Lessons learnt from a greedy boy

“Mother Africa: for hundreds of years has groaned under humans who have harmed her by looting her treasures, setting enmity between peoples, and by forcing stones atop her greatest minds and hearts so they could not grow into giants. But, also in Mother Africa is rooted the mysterious Heart of the World, a Heart of Humanity that ever beats strong no matter what, and that is oddly ever vulnerable … yet ever invincible … ever wounded … yet ever covered with (beauty and) flowers of acacia … the honey of which flows like deep amber sweetwater.” Clarissa Pinkola-Estes

In the psyche there can be pressure to survive, a way of protecting the self, a strong tendency toward identification with the aggressor or oppressor. This is often seen in those who have been abused, denigrated and colonised, their nation over-run or conquered.

If what one learnt, in the midst of surviving an oppression, is not carefully examined afterward, and measured against a strong norm of what it means to be humane, and certain traits discarded as inhumane, the once oppressed sometimes have a tendency to mimic their own oppressors with the people closest to them, who are perceived as powerless.

Eventually as deleterious attitudes are handed down generation after generation in a culture, those taking the demeaning attitudes toward others, often have learned to deeply disrespect women and others with such self-appointed impunity that they stop registering their own cruelties, and exclusions.

Thus, they exile worthy souls because they have, for generations now, normalised brutality toward a certain class of “others.”

When Clarissa Pinkola-Estes asked one of the Ghanaian rookie broadcasters, storytellers – who had started up their own broadcasting radio station powered on solar energy to tell stories of healing to their communities – what the biggest issue was that faced their people, one of these generous people, a soulful gentle man, said it was “children with great power who had not overcome their greediness for all the butter in the world.”

Together they worried over this matter of the “ravenous child in a man’s body” and attendant matters of abject inhumanity. They finally decided to weave a story from all the hours of heartfelt testimony, in order “to tell the story of it all”, in a simple yet incisive way. This is that story:

The story of the Greedy Boy

A little boy was sent to bring butter from a neighbouring farm. “Bring it quickly so it does not melt,” said the mother. So the little boy set off, arrived at the farm, was given the fresh butter in a crockery pot, and the child set off for home. But somewhere along the path, the boy got the idea that the crockery pot sort of looked like a crown, and so he turned it upside down, and put it atop his head.

Thus he strode through the brush emulating what he’d seen and heard of kings, tromping around, ordering the weeds to bow down to him, and trampling on smaller creatures. He felt so powerful.

But also, because of the heat from his head under the “crown,” the butter began to melt and drip down his forehead, then nose, then into his mouth. And the more he dallied marching about pretending to be king, the more the butter melted and the more the butter ran into the boy’s mouth … and he lapped it all up very enthusiastically. Until finally … all the delicious sweet butter was gone.

And that is how a child pretending to be king became a tyrant, nearly overnight.

For the taste of something sweet that came from the hard work of others, but that he kept all to himself without offering it to any other soul, had turned his heart. Even though his first intention was good, to bring the butter to his mother who in turn would share it all around … he wound up depriving all others of the sweetest tastes of life, taking it all in for himself, only.

Before we can ever be truly free, the moral decay of such butter carriers has to be faced, said the Ghanaian rookie broadcaster. Confronting the endlessly greedy child in those who abuse vulnerable people, women and children, is the first and foremost defence, and once internalised, the cure, against further abuse of persons, with women and their children in particular.

Yet, vaguely spoken medicinal words will never effectively help to mend a deep wound.

Religious and other leaders have to decide whether indeed they want to help free Africa and lift her, or buy right back into boys pretending to be king and self-centeredly consuming all the sweet butter, that is all the gifts of the Life and Spirit meant to be shared with and by all others.

This Spirit insists on respect toward women instead of shouting and demeaning women in order to try to intimidate them; this Spirit insists that a man request clear permission to court or be intimate with a woman, rather than forcing himself on a woman or a child sexually; this Spirit requires that neither woman nor child, before, during or after day’s end, be beaten or shunned for not acquiescing to reasoned or unreasoned demands; this Spirit insists that a man bend to do his just share of what is for the common good at every level, rather than imposing servant slave-hood on others under the guise of “do this for Jesus/God” … because the man is bent on pretending to be a king tromping around in the bush exploiting others to support his fantasy.

All these and more are to be brought into the open and spoken about, not once, but rather many times.

Moving from being unconscious of harms one does to others, into consciousness of acting in ways that do not harm others, is indeed heavy work that one can hire no slave to do for oneself.

Each soul has to pry their consciousness out of the primal ooze and develop, and enact these new attitudes and practices for themselves. That would indeed be a move from being a monster in the making, to being a hero on the mend.

And perhaps in this way, we as Africans of all colours and shades, can start to rebuild our lives and deeply connect with the heritage, beauty and depth that Mother Africa, the Cradle of Humanity, has to offer to us and to the rest of the world, not to be exploited but enjoyed, shared and cherished.