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Kelvin Gray re-hitches ‘culture’ debate

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Just as everyone seems to be forgetting Mr. Carter’s cultural debates, on January 19, 2015, a post by Mr. Kelvin Gray sought to re-hitch and land support to Carter’s divisive thoughts about Natives, yea their traditions. A paragraph from Gray’s post reads thus: “The other reasons Liberia is soon poorly structured are due to rampant corruptions way before the free slaves settled on our soil.

It became business as usual for the free slaves when they mingled and interacted with the natives; our tradition played a very important role for the slow developments in Liberia. Young men and women were forced into societies that give them minimal preparation for the real world, however, only prepared them how to take care of their wives, husbands, and immediate kinship. Because of the lack of preparedness for the outside world, corruptions, and not being colonized are the major contributors to the slow development of our country.” That was Mr. Gray’s observation in parts, and added: “During the early sixties and up to the coup in 1980, their [there] were running water and electrical system, which are now barely available.” Let’s dissect Gray’s vague thoughts for a clearer picture.

The elevated walls of Yeala, Lofa County: Photo by James K. Fasoukou

The elevated walls of Yeala, Lofa County: Photo by James K. Fasuekoi

Mr. Gray threw some scattered thoughts here and there for first; he tends to blame a “poorly structured” Liberia on “Rampant corruptions way before the free slaves settled on our soil” without explaining how. On the other hand, he also seems to be attributing Liberia’s “slow developments” partly to “our tradition,”  “corruptions, and not being colonized” by Europeans or Americans as were the case with many of Liberia’s neighboring countries.

Among reasons he’s blaming “our tradition” “for the slow developments in Liberia” is because, according to him, “Young men and women were forced into societies that give them minimal preparation for the real world, however, only prepared them how to take care of their wives, husbands, and immediate kinship.” In the meantime, no one seems to yet understand the meaning and injection of this sentence in Mr. Gray’s bulky paragraph: “It became business as usual for the free slaves when they mingled and interacted with the natives.”

What exactly does he mean? For while many African-Liberians may shun and view “colonization” as being synonymous to slavery, Mr. Gray sees it from a different perspective; that is it brings “developments.” In other words, he had wished that Liberia was “colonized” by an outside power like France, Britain or the United States-this in his mind could have somehow spurred infrastructural and other developments, similar to those seeing in the Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria.

This is even in spite of the fact that the country’s rich mineral deposits are enough to achieve all of Liberia’s development goals if used wisely. For Mr. Carter, Gray’s statements were just something he had been longing for in that they provided an impetus for him to re-launch his “cultural war” as well as try to solidify his divisive and stereotypes concepts against the Indigenous. This new argument by Mr. Gray created a window of opportunity for Carter to hit back after he lost the initial debate with Dr. Nat Gbessagee.

One noticeable character Carter has is he quick to divert the debate whenever he is losing and this is again another example. One main weak point of Mr. Carter is he will never come back to answer to a discussant’s question after throwing out accusations that he cannot defend. Also notice how he has quickly changed his topics from initial claims about “traditional cultural practices” and Native “witchcraft,” to “slavery” and the practice of “indenture servitude” allegedly by African tribal chiefs.

In parts, Mr. Carter’s comment of Jan.19, 2015 in support of Mr. Gray’s post reads: “For example, during inter-tribal warfare, those taken into captivity as prisoners of war, were sold into slavery to European Slaves masters or used in the institution of indentured servitude. In lieu of the aforementioned, Mr. Gray’s argument that the natives were engaged in corrupt practices prior to the arrival of the settlers can be considered through the prism of ‘moral corruption.’ No doubt, the selling of one’s fellow human being for private gain, is for all intents and purposes, an act of moral decadence and corruption.” Notice how he buttresses and adds meanings to comments by Mr. Gray as if Gray lacks communications skills.

