By Farooq A. Kperogi, Ph.D.
During my last six-minute phone conversation with my late father on December 28, 2016, he said something that was morbidly poignant.
When I told him not to talk as if his life was ending, he said, “even if I die today, I would die a happy, fulfilled man because in you I live. In your daughter whom you named after my mother, I live. In your son whom you named after me, I live. In your siblings, I live. In the legacies I imparted to you and that you’ll impart to your children, I live.”
|Photo taken in the summer of 2009 when I visited home|
Two days later, he died peacefully surrounded by his wife, children, and other well-wishers. In retrospect, he had come to terms with his own corporeal mortality, but was buoyed up by his confidence in his incorporeal immortality.
Six qualities defined my father: trust, truth, faithfulness, kindness, hard work, and a deep aversion to superstition and ignorance. He ossified these qualities in the names he chose for his first three children. His first son, my older brother, is called (Al-) Amin, which is Arabic for the trustworthy. My name, Farooq, is Arabic for one who distinguishes truth from falsehood, and my younger brother is named Abdulmumin, which means servant of the faithful. He told me the choice of the names was deliberate.
From our formative, impressionable years, he let us know the meanings of our names and the importance he attached to the meanings. Through his constant reminders of the moral burden of my name, he caused me to internalize the imperative of truth-telling. I often “betrayed” my brothers by telling our dad inconvenient truths about our childhood indiscretions that got us into trouble with him.
My brothers used to call me a treacherous chump who easily fell for our dad’s flattery. “Must you always get us into trouble because you want to live up to daddy’s flattery that you are truth teller?” they would say.
A compulsive urge to tell the truth, even if it’s against me, or makes me unpopular and disliked, has become an inescapable part of me. Of course, I would be making false claims to superhuman perfection if I said I have never lied, but I always feel a deep, gnawing sense of philosophical and existential unease when I knowingly lie or omit the truth.
I never knew my father to lie under any circumstance. I recall that when I was growing up, people in my community thought my dad, being a Malam, used to feed me on steady staples of mysterious, intelligence-enhancing charms, called “faham” (Arabic for “understanding”), which is believed in Muslim communities to possess the capacity to make students excel in school. But my older and younger brothers were average.
People came to him to ask him to give them the faham that he purportedly gave me. First, he didn’t believe in that superstitious crap and he always told us that. Second, he would tell the people that he had three boys all of whom he wanted to excel in school. “Why would I give faham, if it were real, to one and not the others?”
When the requests became persistent and he got tired of telling people that there was no such thing as faham, he asked us to write random Quranic verses on a wooden slate with edible ink, wash it and save the water in a bottle. He asked the people who asked for it to drink it, but on one condition: that they studied every day or risk insanity. A couple of months later, a bunch of them came to tell him their performance had improved in school and wanted to show gratitude by giving him money.
|Adam Kperogi and Adamu Kperogi--summer 2016|
He politely declined their money and told them it was their hard work of reading every day, and not the edible ink (or fahan) they drank, that caused the improvement in their grades. “Any Malam who collects your money and tells you he can improve your class performance by giving you faham is a fraud. Such a belief has no basis in Islam,” he said.
I also recall a day when a Hausa preacher came to our town to preach. A small crowd gathered. His sermons were translated by a Baatonu translator. The man would read passages from the Qur’an in Arabic, translate them into Hausa, go into elaborate exegeses, and his interpreter would translate his Hausa translations into Baatonu. It turned out that he was just bullshitting. There was no connection between the Quranic passages he read out in Arabic and the Hausa translations he gave to them.
My dad spoke and wrote fluent Arabic and the Kumasi dialect of Hausa, and told me the preacher was bullshitting. He went to the preacher and spoke Arabic to him. The man didn’t understand Arabic. Then he spoke to him in Hausa and told him he was mistranslating the verses. The man thanked him nervously and abruptly ended the preaching. I was about 8 years old when this happened, and it has endured in my memories to this day.
Another fond memory I cherish was the day he and I were coming from the mosque when two men approached him and importuned him to give them money. They said they hadn’t eaten all day. My dad was the kindest human being I ever know. He would give his last penny to people in need. So he gave the men all the money he had on him. “I don’t have a lot with me now, but I am a salary earner and the month will end in a few days. You need this more than I do,” he said.
As soon as the men left, we overheard their conversation in hushed voices. “I told you this good luck charm is very efficient,” the man who got the money said to the other. “The man brought out all that he had against his better judgment!”
My dad intensely disliked and disdained sorcery, charms, and all modes of superstitions. He knew that I had overheard the two men’s conversations and might believe in the efficacy of charms, which he taught me was fake. So he called the man he gave the money to. He put his hand in his pocket and said the man should bring the money he had just given him. He said he wanted to give him more.
When the man handed the money to him, my dad said, “I gave you the money out of compassion. I thought you really needed it. I didn’t give you because of your good luck charms. There is no such thing as a good luck charm. Have a good day.”
My most cherished memory of him, though, is that he bought me my first dictionary when he realized that I had tremendous interest in language. He told me the dictionary contained the secret to understanding a language. How true!
He was right that that even in death he lives. Interestingly, after my children and I cried when I told them of their grandfather’s passing, my son, Adam, consoled me by saying, “I’m Baa’s replacement since you gave me his name.” I was overwrought with emotions.