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Continuing the mistakes and practices of the past – Part I

By Siahyonkron Nyanseor

Siahyonkron Nyanseor

The book of Proverbs in the Holy Bible is a collection of moral and religious teachings. Most of it has to do with practical, everyday concerns. Perhaps this is the reason elders in Africa start every discussion with a proverb. A memorable example is the dispute between former friends, Samuel K. Doe and Thomas Y. Quiwonkpa.

On November 12, 1985, Doe summered Chiefs and Elders from every parts of the country to judge the palava between he and Quiwonkpa. Before they began to judge the palava, Chief Zangba, Paramount Chief from Grand Bassa County offered the following parable as a way of introduction: “When two elephants fight, the grass suffers;” meaning if two powerful persons fight, it is the innocent people that suffer the most. The rest is history!

Proverbs reminds us that in everything we do we must honor our maker – GOD, and make him as our point of reference; and with such qualities as humility, patience, respect for the poor and ultimate love and devotion to God Almighty, we cannot fail.

Therefore, it is the right thing to do to begin this essay with the Yoruba (Nigerian) proverb that says, “If a person has made up his mind not to see the truth, nothing can wake him to it.” This is so true with historians who write history from subjective points of view. And if the point of view one espouses is directed at justifying a particular point of view, then the conclusion should not be treated as an error but rather as a misrepresentation and manipulation of facts. Moreover, to go as far to put a spin on evidence in order to make it confirm one’s preconceptions is nothing more than academic dishonesty.

It is regarding such practice, “Liberians Continuing the Mistakes and Practices of the Past” is written. I have been thinking to write on this issue for some time. But I was motivated to do so now after I re-read David Lamb’s book, The Africans (1987). The quote that caught my attention reads: “For a long time Africans poked fun at Liberia, disparaging it for adopting attitudes and importing values not in keeping with African tradition.” After I read this quote, I decided to take a closer look at some of the ‘deliberate’ practices – imposed and of our own creation as Liberians.

First, let me start with some of the practices that were imposed. I honestly feel Europeans should bear most of the blame; but Africans are not exempt. It got started with Europeans’ quest to prove God wrong that He did not create Africans in His own image. These Europeans and other colonizers disregard the proper methods of historical scholarship by not seeking the truth – instead, engage in duplicity in their treatment of historical sources. The conclusions they reached then are not due to egregious errors, ignorance or mere sloppiness – it becomes a calculated and deliberate act to distort, suppress and manipulate the facts for their benefit. The reading public lacking either the time or the expertise to probe deeply enough into the sources used, relied on the outcome put forward by those that engage in the dishonesty put forward as scholarship. Then they fed it to the rest of the world, and world got infected with these lies as empirical findings.

Because Africa was colonized by these people, Europeans and Arabs, Africans got hooked in practicing these foreign and imported values at the expense of our own. Liberia too got infected! Where I find the most damaging effect on our MIND is religion. I still believe in Karl Marx’s reference to RELIGION. According him, “Religion is the opium of the masses.” Nowhere this reference is true than among those, Europeans have bias against – the so-called underdeveloped Africa.

Based on Europeans’ IGNORANCE of other people’s culture, they used their LIMITED point of reference as SCHOLARSHIP to come up with all sorts of foolish classifications they called disciplines. Even a fool can detect that something is NOT right when EVERYTHING EUROPEAN is GOOD, and EVERYTHING about the REST OF THE PEOPLE God created in His own likeness and IMAGE are considered DAMAGE GOODS.

This belief was propagated into RELIGION.

Here how European Anthropologists classified the study of Religious practices that are different than theirs: Sacred-profane dichotomy; Ritual; Magic; Divination; ANIMISM; Fetishism, ANCESTOR WORSHIP; Shamanism, Totemism; RITE OF PASSAGE; INITATION CEREMONY; Liminality; Communitas, and Revitalization Movement. (http://en.m.wikipedia.org)

ANIMISM (from Latin animus, – j “soul life) is the religious worldview that the natural physical entities–including animals, plants, and often even inanimate objects or phenomena–possess a spiritual essence. Specifically, animism is used in the anthropology of religion as a term of the religion of some indigenous tribal peoples, especially prior to the development and/or infiltration of colonialism and organized religion. (Ibid)

Although each culture has its own different mythologies and rituals, “animism” is said to describe the most common, foundational thread of indigenous peoples’ “spiritual” or “supernatural” perspectives… (Ibid) The Arabs are not exempt! Google the Poem entitled: “MY COUSIN MOHANED” by S. Anai Kelueljan; published in Durmam Daxxel’s Military Rule, Racism and Democratisation in Mauritania: Comparisons with Sudan.

