The Greenhorn and the impossible commands
Before I continue my narration I shall ask the reader to bear with me as I make a brief digression to explain the term homoing as used in second-cycle boarding schools in Ghana.
I cannot say for sure when exactly the practice of homoing was introduced in boarding schools in Ghana. Neither can I say for sure from whose idea it originated.
Mfantsipin Secondary School in Cape Coast, established in 1876, was the first secondary school in the country. Initially it was run as a day school. In the course of time, it admitted only full boarders.
Perhaps it was the early boarders of Mfantsipim School who first came up with the practice of homoing. My research for this book did not uncover any sources to confirm this. What remains an undisputable fact, however, is that at some stage the practice spread to every second-cycle boarding school in the country, becoming in the end part and parcel of the boarding school experience or tradition.
‘What, then, is homoing?’ someone not familiar with the practice might ask.
I wish I could provide a straightforward definition of the term! Though everyone who has passed through the walls of a second-cycle boarding school in Ghana experienced it in one form or the other, the problem begins when it comes to providing an exact definition of it!
The other day, I chanced upon the blogging site of a lady who was reminiscing about her boarding school experience in Ghana. Just as in my case, she was also in a dilemma as to how exactly to define the term.
Is it harassment, is it torture, is it bullying, or just plain initiation – the practice whereby Form One students entering a boarding school for the first time are subjected to various forms of treatments, mostly unpleasant?
In the military, new recruits are made to undergo a period of intensive drilling with the goal, among others, of instilling discipline into them and getting them to obey orders. Was homoing introduced into boarding schools in Ghana to achieve a similar goal?
Here I would like to introduce the reader to a few forms of homoing as practised during my boarding school days. I beg those who are already familiar with the practice, indeed, those who might have experienced even more severe forms of homoing themselves, to bear with me for a while – for the sake of those not familiar with the practice.
Adanko is the Twi word for rabbit. In this form of homoing, the greenhorn is required to cross their arms to hold the ear on the other side of the body, squat and in the squatting position move up and down several times. How long the greenhorn’s ordeal lasted depended entirely on the discretion of the senior student; usually it lasted several minutes.
On your knees! The greenhorn could be asked to kneel down for any fanciful reason! Indeed, the practice of kneeling down was one of the most common forms of homoing.
Was the senior student in a bad mood, the cause of which the luckless greenhorn had nothing to do with? ‘Hey you greenhorn, why are you looking at me with an evil eye? Get down on your knees!’ the order would be shouted.
Had the senior student possibly fared badly in an exam? He/she could vent his/her frustration on the poor Form One student with a dose of homoing that involved kneeling down for a considerable period of time.
A senior student who chose to stay up late into the night, usually to learn for an impending examination and, not wanting to ‘keep the watch’ alone, might just choose to awake some greenhorns from their deep slumber and ask them to kneel beside his bed to keep him company!
To aggravate the suffering of the greenhorn, the senior student could decide initially to spread some garri on the floor before asking the junior student to kneel on the rough, bristly, grain-like stuff.
The junior could also be made to carry a fully loaded chop box or airtight whilst kneeling down.
March past! As an individual or in a group, the greenhorn could be made to march around for an indefinite period of time. As in the case of kneeling down, the greenhorn could simultaneously be asked to carry a loaded chop box or airtight.
Impossible commands! The greenhorn could be ordered to carry out an order that may well be described as an impossible command. For example one senior student could order a greenhorn to tell another senior student standing close by to their face that, he/she was a big fool, an idiot or a silly billy! What should the greenhorn do in such a situation? Carry out the instruction and face the retribution of the insulted senior, or disobey the command and face the reprisal of the other fellow?
Though several years have elapsed since my student days, I recall that on such occasions I personally acted in line with the proverb: silence is golden. I did not go scot-free for keeping quiet however – a dose of homoing of some kind was invariably meted out to me.
Feed the hungry senior! There were occasions when a senior student, returning to the dormitory from wherever, awoke all first year students from their sleep.
‘Why are you sleeping when I’m hungry!’ he would yell at the top of his voice. ‘Hurry up, get to your various chop boxes and get me something to eat!’ Needless to say the poor greenhorns hurried out of their beds and did his bidding.
Pillaring! A greenhorn could also be called upon to engage in ‘pillaring’, which involved having to stand in the same position for a period of time without moving. One could be made to ‘pillar’ as long as the senior student wished.
Sometimes one could be asked to pillar or kneel or adanko beside the bed of a senior who would be lying in his bed – reading, relaxing or preparing to go to sleep for the night. The individual could in the process fall asleep, leaving the poor greenhorn still dutifully performing whichever act of homoing he had been asked to engage in!
If one dared to face the consequences of doing so, one left the scene after a while. Those afraid of the consequences kept on performing whatever they had been asked to do until either the senior student woke up or another senior student chanced on the scene and relieved the poor greenhorn of his ordeal.
Though rare, the practice sometimes led to injuries. Though I did not personally experience or witness anything of that nature, rumours occasionally made their rounds at Odasco that spoke of greenhorns in other schools who had suffered severe, even in some cases life-threatening, injuries.
Homoing was intense in the first several days of the academic year and reduced in intensity after the first few weeks. Still, a Form One student remained a greenhorn throughout the academic year and could at any time be subjected to homoing by a senior student for any reason.
Homoing was not restricted to the male dormitories; it was practised in the female dormitories as well.
As one might surmise, the practice of homing was not sanctioned by the school authorities. That is not to say that the school authorities were unaware of it. The majority of them were themselves products of the Ghana educational system. Having passed through the walls of various second-cycle boarding schools, they themselves had at one stage been victims and perpetrators.
During the first several weeks at Odasco, I was subjected to all the kinds of homoing listed above in various forms and intensities. Indeed, on not a few occasions, I wished I was back home in my little village!
One can therefore imagine the sigh of relief that passed my lips when I headed home for the first term holidays. Though I would remain a greenhorn for the rest of the academic year, homoing, in the form that I was subjected to on quite a regular basis during the first term, would be a thing of the past.