Since the invention of the printing press by a German named Johannes Gutenberg around 1440, westerners have seized the liberty to distort the history and cultures of mankind to an untold proportion through the print media. They intentionally did so to suit their desire to be considered a superior race in the world. Accordingly, most of the early traditions of world religions and beliefs (particularly those of Christianity) were also affected and thwarted or told differently to cater to the whims and caprices of western writers and researchers. For this reason, the literature we read about world history, and particularly about Africa, for example, needs to be reexamined and/or rewritten to set the records straight. Against this backdrop, one typical story that arguably needs to be rewritten is the narrative about Jesus Christ, the greatest man that ever lived on earth and who is widely believed by billions today to be the son of God. Correspondingly, it is important to know who Christ really is and how he should be celebrated both by believers and those who have not experienced the awesome saving powers of Jesus Christ. Thus, to understand and know Jesus as a God made man, his place of birth, race, and teachings are very crucial to this ongoing conversation. READ MORE
The Need to Re-conceptualize Multicultural Education to Improve Student Learning and Instructional Methods in American Schools and Ensure Peaceful Coexistence among U.S. Citizens and Citizens of the World (READ MORE)
A Pictorial Analysis of the Present Educational System of Liberia Based on Reports and photographs from the Hinterland and Costal Rural Regions of Liberia in Northwestern and Southeastern Liberia
By Rabbi Prince Joseph Tomoonh-Garlodeyh Gbaba, Sr., Ed. D.
A mere blackboard in an unfinished hut still under construction
Grateful thanks to Liberians who worked in the field in Liberia and shared the photographs in this article on Face Book with all of us. I am seizing the opportunity to use them in good faith to advocate for better education of Liberian children and to enhance the DATI Afrocentric Literacy and Civic and Peace Education Programs to promote peace and reconciliation among Liberians at home and abroad. The pictures of so-called educational facilities in the rural parts of Liberia were taken by Liberians who travelled to the hinterlands of Northwestern and Southeastern Liberia and observed the deplorable conditions under which Liberian children are schooled during the administration of a Harvard educated President Ellen Johnson-Sireaf. In her own words Mrs. Sirleaf herself declared that the educational system under her rule is a “mess”!
But what gets to me more is the fact that these regions of Liberia have Representatives and Senators in the National Legislature of Liberia who hail from the hinterlands and coastal regions of Liberia. I am talking about Liberian lawmakers who are law breakers! They make laws and approve national budgets that grant them herculean monthly salaries, mammoth allowances, while the issue of peace and reconciliation or the TRC Report is put on ice to chill while Liberian lawmakers enrich themselves at the expense of the poor masses and their children. Furthermore, these lawmakers that are elected by the people of Liberia have turned their backs at the electorates: their own sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, that elected them to speak and advocate on the electorates’ behalf.
A makeshift thatch-roofed school structure in the hinterland of Liberia
These are the individuals that live in gated homes whose walls or fortresses are higher that the Eiffel Tower in Paris, France, and that earn huge salaries as hush money to ignore the deplorable conditions of the people that elected them to power. Yet, it seems from my own observation that majority of Liberians, particularly those that say “things are fine in Liberia”, are complacent about taking civic action to bring these ills to light and/or to vote their oppressors out of office for doing nothing about their living conditions.
The interior of a proposed classroom in the hinterland of Liberia
Further, when you and I who have had the opportunity to obtain a good education and that live abroad and see how the United States and the western world we so much admire invests in education and yet we do not speak up for the poor Liberian children in this album that are subjected to poor learning and teaching environments, then we are doing our people a grievous offense, especially if we claim to be “Christians” and go to church every Sunday, or “Muslims” that go to the mosque every Friday and/or ‘pray’ five or six times a day. Consequently, our silence creates an enabling condition and environment for Liberian lawmakers and elites to fill their bank accounts and dump the entire country into the abyss of darkness and illiteracy!
In the photo above, Liberian children are seated in a hinterland classroom on the bare floor: some children are sitting on lappas and mats instead of sitting in chairs and writing on desks. Note also that the children do not have instructional materials and the adult in the picture (assuming it is the village teacher), he has no instructional materials to teach the kids. Additionally, due to the lack of a school building all of the children are gathered in an open space.
