Another note on Atsiiimota the excellent school of our time!
Ade Sawyerr at Remembrance Service in London – 5th November 2017
Some 51 years ago, I entered Atsiiimota School, the Grey City on the Outlaws Hill, as a fresh-faced ’Nino’ boy. In those days this great school was in my mind was situated miles away from Ga as we knew it then, bordering on the fringes of the city of Accra.
Tales were told of this strange and forlorn place, home to wandering spirits; a place where none dared to mention a name for fear of the named person being confronted by the mysterious spirits – jemanwojii – that roamed about. It was said that many slaves were kept hidden away from the authorities after the abolition of the slave trade. A place that could only be referred to as Atsiiimota – This was part of the folklore that gave rise to one of the most difficult riddles, – “Afoo taatso shi mifo ni miko” which translated means “no one cuts the root of the sponge tree but I have done so and taken it away”. The response was Atsiiimota Odonkofoi or in English Atsiiimota, a place of slaves.
The only other time that i had been to the school was when I attended the selection interview which was conducted by the then headmaster Mr Chapman Nyaho. I could hardly contain my excitement when I received my letter of admission; the school year had changed from January to September and I had done only 2 terms in Class 6. On 23 September 1960, about a month short of my 10th birthday, I arrived in a taxi accompanied by a cousin, Kate Majorla Sawyerr, who was also in the school, with my trunk and Chop Box which I could barely balance on my head. I was assigned to Guggisberg House where I was fortunate to have two older cousins, Ate Ofosu-Amaah and King Ghartey Mould and a couple of classmates from Experimental School, Teddy Konu and the late Ekow Awoonor, help settle me in. And so it was that I was ‘protected’ from the usual bullying that was meted out to all new students –Ninos.
My pocket money for the ten-week term was ten shillings, one shilling a week which I gave to the Housemaster Mr Pratt at the beginning of the term. From the one shilling, I could feast on ‘dotch’ from Mrs Angbah, buy treats from Mr Doe’s Coke shop or sometimes from the Cadbury House Coke shop and still have change, which sometimes I took to the post office down the road from Gberg House.
Atsiiiimota instilled in me the belief that l could succeed in anything I wanted to, as long as I did not break any rules. But! There were about 10 school rules which had to be adhered to and I broke as many of them as I could get away with. My favourite school rule was the tenth one – Every breach of common sense is a breach of school rules. I caused an eleventh rule to be introduced; no cropping of hair right down to the skull. This, however, was not entirely my fault but morebecause my hair at that time grew at a fast rate and I had many a budding barber try to experiment with my hair which always went wrong.
The structured, regimented day began with the sound of the Rising Bell 5:30am followed by morning trotting before bath time. Students then had to make their beds, complete their chores in time for inspection by the Dormitory Monitor, some quiet time before finally setting off for morning service at the Aggrey Chapel, Oh, I forget that we had morning milk too. There were a couple of lessons before breakfast and more lessons mid-morning after snack time and still more lessons leading up to lunchtime.
After the afternoon siesta, there was games or groundwork depending on the season and then back to the bathroom, evening duties, dining hall again prep and then soaking – light or heavy – common room and then lights out. we were fed so much that not only did I put on weight but I found myself growing much taller than the less than 4.10″ that I was before I entered the school
This regime was only varied in the week by the early morning work at the school farm to care for the animals. The weekends were less structured but we had to clean up the house for inspection ever so often and for a notorious boy like me included many doses of punishment: project, fatigue, and detention and the very many table clearing duties that I was I think unfairly apportioned and once a term we went on exeats – a trip outside the school.