By KABS KANU
Many Sierra Leoneans calling us in the U.S . desperately for help are describing this December and Christmas holidays in general under the Paopa Government of President Maada Bio as the worst they have seen. Some of them even say it is worse than 2014 when the Ebola virus was raging in Sierra Leone and Christmas was held under a very cautious cloud . Sierra Leoneans say it was the most bleak Christmas they had experienced. Money is not circulating and the general economy situation has worsened.
“Everybody is crying hardship. People even wonder if they will have food for Christmas “, one man who once worked for government complained to COCORIOKO. The harsh economic situation has even been further compounded this month when President Bio chose the festive season to fire over 500 people from their jobs . In a country with strong extended family ties where the breadwinner has to cater for the larger family out there, not only his own nuclear family, the sacking of even 50 people will create a pool of hard-hit dependents, let alone 500 .
To add insult to injury, the present SLPP Government has acted like the character in the comic TV hit , THE GRINCH THAT STOLE CHRISTMAS , to the Sierra Leonean people by inexplicably banning festive processions and street masquerade dancing that once constituted the people’s enjoyment of Christmas. The insecure government has imposed restrictions such as that all public entertainments should close down around midnight in a nation once used to enjoying Christmas festive events until daybreak. Christmas this year in Sierra Leone is a total disaster.
And yet, that was not the way it used to be. Though Sierra Leone has always been a country with economic limitations, despite her abundant natural resources, CHRISTMAS has always been the sweetest and most enjoyed holiday in Sierra Leone. Even the poor enjoyed Christmas in the past.
Christmas enjoyment has declined in Sierra Leone over the decades and it would be unfair to cast all the blame on one government. Even though this Christmas is the worst, according to Sierra Leone, the enjoyment of Christmas had depreciated over a long time during the reigns of both the All People’s Congress ( APC) and the Sierra Leone People’s Party ( SLPP ). The losers seem to be Sierra Leoneans who came of age in the 1990s. “They did not meet the enjoyment we had in the country, ” 65 year old Sorie Thollie said. There exists absolutely no basis to compare in any way the freedom and enjoyment Sierra Leoneans of the 1960s , 70s and 80s had during Christmas to the present charade.
I have decided to republish an old article of mine about how enjoyable Christmas was in Sierra Leone for the benefit of young Sierra Leoneans who need to know that the country that has become a theatre of hardships, suffering and even joyless and cheerless Christmas was once one of the most enjoyable countries in the world. There was a time that Sierra Leoneans did not want to travel out of their country because they saw nothing other than the pursuit of further education abroad to take them out of their sweet Sierra Leone. Sierra Leoneans even looked down on the lifestyles of people in neighbouring West African countries.
PLEASE NOTE THAT THE EVENTS RECOUNTED BELOW WERE ENGAGED IN BY THE AUTHOR BEFORE HE BECAME A CHRISTIAN IN THE MID-1980S AND A MINISTER OF THE GOSPEL IN 1988. HE DOES NOT SUPPORT OR ENGAGE ANYMORE IN MOST OF THESE ACTIVITIES . THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN FROM A JOURNALISTIC STANDPOINT ONLY .
THE AUTHOR BELIEVES TODAY THAT CHRISTMAS IS ABOUT JESUS CHRIST AND THAT MOST OF THE EVENTS MENTIONED BELOW SHOULD HAVE NO PART IN THE CELEBRATION
|REFLECTIONS ON CHRISTMAS HOLIDAYS PAST : PART 1 ( AS KIDS )
By Wilfred Kabs-Kanu
( Culled from the draft of “MENDAYKUNDA : The unabridged autobiography of a Loko Boy”, being written by your humble servant )
There was a time when Africa was so delightful to live in that nobody would give a heck about life abroad. When I woke up today, Christmas Eve, and heavy rains drops petered down my rooftop, I could not avoid feeling out of sync. That was not the kind of weather I grew up to be accustomed to during Christmas in Africa.
In Africa,it seemed the weather (nature)and the Xmas festive atmosphere interplayed to sustain the perfect state of euphoria and delirium that swept in with the Yuletide season. Early in the morning, it used to be dew , falling at times like snow flurries at night , to be quickly replaced at sun -up by beautiful sunshine and at night there was that wonderful moonshine under which those enthralling moonlight picnics were held. Of course, Americans too would trade anything for that glorious white Xmas, the kind we had last year when snow fell on Christmas day in New Jersey for the first time in many years. Americans enjoyed a fantastic thrill because they had been dreaming of a white Christmas.
For me, though, a typical African boy who grew up in communities where people in those days made a religion out of enjoying roaring Xmases, the images of past Xmases would never dissipate from my memory. And I have chosen in this piece to recount how Sierra Leoneans once enjoyed Christmas.
I am a member of the Purple Haze and Super Combo generation —The 1960s and 1970s generation in Sierra Leone that is walking around filled with nostalgia about how life used to be “sweet” in Sierra Leone before the politicians, soldiers and rebels destroyed what was a real Paradise on earth. There is no member of this generation who does not have an interesting story to tell about how life used to be “enjoyable” in Sierra Leone.