Furthermore, the children are of different age groups and so the one village teacher has the task of providing the children with one-size-fits-all instruction instead of differentiated instruction based on the children’s different age ranges and intellectual capabilities. Besides, it is evident that the teacher will need some assistants to help him keep the children focused and preoccupied with instructional exercises so that they do not get easily distracted. As you can notice from the photo above some of the kids are not attentive. In addition, if the teacher must teach each child according to his or her age and intellectual abilities, then he would have to apply differentiated teaching and learning techniques rather than the one-size-fits-all teaching approach.
Also, the lack of adequate educational facilities and lack of competent school teachers, administrators in Liberia puts Liberian children at risk of being easily conscripted by warlords and economic criminals to achieve their end objectives. In view of the foregoing, I wonder what kinds of prayers do we pray as “Christians”, “Muslims”, or “Jews” in our respective places of worship; and, whether or not we are truly sincere about what we pray for. Also, I wonder whether our prayers are only about us and not about the “others” around us!
On this Sabbath Day, I want you to reflect on the conditions of Liberian children. I want you to reflect on their future if they are continually subjected to such inhumane and deplorable living and learning and teaching conditions. I want you to reflect on the role of the government of Liberia in securing a bright future for Liberian children and how we can help to make a difference in the lives of our children, our little brothers and sisters, that have to suffer and go through such unbearable conditions while the children of Liberian elites have access to better education and smoother living conditions.
A so-called school facility in the hinterland of Liberia
Thus, the resultant question everyone should be asking is: “What can we do to help improve the educational system in Liberia, even if the President says her educational system is a “mess”? Can we take a civic stand during the forthcoming presidential and general elections to send a clear message to the world that we want the best for Liberian students? Also, we should make it categorically clear that from now on we will accept nothing less than an efficient educational system for Liberian children come 2017 and that Liberians will demonstrate this collective resolve when they go to the polls to elect their new leaders.
Rabbi Prince Joseph Tomoonh-Garlodeyh Gbaba, Sr., Ed. D.
November 29, 2015
“Let Us Educate for Peace and Reconciliation and Provide Civic Education Rather Than Promote War and Lawlessness”
A Speech delivered by Rabbi Prince Joseph Tomoonh-Garlodeyh Gbaba, Sr., Ed. D.Guest Speaker and Installation Officer at the Inaugural Ceremonies of the Liberian Community in the Research Triangle (LCOT) in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S.A. October 31, 2015
Honorable and Mrs. Philip Krawlay “Eusebio” Klah, Sr., President-elect and First Lady Mrs. Vickie Blidi-Klah; my beloved wife and lifetime partner, Princess Ariminta Henrietta Porte-Gbaba; members of the Board of Directors and officers of the Liberian Community in the Research Triangle (LCOT); local community presidents and officers of Liberians and Americans in nearby cities in the Tar Heels State of North Carolina; Honorable Wilmot Kunney, President and officers of the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA); my fellow citizens of Liberia and the United States of America; state and local government officials of North Carolina and the Cities of Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill and immediate environs; members of the clergy; citizens of the world; distinguished ladies and gentlemen:
Dr. Rabbi Prince Joseph Tomoonh-Garlodeyh Gbaba, Sr., Ed. D.
Guest Speaker and Installation Officer at the Inaugural Ceremonies of the Liberian Community in the Research Triangle (LCOT) in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S.A.
While you are still standing, I would like us to please observe a moment of silence in loving memory of over quarter millions of our mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters and foreign nationals including five American nuns who lost their lives in the senseless Liberian civil war. Let us pray that light perpetual may shine upon them and through Almighty Younsuah, the God of our forebears, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that they may all rest in perpetual peace. Amen. Please be seated.
Tonight, I bring you greetings from the residents and citizens of “Drugbor”, Montserrado County, my birthplace in Liberia. I also bring you greetings from the Vais and Mendes and the spirits of our forefathers in Lake Piso in Grand Cape Mount County. I salute you on behalf of the people of Lofa and Bong and Margibi Counties; and bring you warm greetings from the Klao peoples of Eastern and Southeastern Liberia—the Krahns, Krus, Grebos, Bassas, Sapos Gbis and Deiweions from Grand Gedeh, River Gee, Maryland, Grand Kru, Grand Bassa, Sinoe, and Rivercess Counties. Tonight I would also like to deliver warm felicitations from citizens of Gbarpolu, Bomi, and particularly the Seingben Clan in Nimba County from where I received my calling forty-one years ago as a playwright, theatre director and actor.
