Thursday, November 26, 2015

RITUALISTIC OBSERVANCES AT COMMONWEALTH HALL: A PREACHER’S PERSPECTIVE

Commonwealth Hall
Commonwealth Hall
Is there anyone who cares for a preacher's preaching? And do I hear you launching the “preacher man, preach yourself” verbal missile? Or are you one of those inquiring minds musing as to what this is all about? Okay, let us take this as a not-so-organized didactic lecture given by a preacher not to a relativist but to a believer: a young chap on the verge of transition into an ivory tower setting; actually, a first year legon-bound student. The “entertain me” folks are hereby counselled to softly take to heart the disappointment of not being offered the sensational. For this is essentially a pastor's lecture, better still, a preacher's preaching intended for sober reflection and therefore meaningful only to the believing few. It is not to be read; it is to be read and believed.

“Believing few you say?” 
Yes, please. 
Hear the preacher instruct the young chap as he first of all, hints on the inescapability of spite:

To disapprovingly speak of anything associated with vandalism, my son, is to touch the untouchable; it is to fall headlong into a fierce preying company.

Introduction

A rapturous crescendo of voices freely given to unwonted ribaldry – 'charging' (as it is popularly known) - emanating from the 'city' (Commonwealth Hall) overlooking the University of Ghana campus. A prurient scene of overly frenzied vandals clad in red colours, and uncommonly occupied with a valiant heralding of the much-acclaimed 'gonno'. A qualification of the word vandal is indispensable to a proper comprehension here. The word vandal originally meant “an enemy of Rome,” and was applied to the barbarians who sacked Ancient Rome in 455. Contemporary English explains it as “a person who deliberately destroys or damages public property.” However, vandal as used in this discourse refers to a male student affiliated to the Commonwealth Hall of the University of Ghana. 'Echo', the Hall's mouthpiece maintains that the word vandal is an acronym for vivaciousness, affability, neighbourliness, dedication, altruism and loyalty and its derivative (vandalism) represents the “highest form of religion.” Thus, the ideals and practices of the vandal community are summed up in vandalism, though not all proud vandals totally ascribe to all such ideals and practices. Gonno and 'pawa' night are good examples of vandal practices that lack the unanimous consent of the vandal community. Pawa night, as a special feature of Commonwealth Hall week celebrations, is overwhelmingly popular with some affiliates and non-affiliates alike. Students come together from far and near during this day to demonstrate their mastery of words and songs with explicit sexual references.

What then is gonno? Well, It is a humiliating punishment (a ritual, it is believed) meted out to student-thieves caught in Commonwealth Hall. It is widely believed that the exuberance surrounding this unofficial event surpasses that of the university's annual congregation. That's an exaggeration, of course, but it tells you that the “rulers of Legon” are masters at successfully popularising what they do and believe in, even beyond the precincts of the University of Ghana campus. The gonno tradition, though notorious for its psychological impairment, is preferred by student-thieves to a supposed official dismissal. It inarguably remains the only event that has adamantly imprinted its footprints on the sands of campus student tradition. Those who applaud it with remarkable glee and a somewhat eerie sense of terrifying admiration are legion.

Truth misunderstood and defended

In addressing a community that talks so loftily of truth, I wisely take a sombre stand and in apposite earnestness invoke the Spirit of Truth – not that caricature of truth supposedly being pursued by every academic – but rather the “capitalized Truth”, who is “a being with all the attributes of personality.” This Truth (John 14:6; 16:13), embodying all other truths, is mandated to teach us all things and guide us unto all understanding. Such mandate is for the noble purpose of man's inevitable triumph over falsehood.

It is regrettable that many years of aggressive student razzmatazz about truth has resulted in the creation of a mindset that “truth stands” unaided by any moral footing whatsoever. This indeed is not so, for the prestigious school of truth has as its students principled men who with perfect hatred abhor anything that reeks of moral impropriety and inconveniences the moral sensibilities of society.

That studious student of sacred Scripture, A.W Tozer, in Sovereignty of Truth, tackled the ubiquitous presumption that “society is literally swarming with dedicated truth seekers.” His clear and critical reflections on society revealed that men have never in numbers sought after truth as being suggested by university rhetoric and promotional materials. Truth as a glorious and hard master, to him, makes moral demands upon adherents and claims the sovereign right to dominate their lives.