To designate ANIMISM as African religious belief and practice is RICIST. According to Professor John Mbiti, a leading scholar on African religions, many African religions share the following concept of God. These concepts are quite similar to the way God is viewed in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, the three main monotheistic religions.

* God is the creator of all things

* God sustains creation

* God provides for and protects creation

* God rules over the universe

* God is all powerful (omnipotent)

* God is all-knowing (omniscient-knows

everything that happens in the world)

* God is viewed as parent (sometimes as

as a father and sometime as a mother)

* God supports justice

* Human beings cannot directly know God.

(http://exploringafrica.m..)

Since the Settlers that the love of liberty brought to Africa were fed such lies in captivity (America) that Africans in the mother land have no history, they are the only race that NEVER made any contribution to humanity. The Settlers who some Liberian history books refer to as deportees came to Africa with

these foreign values, which they in turn imposed on the rest of the people met in present day Liberia. It was this mindset that created most of the problems Liberians are faced with today. And it was in this environment I had my personal saga with so-called Christian or Civilized names that once replaced my birth (Klao and Bassa) names.

The Settlers were so much in love with the country they were deported from; they adopted the names of places, dress style, culture, and religion at the expense of the culture, religion, and institutions of their new home they came to. In the end, what follows is complete assault of the way of life of their brethren to whom they began to refer to as natives; introduced antebellum southern culture, class structure and behaviors.

Find below a partial list of the problem their behavior created:

First, let me state how I was once affected by the Settlers’ imposition of foreign culture. I refer to it as: “My Christian/Civilized Names Dilemma in Liberia.” I was born Jglay Kpa-kay. But as a child growing up in Monrovia, I became a victim of the European Christian and civilized dilemma. Myers is supposed to my father’s so-called civilized family name. Since I was my father’s junior, I became known as Anthony Myers, Jr. and later as Sam Anthony Roberts, III when my older brother wrestled the name ANTHONY from me when he relocated to Monrovia from Rivercess, Liberia. My paternal grandfather name is NYANSEOR. The name that should have been our family name, got replaced with Kwii (civilized) or so-called Christian name, and the names, Jglay Kpa-kay was reserved for use by my Klao (Kru) and Bassa relatives). This is a long story, so I will not bother you any further; you can find the details in the article I wrote in the 1996 Edition of Theperspective.org under the title: “My Dilemma with Christian or Civilized Names in Liberia.”

Next is the ethnic (tribe) group in Liberia that is referred to as KRU. The ethnic group that is called KRU does not refer themselves as KRU. If they do not refer to themselves as KRU, the question that needs to be asked is how do they refer to themselves in their language? If what they refer to themselves in their language is KRU, than KRU it is. However, if they do not refer to themselves as KRU in their ‘own’ language and instead refer to themselves as KLAO, then KLAO they should be called.

For some reasons, it was customary for another tribe to refer to their neighbor by name it perceives the other tribe to be called in their language. Even cousins of the Klao, the Bassa to whom they call Manee (Dry the water), refer to their cousins – Klao as Glor. Klao Legend has it that the Bassa people were too plenty (many) until they dried the river that was in their path.

Let’s see how the KRU name got started.

In most history books about Liberia, either written by Liberians or Liberianists, it is said that Cape Mesurado (Montserrado) was inhabited by the Dei, Bassa, Gola, and Vai; and to some, the Mandingo ethnic group. This is far from the truth. Prior to the arrival of the Alligator and Augusta, the groups whose members are commonly referred to as KROO or KROOMEN were also active in the activities of the area. As a matter of fact, the Klaos (so-called Kru), Bassas and the Grebos who are of the same linguistic group, were living in this area. Some of them were involved in the land exchange that took place between Dr. Eli Ayres (MD) and Captain Robert F. Stockton (also referred to as Lieutenant). As a matter of historical fact, the Bassa, Klao (Kru), and Grebo lived in permanent settlements along the coast. The Klao people, in particular, worked as seamen on European ships. They were so successful that the name Kru became synonymous with sailor among the traders and shipowners. (Gershoni, Black Colonialism – 1985: 4)

There is evidence that these three ethnic groups, Klao (Kru), Bassa and Grebo worked with European traders as far as 1793. They were employed as crews (laborers) on these European ships. It is believed that the name KROO or KRU derived from the word CREW. (Coombs, The Black Experience in America –1993:26).