All our people send you their love and best wishes and thank you very much for uniting to protect the common good of all Liberians living in your respective communities in North Carolina and beyond. Also, I would like to seize the opportunity to thank you, Mr. President-elect and Madam First Lady, officers, and members of the Board of Directors and members of the Entertainment and Planning Committees of LCOT for unanimously selecting me to be your installation officer and guest speaker. My wife and I are very grateful to all of you for the honor bestowed upon us. Blessings and peace to all of you. Amen.
Dr. Rabbi Prince Joseph Tomoonh-Garlodeyh Gbaba, Sr., Ed. D.
Guest Speaker and Installation Officer at the Inaugural Ceremonies of the Liberian Community in the Research Triangle (LCOT) in Raleigh, North Carolina, U.S.A.
October 31, 2015
What Is the Purpose of Our Gathering Tonight?
We are gathered at the Carolina Events and Cultural Center in Suite 146 located at 3209 Gresham Avenue, Raleigh, North Carolina 27615, for a specific and positive occasion and for several reasons: (1) to listen to the message I have to offer as your installation officer and guest speaker; (2) to install a new corps of officers of the Liberian Community in the Research Triangle; (3) to listen to the message and platform or plan of action your President-elect, Honorable Philip Krawlay “Eusebio” Klah, Sr. and members of his administration would like to unveil to you their constituents and electorates who elected them into office; and (4) to socialize with one another as people with one common history and hegemony.
In essence, our gathering here is to witness the turning of a new page in the history of LCOT that you have established, so as to provide much needed basic community-focused social, cultural, educational, legal, and recreational services that members of the Research Triangle Liberian community may need from time to time. Furthermore, it is our expectation as well that what is promised us tonight by your illustrious President and his corps of officers in terms of their platform shall be delivered in kind in the near future so as to match their words with their deeds. Of course this may as well guarantee us the check and balance system that is embedded in our democratic system through the political concept of a three but separate and equal branches of government structure, namely: the executive, legislative, judicial republican governance system.
Consequently, the check and balance system is the only and best way to make democracy a reality in our daily lives. For, within this framework also, democracy may not only be seen and defined as the “will of the people, for the people, or by the people or the majority to make decisions that affect their lives, as demonstrated through the exercise of their franchise or right to vote; but rather, the ideals and construct of democracy are put into practice to empower mankind to make informed decisions that may land the community in the direction we want it to go. Further, it may also provide mankind the golden opportunity to elect competent public servants who are able to deliver the common good of our community or society through our collective and concerted efforts.
Please note I said we can achieve through our “collective” and not “individual” efforts so that you do not think that the success of LCOT only rests on the shoulders of the President and his corps of officers. Instead, I want all of you to brace the challenge of working together as a diverse group of individuals committed toward one common purpose and goal. In other words, by working collectively and not individually it may guarantee or ensure that your organization is second to none in the Research Triangle region in North Carolina, with respect to providing much needed services for all of your constituents instead of only serving a chosen group of individuals.
In addition, this goal may also be accomplished with ease of comfort if we put aside our cultural, political, economic, religious beliefs and differences, look at and embrace the bigger picture. In this case the bigger picture should first and foremost of all not be about you or me but Liberia—our motherland; and then secondly–it should be about all of us and not just a handful of selfish individuals. This is where I am coming from with the collective notion and not the individual perspective that tends to deprive the vast majority of us our inalienable rights and privileges and favor a few privileged ones amongst us.
Re-conceptualizing the Post Modern Concept of Leadership
Thus, in order for us to fully delve into and understand the topic of our discourse for tonight, I would like you to please be patient as I provide you one more key point that will help to support our argument why we should educate for peace and reconciliation and provide civic education rather than promote war and lawlessness in Liberia. Against this backdrop, let me warn you that my layman’s definition of the word ‘leadership’ from the postmodern context may be in complete contrast to our usual traditional definition of leadership, or what we might consider as being a ‘servant of the people’ in the Liberian or African context.
