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How galamsey kicked me in the gut (1)

Cameron Duodu Comlumnist The author,Cameron Duodu, is a UK-based Ghanaian novelist, journalist, editor and broadcaster

Tue, 29 Aug 2017 Source: Cameron Duodu

“Ho, Suponso has been completely destroyed!”

I had asked the man who takes care of my deceased father's farms at Asiakwa, in the Eastern Region, whether one of them, Suponso, could be used for large-scale cassava farming.

It would be ideal for such a project because it's so close to the town that if you farmed there and put, say, a cassava processing plant there, you'd be able to transport what you produced to markets elsewhere by motor vehicle. So, one would be saved the expense of employing carriers to ferry the stuff to the roadside for onward transportation to Accra or elsewhere..

The idea appealed to me principally because I have fully bought into the constant appeals made by our Governments to “go back to the land”. Our project would use modernise agricultural methods. We would give employment to people.

And I had thought first of the land my father had left to his children. No need to go through the nightmare of trying to acquire land from some of Ghana's money-crazy “landlords”, who can sell the same parcel of land (to which they probably hold no title!) to multiple purchasers.

And now, the man who should know, was telling me that the land my father had left to us had been “completely destroyed”?

“How did that happen?” I asked him in astonishment.

The caretaker uttered one dreaded word: “Galamsey!”

“WHAAAAT?” I asked. “But Suponso is practically within the town itself !” Surely, they haven't brought galamsey right into the town?

“Ho – but they do galamsey even on school compounds?” the man said. He added: ”Those galamsey people don't care! If they suspect there's gold there, they will go and try to find it, no matter what is there!”

At this stage, I felt a sick sensation in my stomach. Was it.....? Was it....?

Was it possible that.....?

I remembered now that one day, my [now deceased] sister had just blurted out to me that one of her sons wanted to go and do galamsey on our father's land at Suponso. She probably thought she was doing the “proper thing” and informing me, as the eldest son of my father still alive. Mind you, she didn't say she was asking me for permission for her son to do what he wanted to do! She was just informing me!

I flared up.

“Tell him” I said, “that if he touches that land, I shall have him imprisoned for theft! If we, my father's direct offspring, to whom the land was bequeathed, have not used it, how can a mere grandchild of his have the audacity to want to and use it and for such a horrendous purpose as galamsey?”

I thought the argument was so conclusive that I dismissed it out of my mind. Surely my sister knew that I had enough determination to give her son a whole lot of trouble if he did what he intended to do with our land? But I should have been more suspicious: she loved that son greatly and had, on occasion, got me to contribute money to bail him out of what she had pathetically described to me as a very distressful situation or two!

So, now, when the caretaker of the land told me it had been totally ruined,

my first suspicion was, of course, that what my sister had hinted at to me, had actually come to pass.

I

Had she even passed on my warning to her son? I would never know. For she had taken the information with her to the grave. Thus we are sometimes taken to the cleaners by those who claim to “love” us.

I felt terrible, of course. And guilty, too. If I had kept a closer eye on matters at home; if I had asked y sister to call the chap to me and I had addressed him directly in the sternest of terms, might I not have been able to prevent this calamity from happening? I was just merely sing an unrealistic bit of hindsight, of course. When a modern Ghanaian wants money......

But what had hurt me more grievously than anything else, when the man said Suponso was completely gone, was that I had a sentimental attachment to that farm because it had been part of me when I was growing up as a child!

You see, because it was – fortunately – so near to our home, we could slip into it to bring apem to cook as breakfast, and still be in time for school.

Nkontomire [cocoyam leaves]; the sweetest cassava in the world; garden eggs; okro; yam! – all grew well at Suponso. The land was extremely close to the banks of River Supong, and so was extremely fertile. Everything grown there thrived mightily. It was ideal farmland.

But most important of all, that was where I watched my father setting traps. I observed him making a fence and leaving tiny gaps in it so that grass-cutters, antelopes, bush rats and other game would be forced to cross the fence through the gaps and – get caught! He would have skilfully tied a piece of wire or other tough rope to the top part of a very flexible bit of wood [kuntun] cut from a particular tree.

Then, he'd bend the contraption and expertly place it into a small hole at the entrance to the gap and hook it there in a way that would make any animal that tried to cross to the other side of the fence, have no choice but to spring the trap. And get caught! What delicious soups we used to enjoy from the animals caught at Suponso!

I remembered, in particular, the days I had to go to “inspect” the traps with my mother when my father had travelled out of town. Now, my mother was a brave woman, but even so, she took more precautions than my father did, when inspecting the traps. We would approach each trap in a gingerly fashion and steal a glance at the snare from a distance. If the [kuntun] stick was still bent all the way down, then it meant we'd not made a catch. But if it was half-way up, then it meant the wire was holding something heavy – game!

But here came the risky bit: would the animal caught by the trap be a grass-cutter (most prized); a duiker, an antelope, a buck, or (rarely) an aprawa [pangolin]? Our curiosity would be enormous!

We also experienced real fear: for – perish the thought – could we have caught a large snake?

(The smaller snakes couldn't spring the trap, but the big ones, such as the one we feared most, oprammire[black mamba] whose bite is one of the most poisonous in the snake family, were sometimes caught. Fortunately for us, the only ones we ever caught had died before we got to them.)

Bagging game was thrilling enough, but it was a family matter. To me as an individual, Suponso was also special for one other reason: it was a fantastic hunting-ground for birds of all sorts: aserewa, aserewa sika-nsuo, tientien, tientien-sika, cher-cher and its fatter version named cher-cher apantu [named after the big-fingered plantain].

They loved to come and suck nectar from the flowering cassava trees, and because cassava trees don't grow too tall, it was easier to hunt birds that perched on them than birds that preferred to get their nectar from, say, the nunummerewa (flowering wild ivy] that usually grows on cocoa and other relatively tall trees.

Suponso was of great value to me, for hunting birds did not only involve looking for meat but also, the steps needed to provide one with emotional growth. I learnt how to cope with both success and failure as a child. It was from what happened to me under those cassava trees that I experienced the hubris of felling a nice bird with a pebble from my tae [catapult.

But it was also there that I felt disappointment and a sense of failure; and the insouciance and resilience that prevented me from crying with frustration when a bird that was so close to me that it looked as if I could almost catch it by hand, flew off before I could hit it with a pebble from my tae. Because in my anxiety, I'd made a noise and alerted it!

And Suponso had been destroyed? With the connivance, if not the principal instrumentality, of someone related to me by blood?

(To be continued)

Columnist: Cameron Duodu