The name Kru derived from the word, Crew; the correct name of the ethnic group in Liberia known as Kru is – Klao (also spelled as Krao).

Several members of the Klao ethnic groups were educated by missionary institutions. Prior to the establishment of the Republic of Liberia, you will find in African history books written by Europeans about the long standing relationship the Klaos had with European traders. However, some of the conflicts that the natives had with the Liberian authorities resulted into wars; the last of which took place in 1912. The direct consequence of these conflicts led a sizeable number of the natives, particularly, Klao (Kru) and Bassa to relocate to Ghana, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and even Liverpool, England.

My Interpretation

There is this call and response phrase that the Kwa linguistic groups from southeastern Liberia are found of using when in a social or political gathering; it goes like this: “Bartee O Bartee.” Most Liberians do not know the original, including this writer. Having been told stories about wars between Klaos (Krus) and the Settlers, I tried finding out the meaning of “Bartee O Bartee”. After trying for many years without success to find meaning, I assumed the statement, “Bartee O Bartee” means – “Ba Tain, oh Ba Tain.” To me, “Ba Tain, oh Ba Tain” is a war cry by the Klao Warriors to unite, resist the enemies (the government’s aggression). “Ba Tain, oh Ba Tain” is followed by “Klao yen Ba

Tain, Klo kon yen ne keatea. It is translated as: “Let’s stay, let’s stay, Klao people let’s stay; land owners do not run and abandon their land.”

I came to this conclusion because of the uprisings between the Settlers’ government and the Klaos. And the logical thing to do to rally their base is to resort to the war cry – “Ba Tain oh Ba Tain, Klao yen Ba Tain, Klo kon yen ne keatea” (Let’s stay, let’s stay, Klao people let’s stay; land owners do not run and abandon their land). Find below a list of the wars.

The Settlers and Southeasterners’ Wars

1856: war with the Grebo and the Klao peoples, leading to the last American African colony, Republic of Maryland joining Liberia. It was annexed into Liberia as Maryland County in 1857 (During Presidency of Benson: 1856-64).

 

1864: uprisings of inland and coastal tribes (During Presidency of Benson: 1856-64).

 

1875-76: war in Cape Palmas (During Presidency of Payne – II: 1876-78).

 

1886: an uprising took place (During the Presidency of Johnson).

 

Mid 1880s until late 1890s: some tribes stay at war with the Settlers (During the Presidency of Coleman: 1896-1900).

 

1893: Grebo tribe attacked settlement of Harper (During the Presidency of Cheeseman).

 

1900: a bloody battle with the Settles (During the Presidency of Coleman).

 

1915: rebellion of the Klao people (During the Presidency of Howard).

 

1912-20: internal wars (During the Presidency of Howard).

Let it be stated here that most of these wars had to do with the Liberian authorities’ acquisition of the indigenous people’s land; their condescending attitude and inhumane practices toward the natives (renamed their towns, seized their land) and DID NOT recognize them as citizens in the land of their birth.

These series of wars were the direct results of the Southeasterners’ opposition to the imposition of taxes and custom duties, forceful land acquisition, forceful resettlement, etc., by the Americo-Liberian government that had no direct benefit to the locals.

Since I was not satisfied with my version of “Bartee O Bartee”, I wrote my friend (who I have never met in person) Tawily Jayblee Hiah aka Sylomun Weah, a

Culture Historian for help. Weah is a Liberian historian; he lives in The Netherlands. Weah is well versed in the Dutch language; one of the languages in which Pre/Liberian History is written.

Find below Weah’s response to my inquiry:

Sylomun Weah August 21, 2013

Hello Mr. Nyanseor,

Sorry for the late response. It is an honour to receive a communication from you.

You are a great mind, staying true and doing justice to our roots. The forefathers smile upon you. Your blogs are famous and quoted by many. Hats off to you!

Weah’s Explanation Regarding the Phase “Bartee O, Bartee”:

With regards to the word “Bartee” and the phrase ” Bartee O, Bartee, this is exactly how we say it in Kplebo.

I came across some information, which could help to throw some light on said matter.

“Bartee O Bartee”, The Mystical Phrase.

Possible Origins

During the earlier part of the twentieth century under the presidency of Arthur Barclay in 1906, a dispute had to be settled in Sinoe.

There was a clan chief named Bartee who had an orator, or speaker, of the same name. Whether this was his son or relative there is no certainty.

