The Chicken Thief
I had almost forgotten this morally disturbing incident that occurred in the village of Kankang, in the Akyem-Abuakwa traditional state in Ghana’s Eastern Region, sometime between 1968 and 1969. I was in the second grade, my mother’s class, as I vividly remember; and I had been sent on an errand by mother to deliver something to one of her several female friends in the village.
I can’t quite remember what it was that I had been asked to deliver, but it was on my way back that I had heard the quite deafening chants of a group of young men who seemed to be in hot pursuit of another who seemed to be at least a decade older than his pursuers or trackers.
“Thief! Thief! Thief! Catch him!….Thief! Thief! Thief! Catch him!”
Soon, they had closed in on their prey. The trackers seemed to be middle-school graders or perhaps recent standard-seven school graduates. This means that they were largely between seventeen and twenty years old, nothing more. Standard seven was, of course, tenth grade in the old British-inherited colonial elementary school system.
Most of the trackers, who numbered perhaps eight or twelve, were half-naked from waist up; this was a common sight. For the village of Kankang, like most of the rest of the country, lay in an equatorial climatic region with a regular average year-round temperature of between 76 and 83 degrees Fahrenheit. Most of the men also wore short pants of light cotton print with colorful motifs of blue, green, yellow and brown, while others sported Khakii pants that once served as part of their school uniforms. Different missionary schools prescribed different uniforms. There were three of such schools in the village, namely, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic and Methodist (sometimes called Wesleyan by the elderly, just as the Presbyterians were also known as the Basel folks).
I had just rounded a corner and was about to enter one of the several sand-covered plazas in the village, when I espied the target of pursuit gruffly collared by one rather muscular, burly and bronze-complected man. The latter also appeared to be about the biggest and most sinewy of the trackers. Soon his fellow trackers had caught up with him and their prey and had started delivering hefty blows from all sides at their victim.
The victim, about twenty or thirty yards away, could clearly be seen panting for breath and sweating profusely; he could also barely speak. He looked visibly stunned and vacantly at his captors, almost as if in search of a cue on what to say to the small crowd that had gathered on the back porch of a small house with a footpath and a grassy lawn that led to a wooden footbridge over a stream, across which and up a hill was located Ade’s house in which my mother rented a chamber and a hall.
Ade was a toothless old woman about whom legend had it had been widowed for close to a couple of decades, and had been a sort of demimonde in her younger years for a select group visiting chiefs from nearby towns and villages who came to Kankang on ceremonial occasions, such as the yam festivals and funerals and decided to stay for the night. This legend seemed to have elevated her status among the womenfolk of her age.
For me, though, Ade was a kindly great-grandmother – she had birthed and raised eight children who were now adults and a bit younger than my own maternal grandparents but a little older than my mother, at least half of them. Light-chocolate brown in complexion, Ade clearly appeared to have been the village’s cynosure in her prime. Her eight children were known to have been fathered by several reputable men by local standards, both from Kankang and out of town. She had a great liking for me and Lucky, my kid sister. For us she was the great silo of endless Ananse Stories around whom we little ones, including her own great-grandchildren, gathered to be regaled with the great adventures of the Heroic Spider of Akan folklore.
The house in front of whose back porch a middling crowd of spectators had gathered, was painted beige with navy-blue windows. The roof was composed of rusted corrugated aluminum sheets; and the banisters had the quaint look of a faux Greco-Roman architecture with the barest minimum of stylization, and three or four steps that descended onto the grassy patch and towards the footpath from the mid-section of the building.
Suddenly, somebody shot up from behind the captors of the chicken thief, who had by now assembled on the porch and were facing the crowd from a northward direction, held up a redish-brown hen and bellowed, “Who stole this hen?” to which the victim, who had just been landed a heavy slap to the back of his clean-shaven head, responded in half-pants, “I-I-I did.”
Before he could complete the verbal part of his two-word sentence response, the others, once again, had started raining hefty torrents of blows on him. One biff had landed on his lower lip, and soon the victim was bleeding profusely. Some members among the crowd who could not bear the sight of fresh blood, mostly women and children, began to turn away and hurriedly depart the scene.
I, on the other hand, decided to wait and see how it would all go down, as it were, for I had readily recognized the victim to be the son-in-law of Maame Afua Bota, one of the elderly women who attended church with my mother. It wasn’t a total surprise to me, though; for Kwadwo Village, the accused chicken thief, was widely known by the entire Kankang community to be a smooth-talking pathologically thievish ladies’ man. A certified petty thief, Kwadwo Village had been arrested and jailed several times; his avid specialty appeared to be poultry. In the past when he had been caught red-handed in somebody else’s chicken coop, Kwadwo Village claimed that he thought it was a wild chicken that he had stolen.
Soon Master S. K. Boateng, the revered principal of the Kankang Presbyterian Middle School, was on the scene. Evidently, somebody who found Kwadwo Village’s ordeal too hard to bear had rushed to the principal’s house and promptly alerted him, knowing that Master Boateng, as he was affectionately called by most members of the community, and who also doubled as the resident catechist of the Kankang Presbyterian Church, was one of the most respectable gentlemen in the village.
“My elders, brothers and sisters,” he waved to the captors of the chicken thief and the crowd as well. “Kindly leave this matter to me. Bring the wrong-doer along with me to the Headmaster’s House. I will deal with him in the most appropriate manner.” There was a pin-drop silence among the crowd, as it slowly began to disperse.
Again, Master Boateng turned to the crowd and calmly pleaded, “Friends and neighbors, kindly go home and attend to more pressing matters; it is already getting dark. I shall deal with this admittedly disturbing situation myself.”
Dealing with the situation himself and in the proper manner, invariably meant that Master Boateng would either personally deliver a few strokes of the willow cane on the bare, or naked, back of the culprit’s torso, accompanied by stern admonishment not to repeat the crime, or he would dispatch messengers to Anyinam, some ten miles away, where the district police were headquartered, to take charge of the matter, if he felt strongly that a particular criminal offence warranted more severe punitive measures than he personally could deliver, often because of the track-record of the criminal suspect.
*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
Department of English
Nassau Community College of SUNY
Garden City, New York
July 22, 2013
This writing was sponsored by the Long Island branch of the National Writers’ Project of whose Summer 2013 writer’s institute the author was a grateful recipient.