Life lesson through roosters
Originally posted at: https://www.ugandapartners.org/2020/07/life-lesson-through-roosters/
By Dr. Martin M. Lwanga
One day for an occasion I don’t recall in all detail, Dad’s deep voice boomed through the corridors of our Kampala, Uganda, neighborhood house. He wanted something. He commanded my brothers and me to chase a rooster for a meal. I think it was meant for a visitor but it could have been some big event coming up like Easter or Christmas. Not sure now but then and without waste, we set off for the kill.
Roosters are programmed to sense danger. As little chicks they grow up in the wings of their mothers. I was maybe seven years old, but still recall this hen that had a dozen of chicks. Proud of her brood, the hen was constantly on the look out as she furrowed the ground.
We had quite a number of domesticated fowls at our place. Early in the morning the bolts would be released from their evening shelter, and off they would jump off the poles where they rested. After stretching they would start slowly picking up crumbs around the house and gradually move on.
Rarely would they be seen in the day. In the late evenings the troop would return, one by one, sometimes in pairs, but they all made it back, tummies filled, for the nights rest.
Once an old friend of Dad came from the village with a gift of a rooster. After the friend left, the rooster was added to the rest of the chickens who were already a tight knit group. Things didn’t go well that night. In the camp, there was already a big red rooster. Looks like he had fathered all the chicks in the stead. Big Papa didn’t like being upstaged. And here was a new kid on the block.
A terrible fight broke out. Although seemingly timid when roosters start fighting, they will fight their souls out. In the end, we just slaughtered off the visitor and left Big Papa rooster to his territory.
So here was Dad telling us to chase and slaughter him, too! Chasing a rooster for a meal would tax even Usain Bolt, the famed Jamaican runner. Agile, the rooster led us around, here and there, flew up, danced, elbowed, ditched us, teased, dusted us off, until he ran out of steam and, my brother, who was hiding behind a pole, nabbed him.
The rebel was brought to the slaughterhouse and dumped on some banana leaves. All hands started plucking feathers off his neck. Once his neck was clean-shaven my elder brother handed me a knife to slice it off. What??! I shook my head. I was timid, and killing things did not bode well with me.
Quickly, my brother sliced off the neck without missing a beat. I looked on with tortured awe. I hated being a coward and knew next time I had to prove myself. The meal later was sumptuous.
You can learn a lot from such things. When the Europeans came to Uganda, they brought to us an institutionalized education with its pecking classroom order. There, as we discovered, you read about roosters in books, and soon after we were made to memorize answers for grades. No life experience.
However, long before in our societies, kids picked up lessons of life from the lives around them and chores tasked within those lives.
Going to the well was one such chore I saw back in the village. There was this spring well in my mother’s village; it was kept tidy by all. All kids walked down to the well. We came back gingerly holding to a bucket with a pot on the head, swinging a jerry can.
Sometimes you would play too hard at the well; by the time you got home, the parents were angry, and then got you a few fine lashes. Time keeping did not start yesterday.
In such an economy, you got to know the value of water as a scarce commodity. You also got to know about teamwork for you could not get everything all done by yourself. Cooperation with others was an essential way of life.
Back in the days, there was no clock for roosters who would wake up the entire household. Much as they seem to have tiny little heads, roosters never got lost in the neighborhood and always found their way safely back home. Interesting though was that not one hungry neighbor would nab what was not his for a secret meal. There was a communal fraternity that respected and defended individual property rights.
Our society has progressed, or so to say, to a point where an average urban middle class kid might wonder how a chicken gets to his plate, since it comes already dressed from the down town supermarket. He will not have seen the economy of these birds and how knowledge is not limited to only humans. He will be so full of himself, as expected.
He won’t learn the art of grasping a knife and slicing off the head of a chicken for a meal, which in his new world borders on animal cruelty. The things that run life have all been curved out from him, like running water in a house, being ferried to school, all chores removed from him.
But in this protected life he is also missing out on the real life out there, messy and sometimes ugly as real life is. Sooner or later, he will come face to face with that life. Perhaps our old way of upkeep – of learning by doing as young children – was not that bad.
(Dr, Martin M. Lwanga is Dean for the Uganda Christian University Faculty of Business and Administration, which stepped up its use of real-world learning in the curriculum in recent years – an education strategy promoted even more in discussions during the Uganda COVID-19 lockdown.)
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