Wèé-wèé is the nickname of the Acting Principal of Abeokuta Grammar School. As Soyinka says ‘a name which meant nothing until one encountered the thin, piping-voiced acting principal in his tight-fitting garbardine suit, spectacles which placed his gaze above the head of whomever he conversed with, and a gait which suggested a hen interrupted in the act of pecking scattered corn.
But the real scandal came when a Senior boy, and a prefect, made a girl pregnant. It was not unusual, but it was the first time that the girl’s parents had insisted on the offender’s dismissal from school. Normally the matter was taken up and settled by the parents of the two people concerned. The prefect was popular. He had a game leg which did not inhibit him in any way. His firm handling of the school was so full of humour that no one bore him any resentment. Always fastidious even in his school uniform, he had even developed a way of walking with his handicap so that it looked more like a dandyish style than a disability. Some of the junior boys actually tried to imitate, in a milder form, the unique swank he gave his body as he walked up to the platform to cries of his nickname — A-Keenzy — to make announcements, or to prepare the assembly for the arrival of the Acting Principal. It was sheer bad luck that he had pick on an ‘important’ family in Abeokuta who demanded their pound of flesh. Mr Kuforiji (Acting Principal) was reluctant to blight the career of any student by dismissal, especially in his final year, yet the offence was grave enough to merit some exemplary punishment. He hit on public caning — before the entire school assembly. For a school prefect this was, even for AGS, a serious humiliation. And the number of strokes was an unprecedented — thirty-six!
A special assembly was summoned. The staff filed solemnly into the front row of the auditorium and Mr Kuforiji mounted the platform. In appropriately formal tones, he announced the purpose of the meeting, expressed the shock of the entire school community at the disgrace brought upon us, and the unhappiness visited on the girl’s family by the thoughtless act of one of our own members. He then named the offender, ordered him to rise and come to the platform. Kuforiji turned to him and intoned that he had resolved to give him another chance in life by offering him a choice. He could leave the school in dismissal, with his name tarnished forever, or he could receive thirty-six strokes of the cane before the assembly. The young man chose the latter.
Three canes had been laid on the table. The prefect was ordered to ‘touch his toes’ and the punishment began. One of the teachers was appointed to keep count.
Wèé-wèé changed canes at the end of the first twelve; AKeenzy’s did not move a muscle. Halfway through the second dozen, Wèé-wèé had begun to sweat. When he changed canes at the count of twenty-four, we noticed that he took longer before he resumed, and that his strokes had begun to lose their bite. There was stillness in the hall, punctuated only by the falling strokes. I sensed that history was being made. All eyes were glued to AKeenzy’s body, unable to believe that a man could absorb twenty-four strokes on his back and buttocks without once shifting position, without the slightest noticeable twitch of a muscle. I began to wonder if Akeenzy had padded himself in some way when I recalled that Wèé-wèé had first pulled back the prefect’s trousers and peeped down them to ensure that there was no cheating. Kuforiji administered the last six strokes through sheer will-power. Sweat covered him profusely. Akeenzy rose, calm, unruffled, bowed with impeccable grace and intoned the ritual response to the administration of correction:
‘Thank you, Principal’: and then the roof of the assembly hall was solidly pounded with a thunderous applause. In vain did the principal, having first recovered from the shock, bang on the table for order. His assistant grabbed the bell and swung it furiously. It only added to the sounds of jubilation. All the bell staff joined in the attempt to staunch the spontaneous outburst of applause, it went on and on, wave after wave until it wore itself out. For minutes after the silence, Wèé-wèé was too scandalised to speak. Finally he spluttered,
‘Eyin omo Satani!* Shameless incorrigible idiots, you really think that was something to applaud? Awon omo alaileko!° Your souls must be corrupted in and out — get out! Assembly dismissed!’
(from Aké by Wole Soyinka)
* Satanic children
° Lacking in home training