Tu Bra, ABI! (2)

A student in a Ghana classroom reading from an e-reader with Worldreader co-founder David RisherOne of my best teachers at Kyebi Government School was Mr Kofi Awuah Peasah, a man who loved the English language and tried to communicate that love to his pupils.

He taught us quotations from Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, which I still remember to this day. Can you imagine? In elementary school o! If one of the girls in our class misbehaved, he would declaim: “Frailty! Thy name is woman!”

But he also mystified us by often lapsing into Latin. If he wanted to explain an English word, he would often give us its Latin root, and add a mysterious phrase, “a um!” to it: as in “pulchritude: the art of being beautiful; originating from pulchrus, a, um” (beautiful)!

Secondary school students in town who had studied Latin helped us to de-construct the half-baked Latin sentences we copied from Mr Peasah. For instance, we could impress girls by penning a mysterious message to them thus:pulchram puellam amo! Latin, as you probably know, can say a lot in a few words: like Julius Caesar proclaiming, after his swift victory over a foreign territory: veni, vidi vici. (I came; I saw; I conquered). End of story.

Thus, the “beautiful girl” would get the message, even if she could only interpret one word of it, especially the amo part. That was easy, for it was often used (though a dullard of a girl might well think that one was using the Ga word for tomatoes!)

Mr Awuah Peasah’s frequent resort to Latin made some of us suspect that he might be knowledgeable about occult things. For Latin words became important whenever our school was about to go and play football against another school.

The big boys in Standard Seven would come around the junior classes, looking for a holy boy whom they could use to invoke the spirit of Saint Anthony, Saint of Sports, and pray to him to help us overcome our opponents in the match.

You see, the incantations to be used to invoke the Spirit of St Anthony were often couched in mysterious languages, including Latin. They were lifted from a book that was banned from general circulation. It was called The Sixth And Seventh Books of Moses and was usually owned – and offered for hire clandestinely – by an ex-serviceman who had bought it in India on his way back home from Burma during the Second World War.

“Smugglers” also ordered it by post from an American company called “De Lawrence”, which would take off its cover – if asked an additional payment enclosed with the order – and put the contents inside a harmless cover like How To Win Friends And Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

The “holy boy” needed to be a guy who, in the Biblical sense, had never “seen” a member of the opposite sex. But he also needed to be clever, for the words to be recited at the invocation were very heavy indeed. Yet, if,in reciting the words, he made but a single mistake, the spirit that came would not be a friendly one like St Anthony, but wicked types like the Spirit of Fire, the Spirit of Serpents, or the Spirit of Gales and Storms. Even the Gorgon could be summoned by mistake – and turn one into stone with just one look!

St Anthony too could turn nasty if after he had begun to materialise, one became frightened of his initial forms and tried to run away from the circle with “Seals” drawn in it, in which one had been asked to stand.

None of the bigger boys would be allowed near the cemetery, of course, as they could not be trusted to be virgins. (However, in a rather puzzling turn of events, it turned out that there were incantations – in the very Sixth And Seventh Books of Moses that eschewed “unholiness” – for specifically targeting spirits which could bring success to boys who had “applied” to girls to become their boy-friends!)

One of the incantations summoning the power of Moses – the same power that enabled him to part the Red Sea and let it flow again – begins: Tubatlu! Bualu! Tulatu! Labusi! Ubisi! Gee-wheeze! What care was needed not to confuse it with: Adus! Baachur! Arbu! Ulu!

Although the latter incantation appears to be more Latinic – I mean, adus (a – um) passes the Latin test easily, doesn’t it? Whereas labusi leans a bit towards Hausa? Anyway, if one mixed the two incantations up, one might end up summoning – and I quote – “frogs, mice, lice, and similar vermin”! Another incantation, uttered wrongly, could invoke “grasshoppers and darkness.”

The Sixth And Seven Books of Moses have a lot to answer for, because I am told that Ghana’s best-ever “financial magician”, Dr John Ackah Blay-Miezer, who had such a persuasive character that he could make people believe that he was in possession of secret information that could fetch himself – and “Oman Ghana” – anything from 41 billion to 800 billion US dollars, had his training from the book.

It will be recalled that he claimed that gargantuan sum had been bequeathed to Ghana by the late President Kwame Nkrumah; that it was in secret bank accounts in Europe; and that it could only be released to him as the sole trustee of the unbelievable fund.

During a beery session at a long-dead “under-the-mango-tree” pub called Gyaware at Osu RE, a gentleman from the Western Region told me and a few friends that the good doctor was used as a “holy boy” – always dressed in white-white – by some football clubs in Sekondi-Takoradi and gained a lot of “street cred” there. Each time his predictions for matches went wrong, he was able to pinpoint – with the aid of spies – taboos that had been broken.

“One of you slept with a woman whose menstrual period had not yet ended! And that nullified the assistance promised by the spirits!” he would charge.

The charge would be so stunning that no-one would challenge it – in case he was fingered as the one. Such a charge would stick, even with one’s best friends, no? Men love nothing better than malice.

Or he would say, “consuming pork is not allowed during the fasting period. Yet…..” and he would look at the players in an accusing manner. Again, no-one would dare challenge him.

With his training in cemetery-in-the-dead-of-night-invocations, the good doctor became a great expert at managing to speak smoothly without leaving any gap whatsoever in his prepared speech for anyone to be able to interrupt him and put in a word edgeways. He somehow “obtained” a medical degree, and embarked on a career to “cure” certain West African political leaders of imaginary maladies – , especially those relating to sexual dysfunction. One leader was nearly killed by an injection that became infectious, and the good doctor fled to – America.

In the US, he managed, somehow, to convince a mafia-linked Italian businessman that a ship that had berthed with thousands of tonnes of prime West African timber was waiting for him to pay the duty on the cargo before unloading. He got 250,000 US dollars from the Italian.

He promptly disappeared, leaving the Italian to keep vigil at the Ghana legation. With the Italian’s one-quarter-of-a-million dollars, the good doctor set himself up as one of the richest men in the world.

He operated from offices in Pennsylvania “at which”, said one former Ghanaian Minister who was sent to check him out, “not a single black face was to be seen”. With the help of a Philadelphia attorney, he sold the story of his enormous inheritance to scores of American investors, who were promised a huge chunk – if they assisted in retrieving the money.

Whether by design or by chance, the good doctor ran into one of Ghana’s most successful businessmen of the time, Mr Siaw of Tata Brewery, in Europe. Mr Siaw was trying to raise foreign exchange for his company, and the good doctor placed a luxurious car at his disposal, and took over the hotel expenses of the Siaw delegation. From then on, Cedis were like water to the good doctor.

But in the US, he had run into trouble for trying to cash fraudulent cashier’s cheques. He came back to Ghana, where he persuaded the NRC government that 41 to 800 billion US dollars was waiting to be collected; it would bring an end to Ghana’s perennial foreign exchange difficulties.

Next, delegations were sent to go with him to “bring back” the money. Each failed. But the good doctor was able to tell the delegations what had prevented the money from being released: his diplomatic passport bore the wrong number; or the wrong date of issue. etc.

Even after the US investigative TV programme, Sixty Minutes, had done a bone-picking number on him, the good doctor still had people still swearing by him. If he had lived long enough, he could have penned The Eleventh and Twelfth Books of Moses.

His mask has been known to slip only once: during his Sixty Minutes interview, Ed Bradley of CBS told him: “Mr Blay-Miezer, I am confused!”.

Blay-Miezer: “You should be! Do you know anybody who could have carried this thing for so long? Only me!”

Ah? “carried” which ”thing”?

Cameron Duodu

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