Evidently, “real seekers after truth are almost as rare as albino deer,” when we consider that truth never flatters men and never compromises with them. Truth, aside other things, scorns at obscenity in its various disguises; and readily applauds at the universality of that which is morally acceptable. The plain fact therefore remains that multitudes are well-acquainted with offshoots of Truth (some sort of truths) and never the Truth Himself. Surely that truth is fated for a grisly death which is wholly other from the “words of truth and soberness” as diligently prophesized by the prophets, joyously sang by the sweet Psalmist, boldly proclaimed by Jesus and soundly taught by the apostles.

Let me also indicate that the sovereign perspective of the timeless “I AM THAT I AM” remains the benchmark against which every mortal deed is measured, of which any ritual (gonno included) is certainly not exempted. I remain not unmindful that this exalted mention of the Most High will, in the judgment of any community that has proudly increased in learning and pitiably decreased in spirituality; relegate this piece to the genre of subjective treatises which are the farthest from reality and closest to fantasy. Disparaging tags and vehement polemics are therefore not unexpected. But I would fain rejoice over this than bend truth to fit human standards. Truth is not weighed on the balance of expediency. Truth is consistent and anything short of consistency is everything but Truth.

And without controversy the well of gonno history remains a vast supply of shameless obscenity; of brazen moral depravity at its zenith; of the seeming invincibility of refined student idolatry; and alas!, of a great error, an “evil under the sun”, which has set folly in glorious dignity amongst men widely assumed to be intellectuals of grand standing. These actions are unfit to be attributed to gentlemen embarking on such a prestigious journey in higher education. These afore-mentioned 'traits' at the same time, shame us for this generation's most egregious failures with regards to the place of education in the shaping of values in society and country as a whole.

It is certain that history will unendingly acknowledge the wisdom of Noah Webster, that eminent scholar and father of American education. Of a truth, it need be said that his contributions as a scholar was something that the society of his day wisely acknowledged and thereby benefited from. In his original 1828 dictionary, Noah Webster revealed the fundamental goals of education and stated that “education comprehends all that series of instruction and discipline which is intended to:

(1). Enlighten the understanding, 
(2). Correct the temper, 
(3). Form the manners and habits of youth (italics mine) and

(4). Fit them for usefulness in their future stations.”

The conspicuous disappearance of goal 2 and goal 3 from academic instruction is deeply worrying and starkly reflects the extent to which scholarship (reputed for refining vulgar folks into principled and distinguished statesmen) has lost its nobility and that all-inclusive habit-refining objective. After all, “it's all about getting an A and landing a good job,” they'd say, and by this, dismiss any suggestion thereof about the development of character.

“Gonno” as a form of pseudo-punishment and its moral blunders

The commonplace nature of theft in Commonwealth has led to a situation where gonno is seen as an effective antidote to stealing. Undeniably, it is touted by many as a deterring punishment. Aggrieved victims of theft have from day to day lived with an expectation that culprits would one day be apprehended and unmercifully subjected to punishment by gonno.

The concept of punishment, as something desideratum, a deterrent to crime “is that which has been, and it is that which shall be”. That its execution remains indispensable to communal good cannot be overemphasized. Therefore, it is only the avowed anarchist who may suppose any fault with the principle behind the societal execution of wrath upon criminals. Of a truth, that royal Jewish sage was right when he keenly observed that “there is no new thing under the sun.” Punishment (i.e. gonno in this case) is that which has been, and as long as student tradition remains intact in Commonwealth Hall, we need no prophetic gift to predict that any decision to extirpate this tradition is certain to be fiercely resisted.

I leave the problem or issues of legality to consider the moral wantonness associated with gonno. This decadence basely grips unsuspecting students, and hysterically makes them insensible of the Master's grave decree: “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof…” on that great judgment. Our attention is hereby being called to the reality that time has not in any way altered or nullified this severe edict of the Master.

The consistent habit of noise-making

Any student familiar with events in Commonwealth Hall would agree that excessive noise-making is popular among many a vandal. Students slavishly submit to the spirit of a tradition that demands some kind of excessive noise parade around any female in red attire found within the hall. The obvious reason given for this is explained in light of the significance of the colour red and its assumed exclusiveness to the vandal community. Any lady in red is seen as intruding on male territory. At other times, one can trace the source of noise to the characteristic ritual of students at the 'charging ground' within the hall.