For instance, in the postmodern context, he who is called to lead his people is considered a servant of the people and not ‘lord’ of the people that elect, say instance, the President or Senator, to provide services for the electorates. From the postmodern perspective, it is also clear that a “leader” is one who serves at the will and pleasure of the people who in this respect are supposed to be the masters because the people have voting rights and powers to elect and remove their leader from office whenever the ‘leader’ turned ‘lord’ abuses his or her leadership powers and position against the interest of his or her designated masters who in this case are the people that elected the ‘leader’. Unfortunately, in the Liberian definition of a ‘leader’ the latter automatically assumes ‘lordship’ over those who elected him or her into office, like a warlord does over members of his warring faction. Hence, unlike the African fable in which when Monkey was chief of animal land he used to shake the branches of the trees so some fruits from the fruit tree would fall on the ground to feed the other animals that Monkey governed, bamboo on the contrary was very cruel and never let one fruit drop on the ground but kept everything for himself. As a consequence, the animals under the fruit tree all starved to death during the reign of Bamboo!
Hence, instead of providing services as a ‘servant’ should for his or her masters as Monkey did for his constituents who elected him to manage the fruit tree in animal land, Bamboo unlike his colleague Monkey became a ‘lord’ over the animals and did a disservice to his electorates and served at their displeasure. Now, Krawlay, pray tell me, my question to you is: will you be like Monkey that managed the fruit tree unselfishly in animal land so that all animals benefitted; or, will you and your corps of officers be like Bamboo that only sought his own selfish interest and made his constituents to starve to death?
This African fable is one paramount reason why it is really, really important that we educate for peace and reconciliation and provide civic education so that Liberians and citizens from underdeveloped nations will grasp the true meaning of who and what a leader should be and do in order to qualify to be an eligible postmodern leader instead of being a despot or a warlord as we have in Liberia and most African and underdeveloped countries around the world. In addition, this discourse should also help us better understand why we as a nation and people should not so easily cave into political and economic pressures from world powers that have the propensity to create wars in peaceful nations and bring untold hardships upon underdeveloped nations and their citizens as we have experienced in the Liberian civil crisis. Therefore, educating for peace and reconciliation and providing civic education to postwar and traumatized citizens is an effective proactive step to take in restoring rule of law and sanity to a society and people bombarded, exploited, abused, and held hostage by their own native sons and daughters and warlords in cohort with international criminals parading as ‘peacekeepers’.
Civic Education May Empower Individuals to Make Informed Decisions That Are Pivotal to Their Existence as Rational Human Beings!
In the preceding paragraph, I argued that democracy as a political term or construct may not only mean “the will of the people, of the people, or by the people or the majority, to make decisions that affect their lives.” As well, democracy may empower individuals to “make informed decisions that may land them in the direction they would like go, through the ballot box instead of the use of force or arms. Additionally, democracy may provide us with options that enable us to elect competent public servants of our choice by critically vetting those we elect to lead us as a matter of choice and not coercion. In other unfortunate circumstances particularly due to high illiteracy rate and ignorance, electorates may elect inept individuals on the basis of tribal affiliation, or due to misinformation or lack of appropriate and adequate voters’ education.
Thus, in order for a decision to be considered “informed” and independent or free of molestation, it means voters have to properly educated on what their rights are. They have to also fully understand the procedures and rules governing the electoral process, in order for them to weigh all sides of the issue/s under consideration so as to come up with a better choice from among the options available to them. This is especially crucial when about 90% of the voting public are illiterate, unable to read and write in the official language of communication (English in the case of Liberia); but yet they are being introduced to a foreign political system whose overall dynamics most of the voters do not fully understand.
In this respect, making an informed decision as electorates is very pivotal and interconnected to our existence and success, since as a matter of fact, life is basically hinged on or is about the cardinal principle of self-preservation. Against this backdrop, civic education may empower individuals to make informed decisions that are pivotal to their existence as rational human beings.
For instance, here is another crucial example why peace and civic education is very important for postwar and traumatized citizens. Definitely you do not want to be like the frogs in the famous Liberian fable I titled “The Frogs and Black Snake in Frogsville” that Dehkontee Artists Theatre, Inc. (DATI) will be producing on January 9th, 2016 at the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts. According to this traditional Liberian fable and in reality it is no hidden secret that black snakes prey on frogs. So, even though the Frogs (Toad, Bull, and Spring) constituted the majority of the population and that Black Snakes were in the minority in Frogsville; yet, unfortunately, the frogs were not united but the black snakes were. Hence, in this case the majority may not necessarily be victorious when they are divided, for a house divided among itself cannot stand. For this reason, the black snakes capitalized on the disunity of the frogs in order to win a landslide victory over the frogs during the chieftaincy election in Frogsville!
