Baba was his master’s favourite for one important reason. He had saved his master’s son from the hands of the pale-skinned men who kidnapped blacks and shipped them off in their large ships as slaves. He had survived that without a left little finger, which had been cut off in the struggle but he had saved the teenage boy and that was all that mattered. His master was grateful, grateful beyond words, so grateful his gratitude will have span the expanse between the rising place of the sun and its setting place.
He earned his master’s trust absolutely with that act of sacrifice. He was Baba; Baba from the northern tribes, Baba the slave, the only slave who was content with his lot. The story of his life had been as undulating as the cliffs and valleys of the eastern tribes, but he bore no anger against the gods. He was satisfied with his fortune in life. He was always satisfied. That is the important lesson his grandmother had taught him. He could still hear her voice: “Never be discontent. As long as there is still shea butter to moisturise your dry skin, life will turn out for the better”. These were his watch words. Until the last shea nut tree died, his hope would never die.
Those words were from the time when he was a free boy in the North. His tribe had marched down South to fight the great Asante kingdom. His tribe descended without warning with the hope of taking the Asante kingdom by surprise. But if there was any surprise to be had, it was he and his tribe that had a basket full of it. The Asantes were ready for them. They had been alerted by their powerful Okomfoͻ who had looked into the vulture’s feathers and seen Baba’s people coming a long way off. The massacre was gory and the survivors were taken as slaves.
But Baba’s story didn’t end there. Eventually, he was sold off to a rich man in the south, the Fante man, Owura Gyebi. Baba became a slave of the Fante. But Baba was satisfied. It was Owura Gyebi’s son he had saved from the slave traders and for that, the man loved him dearly. It was in this man’s house he had become the king slave. So Baba was content. The man called him Baba the Baboon. It was later that he understood that Owura Gyebi called him baboon because he was too ugly looking to resemble a human being. But that was not something he was sad about. His master had been good to him.
Baba had a hobby, something he preoccupied himself with when he had well-deserved work breaks. He would go for his favourite stick, which he had sharpened by himself till the tip was pointed and strong and draw in the dust of his master’s compound. What Baba loved drawing most were the Adinkra symbols. He had learnt about these strange symbols when he was a slave in the Asante kingdom. The symbols were patterned in very expensive cloth and Baba knew he would never have been able to buy one of those. So he contented himself with memorising these patterns and drawing them when he had free time.
On one special day, Owura Gyebi treated Baba to a surprise. Baba’s kenkey came with fish. It wasn’t the ordinary kind of fish. In fact it was a complete, wide-eyed mackerel with a twisted grin. Baba was so touched he decided to get a gift for his master as well. But what could he possibly get Owura Gyebi that he didn’t already have?
It was when a batch of pale-skinned men came from across the oceans that he knew what to get for his master. He realized that the pale-skinned men had symbols drawn on the side of their ship. These symbols were drawn in something black, something which was definitely indelible, because they hadn’t been wiped off by the waves of the sea. Whatever it was, he was going to find it and paint his favourite Adinkra symbols on the walls of Owura Gyebi’s hut as a gift.
So Baba the Baboon decided to steal himself into the ship in the dead of night and find this indelible drawing ink. On the fateful night, Baba dressed up fully, armed himself with a knife, found a rope with which to climb up the ship, and set out into the night.Baba was called the Baboon, but he could swim like a fish. He dove into the cold water and swam across the waves. He got to the base of the ship in a matter of minutes. After sometime of trial-and-failure, he was able to throw the loop of his rope unto the edge of the ship and secure it on a piece of metal that was jutting out. Baba hoisted himself on to the deck of the ship. There was no one in sight. Perhaps if there were a sentry, he was fast asleep. Baba sneaked like a snake across the deck and found the door into the cabins, which opened easily.
Baba searched to no avail till he eventually entered a cabin which contained drums. A gentle knock into one of them, and he judged that they contained something liquid. Could this be what he was looking for? One of the drums was oozing out a black liquid, black as the symbols he had seen on the side of the ship. This was definitely it.
That was when Baba heard a loud voice and scrambling from the deck of the ship above. He knew he’d been caught. In haste, he grabbed one drum and bolted. It was the leaking drum. The width of the corridor was filled by a large white man brandishing a big piece of wood. Baba reacted instinctively. He threw the drum, which connected squarely with his big belly. The man fell backwards as Baba leaped over him, grabbed his drum and ran towards the end of the corridor and up the staircase, towards the deck.
But the exit to the deck was blocked by two white men. One held a long metal tube Baba knew very well and hated. It was a gun. Meanwhile the leak in the drum he’d stolen had opened up into a bigger hole when he had thrown the drum at the first white man, and the black fluid was pouring all around. Without thinking he swung the drum and splattered the black liquid over the two men, stunning them. Then he rammed his head into the one with the gun, who fell heavily. Baba picked up his prized drum and made for the deck. They tried to grab his legs, but Baba was faster.
On the deck, Baba halted. Six white men faced him, two with guns. One of them, with abundant hair like a horse, motioned for him to drop the drum. He placed it down hesitantly and noticed that the men at that attempted to draw closer to him. He lifted the drum again and they drew back. He figured whatever the drum contained, was important and he was going to carry it like a talisman for protection. So he held it closer to his chest and inched cautiously away from the men towards the side of the ship.
One white man attempted to shoot, but the hairy one yelled at him to stop. Baba knew it was because of the black liquid. Without warning the other gun holder shot, but Baba had already jumped overboard. In the water, Baba swam like he had never done before. He had escaped with his life, but not his drum. Halfway into his swim back, the ship caught fire and exploded, lighting up the night.
It was later in life, as Baba grew older, that he got to know that the black liquid was crude oil, friend of fire, that made fire grow huge. Plucky Baba the Baboon never got to paint Adinkra on his master’s walls but he sure took care of the menace of the white man that night.
Author : Michael Agyapong, Student Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST)