.
I remember the names of my first grade classmates at Saint Patrick’s Elementary in 1961-62 more keenly than I remember my 12th Grade classmates at Saint Patrick’s High School. Perhaps it was because we were the first generation of students who were vaccinated with the new, shining, gun-like instrument introduced by Public Health at the end of 1961. It replaced the straight pin that they stuck me with 22 times in 1960-1961. Believe me, I counted. That straight pin made one helliber sore on my arm that I can never forget. And the fever! You remember the scar it left?
Or perhaps I remember all those boys from 1961 and ‘62 because they introduced me to ‘Mame Open Wide, Put the Pepper’. Or it could be because we all were traumatized by drilling in Pupu Platoon and booting (my man, we could not say ‘butt’ in our house, you said ‘hind’) on ourselves or it could be because of Joseph Saye Guanu, The Terrorist.
The Principal of Saint Patrick’s Elementary was Father John O’Donavan. I don’t remember much except that he introduced Nonfat Dry Milk to the school which became the stimulus behind Pupu Platoon. Occasionally, he gave us chocolates that I want to believe was provided also by the Americans. Back then, every good thing that became bad for us apparently came from America as opposed to China and India these days.
Two Liberian Teachers ran the school, John Tweh whom we called “Teacher Tweh” or “Chay Pay Chay” and Joseph Saye Guanue, “Teacher Guanu”.
During those early years, even in Kru Boys School, as Saint Patrick’s Elementary was dubbed, we did not have or know any Krahn students — or rather no one identified himself as such. The warriors that we feared were the Grebo warriors. The tribe most respected by the Monrovia establishment, the Kru tribe.
It was not until that other do-nothing President Tubman built Zwedru Multilateral and Teacher Chay Pay Chay went to teach there that we started to suspect that he really was not Kru.
As the girls can say on the movie set, “the secret leaked out” in 1980. John Tweh became Krahn, as did Edwin Zeelee; Salee Diggs became Salee Thompson and G. Alvin Jones who lived with Father E. George King became Gao Jones. So here we got one Teacher who was Krahn and the other Gio. Things that make you go Hmmm!!
Both Teacher Chay Pay Chay and Teacher Guanue beat us like slaves on the plantation. Instead of Kru Boy School, Saint Patrick’s Elementary should be remembered as “my slave years” or “six years a slave”. You see they had permission to discipline us as they saw fit. They were instructed to prepare us for the future.
It was my Congo Mammie, Teacher Ora Dennis who married the Madinka man Teacher Moses Mamulu and had Vivian, Judy, Maggie, Boikai and Mr. Red Head Henry, who brought the damned rattan to school and gave it to Tweh and Guanue. Then when the “heathen raged and imagined a vain thing,” they said “the tender mercy of the heathen is…” However, I got to gave it to Teacher Chay Pay Chay . Every Friday he took us into the church (away from the trauma) and taught us songs, songs I remember today.
Later on during the war they say one man was cutting another man’s neck and telling him none-mind-yah, as he cut his neck from the back.
Teacher Guanue on the other hand never sang or smiled for that matter and seemed to take it all personally. I was made to feel that his only joy came from brutalizing us, but particularly the Congo children even though he actually was an equal opportunity sadist.
Teacher Guanue was handsome, neat and very sharp. He was articulate and that was inspiring in itself. John Tweh was light-skinned, had a big nose and small beady eyes. He appeared to have a secret and was not going to tell. Teacher Guanue, on the other hand, had nothing to hide. He was in your face or flesh all the time.
Here are the names of the brave warriors who scuffered (that’s a Congo term) as opposed to suffered at the hands of the “raging heathens who imagined a vain thing”. In previous writings we described a heathen as not an indigenous, but a person so bent on carrying out his agenda he had no place for a compromise.
Crispin Jones, Michael Itoka, Julius Weeks (son of Rocheforte who got pulled out of the school after being Guanuerized by Teacher Guanue), Michael Wilson, Phillip Cummings, Robert Cole, Augustine Myers (Sapkah Myers’ big brother), Anthony Gray, Ralph and Anthony Taplah, Eric and Samuel Davies, Nathaniel “solo Baby” Brownell, Alexander Montgomery (his father had tailor shop in front of Heinz and Maria), Mozart Bernard (pronounced Musa), Hans Massaquoi, Christopher Sirleaf, Harry Gargar, Sylvester Blibo, Wibur Kesselly, George Morris, Gregory Johnson, James Sirleaf, Ian Yhap (got rescued when he was sent to Ricks), Gerald Richards’ big brother, Hamilton Jones, Reynold Stubblefield (could play football) and Pickney King. I kept Pickney for last because Joseph Saye Guanue beat that child unmercifully. It seemed as if Pickney was the embodiment of all Saye hated about the Congo people even back then and he was going to snuff it out before it grew any stronger.