Besides, can a “Carter” of Liberia even speak of “moral decadence” or make noise about “corruption” not in reference to settlers’ misrule, but Native Liberians, considering the irreparable harms Americo-Liberians caused the state of Liberia and its people for many years as per the earlier presentation? Where is the moral platform, or does he believes it is everybody that will listen to his megalomania?

Mr. Carter ought to get more serious when he proffers these arguments unless he cares less about people losing confident in him as “intellectual.” But see the counterpoints put to Carter’s “slavery” and “indentured servitude” argument Jan. 20, 2015 by Cllr. Cyrus Tarpeh, a Liberian-American trained lawyer residing in the U.S. “I do agree that prior to the arrival of the settlers; the indigenous had had some form of governments based on culture and tradition.

As you articulated rightly, these indigenous governments were compartmented based on tribal, sectional, and regional identity for the purpose of defending their individual territorial sovereignty. I do also concur that the selling of their fellow tribesmen into slavery was a moral deficiency. However, I am baffled when this primitive method of governance is attributed to the poor infrastructural development of modern time Liberia.”   

Cllr. Tarpeh further went on to explain that “Liberia became an internationally recognized sovereign nation in 1847, and since then Liberia had/is benefiting from funds received from international financial donors. Besides international financial contributions, the country is being signing concessional agreements for the exploration of her natural resources.

Now, tell me, why Liberia has not been able to develop in terms of infrastructures, education, health system, and other necessities of life given the amount of fundings received?” What a logical argument by Cllr. Tarpeh. But like the Dr. Gbessagee-Carter debate, neither Mr. Carter nor Gray ever returned to respond to the lawyer’s questions which go to show how meaningless it can be by engaging in these debates of high magnitude with Mr. Carter and a couple other Liberians. 

Firstly, one can’t understand why Mr. Kelvin Gray, a renowned economist will query Native Liberians for not building “modern” hospitals, bridges, paved roads, schools, libraries, parks and recreational centers in Liberia during ancient times when research has indeed established that Native Africans didn’t have a “centralized government” let alone national treasury as now, during the period cited.

Furthermore, there’s no established evidence that Native African-Liberians, prior to the arrival of “freed slaves (Americo-Liberians) engaged in the signing of concessions agreements, or carried out exploration and exportation of mineral resources such as timbers, rubber, gold, diamonds, (oil) etc., etc., as we see taking place today for there existed no modern method of transportation and communications  not to mention national or centralized “government” as many scholars continue to point out. 

Although African-Liberians, like their African counterparts, engaged in trades as early as the 14 Century B.C., however, such trades were based on a “bartered system.” Under the prevailing conditions, how did Gray expect the Indigenous to carry out “development on a large scale” when there weren’t enabling conditions to do so, compare to the periods under Pres. Tubman and other Ex-Americo-Liberian leaders who ruled? The fact is the settlers failed miserably to deliver, given the abundant resources at their disposal. 

Secondly, one must dismiss as immature the statement that “Young men and women were forced into societies that give them minimal preparation for the real world, however, only prepared them how to take care of their wives, husbands, and immediate kinship.” As stated by this writer elsewhere before, the missions of both traditional Polor and Sande Universities go far beyond just preparing young men and women “how to take care of their wives, husbands, and immediate kinship.”

Moral uprightness that is hard to be found in today’s world, plus love for family and the wellbeing of one’s neighbors, are all part of trainings strongly emphasized by these institutions and the sooner Liberians learn to accept the moral concepts thought by both colleges, the better the country and citizens will become. The general notion that men are trained to “take care of their wives” during initiation into these institutions is absolutely absurd for matters pertaining to raising family and how to maintain a home are often thought at home where fathers and mothers serve as role models. And whatever Gray’s meaning might be for what he calls “real world” especially during ancient times, he has to understand that Africans-Liberians also had a “real world” of their own in which they lived happily in the absence of tribal wars and they weren’t faced with the hurdle of learning new languages and cultures in order to survive as people do today.