However, as noted concerning the relationship of clan chiefs and their speakers, it would not be a total surprise to see a clan chief having his son as orator or representing him because he is always the successor.

It has been stated by many historians and Americo-Liberians alike that before the 1932 resurgence of the Kru militarism, no people in Liberia created more problems or were more troublesome than the Krus of Sinoe, especially those of Matroe chiefdom.

As a matter of fact, no superintendent, president, or any elected official had attempted to cross the Sinoe River to mediate any dispute or engage in any confrontation, except one:  Grisby, who never made it back to the mainland.

The story of Bartee became prominent when President Arthur Barclay convened a conference between the various clans and the Liberian government on the brutal treatment of the natives of Sinoe.

Clan Chief Bartee and his orator had been known to be the more vocal of the district. Therefore, he was always called upon because of his “big mouth” to call the conference to order whenever there was a commotion.

The presiding officer would say, “Bartee O Bartee.” This meant he wanted order. In return, the assembly would respond, “Bartee.”

This meant that they were to be attentive. Today the word Bartee signifies a conference or to call to order among most people of Liberia, especially the Klaos (Krus).

My explanation was solely based on the assumption that as Klao (Kru) people, we do not back down from anybody, especially when we are at war to defend our rights and dignity. And as a people, we are taught from an early age to stand and fight for our rights and beliefs no matter the circumstances. In a war situation, this is what I thought they would do, stay and fight and not run away. But having read the vision provided by this young brother, historian Sylomun Weah, I accept his version to be true. For the short time I have known him, I find his research to be very credible. Therefore, his explanation about “Bartee O Bartee” is the one we should go by.

Liberia Maintaining Colonial Practices in Post-Colonial Africa

For example, why should President sign land deeds? The law that gave the President of Liberia the power and authority to sign land deeds is outright wrong and outdated. Have any of you thought of the reason why there is a Land Commissioner, yet, the President is responsible to sign and approve land deeds? I believe this practice is unique to Liberia. This practice started with the Settlers (Americo Liberians) from the very beginning of the republic. This practice got started by imperialist and colonial powers; it was a scheme

designed to take over the native populations’ land by fraudulent means. This was done to Native Americans in North America. When the Settlers came to the Green Coast (now Liberia) they brought this practice along, which is practice today by the Sirleaf administration.

How this fraudulent land grab got started? Based on the history of the Settlers (Americo Liberians) from the cotton plantations of antebellum south of America, Blacks were property of slave masters; therefore were not allowed to own land. So went the great scheme was hashed by Thomas Buchanan and associates to have them remove from the United States; the first thing they thought of was to replicate the system of land ownership in the antebellum south.

Since the Settlers became the new masters, they developed a system patterned after that which they left behind in North America; illegally took control of everything in their new found land. Land which is considered or serves as the engine of economic activity became their number target. The new masters enacted laws that gave exclusive power and authority to the President. That’s how the President of Liberia has to sign every land deed in the country; no land is sold without his/her signature.

Rumor has it that there exists a signature stamp of the late President Tubman, and after his death, those who got hold of the stamp used it to sign deeds for their fraternity brothers and sorority sisters; which we called “society people” in Liberia.

The land apportionment is one of the most abused systems that exist today in Liberia. Since the President has the exclusive power and authority, the natives’ lands were given to member of the ruling class as their farm land with no compensation to the original owners. This too, is Liberia’s Indian and Settlers’ story – the basis of the many wars between the Settlers and natives. The victims in these wars, the natives are portrayed as “war loving, savage natives versus the Pioneers”. Liberians being noted for turning serious matter into joke, referred to the word – PIONEER as: “People, In, Our, Nation, Enjoyed, Equal, Rights.”

The practice of the President signing deeds is wrong and should be abolished. The power and authority should be handed to the office of the Land Commission with straight and transparent enforcement practice.

Stay tune to Part II. It will highlight some of the mistakes and conclude with some suggestions on how Liberians can stop repeating mistakes of the past.

 

Siahyonkron Nyanseor is the Chair of the ULAA Council of Eminent Persons (UCEP), Inc. He is a poet, Griot, journalist, and a cultural and political activist. He is an ordained Minister of the Gospel. He is Chairman of the Liberian Democratic Future (LDF), publisher of theperspective.org online newsmagazine and Senior Advisor to the Voice of Liberia newsmagazine. In 2012, he Co-authored Djogbachiachuwa: The Liberian Literature Anthology; his book of poems: TIPOSAH: Message from the Palava Hut is now on the market. Nyanseor can be reached at: siah1947@gmail.com

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