Pickney lived on Newport Street across from the Group of Seventy-Seven and next to Total Gas Station. His father Pickney King Sr. drove an old truck. He was a farmer and did not work in government at this time. Perhaps he was rich but it did not show. He had sent his sons Pickney and Derrick to England and they returned to Monrovia by 1960 or so. In those days it rained for two weeks straight and there was nothing, absolutely nothing to keep one dry going to or coming from school, except maybe a car.
Well Mr. King had his old truck and Pickney had come from England. Coupled with the fact he was not really good at history, which was Saye Guanue’s area and spelling, could also be the reasons WHY Teacher Guanue’s apparent quest to exterminate, purge and rid Liberia once and for all of the Congo menace represented by Pickney, it would seem.
One week the rains just poured and poured. By Friday everybody in first grade had fresh cold and their book bags were soaking wet. We saw Teacher Guanue’s shadow come down the hall. John Tweh had just left after taking his pound of flesh and now entered the Main Bad Man in the show, Teacher Guanue. The guy was bad like a war show.
It was like the end of days. I remembered clearly the wailing and gnashing of teeth. Every breath one took produced a fresh snot bubble. As we inhaled, snot bubbles went in and as we exhaled, snot bubbles came out. We whimpered and silently called out for our Pa to come help us. We were at Kru Boy School and the slave masters owned us, lock stock and barrel.
So by Thursday we were wet like drowning rats and sick like cats left out in the rain. Those days no one stayed home because they had cold. What one did was share it with your class mates. So there we were, every nose running green snot and entered Pickney Jr. King. My man took off his rain boots and it smelled like something had died in it. We knew that was cause for a beating but Jr. King did not.
Teacher Guanue was making one of his scary rounds and smelled the funk. He asked “what’s stinking in here?” Who was fool to answer, Jr. King! “That my boots,” the slave replied to the slave master, Simon Legre, you know the character from Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Simon Legre Guanue responded with a nasty slap. Jr. King did not cry but got off the floor looking bewildered as to the reason for the whack. Jr. said again “but that my boots!!” And that’s what sent Joseph Simon Legre Guanue over the top.
That man started whipping Pickney in front of us. Some students peepeed, some cried, all made snort bubbles but were all petrified into immobility.
When they say dying man strong, that not lie. Jr. King broke away and jumped out the window. He ran as if chased by the hounds from hell straight down Newport Street to his Pa house. The green snot, now mixed with the blood and looked like Monrovia Rock when it now melt, was all over his shirt. As for us and Joseph Saye Simon Legre Guanue we all knew there was going to be retributions. Mr. King Sr. had the reputation of being one of those “Razor Bottom My Shoe” Congos who also was a gun-toting, all-night-hell-raising of a fellow. The stage was set for the preamble of the Civil War.
Through the eyes of faith — wait now, when your Pastor says it you can believe oh but now you want to question my faith? I saw everyone in that class get up at three thirty (who could sleep) for the show about to unfold at Kru Boy School. Me-pah, Six o’clock I was out the door and ran on barracks road pass ATS, heading for Kru Boy School. I got there and my first-grade class was already assembled for the Pledge of Allegiance.
Then we heard Old Man King’s “duazeh” (“old car” another Congo term) coming. Teacher Guanue swallowed his first spit. Old Man King drove in front of Saint Patrick’s Elementary and true to his reputation jumped out the car before it hit full stop. He was on Teacher Guanue like a leopard on a hapless deer. First grade exploded into cheers as Teacher Guanue’s whipping at the hands of Pickney King Sr. began. Father O’Donavan ran around like his gown was on fire trying to restore order but we cheered our Champion Pickney Mohammed Ali King on. Teacher Guanue was rescued by Teacher James Bernard another whipper who whipped me until my back got purple. I went home and Sis. Ora wanted to whip me again. When they took off my shirt and saw my red back all purple she broke down and cried.
Well, order was restored, our liberator at least for one day got back into his truck and we went to class.
That night no one in First Grade did his homework. It was Thursday. So, Friday we got homework again and no one did anything for the weekend. Monday, we got to school and Fr. O ‘Donavan had arranged a program and had the Nuns from the Convent there also. If Kru Boy School had order, then Convent with Clara Doe, Clara Tunney, Judith Mamulu, Olga Hash, and Sonia Burrows would have had order too. First Grade was marched up on stage and whipped for not doing homework. A public execution of sorts. So, come 1980 and they played “we want to know who owned the land”, I smiled. Joseph Saye Guanue had already prepared me for the reality of the day. Therefore, I want to thank him and Teacher Chay Pay Chay for the good work that they did preparing us for the brave, new future of Liberia.
Happy 26 and I hope and pray that we get our independence someday!!!