To those who were brought up in Africa in the 70s and the 80s, ‘dealing’ with your kids usually means physical punishment. In those days, the standard penalty was to be caned with a thin, seemingly unbreakable bamboo stick, a belt, a slipper, or anything similar for delivering pain without breaking the skin. The cane brought such order to African homes that even the mere hint that a caning might be imminent was enough to make the children of the household tremble.
Sometimes a child had the option of receiving the lashes on the fingers or on the palm of the hand, but sometimes the caning was more improvised and surprising, like a heavy slap to the face or to the back of the head. But caning, in whatever form, was and is too basic a kind of punishment to cover all infractions. Things really got interesting when parents got creative on their kids and had them do things like balance on one leg while stretching out their other limbs as though pretending to be a plane in flight.
To Europeans, these punishments might sound a bit violent, but thinking now about the forms they took, is it possible our parents were merely trying to keep us fit? After all, these punishments were merely endurance tests for the muscles. No pain no gain? We’re sure you can think of many more tests from your own childhood, but here are a few to start your trip down memory lane:
Creative punishment #1: The frog jump
Remember having to hold your ears and do the squats? This was sometimes known as the Frog Jump. It was quite popular across West Africa and is still a favourite in some homes in the Diasporas. That punishment is well thought through, because there’s no set limit to how many times you have to squat or how long you will need to squat for this time. All you knew was that you had to keep going up and down long after you felt the burn in your thigh muscles. The cane was waiting for you if you stopped.
But at least with the Frog Jump, with its repetition component, mimicked something you might do in a gym (without the ear-holding). Who came up with the starter’s block punishment? For this you had to pretend you were an athlete about to run the 100 metres, get into the on your marks position, then get set, and remain in that “get set” position until your leg muscles gave out or until the parent thought you’d trembled enough. Ah, the memories! If you didn’t grow up in an African household, try this now and see how long you last.
Creative punishment #2: Touch your toes and stand still
Another frozen-in-place punishment was to stand bent over and touch your toes while keeping your legs straight. Kids are flexible, so the first time you had to do this you thought, hey, this is not so bad. 10 minutes later you’re thinking you’d have preferred the momentary pain of the cane.
Creative punishment #3: The invisible chair
Another way parents got our muscles burning was to have us sit on an invisible chair with our backs against the wall. To make sure you felt the burn in more than just your thigh muscles, you also had to have your arms stretched out in front of you. As with the other punishments, you never knew how long you had to remain in this position. What you did know was that a minute was a minute too long.
Creative punishment #4: Kneeling on gravel
Kneeling on its own is boring, but kneeling on gravel while making sure your upper legs formed a straight line with your erect torso, now that was a bit more interesting because the pain caused by sharp stones digging into your knees made remaining upright quite a challenge. But if a parent thought this still wasn’t sufficiently challenging, they had the option of asking you to also raise your hands in the air, keeping your arms straight.
Creative punishment #5: Pepper in the butt
Saving the craziest for last, and it’s one some of our Ghanaian visitors will be familiar with: the application of freshly sliced pepper or ginger to the buttocks. Or, for the really hardcore parents, actually squeezing pepper seeds up your butt. It’s a more extreme version of the American practice of “hotsaucing” (dabbing a naughty child’s tongue with stinging Tabasco). I imagine anyone unfamiliar with this particular punishment might be thinking “what the heck!?” Don’t worry, this one isn’t commonly used anymore, although one couple in Belgium tried it on their 16-year-old daughter in 2005 and ended up in court (copy-past the text into Google translate). Not surprisingly, the threat of this particular punishment was enough to silence any child. One young lady I interviewed described the feeling as an intense burning sensation lasting 10 to 15 minutes. She also said it straightened her out, but she was laughing when she said that.
Corporal punishment is administered less today than it was in the 70s and 80s, especially in the more westernised African homes and in the diaspora, but back then they were just a normal part of growing up, and we can have a good laugh about them now. The threat of punishment kept us on the straight and narrow, and hey, we survived them. Besides, we know we deserved some sort of punishment at least some of the time. So, let’s hear from you with the forms of creative punishments you had to endure and about which you can look back with fond memories.
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