Christmas, for me, always holds wonderful memories of people caught in the throes of joyful celebrations of a season whose religious significance many of them hardly knew. To them, it is just that season called Christmas.That was all. It was the season when everybody was in ecstastic, buoyant, joyous and jubilant mood ; when everybody seemed more pleasant than they normally were ; when , if you lived in Freetown then, programs were jampacked with festive joy—The moonlight picnics, parties, discos , jumps, backyard settlements, beach and office parties and the pubs and clubs balled like there was no tomorrow. It was the era when people enjoyed Christmas like their whole lives depended on it . It was also the season of generosity, when people shared gifts and other pleasantries, including food.
I grew up at Pratt Lane in Freetown before my father was later transferred to Bo by the late Governor Sir Maurice Dorman .
Pratt Lane was the very epicentre of Christmas celebration in those days. Freetown generally was the typical happy-go-lucky city and it seemed like all our people ever wanted to do was to enjoy their lives. The Christmas enjoyment started from school , especially during the closing program for the Christmas vacation . In those days, schools closed around December 12. I attended the Fergusson Street Municipal School in the late 1950s to the early 1960s before my family went to Bo in 1961 and we returned to Freetown when I attended the St. Edwards Primary School. In those days, school closing ceremonies were always memorable–concerts, dancing competitions, games in clasrooms , gifts ( Toys ) to students from the school , climaxed by a heavy feast during which the most delicious jollof rice imaginable in those days was served. I am still asking what ingredients they used to have in jollof rice in those days that made them more delicious from the ones served today . The hog foot was directly from the barrel, perhaps, and the chicken and cow beef tasted better, probably because these animals were farm grown. The jollof rice itself was more red than today’s and seemed to have ingredients that are not added today. Or, was it that as a kid , my taste buds were sweeter ?
There would also be a carol-singing festival. I remember the euphonious Christmas carols the choral group sang in the assembly hall as we feasted. Then our Christmas gifts were distributed. I wonder who used to provide the funds for the toys we used to be given. I believe it was the municipality because FSMS belonged to the Freetown City Council. We used to extol the Head Mistress , Mammy Pratt , for such profound generosity, but later when we grew up,we were told that the government provided the money. We came home not only with our school report cards but our toys which we enjoyed playing with singly or in groups.
Before we went out on Christmas Day, we had enjoyed family fun and the Christmas feast which entailed the killing of chickens for the the festive stew or cassava leaves soup or Jollof Rice. In those days, Christmas was not Christmas without the new clothes bought by dutiful fathers. In some families, it was the same dress for everybody , called ASHOEBIS. Also, our fathers knew we would not enjoy Christmas without the toys, which, in most cases were toy vehicles or toy plastic guns. If we did not go to dance behind masquerades on the streets, our families took us to visit friends and relatives. In those days, Christmas day celebrations were not complete without this traditional visitation by families and friends. Families had to cook extra portions of food because it was the tradition to receive anybody who came visiting and to share food and drinks with them. You did not have to give anybody prior notice that you were coming to visit to eat the Christmas meal.As kids, we loved eating, and especially the varieties of food so we enjoyed going to visit uncles, aunties and relatives.
The build-up to Christmas was fascinating. People would buy clothing materials to be sewn by tailors. These dresses were what they had to wear on Christmas day, and everybody tried their best to make it groovier than the next person’s.
At nights, we also went around homes to sing carols. We went door-to-door and since it was the season for generosity, we were given money which we shared among ourselves later. Some churches also sent out choral groups with musical instruments to spread the Christmas joy house-to-house.
On Christmas Eve, we stayed home to help our parents prepare the bounteous festive food . We the kids slaughtered the many chickens or ducks.I will never forget the stupendous Christmas day feasts before leaving to “follow Debul”. It was usually the most delicious food of the year.
When my father was transferred to Bo in 1961 and we returned to Freetown in 1962, we were living in the staff quarters at State House , located on the other end that opened to Victoria Park and the Sierra Leone Library. Lots of kids lived in the big yard as it was then called, children of the workers.
Another moment in Sierra Leone that we kids used to look forward to then was the Annual Christmas Party for children at State House , hosted by the late Governor-General, Sir Henry Lightfoot-Boston. We the kids at State House enjoyed twice. Sir Henry threw a special party for the kids of State House( children of all the employees, that is ), in addition to the general Christmas Party for kids in Freetown, and boy did we receive toys from the hands of His Excellency and Lady Muriel Lightfoot-Boston. Though a primary school kid then, I could still remember how I was brought to the starling realization that the Governor-General , Sir Henry, was a “bookman” par excellence ! ! ! I learnt later he had First Class Honours BA and First Class Honors LLB. He was fantastic. During the party for State House kids, apart from merriment and festive foods we enjoyed , we were made to read poems to His Excellency . With some of the younger kids on his lap, the Governor-General sat in his armchair and had us come up one at a time to read poems that we had prepared for the occasion.
When my turn came, I read the poem , THE BURIAL OF SIR JOHN MOORE. After an impression start and well in the middle of the poem, I got stuck and lost my “cog”. To the surprise and marvel of all, Sir Henry took up the recitation from there and completed the poem for me. We were actually impressed that the Governor-General knew the whole poem by heart. Yes, in those days, we enjoyed at State House as kids of the workers. We came home with many toys.
TO BE CONTINUED . IN PART 2, I WILL RECOUNT HOW WE ENJOYED CHRISTMAS AS GROWN UPS.