A wearied researcher of Greek cultism in search of a modern model of Bacchus worship will finally give a relieving sigh at the observation of a scene akin to that of ancient worshippers acting at the behest of that “inspirer of ritual madness and ecstasy” through the four-fold “tension-releasing” activities of drumming, clapping, singing and dancing. Such a discovery would arm him with contemporary evidence to disprove any opinion about the extinction of Bacchus worship.

“Bacchus still reigns,” he'd assert and then purpose to document this as substantial evidence to the unbelieving coterie of researchers who have long written off any thing connected with the present-day worship of the ancient Greek god of wine and immorality.

A consideration of the other noise-causing factors would result in the making of many books without end, and so their curtailment here is prudence's best advice so as to afford the chance to briefly trace a student's response to noise, and how it eventually led him to observe gonno.

A fresher was in his room when he heard “the noise of them that sing,” perhaps with a bewilderment similar to that of Joshua on Mount Sinai with his master. This hullabaloo sounded strange as students loudly chanted out “gonno! gonno!! gonno!!!” Coming out, he curiously read a bold writing on one of the many concrete slabs (the Information Service Department has a lot to learn from this) in the hall: Gonno, 12 noon. Sharp! The implication? A student-thief has finally been caught!

Surely it was a new thing and curiosity immediately registered an intension within him to satisfy an inquisitive desire. This was supported by the fact of being a freshman; that it was a maiden opportunity to witness the much-talked-about gonno. Students came from all directions and visibly jubilated at a central point within the hall. Others called off their lectures just to join in the merriment of this once-in-a-blue-moon event. Some came out dishabilled with ladies' underwears and “it is a shame even to speak of those things” which were subsequently done and said of them.

There was a kind of contest; like a pawa night scene where students sing sexually-explicit songs. This lasted throughout the duration of the gonno observance. The fresher had no option but to marvel at that spirit behind the kamikaze impudence which stirs mortal men to substitute holy words in a holy song towards a Holy God, with obscene references. The fact that a woman, in the eyes of these students - who incidentally, are men born of women and lovingly nurtured by the same - is nought save a means of base sexual gratification, whilst too plain to miss, was also too disheartening to know.

A sense of moral dignity forbids a man from further revealing the details of acts committed behind the scene; all in anticipation of justice - the gonno sort of justice to be precise. Meanwhile, a panoramic view of the campus from the 'observatory' revealed a sudden invasion of the main street. Freshmen and continuing students anxiously waited to witness the coordinated system of traditional and pseudo-legal formalities, culminating in the proclamation of a found-guilty verdict and its attendant 'purification' on the culprit. The purification refers to the process of immersing the culprit in a pool of stagnant water directly opposite the Balme library. Obeisances assenting to Swinburne's notion of “glory to Man in the highest” are compelled of student onlookers at the start of an oration by a grim-countenanced student (which oration to say, is nothing more than needless wordiness). And that is the vandal way of doing things, and to him who disagrees, “don't follow us, lest you be ashamed,” they caution in one of a series of songs composed under the coordination of a student in a choirmaster's garb; songs blatantly inimical to the dignity of womankind.

Conclusion

“Don't follow us, lest you be ashamed.”
That is a clear warning to Mr. dissenter and his group of inner vandal gainsayers. And your decision to agreeably hear me speak puts you in his camp. I have with much labour and thought, given you a condensed case of refined student idolatry with all its forcefulness, moral commotion and conscience-defying vulgarism. The expectation is that that you will eventually come to a better grasp of the details as days continually succumb to nights and vice versa.

Give no room for the apologists to convince you with their “just to release tension” and “it's not as you think” explanations. Remember the apostolic and age-long admonition to keep yourself from idols (I John 5:21). You are a vandal called to venerate that which is acceptable to the Ancient of Days and to guard against the error of mixing with the multitude (Hosea 7:8). Never compromise in this regard. Rather, impact those around you and turn their attention to the hundred activities on campus with character-instilling prospects. Tell them of life-changing encounters at places like the miracle centre and sarbah field. I hope I have spoken in charity. If so, then I'm through, son.

Ooops! Got any question, additional comments, correction – perhaps an 'is' that is supposed to be a 'was' – or some disagreements?

Gideon Amoako Sarpong
2010/2011 NSP/ Gomoa Assin Brofoyedur Meth. JHS
0243354091 / aca_education at yahoo

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