Oh, if only we could be amused so easily – again!

It is a fearsome thing to be left alone with a modern, growing child.
How can you save him/her from being bored?
The first thing one of them asked me the other day, was, “Have you got Netflix?”
“No!” I said.
This was – naturally – greeted with a long face.
I wanted to explain that I preferred a book to a movie. Or, if I wanted to be really true to myself, do something physical. But I – I held my peace as my excuses would have been lame ones.
Anyway, what would have been the point of arguing? Whatever I said would sound boring. Netflix and other major international players on the Internet have sewn up the entertainment business. They know how to make videos appear “inter-active” without being actually so. The young people they captivate with their presentations are fooled into believing that it is THEY doing this or that on the screen!
The sophisticated nature of modern entertainment platforms for children naturally took me back to my own days as a kid. I must admit that we too were addicted to moving pictures.
But our movies weren’t shown to us at home. They travelled to us by way of a “cinema van” which was so unusual in shape that they looked as if they would fall down when negotiating a bend.
We were so fascinated by the misshapen body of the cinema vans that when we wanted to insult a playmate we would say, “Wo ti tenten se sini!” “Your head is as long as a cinema van!” (To us, the whole contraption – the unusual van and its strange equipment – was known as “sini”.)
The cinema vans usually parked on a football field, and long before it was ready to “perform”, we kids would arrange ourselves neatly in front of its large, white screen. Waiting for the show had its own drama. If you were not lucky and you

sat next to a chap with a weak bladder, you would find that your feet were getting wet! Wast t raining – or even drizzling? No! The guy next to you would have pee’d! But you couldn’t protest without provoking a fight with him, and if you fought, both of you might be thrown out of the show!
The shows were ok – mainly propaganda films aimed at teaching us hygiene and that sort of thing. The cinema commentators were an entertainment in themselves. I remember vividly one of them telling us, as a man went stealthily into the bush to do his “business”, “Koo na oreko no ooo! Oreko ne!” [There goes Charlieman! He’s going off – to relieve himself!”]We laughed and laughed at such “witticisms” although we ourselves or people we knew, commonly did the same thing the cinema commentator was ridiculing.
But what the commentators amused us with was child’s play, compared to the “comedies” they usually showed us before the main event. In my day, Charlie Chaplin was king of the “comedies.” The way he walked, with his outsize shoes which made him look permanently drunk; the clever way in which he was able to get the better of opponents more strongly-built than himself; how he avoided being caught by policemen who were chasing him after he had escaped from prison! We just laughed and laughed and laughed. Charlie Chaplin’s name, in fact, became synonymous with being able to use clever tricks to outwit an opponent.
The cinema shows which exhibited films to us in the odd-shaped vans belonged to the Government’s Information Services department, and we watched their films free of charge. But the popularity of their cinema shows encouraged private exhibitors to come to our villages and charge money for films they showed us. The best-known of these itinerant cinema exhibitors was a guy called “Ataa Joe”.
Ataa Joe didn’t have a sense of humour, and yet he showed films
that made us laugh and laugh. How do I know he didn’t have a sense of humour?
The trouble with him was that he showed very old films, which had been screened so many times by his rickety machinery that they kept “breaking” or spooling out of his old projector.
Whenever there was a mishap of that kind, people would shout irreverently: “OPERATOR EEEEEEEEI!” Others would whistle. Whilst trying to get the film back on track, Ataa Joe would give his hecklers as much grief as they sent his way. He had an earthy way of talking, and he would throw strong words in every direction from where he harsh words had been thrown at him.
Ataa Joe was the person who first introduced us to “blow-men” (strong pugilists0 like Buster Crabbe, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and Randolph Scott.
He also showed some Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton and Al “Fuzzy” comedies. I think

he was also the first person through whom many of us got to know about the unbelievable feats of TARZAN OF THE APES.
Those Tarzan film were made so cleverly by Hollywood film-makers that although Africans were largely depicted as “savages” in many of them, we, an African audience, were usually on the side of Tarzan against the “people of the jungle.”
Tarzan’s incomparable charm, to many of us, lay in his ability, as a lone hero, to beat up whole hordes of people, single-handed; in the incredible agility that enabled him to jump from tree branch to tree branch, unseen by dangerous enemies looking for him on the ground, and his fondness for a little chimpanzee which kept yelling its head off.
The Twi with which Ataa Joe interpreted what Tarzan and the other heroes did on the screen was pretty awful, and yet because he liked talking, he would accompany entire films with commentary in rotten Twi. One day, someone shouted at him, “Ataa Joe, wonnte Twii na ka wano tom.!” [Ataa Joe, why don’t you shut your mouth, since you can’t speak Twi?]Ataa Joe wouldn’t let that pass, of course. His cheeky retort, made in rotten but perfectly comprehensible Twi, was “Maka na wonnte ase a, kone na tra ho!” [If I’ve said something and you don’t understand it, why don’t you go and defecate and sit by it?] Of course, such an ingenious retort produced much laughter.
Ataa Joe’s unwillingness to succumb to insult, of course, exposed him to even more ridicule.
N0w, his “cinema” was mounted on a very old pickup van, on which he had erected a tarpaulin roof. Its appearance alone was cause for laughter. But added to that it was a pronounced lack of speed.
It also smoked as if it was about to burn down and take our whole village with it! So whenever he set out on the road, after a cinema show, to go to the next village, children would troop behind it, shouting: “ATAA JOE SINI WABO DAM!” [Ataa Joe’s cinema truck has gone bonkers!]I cannot help admiring Ataa Joe in retrospect. For he had enormous pluck that enabled him to make money gladly, though suffering from great ridiculing, while he was at it.#

By Cameron Duodu

Show More
Back to top button