Now would you say the decision made by the frogs not to field one of their kind to contest Black Snake in the chieftaincy elections in Frogsville was an “informed decision”? Did the frogs weigh the circumstances and aftermaths of their decision that was based on sheer spite against one another before they decided to elect Black Snake as Chief of Frogsville? Certainly not. Well, as you and I very well know, there are always negative consequences for making such silly “you kill my ma, you kill my pa I will vote for you” types of decisions”! Also, there is always a tendency for cunning politicians to prey on the ignorance and illiteracy of the electorates to gain power through the ballot box and later emerge not as leaders and servants of the people that elect them but as lords and oppressors of the electorates. Not so?
Against this backdrop it is safe to say that you have to think and rethink before you ink. Additionally, even though democracy may provide us with options from which to choose; yet we still have to read in between the lines in order to make an informed decision that may protect our own best interests in life. And, one key way we can do this is to begin to educate for peace so that whatever barriers there are that are preventing us from understanding and loving one another may be overcome and resolved through the processes of give-and-take, and rule of law.
Let Us Rebuild Liberia on the Solid Foundation and Principles of Democracy and Rule of Law
Yes, indeed, it is good to forgive but forgiveness must fall within the confines of the laws of society because no society can exist without fixed laws to govern its inhabitants. That was why Yousuah provided Moses with the Ten Commandments to make it categorically clear to the children of Israel that we should not: (1) steal; (2) bear false witness; (3) kill; (4) worship false gods; (5) commit adultery; (6) covet or be jealous of one another (7) have or worship false gods; (8) swear in the name of the Lord, like swearing to defend the constitution but yet supporting rebellious activities and subversion and civil unrests in society; but rather, we must (9)obey our fathers and mothers; and (10) keep holy the Sabbath.
Now, do you think Liberians or peoples around the world today would be in a continuous state of chaos and lawlessness and self-destruction if we all adhered to those basic Mosaic Laws the Lord has laid down for us? Certainly not. Would Liberia be a failed state if Liberians, particularly members of the Liberian Bar Association stood their grounds as legal experts and demanded transparent justice and equity in accord to the Organic Laws of Liberia by demanding the prosecution of perpetrators of war crimes and economic criminals as did the British and the Sierra Leoneans instead of remaining silent or factionalized? Certainly not! How do Liberian lawyers today compare with Liberian legal practitioners the likes of Nete-Sie Brownell, Diho Tweh, Faulkner who sued the Liberian government during the presidency of Charles D.B. King and Vice President Allen Yancy, Sr. when they were engaged in forced labor. Would what is obtaining in Liberia have ever occurred if we had traditional warriors the likes of Juah-Nimeley? Certainly not!
Ladies and gentlemen and citizens of the world, this is why it is only right that you and I do whatever we can as patriotic citizens of Liberia and of the world to provide civic education for our citizens so that they may know or discern the difference between right and wrong rather than to promote war and lawlessness. Hence, when I speak of “civic education” I mean providing the citizens with basic information regarding what their rights and privileges are as citizens of a particular nation or society. It means making them aware that there are laws that govern every society and any breach of the law has its corresponding consequences for breaking a particular law.
For instance, if you murder a citizen and are found guilty, you will be sentenced and sent to prison based on the law concerning such cruel human action. In this light, civic education provides us with the tools and understanding that no one is above the laws of the land and that everybody is equal before the law.
However, when someone commits murder and you allow the person/s to go free and to roam the streets of Gbarnga or Gbelleh-dru with impunity as if the lives of the human beings the murderer destroyed were worth nothing then you are promoting lawlessness, which is absolutely against both the will of God and laws of every civilized society. And, to be “civilized” in this sense is to be able to live with others in peace and harmony and to tolerate one another’s cultures and beliefs, as well as to be able to celebrate our differences. Therefore, it is a barbaric act and a criminal offense for any man or woman to take the law into his or her own hands and yet be allowed to go unpunished with impunity, especially with respect to and in contravention of the Constitution of any given civilized nation such as ours—Liberia—the first independent republic on the continent of Africa that set the pace and confirmed the glorious notion that the Black man was capable of self-rule.