The Polor and Sande are the highest traditional learning institutions just as the English-run modern colleges like Cuttington and the University of Liberia. To think that the “real world” only came about during the emergence of modern rail roads, schools, hospitals and universities only tends to undercut the great achievements of Liberian-Native forebears and shows lack of appreciation for their marvelous accomplishments despite the odds.

Evidence abounds to show the sophistication of Native Liberians who inhabited the land mass of Liberia long before the settlers landed on the soil. They were scientists and geniuses in their own rights, two key aspects of the life of ancient Liberians that many westernized-Liberians refuse to acknowledge or accept. They were capable of manufacturing everything they needed to use-from clothing, foot-wears, to farming tools and lethal weapons of war. Amongst them were also artistic geniuses whose work focused on painting, woodcarving and clay-pottering. Relics from some of their intriguing handiworks could still be seen in Yeala Town, Lofa County, situated along the Liberia-Guinea border, during the 1960s and early 70s. Of the entire nation, Yeala is the only place where the relics of a fortified century old town wall still exist today.   

Examining Mr. Carter’s new claims of slavery and indentured servitude

slavery 2As his new argument aimed at trying to break the back of Native Liberians, Mr. Carter yet again came out and alleged that Native Africans, mainly tribal chiefs, profited from “slavery” and were also involved in the practice of “indentured servitude,” although, he failed to state to what extend Native African chiefs were really involved in such allege acts. Like other similar claims by Carter, he has no compelling evidence to prove or back his latest accusations.

However, for the sake of argument and enlightenment, it’s worth taking a look at his claims. Indentured servitude is the provision of “involuntary service.” One online definition of “Indenture servitudes” states that, “It is not the same as slavery.” Of course it is the same as slavery in a larger sense, especially where one, or a group of people (old or young) have to perform forced labor against their will. In Liberian terms this what people called “Protou,” meaning, “work without a pay.”

While more investigation is being done on the subject matter in order to unearth the level at which African chiefs may have been involved in the practices of “indentured servitude,” it’s also fair to state that “slavery” or the sale of slaves, as practiced locally, occurred on a small scale during the Atlantic Slave trade and the reason is that even in this age, nowhere along the Liberian coastal lines has been identified as a “Slave post” by historians and anthropologists, in contrast to the “Elmina Castle” located in Accra, Ghana, and Senegal’s “Goree Island,” that are now popular tourists destination sites.

While Mr. Carter may try to make this topic appear as if it is new; or attempt to equate it to a capital crime like murder all because it is being connected to certain tribal Native chiefs, nevertheless there exists proof that high-placed members of Mr. Carter’s “Congo” Ethnicity also engaged in the practices of indentured servitude in Liberia during the period prior to the 1980 coup and people who were victims were mostly Natives Liberians.

Some Liberians, having been convicted of lesser crimes, are said to have been forced by local courts especially in urban areas to work on the private farms of Americo-Liberian elites without pay with the acquiescence of “the power that be,” often under the impression that the “convicts” were to work apparently to defray monies allegedly paid to the courts by Americo-Liberian elites on their behalf to gain “freedom.”

This issue to the disappointment of many Liberians including the writer has for years been brushed beneath the carpet and of the 400 to 500 thousands college graduates each year from across the country, no one ever seems to care about writing a dissertation on such important matter. Why?  In addition, there have been numerous stories told over the year that scores some of these farm workers disappeared under mysterious circumstances believed to be connected to “heart-men” or “Gboyo” ritualistic killings prevalent at the time.

There were also other forms of indentured servitude” that existed under Pres. William Tubman whereby scholars of this age have failed to place under the microscope. A good example of Tubman being involved in such practice can be seen in the historic black and white photograph published last November 29th by the Front Page Africa of the president being carried shoulder-high on a scaffold by people appearing to be Liberian southeasterners.

It is the same method that indigenes used under settler forced labor system to cart Americo-Liberian taxes collectors from one point of the country to another if not by way of hummocks. This was in itself a well-orchestrated form of slavery by Pres. Tubman and settler tax collectors especially when they had free access to horse ride that could take them anywhere  in place of a human-vehicle.

