The Good Old Days Of Jua Memorial College
By Yerima Kini Nsom
My anxiety to be given a kiss of hospitality, as a “form one” fox in a tea time dance, had grown to an obsession. Coming fresh from primary school, I had not had the opportunity to, as much as, nod to modern music. Catholic School Pupils in those days were the “holier than thou”. They fought hard to demonstrate to their teachers and Godparents that they cared little about general mundane issues, let alone the hurly-burly of modern life. I had emerged triumphantly as my Godfather’s good boy by being fully involved in church activities, avoiding places meant for pagans. My Godfather, Teacher Jerome Chia Ntam, had encouraged me to join the readers' club and many other groups in church.
So, all I had enjoyed were the mellifluous voices of the church choir and the traditional Njang dance. But here I was, ready to wriggle to the rhythms of modern makossa at the Njinikom Community Hall. All I could remember about this kind of music, was that we used to peep through the window in a bid to watch those who were dancing in the hall. Girls that danced “tight”, “blues” or slow, piqued our curiosity as we dismissed them as “akwara” or “Ashawo’. “Tight” or “blues” was some kind of slow music which boys and girls danced by closing ranks to become one person in the sacrament of romantic harmony. The boy and the girl would hold themselves tightly and swing gently to the sound of the music while whispering sweet nothings into each other’s ears.
We were barely two weeks in school in Kom Secondary Grammar School, KSGS, today known as Jua Memorial College, Njinikom when the Social Prefect announced that “the foxes” will be welcomed in a tea time dance the following Sunday. That announcement did not only jolt me out of serenity, but also kept me on anxious feet. First, my mind wrestled with what I would put on to attend the occasion. I had only one “long trousers” that was my school uniform. The rest were short nickers which were part of my primary school uniform. I then settled on using my lone khaki “long trousers” and a white long-sleeve shirt that was bought for my First Holy Communion occasion two years before. But the real issue was with my only pair of leather shoes. It was a chaotic network of thread.
One cannot imagine how many times the lone shoe mender at the time, Tom Jam, had carried out surgery or panel-beating on them. I decided to eliminate the patched work on the shoes with lumps of black polish.
Having laid the dressing issue to rest, I went through a reverie as to how I would dance the Makossa for the first time in public the following Sunday after mass. The issue, to me, was a veritable nightmare. It gave me almost a whole night of insomnia as my mind remained a jumble of questions when hours died down to the occasion.
By the time I tried to cover my eyes for a nap after a hellish Saturday night, the church bells tolled for the first mass. I sluggishly got out of bed with sleep still very heavy on my shoulders. When I gazed into the mirror, I discovered that I wore an intense look of tiredness. My eyes were red with aborted sleep like those of a newlywedded who had been sentenced to an all-night marital enjoyment.
I then ironed my shirt, making sure it had three contours (lines) on the back. The contours on my trousers were as sharp as the edges of a razor blade. I went for first mass, where I dozed off so often and would join the congregation to chorus “Amen” or “and also with you” in half consciousness. Only the angelic voices of choristers would occasionally get me out of sleep. Even in my intermittent sleep in church, I dreamed how I was already dancing at the Community Hall.
When some classmates of mine and I finally got to the hall, the DJ was still setting up his equipment. If my memory does not fail me, then the owner of the musical set was called James Kakah. It was the first opportunity for me to discover, out of the classroom, who my classmates really were. Senior students wore the looks of connoisseurs. The gathering was a free mix of students of different socio-economic, cultural backgrounds and geographical provenance. I fell squarely within the universe of “villageois” or villagers who had done all their primary school education in the village. The difference in dressing and province of mingling and hobnobbing was very clear. When it was about time to open the floor, I surreptitiously took a back seat to avoid any attention. I had concluded that I did not know how to dance and would not attempt to do it. I succeeded in hiding myself from the searching eyes of the Social Master, Ignatius Chiabi, who wanted all form 1 students to showcase their dancing abilities. I was not fully lucky in my hiding bid. Within a wink as a makossa hit song by Ebanda Manfred blasted our ears, one Form-five girl caught me to the dancing floor. “Come here, you fox,” she ordered as she gently dragged me to the floor. I timidly succumbed.