Against this backdrop, Liberians or any citizens of civilized nations in the world must discourage and not promote or enhance lawlessness as an ‘acceptable’ way of life in Liberia by giving murderers and economic criminals big, big jobs and/or by glamorizing evil in any given society in the world. Indeed, such a behavior is a recipe for chaos, lawlessness, and subsequently leads to the indignation of human life and the destruction of properties and overall infrastructure of society as we have witnessed in the Liberian society.
In conclusion, I want to appeal to you, Mr. President, and members of your administration, including Mr. Charles S. Roberts (Vice President), Ms. Evelyn Kayee (Secretary), and Ms. Elizabeth Barkon (Chaplain) to be instruments of peace and reconciliation in the Liberian community in the Research Triangle in North Carolina. As the name of your environment suggests, the term “Research Triangle” should resonate with you that the great people of North Carolina and the United States of America value education and research. I am a living testimony because thirty-seven years ago I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro’s prestigious Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. In addition, I am very grateful to the government and people of the United States of America for providing us asylum and greater opportunities to further our education to the highest level at a total cost of over a quarter million dollars provided by the U.S. Department of Education to pursue a second Master’s degree in Elementary and Special Education and a Doctorate in Educational Leadership. Of course these are some of the benefits that Liberians at home and abroad may accrue from dual citizenship if we play our cards right and stop being selfish and naïve.
Also, one you will observe that here in the United States, the law is executed to the fullest extent possible and that those who breach the law in the United States and other countries in the western world are not awarded Nobel Peace Prize or Congressional Medal of Honor. Instead, culprits are charged, tried and imprisoned when found guilty. I believe the same should obtain in the Liberian society if we want to upkeep our hegemony as Africa’s oldest republic. Against this background, I vehemently condemn the clandestine role played by the United States in the Liberian civil crisis that has cost us so much brief and economic and political devastation and self-destruction, especially taking into consideration that the United States is supposed to be our ‘traditional friend’. In view of the foregoing, we ourselves must work together to repair our broken country’s infrastructure through the process of educating for peace and reconciliation among ourselves, as well as providing civic education rather that to promote war and lawlessness in our homeland—Liberia. This is the way of life of a civilized people and nation and, to encourage lawlessness, corruption, and atrocities as an acceptable way of life is indeed barbaric and prestine.
Dehkontee Artists Theatre, Inc. (DATI) is willing and prepared to collaborate with LCOT and all other U.S.-based Liberian community organizations, as well as those in Europe and on the continent of Africa, to provide civic education and promote peace and reconciliation among Liberians at home and abroad through the performing arts. Therefore, we ask that you will make good use of our offer and willingness to collaborate with you in providing culturally relevant education for our children and grandchildren who are born in the diaspora so that they may be culturally aware of who they are. In this light, we have launched the DATI fund drive and established our corporate checking account at the Wellsfargo Bank where individuals and organizations who want to promote civic education and reconciliation among Liberians in the diaspora and at home can partner with us and donate to help us produce plays and relevant literature to begin the education process for all Liberians in the diaspora and back in Liberia in preparation for the 2017 presidential and general elections. We also hope to begin summer classes on the history and culture of Liberia and Africa for children between the ages twelve to seventeen during the summer of 2016.
On behalf of the management of the management of DATI I would also like to seize the opportunity to invite all of you to our debut performance of “The Frogs and Black Snake in Frogsville” that goes up at the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts on January 9, 2016 in Bowie, Maryland. Please visit our website: www.dehkonteeartiststheatreinc.com or our facebook page for more updates about our activities.
Mr. President, Mr. Vice President and officers and distinguished members of the Board of Directors of LCOT, thank you very much for your preferment of me as your guest speaker and installation officer. I also want to thank members of the Planning and Entertainment Committees, including Ms. Eva Diggs, Laura Kennedy, Martha Dargbeh, Chester Woyee, Pastor Moses Bee, Kama Sherman, as well as many other wonderful and hard-working male and female volunteers in the Triangle area that made my homecoming to North Carolina a memorable and worthwhile experience. My wife and I thank all of you from the depths of our hearts and wish you success in your endeavors. I thank you.
America, Call on Dehkontee Artists Theatre for Great Reading Entertainment when You Are Snowed-In!
