A Speech Delivered by Dr. Joseph Tomoonh-Garlodeyh Gbaba, Sr.
At the Inaugural Ceremony of the Grand Gedeh Association in the Americas Greek Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Saturday, October 03, 2009 The “True Liberian”
By Joseph Tomoonh-Garlodeyh Gbaba, Sr., Ed. D. Introduction
Officers and members of the outgoing Henry Glay Administration; Mrs. Adolphine Martha Kannah, newly elected President, officials, and members of Grand Gedeh Association in the Americas (GGAA), members of the diplomatic corps, invited guests, fellow Liberians, distinguished ladies and gentlemen.
Today, I am very honored and happy to be your guest speaker, especially at a time when both the Glay and Kannah camps have a dispute centered on elections fraud that is pending in court. Hence, I believe the time is ripe to tell you a couple of stories as a famous Liberian playwright and storyteller. Therefore, please listen to me very keenly, or please read this document very carefully because what I am about to tell you was not of my own making. I was inspired by God, the spirits of our forefathers, and all of you who are gathered here tonight to tell my stories. In addition, my stories are not only intended for citizens of Grand Gedeh County but they are as well meant to provide food for thought for all Liberians, Africans, and peoples of the universe whose bodies, minds, and souls are longing for love, hope, and peace. In view of the foregoing, I will briefly address the current crisis in the Association and make some suggestions or recommendations aimed at amicably resolving the crisis, and then I will address you on the topic, “The True Liberian.” I will then conclude my address by briefly touching on the “Doe-dee” relationship between the Krahn, Mano, and Gio ethnic groups of Liberia and make some suggestions and recommendations that I believe will help us to maintain our status as “true Liberians” at home and abroad. But first, let us address the current political rift in the Association and see how we can bring it to a peaceful closure not through the bar of court but through in-house negotiations.
The Urgent Need for In-house Negotiations
In the first place, I would like for us to recognize the urgent need for in-house negotiations among ourselves rather than attempting to resolve our misunderstanding through the bar of court. In this respect, I would like to apologize to Grand Gedehians from upstate New York who felt cheated by not being allowed to vote because they did not channel their voting documents through the office of the Chapter President of New York, the Honorable Ann Cooper-Wilson. Equally so, I also would like to apologize to the President and officers of the New York Chapter for the disrespect that was shown them by Mr. Glay and members of his administration for misleading new Grand Gedeh arrivals by failing to recognize the legitimacy of the New York Chapter. Even though I understand there is a phrase in the Association’s Constitution that provides for what I would term an “exception to the rule,” yet, it would have served the best interest of the entire Organization had the Glay administration and those in upstate New York first contacted their local Chapter’s President and officers for peace sakes. In addition, if Mr. Glay and the upstate New York voters had deliberately intended to apply the “exceptional rule” stipulated in the Association’s Constitution, in that they would not be forwarding the names of upstate New York voters to the state headquarters because they were farther away from the New York Chapter headquarters, then they should have done so beforehand in writing. In this respect, the message would have been clearly communicated so that appropriate measures could have been taken by the New York Chapter to accommodate the “exceptional rule.” However, two wrongs cannot make an argument right. Therefore, since elections have already been held and a new corps of officers has been elected to serve a two year term, I propose that we move forward by withdrawing the case from court but that we also apply our traditional method of peacekeeping; and this is how I suggest it should go:
(1) Since the Glay camp is the aggrieved party to this dispute, I propose that we kill a cow to thank Mr. Glay and his supporters for the great work he did over the past two years as past president of the Association;
(2) I also propose that the Kannah administration form a coalition government that will include Mr. Glay’s supporters that he (Glay) may want to recommend to serve in the new Administration so that the matter can be withdrawn from court because it is not a good thing for members of the same family or same nationality to wash their dirty clothes in the streets. I say this because the monies that are being spent for lawyer fees could very well be used to purchase textbooks and instructional materials for needy public schools in Grand Gedeh, as well as equipment and medications for hospitals in the County;
(3) Also, as Mr. Glay’s “Belah” or in-law (because Mr. Henry Glay’s older brother, Honorable William Glay and my late niece had several children), I ask that the Glay family kindly put this matter to peaceful rest in the true spirit of family solidarity. I can assure all parties concerned that this mistake will never be repeated in the future because it defeats the purpose of our democratic freedoms and well-being. Therefore, in this public manner, I, on behalf of the people of Grand Gedeh and in my own name as guest speaker and “Belah” appeal to Mr. Henry Glay and supporters for their timely cooperation. We did not mean to disrespect your constitutional rights as citizens of Liberia and Grand Gedeh County, respectively. Please forgive us. This will not happen again.