She then hit the floor with action, wriggling her waist and winding her buttocks in front of me. At the beginning, my choreography was fairly in tandem with the music. Later on, my attempt to go in harmony with my dancing partner instead degenerated into a catalogue of miscalculated dancing cacophony. Throughout the opening of the floor with the lady, I never attempted to look at her eye-ball-to eye ball. Each time our eyes met, I bowed my head in shyness and romantic cowardice. I only examined her meticulously from a distance after we had divorced from our dancing marriage.
With a tight-fitting skirt and sleeveless blouse that clung closely to her. revealing all the contours of her body, the lady sauntered majestically on high heels as a goddess of beauty. She was a majestic Marie Antoinette in her own right. She was fairly tall, skinny with an ebony colour. Her round face was as smooth as party cake. She was a pretty damsel with fine and equal parts, a long-legged chap whose disarming smile would cause guys to quiver feverishly with romantic entreaties. Her irresistible charm and copious conviviality left hot men in utter romantic shock.
It was said that any man who saw the lady and felt indifferent was one whose “head of state” had lost its potency and fire. She was a cynosure of public temptation. Each time, she appeared in public, the glittering eyes of lechers went to work. One man confessed that each time he saw the lady, he found difficulties controlling a brutal uprising in-between his legs.
After my poor dancing show with the lady, I capitulated and withdrew into the backburner to watch how others were dancing. I had relegated myself to the level of a social misfit. Having banished myself to that unhappy status for quite some time, loneliness became my only companion. I suddenly shocked myself out of solitude as I admired one of my classmates, Chia Alphonse Tasah, from Tinifoinbi, who nodded skillfully to the rhythms and danced with athletic choreography in company of ladies. At one time when many people trooped to the floor, I jumped in to hide my dancing mediocrity in the crowd. The next day in school, we jabbered freely about who was still a villageois and who was a viveur in our class.
As time went on, the villageois became bold dancers in many places including Congo Bar, Club 185 among others. At one time at “Time Will Tell Bar” Wombong, I became the cynosure of action as I almost went down with my knees, in what was described at the time as bal à terre, as a makossa piece peaked to its climax. Dancing became an obsession to me. When I had the opportunity, I would attend dancing parties in Boyui, Laikom, Alim, Mbam, Mugheff, Yang, Muloin and Anjin.
At one time in Boyui, the organizer of a “tea time dance” Evaristus Mbungson, made me a hero when he appointed me to emcee the occasion. My face contorted with stress and disbelief when he mooted the idea. I wondered how I could have been chosen to exercise such an important function. I thought about kissing the whole idea to hell because as far as the act of public speaking was concerned, I had only, as much as, presented readings in church as a catholic school pupil. Now it was the act of speaking extemporaneously. This was a huge challenge for someone who spoke English, virtually in his Itanghikom dialect or with a bikom lilt as one of my English teachers told me, I thought.
I will let this pass. As much as possible, we do not want others referring to us as ‘Bikom’. So its use may keep propagating the derogatory appellation. But for purposes of the context and given you are paraphrasing someone, I let it pass.
As I contemplated, a certain spirit gripped me and I decided to conquer fear. In my new status as the MC, I stood head and shoulder above every other person in one of the classrooms of Catholic School Boyui. In my emceeing, I scooped for the most grandiloquent and bombastic words to mesmerize my audience with what I ignorantly believed was a sign of my erudition. In my communication myopia, I spoke English to impress and not to express. It could not have been otherwise because the MC was a whole form three student from Kom Secondary Grammar School, KSGS, Njinikom. At one time, my “boss”, Mbungson Evaristus, humbled me by cautioning me to be simple and stop wasting my grammar on people who would not have the least idea as to what I was talking about.
The occasion itself was a marvel in its own right. A big record player which looked like one that had seen days, was placed in one corner of the classroom. Sometimes the stamping hoofs of dancers would drown the sound of the music. Those who wanted to get the sound of the music at all cost, would stop for a while, and prime their ears near the record player before they could continue dancing. It is difficult to say what happened, but next day, the MC trekked back to Njinikom despite the fact that some gate fee was collected. I was so excited that I was able to execute my assignment. That occasion helped me to emerge as one of the most eloquent MCs in Kom at the time.