For example, a rural based American medical doctor named Easter Bacon (in whose name the Zorzor Curran School of Nursing was dedicated), is reported to have used horses to reach her patients in faraway places in Lofa. Also explorer Benjamin Anderson cited several instances in his diaries where he said Lorma and Mandingoe Kings offered him valuables, including horses during his historic 1968 journey to discover the western Mandingoe capital of Musadu but said he refused.

President William Tubman as head of state of the Republic of Liberia no doubt owned millions of U.S. Dollars, far more than a horses and donkeys which were the most common forms of transportation during that period but for Tubman and fellow settlers, a human-ride was more exhilarating and worthwhile than riding horses and donkeys.

The fact remains that slavery is ingrained in the souls of many settlers probably due to what their ancestors went through hence, their mistreatment of the local inhabitants which should not be seen as a surprise. But can the negative experiences of their enslaved forebears be used as excuse for their calculated cruelty toward Native African-Liberians?

The answer is unquestionably no; that they should be held to give account and for their actions and possibly offer apology to Native victims. As for the notorious referenced photograph of Pres. Tubman released by the Front Page Africa, it speaks thousands words and cannot be trashed. Instead, it can be placed on exhibition together with similar other historic photographs and motion pictures at the Liberia’s National Museum in the future to tell from whence the country and peoples have come. 

Traditional leaders of Liberia: Photo by Lassana Bamba

Traditional leaders of Liberia: Photo by Lassana Bamba

Another aspect of the African slave trade with respect to Liberia that has never been highlighted is the fact that local slave trade appeared to have been mainly concentrated on the coast of Liberia and not the interior parts of the country. Another sterling fact surrounding the trade showed not all of Liberia’s ethnic groups were active in the cross Atlantic Slave trade. Of course, this doesn’t in any way negate the fact that there weren’t cases upcountry where some local “Tribal chiefs” traded “Prisoners of war” (usually referred to as “slaves” in most early and modern writings) to their closed neighbors in exchange for goods under the bartered system as was very common during the period.

Unlike in modern times where excessive cruelty toward alleged POWs including killings has become the order of day despite universal protocols that govern all acts of warfare, there’s barely any record of acts of the mistreatment of POWs by Native African Liberians. The Lormas for example, often treated their POWs with some degree of care like “valuable properties” and after certain period they were allowed to assimilate within Lorma society. Noted explorer Benjamin J. K. Anderson tells of the goodwill of the Lorma People (he referred to as the “Boozies”), toward their “slaves.”

According to his diaries, Mr. Anderson maintained that ‘in a typical Lorma settlement, it was difficult for a visitor to distinguish the slaves from the locals.’ The Lormas, he said, even allowed their slaves to marry within the family and would later go on to live independent life, something he explained, amazed him. For certain tribe he narrated, the demarcation was clearly visible in a way one could easily tell a slave from the rest of the locals. These accounts written over a century by a western educated African-American far contradicts the general negative portrayals of Africans in “Black Africa” as “savages.”

This development also leaves behind a lingering question in the minds of critical thinkers as to which group labels such as “savagery” and “thugs” best fit; ancient Africans or the people of this present age?  In the same way there isn’t so far any tangible evidence to prove Mr. Carter’s ancestors actually originated from Liberia which could give credence to the possibility that some of Mr. Carter’s ancestors, or perhaps all, may have been snatched from elsewhere in Black Africa, like Angola, Ghana, Togo, Nigeria, South Africa, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone or even Guinea among others.

From a practical standpoint, there are much more striking news worthy events taking place in Liberia daily enough to be translated into books and it would be worthwhile for Mr. Carter, reporter Menkor and also Mr. Kelvin Gray to turn their attention to those daily events rather than keep dragging this single overly-exhausted issue known as “Liberian traditional cultural practices” into a daily debate for this topic is beginning to sound like a recitation following several similar useless crusades by Pres. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Gender Minister Duncan Cassell, and former Montserrado County Superintendent Grace Kpan. For example, few years ago, the queen of Sheba visited Liberia at the invitation of Pres. Sirleaf and the day was declared a national holiday.