A scene from Dr. Joe Gbaba’s “The Minstrel’s Tales” performed by Dehkontee Artists theatre in Monrovia, Liberia in 1992 at the Centennial Memorial Pavilion. Of course the minstre is Dr. Gbaba himself!
Hello, America. I am your African minstrel for this snow storm that has stretched throughout the United States. But let me warn you that as an African storyteller, I will not be telling you about what you already know as Americans or westerners. Instead, I will treat you to some African culture and beliefs just so that you may realize that Africa has produced more good and knowledge, other than just your naïve notion that Africa is where slaves were taken from in order to develop the western world. Having made that strategic point, let’s get down to business!
Once upon a time! You as my readers or audience must respond by saying: “Time”! This is the normal procedure when a village minstrel is telling a tale. The audience is not isolated from the storytelling process. They are part and parcel of the storytelling process to keep them awake as the minstrel entertains them. So, “Once upon a time” and your response: “Time”!
If we were in an African village and were kind of confined within village limits due to some natural disaster (like a heavy down pour of rain for days and the rivers were flooded and the village pathways were over flooded and unsafe for village farmers to travel to brush their farms but had to remain within the perimeters of the village for several days) like the way we are now snowed-in this week-end in most parts of the United States, then it would be an appropriate time for the village minstrel to entertain the villagers around the fire hearth. I could have said the “village fire” if the weather were fair and if we had a moon-lit night, when you could count the zillions of stars in the vast open firmament in the night. However, note that I said, a period of “natural disaster”; so, like your snow storm in the western hemisphere, it would equate to a heavy down pour of tropical rain in Africa.
A scene from Dr. Joe Gbaba’s “The Minstrel’s Tales”. In the play the villagers participate in the storytelling process accompanied by choral responses and active participation in the minstrelsy of the village storyteller or minstrel.
But, of course life does not come to a standstill; instead, the village minstrel takes charge of entertainment as the men in the village sniff their snuff (a juice squeezed from a warmed tobacco leaf that villagers, mostly the elder—senior citizens use) to create a natural ‘high’. Snuff can also be made in the form of a powder. That is done when the dried tobacco leaf is pounded until it turns into dust which the villagers (both men and women) may either sniff or, they take a small bit of the tobacco dust or snuff and place it under their tongue lapel and that gives them a natural high as well! Also, the men would sip some “gbajoko” (some liquor made from the juice of sugar cane). “Gbajoko” gives you an even bitter ‘high’ and warms up your entire intestines, your throat, and esophagus than does the snuff or mashed and warmed tobacco juice called snuff! That’s what I am talking about!
The women would cook some hot peppered soup with dried meat or fish (anything ranging from elephant meat, deer or what Liberians call “fuletonkor”, monkey meat, fish), and sometimes they would slaughter some country chickens and new rice or maybe some fanned rice with some red palm oil and “chicken soup pepper” to “rock their jaws”! However, just so that you keep up with the flow of my show, it is very necessary that I give you a feel or insight about some of the foods I mentioned above because everything we do in Africa has a meaning: the food we eat, the clothes we wear, our shelters we sleep in, and our beliefs have underlying reasons and motives. So, that is the reason why I have to provide some details so that you are educated about African cultural beliefs while I entertain you through the nationwide snow storm.
Firstly, note that all of the foods I mentioned above are not imported or refrigerated. Rather, they are all produced by the villagers, which manifests the fact of self-sufficiency. Africa for the most part was “self-sufficient” prior to the introduction of western culture or ‘civilization’. However, this is not the case anymore. Some African societies can no longer feed themselves or produce their staple food like rice (in the case of Liberia) even though there is rich humus soil and beautiful tropical rainforest in abundance that our ancestors used so wisely to rule the world and create the world’s oldest civilization!
Secondly, observe that all of the foods I mentioned above are natural and are obtained from the natural habitat of the African villagers. The foods have no chemicals in them, so they are organic. Furthermore, the foods Africans produce and eat provide African villagers very good dietary supplements that keep Africans very strong and healthy and fortified to face adverse circumstances in life without giving up so easily. In other words, the foods Africans produce and consume are partly responsible for their inner and outer resilience. It is also responsible for Africans having tight bodies and not aging so speedily as westerners do. For an example a healthy sixty-year old African villager may look like a thirty-five-year old westerner while in most instances westerners in their late thirties or forties physically and facially appear like a sixty or seventy-year old African. I guess it also has to do with our African genes, too.