Fellow compatriots and friends of Grand Gedeh County and Liberia, this is my suggestion regarding the matter that is pending in a local court in the State of Pennsylvania between the Glay and Kannah camps. A hint to the wise is therefore quite sufficient. Having expressed my view on the current court proceedings that are at hand, I will now proceed to tell you my story for the night. It is entitled : “The True Liberian.”
“The True Liberian”
Tonight, I speak to you as a “true Liberian,” and what do I mean by this? By the term “true Liberian” I mean that I see Liberia as the bigger picture before I see my county of origin which is a subset of Liberia. By “true Liberian” I see you and me first as Liberians before I see you as Krahn, Gio, Mano, Mandingo, Vai, Gola, Dei, Bassa, Kru or Klaopee, Grebo, Belle, Gbandi, Kissi, Mende, Congor, or Americo-Liberian. As a “true Liberian” I consider the security of the state very important rather than to capture the Executive Mansion by force or to terrorize poor Liberians just because I want to be president of Liberia. Therefore, as a “true Liberian” I prefer to live with you in peace and harmony than for us to be divided in hatred and war. Further, as a “true Liberian” I respect the rule of law and recognize the Constitution of Liberia as the legitimate laws of the land that we should all abide by in order to secure peace and harmony among the citizens of Liberia. As a “true Liberian” I feel at home when I am in Bong County among the Kpelles, and when I am in Sanniquellie or Tappita with the Gios and Manos; or in Grand Capemount with the Vais and Mendes; or in Loffa with the Lormas, Gbandis, Kissis, Mandingoes; or when I am in Montserrado with the Congors and Americo-Liberians and the Deiweion people; or when I am in River Gee with the Bush Greboes; or in Maryland with the Gborh Greboes and the Congors; or when I am in Sinoe with the Congors, Krus, Sarpbouns, or when in Grand Kru County with the Krus, or in Rivercess and Grand Bassa with the Bassas and Congors; or in MarGibi with the Kpelles and Bassas and Gbis, or when I am in Bopolu with the Bellehs, or when I am in Grand Gedeh with the Krahns or when I am here in the United States with all of you!
Ladies and gentlemen and fellow compatriots, being “true Liberians” means we have a cultural heritage to uphold. It means we have family, ethnic, and interethnic relationships to uphold. In addition, being “true Liberians” means that no one is more Liberian than the other; or, no one is more Grand Gedehian than the other. Therefore, we all belong to one cultural heritage first as Liberians before we are whatever else we are as members of the various ethnic groups of Liberia. In this light, it is very important for you and me to realize that we are brothers and sisters from the same nation state. Consequently, your woes and happiness are mine and my ups and downs are yours as well. When you succeed I rejoice and when I succeed you rejoice. That is how “true Liberians” should live together—to be our brother’s keepers. Therefore, to do the opposite of what I am telling you can be likened to Cain and Abel in the Bible (Genesis 4:1-15).
