Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Childhood: The ways we were punished

It brought a wry smile

Maybe the time is ripe for a biography of sorts; the many seemingly inconsequential things in the past all seem to find a way of generating paragraphs of text that could mean nothing at all.

Fear but not loathing was always present at home, though I had never seen the patriarch raise his hand to his only brother who lived with us a while, his kid sister did feel the harsh end of corporal punishment that terrified us no end.

Beaten to pulp

There was the rare occasion that we were not spared the rod, the brutal collisions with our backsides as we cried out with agony our parents oblivious of the hurt, maybe in concern like the blacksmith hammering on an anvil, we were being straightened out; it was knowledge they had that we were never privy to.

A witness I have been to punishment that was closer to brutal torture than a corrective exercise, I even vicariously offered myself in place of the child who had lied to her parents, it was just too upsetting that everyone became upset too.

The Yorubas of South-Western Nigeria have a saying that translated roughly to – If a child is disciplined with the right hand, it is comforted with the left hand – I have seen many instances of discipline but very few of the comforting, the child is supposed to be self-comforting in the knowledge that it has roof, food, school and clothing provided for – love expressed in the crudest fashion.

Deprivations and commands

How can one forget the other punishments in the arsenal of those who have the power to mete such out? Stand in the corner facing the wall – a child needs an independent unrestrained spirit even if it were just idling; our parents did not have the more sophisticated tools of docking pocket money, that is, if you ever had any; detention or grounding – those are liberal Western constructs that could hardly tame the almost “feral” African child – allow my expressive licence, I pray.

More disconcerting was – raise up your hands and close your eyes or the more cruel – kneel down, raise up your hands and close your eyes. The raise up your hands part was really stretching up your arms and hands vertically – you could be there for hours deprived of visual perception, the restraint borne from the command tires you out, arms aching or knees hurting – the child might end up crying.

I could never tell if you were released out of pity or that the sadistic nature of the torturer had been exhausted to the point of not being able to bear it anymore. Only this time, the release always seemed to come with some admonition.

You sense they never want to do it again, but the child just seems to be punishment-prone, unfortunately, there is no therapy for this situation, rather you are back to sensory deprivation in the hope that some lesson will be learnt.

He stoops to ponder

Stoop down! If you don’t know it, you have never been there – The index finger of one hand touching the ground, the other arm behind the back with one foot raised as you stoop forward, the leg you are standing on must be as straight as possible and you should maintain that balance for as long as the wicked instigator will have you stay there.

Parents, elders, teachers and seniors in college have exercised that level of control and rotten tortuous power over lesser ones – we know your names and some of you we would neither forgive nor forget.

I could never understand the emotion my mother expressed in not having arrived early enough to witness the burial of one such guardian who meted out such unspeakable punishments on her when she was a child – somewhere these people earn respect and reverence in the broad context of life, what they did was only for a while and hopefully it would never ever define what we eventually become.

4 comments: