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City of Banjul
Friday, April 19, 2024

The cartoon character

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The small streets of our little town were paved with air and marked by rows and rows of beautiful thorn bushes, sharp and pricking to the touch, which grew freely and lent an added tranquility to the atmosphere. This meant that when our common townsfolk walked our common pathways, they had to stiffly hold their arms by their sides to avoid getting seriously pricked, or their garments caught in the brambles. Here and there were big trees under which were erected big wooden beds that served as meeting places for the learned among our common townsfolk. There under the cool shades of those mighty trees, they would discuss every subject under the sun and carry on their learned debates, day in, day out.

Society in our little town was divided into several distinct strata. Right at the peak of the social pyramid perched our most prominent bigwigs, the fat-potbellied moneybags and fake paperbags who controlled the strings of all our bulging purses and drove around in brand new Pajeros and other expensive cars. The biggest moneybag of all who was also the chairman of the Association of Moneyed Paperbags (AMPB) was the incomparable Homo Mouthy. Homo Mouthy was so wealthy that he sometimes forgot where his mouth was (hence his fancy name) and said a lot of things that sounded as if they came from somewhere else on his body. At such times he would search frantically around until eventually someone reminded him that what he was looking for actually right there on his face. And then Homo Mouthy would be like oh my how I forget. Below him were a cohort of lesser pot-bellied moneybags and fake paperbags such as Homo Beevy, Homo Ratty, Homo Looty and Homo Grabby, the really great names whose mere utterances activated the juicy glands of our common townsfolk. Nicknamed the untouchable Homo Toho Toho, these most prominent bigwigs led a life of ease and plenty, what was commonly known in our little town, as ‘paramboyant divestyles’ even though none of them was really a diver.

The favourite past time of our famous moneybags and fake paperbags was to ride their fattened mares at the golden dusk of our little town, waving their flywhisks at our amazed common townsfolk as they trotted gaily by, and letting out small shrieks once in a while, so as not to be mistaken for wicked impersonators. For of late, some of our dishonest townsfolk with no money and little brains had taken to riding stolen mares along the streets of our little town, pretending to be our untouchable bigwigs so as to enjoy a little spark of the limelight. But now, with their special shrieks, the real bigwigs could be easily distinguished from the fake ones, for these could only make strange noises with their coarse and unpolished voices. The biggest and loudest shrieks of all were of course uttered by the famous Homo Mouthy, whose voice was so sharp that local chickens flew to safety in all directions wherever he went.

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A rung down the top of our social ladder were our less prominent bigwigs, men like Homo Wayward and Homo Sacha, Homo Diyamu, Homo Lambaleh and Homo Dudega whose defining characteristics were their nearness to Homo Mouthy and other real moneybags and fake paperbags and their expertise at the elusive science of foratu. They made up the administrative cadre of the prominent council of our little town. Owing to their fabled garrulous cleverness and nimble minds, they were also the chief advisers to many a giant businessman in our little town. These had no fattened mares to ride in our golden sunsets, but they owned beautifully painted lil’ donkeys, which they loved to slowly ride before our famous moneybags, cracking their leather whips and waving gaily at our distinguished ladies, often to make easy way for their prominent bosses, often to attract a few glimpses for themselves. Their favourite past time was to hang around Homo Mouthy and our other prominent moneybags, listening to their tall tales of gallantry and exploits, and giving advice where needed and even where not needed. They were truly, the most spectacular lot in the social cocktail of our little town.

Next on the social ladder, almost parallel to our less prominent bigwigs, were the quiet ones of our little town: folks like Homo Norpi and Homo Mofisesh, whose defining characteristic was silence, but who nevertheless contributed immensely in making our little town what it was: a lively hub of exciting activity that was the pride of the centuries and all of the other towns in the neighbourhood and beyond, big or small. These silent ones were men and women of great wisdom and experience. However in our little town, survival, in our true sense of that word, was more important than wisdom and experience. To be in the real swing of things and perfectly in line in our little town, you needed more brawn than brains, more muscle than experience, or so it really seems. That was why our gentle Homo Norpi and Homo Mofisesh decided, at some sad point in time, to withdraw into the background and watch the never-ending drama in our little town with guarded interest.  Once in a while, they groaned and sighed and shook their heads and sadly smiled, and flicked their tongues or made small guttural noises to emphasise their presence; but they otherwise remained very quiet and simply watched with saddened eyes. They were always misunderstood and no longer felt comfortable in our little world of facts, facts, and more hard undiluted facts and iron figures. You see, in our little town, you either had to know the hard facts and iron figures as espoused by Homo Mouthy, or you withdrew into your melancholy world of silence. To know or not to know was the biggest question ever!

Our little town could boast of even more worthy folks. There were our great and famous intelligentsia, or in our local jargon, the most Notelligent ones of our little town. These were really the cream of the crowd, the pride of the peacock. Most prominent among them were folks like Tarpet Gaindegi, Gisyeb Nopirek, Fumdem Yahafa, Reyjef Tuutihel and last but not the least, Londitii Emptyhead. These special folks were not only intellectually active but also mentally rustic. Often times, they could be seen in their favourite tails and ties, their hippo-hide boots, their expensive wooden pens tucked proudly in their breast pockets, marching proudly up and down the streets of our little town, or trading their intellectual wares at the village square, a permanent smile on their slightly parted lips, which gave them a rather frightening air of sophistication.

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This most popular group in our little town had all it took to be what it was. Young and smart and more than a little educated, they were the dream of every rising youngster and the scourge of every arrogant boaster. Arrogant boasters and mental midgets who came to our little town trying to show off their intellectual prowess or pretending that they were clever were abruptly put in their places by these highly learned folks. One statement or question from any one of them and such boastful pseudo-scholars are left gaping and confused, gasping for breath and looking for an escape route this way and that, like frightened rats. They could make our little town as uncomfortable as a blazing oven for any conceited boaster who came there pretending to be master of some field of knowledge or the other. Such was the weight of their academic bazookas!!! Such was the awe they inspired in our little town!!

The favourite past times of these gentle learned folks were matters of academic work and debate, reading and writing, brainstorming, and complex analyses of subjects ranging from the advanced principles of whatyasay to such complex subjects as parrotry, hostile teeth-gnashing and the principles of friendly cooing and angry rattling. Our common townsfolk never tired of hearing these sophisticated giants of our little town expound their juicy theories, propound strange hypotheses, or dismantle some difficult enigma or another. They particularly enjoyed seeing Homo Mouthy whitewashing mouthy folks who came to our little town pretending to be clever and trying to teach us about life.

The most prominent among these endowed folks was Gisyeb Gumbogi. Homo Gumbogi, as our common townsfolk fondly referred to our pious Gisyeb, was a specialist in the famous maata foof technique, the bite and blow strategy that never failed to deliver the desired results. This was a skill that was so hard to master that only the most brilliant and fearless could come close to practicing it. Homo Gumbogi however, practiced this special talent as easily as he smelled the air. Maata foof involved being at once a lion and a lamb, a lion when no danger is around and a lamb when the need arises. It demanded a nimble state of mind and was often used as a survival technique by the more gifted among our common townsfolk. The very few who could practice this ancient and dynamic art were greatly admired. Homo Gumbogi was among the very few bigwigs in our little town who knew that if you were a master of maata foof, there was no reason why you should not show the whole big wide world what you were capable of. 

So it was that our pious Homo Gumbogi, alias Ratahal, his bright eyes sparkling with a knowing light, would often don his favorite tails and ties and his hippo-hide boots, his unrivalled pen stuck to his breast pocket, and proudly strut in our little town, watching out for boastful dwarfs who pretended to be tall or just posing for all the eager cameras rooting to get a snap of the rare gem. And when his elegant picture came out in the newspapers, our common townsfolk were always amazed at how educated the wise guy looked. Even more than in real life! His face would shine like a dark oily moon, and there would be a grave and distant look in his eyes, not a hint of a smile on his serious lips, and more than a little air of pride and – no, not arrogance – inflating his generous nostrils. Homo Gumbogi hung copies of his special pictures in all the big trees of our little town, and our common townsfolk often stopped by to stare and marvel at the great spectacle. And then when Homo Gumbogi sailed proudly by and saw how our common townsfolk were staring at his image, he would give them his maata foof smile, displaying a row of real brown teeth, and saying “yeah, that’s maata foof man. It’s all a matter of human lice and the rule of no. No finti!”

Last but by no means the least, there were, in our little town, our sophisticated group of lesser smarties. There were Largehead Chickenbrain, Lerrbot Darkmind, Hamhami Mbedami and the great Munwah Nyaakahel who, to the most utter amazement of our common townsfolk, loudly claimed that he was conversant with each and every topic on the face of the earth, even those he had never heard of. Quick to learn and quick to assimilate, Munwah Nyaakahel was quick to read and quick to write, quick to see just what was wrong and what was right in every move and step, every word and sigh within the round corners of our little town. That was why Homo Nyaakahel was so greatly loved and honored and considered a special celebrity in our little town. That was why he and some of our lesser smarties were dubbed the ‘proper ones’, for truly speaking, no one could challenge them in the difficult art of telling right from wrong and in mapping out specific routes and patterns that must be strictly followed by the less endowed folks of our little town. To distinguish themselves from the less endowed among our common townsfolk, these prominent fake paperbags and airy folks always wore their coats inside-out and would not run from either sun or rain. So that even if a mighty rainstorm found them walking at a certain pace, they would neither hasten their pace nor run for shelter. They dared the very heavenly elements themselves!  They were the never-say-evers, the gallant mboka harr of our little town!!! And if you wondered why they would not take shelter, any one of them could tell you yeah, no yohal, no yohal, echoing our gallant Homo Mouthy of the dark oily face, also known as Ratahal Reklamun.


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