The “peppered soup” or what you may term “spicy soup” is both medicinal and nutritional in that it helps to dissolve the cold or cough/mucous from your digestive system and it warms up your entire body system in order to resist colds and fevers. Ask any African about the taste of “new rice”! Man, don’t even get me started because I could go on telling you not only how delicious it is but how it slips down your throat without even chewing it, especially when “new rice” is cooked with okra sauce or palava sauce! As for the “red palm oil” and “chicken soup pepper” (bullion cubes mashed in peppers to give it a delicious spicy taste), stirred in “new rice”, man, please, you don’t want to go there!
Mind you, we don’t use metal spoons to eat in African villages: instead, we use the natural spoon God made—the palm of our hands, including our five fingers! Do you know that there are five letters in the word “spoon” and that each finger stands for a letter? Well, if you did not know this fact before, you now have learned a new idea today. You now know why God gave man the palm of his hands and gave him five fingers so that man may work, till the soil, and eat the fruits of his labor with the same hand he used to labor for his daily bread. Even the word “bread” has five letters as well. So the number five is a very important numeral in the African tradition.
Okay, what I did above was to just give you an idea what Villagers in Africa would be doing now if they had a natural disaster that kept them at home for a couple of days as we are doing right now. However, after the villagers have had their meal, then the village minstrel would tell a tale that has some historical significance because unlike the western world where your history whether true or false is recorded; in Africa, wisdom and knowledge about ourselves and our environment are passed on to future generations of Africans by word of mouth—through oral tradition. That is why the minstrel in the village is very important—because he is the custodian of the people’s history and culture.
As an educator I was very disappointed and saddened to find out that the only information that is being predominantly taught children in the United States of America about Africa is SLAVERY! When I started teaching my fourth and fifth graders about the rich cultures of Africa and that Africa produced the world’s oldest civilizations, my Caucasian principal who headed a public school in North Philadelphia where almost all of the student population was Black but had over 90% Caucasian teachers, the principal took serious offense because he claimed some of the information I was providing for the kids was not in the “curriculum”. Well, talking about “curriculum”, how could you teach a child about all the negative stuff about his ancestors and expect him to be ‘motivated’ to learn; and when he gets turned off and begins to misbehave in class, then you write him or her up as a “learning disabled” or that he or she has “Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). In this instance, who is at fault? The child or the educational system? Is it morally just or justified to deprive a child knowledge about himself and his immediate environment but yet expect him to perform better than a Caucasian child whose history and culture the Black child or minority Hispanic students are coerced to take?
Also, what I found even more disappointing with the American school system is that there are even Black American ‘educators’, lawmakers who condone the lack of African-centered information and materials in the mainstream curriculum across the United States. Of course these are the ones that look at Africans as strangers instead of embracing them as their own blood brothers and sisters! Again, it all boils down to the curriculum because it is the instrument that drives the types of instructions that are given to our children in the school systems in the United States of America. On the contrary, the curriculum in the African village is all about Africa, the village and its environs, how to cherish and preserve the culture and history of Africa by practicing self-reliance, by being our brothers and sisters’ keepers, by sharing through the communal and extended family relationships mode of peaceful coexistence.
For an example, I have observed that Americans are very fascinated with the European monarchs: Queen Elizabeth of Great Britain, Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands, or some European royalties; but Americans and westerners have failed to realize that the concept of a dynasty system was one of the gifts or wisdoms that the world learned from ancient African civilizations that were ruled by African royal families or monarchs. For examples, the House of Judah in Ethiopia, or the House of the Egyptian Pharaohs, were all African dynasties that the western world copied from. Both my mother and father are descendants of Krahn kings from the Nien Dynasty that existed prior to the introduction of the western governance system in Eastern Liberia (namely Grand Gedeh County) from where my ancestors originated. Hence, I am stating this because Americans may benefit a lot more from the rich traditions of Africa if mainstream curriculums in the United States were comprised of richer African materials than they are now.
Oooop! I have to go! But don’t go too far because I will return tomorrow with more Afrocentric content. Please be safe. Love you all.
Rabbi Prince Joseph Tomoonh-Garlodeyh Gbaba, Sr., Ed.
23 January, 2016