My first few weeks in form one were very unpleasant. I had come along with my chauvinistic attitude from primary school to the effect that I would never sit with a girl on the same bench. But our class master, Mr Fotoh, put me in-between two very domineering girls. Thus, I was sandwiched by Brunhilda Nain Boh (of blessed memory) and Regina Yuh. I was traumatized because my phobia for the opposite sex had remained luxuriant and taken me to the pedestal of misogynist, way back in primary school.
I was in class six in Catholic School Fundong when my bench mate, a girl bled and messed up the bench on which we were sitting. The young girl, despite her domestic science lessons, had seen “her time” for the first time without knowing. Before our Headmaster, Mr Francis Nkuo, could come to her rescue, the whole class was booing and jeering at her. In all ignorance, there were tongue-in-ear gossips that the blood came out of the girl because a certain trader at the Fundong Three corners, who was a pathological pedophile, with the penchant for kinky sex with minors, had “inaugurated” her during break.
The sheer thought of this incident haunted me like a ghost when I was forced to share a bench with two girls. Unfortunately for me, my two bench mates in form one were very quarrelsome. Our class master later discovered the stress which I was going through and separated us after a few weeks. I heaved a sigh of relief.
Life in college at Njinikom in the 80s, was sweet and adventurous. There was full-fledged discipline such that the fear of the teacher, especially the principal and the discipline master or the senior prefect, was the beginning of wisdom. The Principal, Richard Ngong, the Discipline Master, Cyprian Ajangha, the Senior Prefects, Emmanuel Mbeng and Mary Cleopha, were no no-sense disciplinarians. They would make one pay or atone for his or her crime immediately.
The Disciplinary Committee sat on a regular basis to hear cases of indiscipline. Those who were found guilty were administered corporal punishment and given hard labour, suspension or outright dismissal. If you were caught dancing in a bar like Congo Bar or Club 185, when the school had not organized any dance, you faced the music of the Disciplinary Committee. There was rivalry between arts students and their science-inclined counterparts. Those of us who were arts students intimidated the science students with “big” grammar. We intimidated them with our magniloquence and grandiloquence.
Teacher-female student relationship was high. But most of the teachers who dated students finally got married to them. Many of them were philanderers who seemed to have signed a pact of paramour with several female students even when their wives were around. One of them was generally pooh-poohed for “dog-styling” a female student in a coffee farm behind club 185 under the cover of darkness. “Hold the coffee (plant) firm or else I push you down,” the teacher is quoted to have shouted to the girl when the hostilities of their canal pleasure came to a head. One of the teachers who abusively used a student's friend’s room for his romantic escapades, attracted our attention. Each time we discovered that the teacher was in the room with a female student, we would use a ladder and take turns in scaling the wall up to the window level to watch live pornography. One day, one bad boy who was very good in drawing, drew the teacher, lying nude on a female student. The cartoon was captioned as “he-goat and she-goat in action”. The teacher felt so humiliated and decided to be more discrete in his paramours.
At the time, Njinikom, which was still under Fundong Sub Division, was a strange ambivalence of hell and paradise on earth. It was a citadel of the holiest persons and the worst criminals. Rape was a common crime. Hardly could a week go by without stories of rape fouling ones’ ears. At one time, my classmate cum friend, Joachim Nkuo Yuh and I stumbled on a rape scene around the mission road. We had visited a family at Bochain that evening. On our way back, we saw some park boys fidgeting under a kolanut tree near Pa Isidore Diyen’s compound. Their suspicious appearance piqued our curiosity and we decided to find out what was happening. We came face to face with the victim. The girl was lying sprawled across the ground on her own wrapper ready to humble another “third leg” and cow its libido into submission.
We were told that before we came, she had already forcefully fastened two boys in-between her legs. They boys who claimed not to have seen the nakedness of a female for a very long time, had jostled into the girl and pounded her “Jerusalem” with raw muscled potency. They were warming up for an eventual second round when their commander told them that he would give priority to first-timers. As we expressed sympathy for the girl, trying to appeal to those who were waiting to take their turn to let the lady go, the leader who was supervising the satanic exercise, ordered the two of us to leave the place with immediate effect. “I thought you people were coming to do it. Leave this place now if you don’t want to do it”. We voted with our feet as the metallic order stiffened to a huge threat. The next day, the school authorities investigated the issue. Any student who participated in raping the girl was instantly dismissed. The park boys who masterminded the rape went scot-free because the girl’s parents could not go to report the matter to the gendarmes in Fundong.
