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Raffique Shah


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Beating up on a 'Bobolee'

By Raffique Shah
April 08, 2007

One fun-filled tradition of Easter celebrations of yesteryear was "beating the bobolee" on Good Friday. As children, we hardly knew why we helped put together this human-like figure, what he represented, and why, after all the effort to make the damn thing, we'd then just beat it to a frazzle. Later, as we grew older and learned some lessons from biblical history, we'd understand that the poor thing we put together then beat and tore apart was supposed to represent Judas, the disciple who is alleged to have betrayed Jesus. For two millennia, and with so many theories of how, why and if Christ really died on that cross, if Judas betrayed him, I wonder if we were beating up on the wrong fella.

There is hardly a concern over such trivia by today's children. One rarely sees "bobolees" nowadays. Just for the heck of it, I make it a point to drive around the district I live in and neighbouring villages and towns to see if the tradition is alive. When I count five, I consider it my lucky Good Friday. Children today have so many other kinds of entertainment to engage in. Why beat a "bobolee" when there are other, live, helpless kids nearby who are targets for a good cutarse? Sean Luke and Baby Amy only rose to prominence because they died while being abused. But countless other children suffer in silence as they are bullied by the strong or by gangs of mini-thugs. And I haven't added adults who take a sadistic delight in beating up on kids.

So the "bobolee" has become passť in today's Easter celebrations. For the few whose families can afford it, children now spend the short vacation abroad, some lucky to visit America, others enjoying shopping sprees in popular Caribbean destinations.

Thousands flock the local beaches and with many households boasting of three, four vehicles, some may choose shopping malls or modern cinemas over sand and sea. Why stay at home and be bored by television stations that insist on showing The Ten Commandments and equally marathon-long movies based on biblical stories? When we first paid ten cents (yes, cents, not dollars!) to sit in "pit" for-what?-three-plus hours to take in the Cecil B De Mille's classic, we hung on to every word spoken, every action frame. The parting of the sea by Moses was a virtual celluloid miracle that we'd want to see over and again.

Times have changed, but not necessarily for the better. Movies like that sparked interest in religion, in ancient history, and we'd try to get our hands on any book we could to read more about the events we saw brought to life on the screen. The Bible was a good starting point, especially the Old Testament, although it required much savvy to translate old English into modern language. But as seekers of knowledge, nothing was too difficult for us to read, dictionary close at hand. By age 15, like most boys who attended Catholic colleges, I knew more about Christianity than I did about Islam. I can still recite the "Sermon on the Mount", I remain fascinated by the story of Christ's life and death, I applaud his condemnation of the "Scribes and Pharisees" (so many of them, hypocrites all, around today!), and most of all I enjoyed it when he "rest bullpistle" on those who were gambling in the temple.

That thirst for knowledge that we had in days gone by seems to have evaporated in the modern world. It didn't matter whether the subject was religion, history, geography, mathematics, or Latin (which was beyond me). We read as part of our overall education, we read to enhance our education, we read for the sheer joy of reading. Today, books are a bore except in the hands of few "gifted" children who combine reading with the vast reservoir of information that can be obtained on the Internet. For the vast majority, quick kills in movies, just like fast foods, comprise their total daily fare.

Is it any surprise that the Ministry of Education announced recently that at least ten per cent of those who sit the SEA examination cannot muster even a 30 per cent overall score? That we are producing dunces at a time when we have the best learning tools of any generation? That our standards in English, from top politicians to university graduates, remain at an abysmal level? I shall not seek to embarrass our politicians who cannot string two sentences together, whose subjects and verbs invariably disagree violently. I shall use, instead, some gems from President George Bush to illustrate how power does not mean glory, and high office does not signal knowledge.

"The goals of this country is to enhance prosperity and peace." That from Bush last September at a conference on Global Literacy! And: "Make no mistake about it I understand how tough it is. I speak to families who die!" Now there's a "bobolee" to beat up on this Easter weekend. Enjoy.