A mother takes twenty years to make a man of her boy, and another woman makes a fool of him in twenty minutes.

– Robert Frost, American poet

During my days in rural secondary schools, this was the time when teachers started anticipating what would happen on April 1, April Fools’ Day.

After having served in a number of secondary schools from SMK Sedaya in Kanowit to SMK Lake in Bau with SMK Saratok, SMK Serian and SMK Julau in between, there were a number of interesting, at times hilarious incidents happening on that day, thanks to “inventive” students, especially boarders.

We teachers were used to these sights where wooden chairs took the place of the school, state and national flags up the flag poles. As the school head, I concurred with the school staff’s patience as these were part of April Fools’ Day, if it did happen on April 1. But in 1989, while heading SMK Julau in Julau, I was in Bintulu attending the Sarawak School Principals Conference on that day.

By April 4, I was back. That was when a group of students created havoc in the school confining to areas easily seen or noticeable, namely in front of the staffroom, next to the principal’s office and thereabout.

Havoc in the name of April Fools’ Day but it was three days later. We were thinking of some possibilities. One was these kids were ignorant about the date whereas another one was they thought it was April Fourth while the third one, they wanted to be funny when the school principal was around.

In my mind, this might be masterminded by a member of the staff (non-teaching ones included) but I kept my thinking to myself.

Apart from the usual hoisting of chairs and other items up the flag poles, this group of students went overboard by blocking the passage ways, including roads using flowerpots.

One poor wife of a teacher who drove the family car on a blocked road hit some of the flower pots due to the early morning poor visibility, thus causing minor damages to her car and the flowerpots, too.

By 7.30am, my senior assistant in-charge of student affairs was done with interviewing some students and getting the culprits to confirm their misdemeanour.

Five male Form Four students, who were boarders, affirmed they were the culprits. I called an emergency school assembly and punished the five boys by public canning.

It was not meant to hurt them but to drive at a point – they went overboard and did it on the wrong date. I let them choose which rotan rod to use but it was secondary as my intention was not to hurt them but to teach them a lesson .

Four of the students were in their first four months in the school as they were formerly SMK Pakan kids but joined SMK Julau attending Form Four. The fifth offender was the school’s original student, actually a good boy who was already school prefect from his Form Three days, which was a plus factor.

He was the one who took it so badly and left school immediately after the canning.

One of the four obtained good result in his SPM and continued to attend Lower Six in SMK Meradong, Bintangor two years later. When I met him during his Form Six days, he said he was very grateful to me for meting out the punishment because it certainly made him see facts and reasons.

He did well in his STPM too, I was told. During the subsequent April Fools’ Days in the school (till 1993), no such absurd hilarity recurred.

On this special day, a number of “Fools’ Jokes” are played but in Kanowit in 1984, one head of department was reprimanded by then District Officer Empeni Lang (now deceased) for “going overboard” with his jokes and pranks.

This guy used his department’s letterhead to send a letter to a town primary school, stating that the wife of then Chief Minister (now Sarawak Governor) was coming to the school.

Datuk Amar Laila Taib was to visit the school on a date stated in the letter signed by the department’s head – one can easily guess what the department was. The school headmaster was smart as he checked with the District Officer first.

The DO was furious with the person who played such jokes and reprimanded him in writing, thus putting the record in his personal file. It really tainted the culprit’s reputation, despite being a personal friend of the DO.

On the same date many years ago, a newspaper tried to create a joke among readers by putting up an image of special sighting at Bau Lake. It certainly helped to draw visitors to the place..

According to known records on April 1, 1700, English pranksters began popularising the annual tradition of April Fools’ Day by playing practical jokes on each other.

This day has been celebrated for several centuries by different cultures butits definite origins remain a mystery and blur.

Malaysians know it as a day for tricks, pranks and jokes. Many opine it as a day for pranksters and older siblings all around the world. Many eagerly anticipate it as Christmas and other celebrations.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.