In those good old days, dating was sacred, still honored with the trappings of chastity and fidelity. The exchange of love letters was a feat of romantic bliss. There were many ways to express love at the time. There were romantic entreaties that hit a frontal score into the hearts of lovers. The common ones were “When I think about you, I fall down and die”, I wonder what the world would have been without you, and my life will be sour grapes and ashes without you.” Sex was relatively rare. If a classmate succeeded in doing it for the first time, those who were still virgins would spend hours listening to him narrate his experience.
It was a taboo for any girl to be caught in a compromising situation by the discipline master. The Discipline Master did not only ensure discipline in school but anywhere else where he saw students.
One time, a form 4 student who had been badly beaten by the Discipline Master had an opportunity to revenge. When there was “cry die” at Atuilah, the Discipline Master went there looking out for students who had stayed away from classes in order to go and watch the display of jujus. As he came into the “cry die” compound, one juju got him well beaten with branches of trees until Mr Ajangha scampered off for safety. The teacher later discovered that the juju was one of his students. The scene was akin to the Catechist, Mathew, in Kenjo Jumbam’s “White Man of God”. The next day in class, the Discipline Master who was a history teacher also decided to revenge. No sooner did he start teaching than he began asking questions. “Why was Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, elected President of France in 1848?” He called a few students to answer the question and when they did not, he pointed to the student who had beaten him to answer. He could not provide the answer.
“Class, this is the man who went into a masquerade and rough-handled me yesterday. Now an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. I will revenge,” the teacher charged. As he picked up the whip, the student stormed out of the window and never came back to school.
Football competitions and the Njinikom Area Development Association, NADA, fundraising occasions also spiced the booze and bliss of life in Njinikom. I had a sense of fulfilment when I hazarded a peep through the Community Hall window and saw the Ambas Bay King, Sale John, in 1985. NADA had hired him to animate the fundraiser.
In KSGS, they were Soccer Stars like; Martin Munang (Epese), Linus Mbah (I swear-to-God) Linus Ntoh Yuh, Francis Ngong, Aloysius Boh, Cyprain Mbang, amongst others. If you succeeded to carry the boots of any of them during a football outing to Saint Bedes College, Ashing or G.S.S Fundong, you were also a star. Soccer fanaticism here at the time rubbed shoulders with religious fundamentalism. Each time our school lost a match, fans would ignite a fight with those of the opposing team. At one time when we lost a match to GSS Fundong, we provoked a bloody fight in the place and demonstrated our lack of sportsmanship. This was somehow, justifiable because in that particular case, the umpire had shamelessly played the role of the 12th player for GSS Fundong by awarding them a penalty from the figment of his biased imagination. Many fans left Fundong crying as if they had lost loved ones.
Those days were sane and safe. There was neither AIDS nor other incurable diseases. Death was not as cheap as it is today. Throughout our five-year sojourn in college, only two students died. There was one Ankia Nkain, who died after a few bouts of malaria. He was the son of Bobe Bamenda Nkain who was the successor of Johny Ngong Fundoh at Bobong. Death snatched another student, Christopher Chiwo, during a football match at the Njinikom community field. Life was relatively cheap. Before inflation and devaluation desecrated the currency, a hundred francs was enough pocket allowance for student for many days. A bottle of beer costed between FCFA 150 and 200. Those who had the means hearkened joyously to the vicissitudes and the mutations of fashion. The hairstyle at the time was called “western”. It was a kind of afro hairdo that had a flat top. Later on, “western” gave way to “shalaman”.
Our college in those days, was part and parcel of the local society wherein superstition had conquered science. More often, it was rumoured that there were some students who belonged to the mystical world commonly known then as ‘miso’ and were sucking out stuff from very intelligent students. At one time, when we were in form five, it was rumoured in school that Nantang of Tinifoinmbi (juju) had announced that some seven students who belonged to the supernatural world had manipulated in the spirit realm to eventually be the only ones to make it at the GCE. The rumours hit our class like a devastating tornado dividing students into camps of mutual suspicion. Students trooped in small groups to gossip about some others who were suspected to be among the seven mystical students. The whole thing turned out to be a lie because more than seven people passed the GCE that year.