The Story of Cain and Abel
Adam and Eve had two sons: Cain and Abel. Cain was the older brother and Abel was the younger brother. Cain was a farmer and Abel was a shepherd. During the course of time Cain brought some of his harvest and gave it as an offering to the Lord. Abel also brought the first lamb born to one of his sheep, killed it, and gave the best parts of it as an offering. The Lord was pleased with Abel and his offering, but he rejected Cain and his offering. Therefore, Cain was angry and jealous. Then God said to Cain, “Why are you angry? If you had done the right thing you would be smiling instead of frowning. Do not fall into evil and temptation and do not permit sin to overcome you.” Friends, did Cain listen to God? Did Cain resist evil and temptation as God directed him to? No, Cain did not.
What Did Cain Do?
Cain asked his brother so they would go out in the fields and when they got there, Cain turned on his brother and killed him. Well, talking about Cain and Abel in Biblical days, what did we do to one another in Liberia in modern days? We killed one another because we wanted to gain political power and wealth. We killed one another because the other person was Krahn or Gio or Mano, or Mandingo, or Congor, or Kru, Vai, Dei, Gola, Belleh, Lorma, Kpelle, Kissi, Mende, Grebo, Bassa, and so forth. In this light, you and I were no different from Cain. We killed our brothers and sisters because of jealousy just as Cain killed Abel because of jealousy. We have divided ULA into two different political entities because of jealousy and confusion just as Cain killed his brother because of confusion and jealousy. Consequently, the same jealousy and confusion is spreading to the Grand Gedeh Association in the Americas as well as other Liberian organizations because the evil spirit of Cain is overpowering the love God has instilled in us as “true Liberians.”
What Did God Say to Cain?
God asked Cain, “Where is your brother?” and Cain replied: “I do not know. Am I supposed to be my brother’s keeper?”
Then God said to Cain, “Why have you done this terrible thing? Your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground like a voice calling for revenge. You are placed under curse and can no longer farm the soil. It has soaked up your brother’s blood as if it had opened its mouth to receive it when you killed him. If you try to grow crops, the soil will not produce anything: you will be a homeless wanderer on the earth.”
In this respect, what is God saying to you and me tonight as Liberians? He is asking us for our brothers and sisters we slaughtered. God is asking, “Where is Stephen Yekeson? Where is David Dwanyen? Where is Jackson F. Doe? Where is Steven Daniels? Where is David Gaye? Where is John Yormie? Where is Samuel Doe? Where is Samuel Dokie? Where is R. Vanjah Richards? Where is Teacher Cooper? Where is Teacher Dolly Bracewell? What happened to our loyal AFL soldiers in our barracks who defended the Constitution of Liberia? What answers do we have to give tonight as “true Liberians”? Will we say we are not our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers as Cain said when God asked him for the whereabouts of his brother; or, shall we recognize that as “true Liberians” we have a moral obligation to one another: to respect one another as Liberians and also to respect the sanctity of human life?
What Was Cain’s Response to God’s Wrath?
“This punishment is too hard for me to bear. You are driving me off the land and away from your presence. I will be a homeless wanderer on the earth, and anyone who finds me will kill me.” Today, Liberians have been driven off their own land and are wandering around the world because we chose the way Cain took when he killed his brother. As a result, God is telling us that our brothers’ and sisters’ blood is crying out to him from the ground and for this reason we have been placed under “curse.” That is why those who have their hands dipped in blood back home cannot make progress because God forbids it. That is why Liberians are wandering around the world like God did Cain. Liberia has rich soil for farming but the people are starving because every time they try to grow crops the soil rejects it because the Liberian soil is stained with human blood. That is why there is so much confusion in our various organizations because there are too many Cains and less “true Liberians” who will put their country first before their self-interest or self-pride.
What Can We Do to Be Saved?
