A Jamboree, Carouse And Bacchanalia

Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you say what you have got to say, and say it hot.

D.H. Lawrence

We have various ideas about ourselves.

D.H. Lawrence in ‘Why The Novel Matters’

IT WAS NOT just another bout of the annual Jamborees—this  time it was one to mark the 60th anniversary of the making of Commonwealth Hall, otherwise known as Vandal City.  Do not squirm at the idea of a University student calling himself a Vandal: you will get palpitation, and meet your quietus, “For who would bear the whips and scorns of time, …when he himself might his quietus make, with bare Bodkin?” (Hamlet).

A ‘Vandal’ as understood by those who have passed through Commonwealth Hall or have allowed the hall to pass through them refers to a ‘vivacious, affable, neighbourly, devoted, altruistic lad’ (otherwise an acronym with the last ‘l’ changed from the 80s as ‘lad’ to ‘loyal’ as of now).

Even though the programme was set to start at 12:00 noon, the Lawn had been filled to capacity by ten ante meridian.  The Old Vandals Association led by the President, Isaac Nketiah Sarpong had assembled and gone through the usual litany of prayer, the singing of the Vandal Anthem, and the introduction of the Chairman for the occasion.  The welcome address was delivered by Dr. Kwaku Kyeremeh, Chairman of the Planning Committee.

The report by the Master of the Hall, Professor Frank Kwakye Nyame was full of praise for the contribution of the members of the Old Vandals Association in the past. He, however, regretted that with the paucity of rooms to accommodate students, the Hall could only admit 150-160 freshers. Hence, his plea for assistance to build an annex. Quoting Sir Isaac Newton’s principle which states; “Action and reaction are equal and opposite”, he stressed the need to eschew ‘inaction’ for ‘action’ to “propel us on the path to development, progress and prosperity”. He dwelt at length on the “indiscipline in the Hall among our students and the need for OVA to help the Hall authorities to address the challenge”.

In his goodwill message to the Hall, the Vice Chancellor, Professor Ebenezer Oduro Owusu noted; “The uniqueness of Commonwealth Hall adds to the many strengths of the University of Ghana. Our commitment to sustaining the ideal values of Vandalism and thereby uplifting the image of the Hall, is in no doubt, I would like to assure you that the University management acknowledges the pool of wealth you offer, and the shield you provide other members of the University against ‘arbitrary invasion’ by ‘foreign elements.’ You are the exceptional force to reckon with in these trying moments of the University”.

The Vice-Chancellor did not hide his displeasure at the indiscipline of some of the students: “These achievements of Commonwealth Hall notwithstanding, the growing indiscipline among some students of the hall is gradually threatening the many gains registered by the hall in the past. This is of a serious concern to the University community and we would be most grateful to see you partner the University to nip this cancerous tumor that is insidiously eating into the hitherto impeccable fabric of the Hall in the bud. It is my hope that together with Old Vandals, constructive Vandalism would be nurtured and sustained for generations to come.”

The baton was handed to me and the topic for me was simply: “Vandalism– a Critique”. I traced the history of Vandalism from the time of the inception of the hall with young irrepressible students like Jones Ofori Atta, Debra (Akoanye), and Moses, to the sixties with ebullient students like (now) Nana Akuoko Sarpong (Shawcross), Razak el-Alawa, I.K. Gyasi to the seventies with men like Nana Adjei Ampofo, Justice Jones Dotse, Bram Larbi, Ato Ahwoi, Boakye-Ansah, Captain Nkrabeah Effah-Dartey, to the eighties with able students like Justice Anin –Yeboah, Professor Henry Prempeh, Professor Kwaku Asare, to the nineties with Lawyer Oppong, Lawyer Osei Wusu– the Hall had suffered excruciating vicissitudes for the umpteenth time.

There was a discussion of what we used to do in the past, and what is happening now.  I had the ‘inside stuff’ having once been running the show as leader of the music fraternity, a Vice President, a Chairman of the Supreme Council of Vandals and Guys and having risked my first degree on the altar of sociological probability of default: “Building a sub-Culture: A Sociological Probe into Vandalism” Of course, as the Editor and later Editor – in –Chief of the vibrant weekly hall magazine the ‘Echo’, a lot of things were known by me, which my other colleagues did not know about. To add: I did not envy the present-day Vandals for excesses and extremities. They had not been privileged to sit at the table with the ’sages’ and ‘theoreticians’ and did not know that there existed (in the past) a forum at which representatives of the various halls were invited to speak their minds or express their views on ‘Vandalism.’ That whenever a participant hit hard, we would all yell; “Y’ awu oo” (We are dead). That before embarking on a demonstration, a “dossier” on the erring official would be prepared and read to the erring person. That the ‘proce’ (procession) from the Observatory to the Inside of the Hall, led by the Chief priest was a ritual depicting an African cultural activity, where a liquid which is best described as a five-letter word beginning with ‘u’ was poured.  No egg was thrown, and the whole episode was one of fun and humour. You would see a demonstration of wit at its best. ‘Punch’ would have been prepared, using a secret formula of a mix of all known drinkables—taste and see! That the incantation was premised on success at ‘Mfodwo’s papers’ (examinations) and success to poach the hearts of the Daughters of Eve at Volta and Sarbah Halls, from the ‘uncircumcised’ students at the other halls. That a Chief Vandal would not fail to attend lectures, and not ‘worshipped ‘as if he was a god. That our aspirations were underpinned by excellence at all levels of student activities: academic pursuit, sporting, debating. Everything was done in the midst of fun-that there was a time I was warned to be ponded if I failed to win the ‘What –Do-You Know’ competition in Accra.  I won, and on my return I was ponded! Fun, fun, fun galore! Could we aspire to be President like John Mahama if we let go ourselves into the depth of ‘gyimi- ism’.

When the hat was passed round, members present contributed generously, with a few pledges, to raise funds for the construction of an annex. Dusk fell rather too early, and we all trooped to the Senior Common Room, and ‘wife – fuls’ like Kwame Takyi, the Immigration boss, and the ‘chewers-on’ congregated for a binge of bacchanalia, with a prayer to Father Bacchus for’ no hang-over’ and we remembered the days of Major Koo Hia, He would have chastised many errant Cro—magnons who had failed to attend the stupendous function, save the Chrife boys for whom Nirvana is waiting, we pray, Amen.


Africanus Owusu-Ansah