What seemed so bizarre about the queen’s visit is the guest of the Liberian leader wore a head mask bearing the symbol of the head of a serpent. From a Biblical standpoint, there isn’t anything good associated with a snake like creature-Lucifer represents countless ugly things with betrayal topping it all-it dates far back to the Garden of Eden when Father God created Adam and Eve and order them to rule over the earth. Liberia being a “Christian Nation” and with such strange appearance by a guest should have triggered a barrage of critical newspapers editorials and commentaries from religious columnists aimed to spiritually enlighten the populace but there’s little hope this happened. 

In case the foregoing isn’t captivating enough to spark a debate or command the attention of those who are quick to find faults with Native culture and traditions, they could perhaps open a forum regarding the hypocrisy of many of Liberia’s senior officials of the present government who professed to be Christians on Sundays but afterwards secretly run to the “Juju, (voodoo, Molley man) or fortune-teller to seek “protection” and also prediction about their lives.

Better still, what about the reported ritual murder of a teenage orphan boy few years ago allegedly by one senior Lofa County senator in Liberia a place rape, mysterious killings and financial scandals rank high above other criminal activities, place the government is quick to organize committees and assign them investigations, probes that never get to see the light of day. Or Mr. Carter and his associates could look at the brawl that reportedly occurred last year between “wife and girlfriend” in the Capitol Building offices of an influential senior senator of the Good People of Bassa that quickly grabbed national attention just as it quickly faded away, posing some challenges and credibility questions for independent papers that broke the news.

Maybe, Mr. Carter and Gray could change the dynamics of the conversation from “witchcraft” and “traditional cultural practices” to the surge in “teenage rape in Liberia” in which case scholars and ordinary Liberians would discuss in-depth some of the factors leading to recent rape and brutal murders of teenagers with special focus of the incidents that involved young Rachel and Ma-Musu, two 12 years-old girls brutally raped and murdered just within a month. In doing so in a public awareness style, debaters would then raise questions like: What else could have the victims’ parents done to prevent the rape and murders of their children?

Why did hospitals, clinics, doctors and nurses to turn back one of the victims? Was it ethical? Why did the police prevent one of the victims and her parents from seeking most needed medical assistance which apparently resulted to the victim’s death? Did the police do the right thing, to use “Curfew” as an excuse for their action? Could the police have done thing differently, or loosed anything by letting the victim’s family to rush her to the nearby JFK Hospital for urgent medical treatment? Could the outcome had been different had the victim been the daughter of one of the police officers involved?  What was the moral ground the police cited for disallowing the bleeding victim to seek medical attention? What roles can the police, justice system, hospitals, doctors, nurses, civil society and the public play to curtail the alarming rate of rape and murder cases of teenagers in Liberia? What should be the punishment for those found guilty of rape and murder?         

The World Health Organization (WHO) together with Pres. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Grace Kpan and Duncan Cassell should be lauded for their vigorous campaign carried out in Liberia during past years aimed to discourage and eliminate the practice of “Sande societies,” otherwise referred to as “FGM.” And all of them must be applauded for calling for more funding in the form of international aids to combat “FGM” practices in Liberia, and beyond.

While there has been hardly any incident of forceful initiation of young females into the Sande College during the last year, let alone an initiation process turned fatal, a section of the public the writer spoke to appeared extremely disappointed over the lackadaisical tactics being employed by the WHO and the above named personalities toward the raping and murdering of young vulnerable girls, and in few cases boys too. Why are they not talking much, or talking at all in the current situation that has gotten out of control? Why it is that people are not calling on the WHO, the United Nations and its axillaries like the UNESCO and UNDP to make available funding in order to battle the current epidemic before the nation? Or is it only when the issue has something to do with Sande Culture? How long can Liberians gone on having their leaders together with an international organization like the WHO to take them for ride? Maybe Liberians can learn a thing or two in this line taken from a 2003 speech by Prof. Nat Galarea Gbessagee: “I want to embolden Liberians to learn not only to evaluate a public message, but also to learn to evaluate the sincerity and truthfulness of the messenger.”

