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A West African’s Heritage Journey: “My Dear Taiwo”

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A West African’s Heritage Journey: “My Dear Taiwo”

I walked into the British Library sometime in August 2010 and picked up a book I’d looked up online, seeing that it was in the library collection… “My Dear Taiwo: How an Old Boy Urged His Son to Pursue” (1948) by Joseph Leighton Decker (My Great-Grandfather/Paternal) and edited by Arthur Decker (his son, my Grandfather’s elder brother).

The first page read as such….

“Some time during the first half of 1921, a neatly dressed bearded man of medium stature, and about forty four years old, emerged from the gate of a house at Pultney Street Freetown, accompanied by a young boy of about ten years.

The two individuals went down the street, turned to the left when they reached Oxford street, and made their way to the Grammar School buildings.

The boy was a stranger to Freetown [from Nigeria] and did not know anything about the route they were taking. He simply went with his father, for such was the man to him.

They entered the Principal’s quarters, and the boy found himself and his father in the presence of another man. He saw and heard them greet each other very warmly and with happy smiles. They had not seen each other for years; the bearded man being home on leave from Calabar after an absence from home of over five years.

The boy heard them talking to each other and heard his father telling the other man that he had brought his son with him and that he intended him to enter the school at the beginning of the approaching term, that was in July 1921. The other man greeted the boy, and then, (the three had now sit down) started to exchange thoughts, and perhaps, memories with the bearded man.

After they had spoken for a while, the host rose up and led the visitor accompanied by his son, through part of the School buildings. When they reached the entrance leading from the Principal’s quarters to the boarding department, the bearded man pointed at the passage and exclaimed “This was where so and so and I had it out,” giving out a name. The above was not his exact words, but it was some words like those that he used.

At that time, and in after years, whenever the boy remembered this occasion when his father spoke and pointed at the passage, he felt a thrill the father no doubt, referred to a fight he had had or witnessed when he was a boy.

As the school was on holidays, there were no boys about.”

I continued to read the pages following this first page, as I read a series of letters that Joseph Decker and his son, Arthur, had written each other during Arthur’s time at the Sierra Leone Grammar School.

In a letter dated 28/7/1925, Joseph wrote:

“I note that you are the smallest boy in the Senior School, this is very amusing. What about the Cambridge Local Examinations? I should like you to sit for them: write and let me know the arrangements.”

Arthur included in his notes that, apparently, he was the shortest and youngest boy in the Senior School when he was promoted to it; he had written his father to tell him that.

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About 70 years later, I received a medal at the school’s 150th Anniversary (1995) for also being the youngest student in attendance. I was delighted, sitting there in that library, discovering that Grandpa Arthur and I shared that bit of history, just as much as we shared the honor of attending such a great school.

Arthur later went on to become the second Sierra Leonean and one of the first West Africans to graduate with a Medical degree from Glasgow University in Scotland.  In 1936, Arthur graduated with an MB ChB in Veterinary Medicine.

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The University of Glasgow’s International Story Blog

The Sierra Leone Grammar School was an educational hub for many prominent West Africans in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, setting a path for many others in the years since, continuing legacies across generations.

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Akindele Decker is a Sierra Leonean poet and writer with ancestral links across West Africa and the other side of the Atlantic. He resides in Maryland, USA with his family. www.akindeletmdecker.com

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