Wednesday this week, a reader of Observer online called to vent spleen on what he regarded as our newspaper’s part in the unholy complot in our country to promote mediocrity. He was vexed because according to him, in just one week, we carried two ‘self-glorying bull**t, third-rate PR articles on Gambia Ports Authority public relations officer [Ebrima JT Kujabi] who called himself ‘a trained Libyan intelligence operator-cum-journalist’ and lawyer, Henry Carrol, who vaingloriously regarded himself being on cloud 9 and in the league of geniuses like Einstein because a précis of his bio data was included in the so-called ‘Great Minds of the 20th Century” list by some biographical institute.
I went to some extent to explain to the man that he must have read the two articles in another newspaper since we have published neither. But I agreed with him that mediocrity is a gangrene eating our society. I told the man that if I were the editor, the next story I would carry on Henry Carrol would be when he wins the Nobel Prize for his long-awaited book he announced he was going to call Cocktail of Academic…something or when the goodly Dr Carrol becomes the head of the legal department of the UN Environment Programme.
Out of bonhomie, I also told the man that if I were a music critic, I would have advised Mam Tamsir Njai to give it up a long time ago since the albums he releases every other month contain some lyrical substance but musical sushi – clichéd messages lacking any artistic merit- and that is the death of art of which music is one form.
Mediocrity and false humility are like a gangrene eating the heart of our society. In serious matters, we should do what we can do best and leave the rest to others. And it is the duty of society to stop the posturers and tell them they are candles without a glow whenever they pretend to be the noonday sun.
But then, so many things are false around us. Once many, many years ago, a wise man called Mathias George, summoned the fifty precocious and not-so precocious kids in his academy for some practical lesson on how information is distorted.
Mathias began by whispering into the ear of NaCeesay Sallah, the pretty girl who sat in front of his class this message: ‘Samson is a strong man’, and asked her to relay it to Njaimeh Jawara, who sits next to her and for Njaimeh in turn to relay it to Prince Manneh, who sits next to her and so on. By the time Mathias’s message reached the fiftieth student, it had become, ‘Moses is a womaniser’. Moses! How did the Samsonite hulk become the stammering prophet?
I was in that academy of Mathias and have since wondered why people like adding colour and spice to plain information as of they were preparing Basmati rice at Clay Oven. So fascinated was I with that thought of information and its distortion that when I began working on my first handbook for Gambian journalists, I decided to include a brief chapter, ‘Historical Misinformation; an alphabetic cocktail of the things we thought we are but we are not!’ (Apologies Henry Carrol, oops sorry, DR HENRY DR CARROL).
For example, almost everyone has heard of the charming book, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and most readers assume that its author, Lewis Carrol, was primarily a children’s writer. Actually. His name was Charles…something Godgson and he was a mathematics lecturer at Oxford. He was shy and stammering and a very boring lecturer. However, the word of little girls delighted him, and for them, Alice Liddell, he wrote the book that accidentally made him famous.
It was said that Queen Victoria was so entranced with his Alice work that she asked him to send her his next work. So he did. It was An Elementary Treatise on Determinants, a bundle of abstruse mathematics!
But 125 years till now, not many people know that London’s Big Ben is neither a clock nor a tower, but the thirteen-ton bell named after a man called Benjamin. And neither do many people know that the expression, ‘Between the devil and the deep blue sea’, has nothing to do with the ruler of the kingdom of Evil, the devil here being the seam in a wooden ship’s hull on or below the waterline.
Talking about water, who coined the term ‘crocodile tears’ and cooked up the theory that crocodiles shed (hypocritical) tears while eating their victims? Indeed, crocodiles have no tear glands. So how could they shed tears? Like the crocodiles don’t shed tears, so fish don’t drink. The moisture content of their food supplies the water they need.
Therefore, to accuse Ifangbondi’s Senemi of drinking like a fish is highfalutin. And higher indeed is the Andes mountain, Chiomborazo, than Everest by a clear two miles if they are measured in terms of how far they stick into space from the centre of the earth.