In finishing this topic, it is expedient to cited here that the stereotype against Mandingoes that they are not bona fide Liberians actually originated from Americo-Liberians as per historical accounts gathered by this writer before it too deep root during Liberia’s civil crisis and unfortunately, many Prof Alhaji Kromah’s ULIMO fighters, with no knowledge of these facts, reportedly went on targeting civilians who sought refuge in their controlled territories, beating and torturing them for allegedly joining a chorus of Liberians who labeled Mandingoes as “foreigners.”

It all started after the new comers realized the strength of powerful and influential Mandingoe warrior that came to be known as King Sao Boso Kamara who led the“Condo Confederacy.” The Mandingoes, unlike most of Liberia’s ethnic groupings during the time of the freed slaves arrival, are said to have had the advantage of mastering alongside their mothers’ tongue, a foreign language called Arabic which appeared “very strange” to the new comers,” according to local historian Dr. Joseph Guannu. Another issue that turned problematic was the Mandingoes’ faith, Muslims.

This apparently caused panic among the settlers and they started to view King Sao Boso and his people as grave threats to their drive to expand their authority into the interior. Hence, the settler devised plans to set other local tribes against their Mandingoe brethren and began to label them as “strangers or foreigners.” Dr. Guannu record this situation “may have created some social differences between the Mandingoes and some tribes, but it never grew into party politics and national focus until the invasion of Liberia in 1989 by Charles Taylor.”

For Native Liberians who have failed to recognize Carter’s latest provocation as a long running “cultural war,” and think that matters relating to “Poro Zoes,” “traditional cultural practices,” “witchcraft actives,” “slavery” and “indentured servitude” as raised by Mr. Carter have nothing to do with them, they ought to think again because eventually, these outrageous allegations will be shifted toward their children and grandchildren if not against them by  the likes of Mr. Carter and associates in case no rebuttal is made to set the record right.

True Indigenous should remain watchful, doing everything possible to jealously protect the culture and traditions of their forefathers as there are many “Carters” out there, even within the very ethnic groups deeply involved with these traditions who abusively use culture for political gains. For example, members of the Lofa Community who followed the recent campaign of then senatorial candidate, Cllr. Joseph K. Jallah, may have noticed the new dimension local elections are headed toward with Joseph Kpator’s constant posting of distasteful images of the lawyer posing with Supreme-Spiritual Zoes in various Lofa towns, an indication that if a native son wishes to vie for a future electoral post, all he needs to do to gain popularity and support is run upcountry, gather a group of Polor ritual Zoes and pose for a picture. What a mockery of tradition! Is this how cheap tradition has become in certain areas whereby one will flirt with Supreme Polor Zoes as if they were his toys? Hope not!

As for Mr. Edward Carter, he needs to leave Native Liberians and their cultures alone if he has nothing good to offer the bleeding nation, other than fighting to seek attention. Let Mr. Carter understand that Indigenous cultural practices have never and will never be obstacle to Liberia’s “growth and development.”

Rather, what have been and continue to be the major problems for the country such practices as segregation, oppression, corruption, nepotism, stereotypes, practices of falsehoods, “who knows you,” secret killings as well as misapplication of power by the minority settlers and “westernized Liberians,” these include people like Mr. Carter, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Grace Kpan and Duncan Cassell. Hence, if Liberia is to go down the gutter again it will be basically because, these greedy and unfaithful “western educated Liberians” fail to do the right things, and not traditional cultural practices. 

Author’s Note: James Kokulo Fasuekoi is a freelance journalist and documentary writer, with special focus on Liberian-African political and cultural affairs. Opinions expressed in the article above are solely those of the author’s and don’t necessarily represent the views of news organs used to disseminate the materials.       

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