It was not that I was ignorant of its existence...no, to be the honest, it was rather the opposite. In times when things like this were still relevant, seeing the fleeting streak of panic over the face of the classroom bully finally being called out by a highly irritated and sour faced teacher to “walk the walk”, normally created bubbles of snickering giggles and small sighs of relief from the girls. He would receive sympathetic looks from the boys, and might even receive a slap of encouragement from the souls brave enough to face the possible wrath of said teacher as he swaggered past. We all knew the ritual; on his return, the teacher might have this small smirk, the girls would avoid looking at him and the boys will be whispering excitedly as they question him whilst he ever so gingerly tries to sit down.
Looking back, I cannot recall that I ever once seen the feared “rottang”, for somewhere along the line it was decisively reserved for the ultimate out of hand behaviour caused by hormone driven young men only. What I do remember is how the girls’ voices would lower when the word “rottang” was uttered, the mixture of dread and mystery further lending the feared implement a status of rather to be avoided, at all costs. Being surrounded by your peers, you also could not offer your own opinion or as in my case, a wish...I really wanted to know what the damn thing looked like! However, it was hidden in the deep recesses of the Principal’s office, the only man who had the authority to yield the power of it and I was not about to ask.
My grandfather had problems with his legs and he had a wonderful collection of walking sticks. They were stacked in a large upright copper pot, neatly tucked away in the corner near the door. It was my job to take out the thick yellowwood walking stick for him when we were going for a walk. In between all these wonderful carved and exotic walking sticks was a pale, thin specimen. I finally plucked up the courage (he was short of temper, especially when it appeared that you might question his wisdom and judgement) to establish what this poor sample was doing in the pot. It was clearly not of good quality, let alone thick enough to support him. My question did stop him in his tracks and a rather peculiar silence did fall over the room as it appeared that every grown up was holding their breath. He gave me a quick look and then replied rather brusquely that he uses it to kill snakes with. Although I found out years later that my uncle had rather different memories about that particular “walking stick”, the killing snakes bit was not a lie. He genuinely used the “rottang” against snakes.
Years have gone past since those days, and my wistful wish to see a “rottang” has been fulfilled. The first time I experienced the swish of the dreaded and feared implement against my bared bottom, I could fully understand the panicky looks I so often saw. I vehemently declared that it will not come near me again, yet, that same awe, fear and mystery that the cane has held for me, is still there. It has its own finesse, making it different, in a class of its own...the whispering as it cuts air in half, the “thwack” sound as it finds it mark and then those couple of seconds before it leaves its own special burn across my skin. I hate but yet I love it, and how I crave to feel this feeble looking implement once again.
Rottang (Afrikaans) I assumed directly translated from the word Rattan (or from the Malay rotan)
|In gratitude to China Hamilton|