About fishes, have you ever wondered why the people of that southern Kombo coastal town of Gunjur are so cerebral? Hatab Bojang, Bun Jeng, Dr Sabari Janneh, Dr Amadou Janneh, Lamin J Darboe, Sidi Ali Janneh, Star Janneh, Abdoulie Barrow, my own Sainey Darboe and so on and so on… the answer might lie in the fact that they eat a lot more fish and fish is said to be ‘brain food’, rich in phosphorous-containing compounds. So you can imagine their collective angst when the source of their superior intellect over the Wa-Sukuta is being decimated by some Golden Chinese.
But then, if eating fish is the secret of the Gunjur people’s canniness, why are the people of Brufut not so bright, since they also live by the sea? But just don’t disapprove my theory about fish as ‘brain food’, for I found out that the Brufut people would rather sell all their fresh catch to the rich people of Brikama and themselves make do with turtle soup for dinner! You get it. Turtle=SLOW. And how slow can a people be when they take turtle soup for lunch and steamed snails and buttered chameleons for dinner on rusty silver plates?
Silver?, Yes, German silver has no silver. It is made from copper, zinc, and nickel, next time Babou Faal wants to sell you that bangle, tell him that there is no silver in German silver and that all the g-silver sold to the women in your home have gone tin. No shine!
Writing of radiance, strictly speaking, the radiance that surrounds the head or figure of saints et cetera in paintings is not a halo, which is a greater term for nay disc or luminosity (like that seen around the sun during eclipse), but a nimbus. Nimbus, since pagan times, has specific application to the radiance said to surround godlike figures when they appear on earth, even in Iran.
Iran indeed was how the people of that country called it for centuries. Quite mistaken will you be to think that it was all along Persia. Persia was simply what foreigners insisted on calling it. The proud Iranians, tired of accepting somebody else’s name for their own country, announced in the mid-1930s that henceforth they shall not answer to another name bar Iran.
On misunderstood names, former President Jawara’s parents neither named him Dawda nor Kairaba. The latter, meaning ‘Great Peace’, is a reference to Sir Dawda’s genial nature. This accolade, which stuck like ‘Mahatma’ meaning ‘Great Soul’ to Mohandas Gandhi, was given to Jawara by either Sanjally Bojang or some kora playing jaliba. It’s no lie.
And do you know the devices they call lie detectors do not and cannot actually identify lies? All they can do is to record certain physiological phenomena associated with lying, things like abnormal respiration, heartbeat and perspiration. That is why its findings are taken with a grain of salt by magistrates and judges. And that it can be fooled. Persons who truly unaware that they are lying, when in fact they are, cannot be caught by such a device.
And I wonder where the pastor preachers read, saw or heard God call Satan, Lucifer? In the Bible, there is only one mention of a Lucifer and it does not refer to the lord of evil, but rather the mysterious king of Babylon.
Talking mysteries, some years ago, the highway near Dumbuto, Kiang was cut off by a rainstorm and it became fodder for the local philosophers. Their most ingenuous theory was that a Ninka Nanka (dragon) passed across the road and scraped of the tar surface. There is nothing like a dragon. They were but mighty snakes that Europeans adventurers found in the jungles of Africa and Asia, and certainly, they do not puff fire, are not reddish yellow and do not have mirrors on their heads!
And was it not Andy Warhol who talked about every man getting his quarter hour of fame? Well, Jarra, the Malian watchman at Kololi Club, got his in the newspaper a couple years ago when he spun his fantastic tale to reporters about Mandinka talking owls that attacked him. After overpowering one of them, Jarra said one of the bug-eyed night birds pleaded with him: ‘Please do not kill me, why do you want to kill me? My name is Fatoumatta Cham. I am from Sukuta.’ So much for transmutant owls, dragons and idiots! Happy idle weekend.