We need to make genuine sacrifices to God as Abel did. We need to take the first born of our sheep and cows, kill them, and offer the best parts as sacrifice to God so that he may be pleased with us once again as “true Liberians.” This will require the election of new leaders in Liberia who have clean hands, hearts and minds to lead the Liberian people. It will require the coming together of the zoes of the land from all ethnic groups in order to make a national sacrifice so that the land may be cleansed of the innocent blood that was spilled on it. What this process also calls for is not the use of the barrel of the guns but the use of democratic means—the ballot box. Here, it does not call for the expression, “You kill my ma, you kill my pa, I will vote for you.” Instead, it calls for strong-willed “true Liberians” who will shout, “You killed my ma, you killed my pa, I will not vote for you!” in order to make the difference that God wants us to make. In the past elections, Liberians glamorized violence, war crimes, thievery, and chaos by electing perpetrators of war and mass destruction in the country as officials of government. The next time around Liberians must be determinate in making the right political choices during the election in 2012 as “true Liberians” in order for all of us to be saved.
Nimba-Grand Gedeh Ties
Accordingly, by “true Liberians” I mean we should champion the cause of nationhood, national unity, and reconciliation. An example would be the patriotic gesture of the Nimba Congress in the United States of America. Last Saturday, I was honored by the Gorhaiti Association, a sub organization of the Grand Gedeh Association in the Americas. The program was well organized and attended and I was given the Academic Achievement Award. During that momentous program, a high power delegation led by the National President of the Nimba Congress in the United States, Mr. Wongai, attended the Grand Gedeh ceremony in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Thus, not only did Brother Wongai and his delegation actively participate in the program by donating to the fundraising activities of the Grand Gedeh organization, but he also made a heart-warming statement that brought tears to my eyes and hundreds of Grand Gedehians who were assembled in the hall. Mr. Wongai’s statement may be summarized in the following way:
My brothers and sisters of Grand Gedeh, we the Nimbaians bring you greetings from all your Brothers and Sisters from Nimba County. We want you to know tonight that the people of Nimba County love all Grand Gedehians as our Brothers and Sisters. Whatever happened in the past was a mistake. God has a reason why Grand Gedeh and Nimba County are neighbors and so we want the world to know that the war is over and that we will work together to rebuild our country.
When Mr. Wongai finished his fiery speech, the entire hall went wild and the Nimbaians were applauded with standing ovation! That is the “true Liberian” spirit I am talking about. The speech delivered by Mr. Wongai healed many wounded hearts in the hall that night. Besides, it takes a “true Liberian” to put away his self-pride and ethnic pride in order to take the lead in extending the olive branch from the beautiful people of Nimba to the wonderful people of Grand Gedeh County. In like manner, I also encourage Grand Gedehians to do the same when our Nimba Brothers and Sisters are having festive ceremonies. Grand Gedehians should attend and support our Nimba Brothers and Sisters in their endeavors as well. When we do this, then we will be putting Liberia first instead of reversing the situation where we limit our potentials to ethnic commitments and neglect the overall national cause.
The “Doe-dee” Relationship between the Krahns and the Manos and Gios
Long ago, our people formed a true or peace accord after they fought a long and bitter war. At the end of that war, the Krahns, Mano, and Gio people made peace. They made traditional sacrifices and then they became one people once again. This process happened during the good old days more than eighty-five years ago when my father was born. A Gio chief named my father “Tomah” (“The one who replaces his predecessor”) and that is why I am Joseph Tomoonh-Garlodeyh Gbaba. The “Tomoonh” in my name is a corruption of the Gio name “Tomah.” Also, my Nimba Brothers and Sisters call me “Saye-Tomah” because I am the first son of my father’s and I am also traditionally named “Tomah” as one who would replace my father. Apart from that, I attended Carroll High School in Nimba County and I received my calling from God as a national playwright and dramatist on Mount Nimba. Thereafter, I produced my first drama at the Open Door Theatre in Yekepa, Nimba County in 1974—thirty-five years ago. In addition, my parents built their home during the diamond rush in Nimba on the left-hand side of the hill when you are entering the township of Gbapa , and I also lived in Sanniquillie with a Mandingo family (Mr. Lasannah), a diamond broker and a good friend of my parents’ so I could attend St. Mary’s school. During that time also, I experienced both Mandingo and Islamic cultures as a child in the 60s. Therefore, I am also a Nimbaian as much as I am a son of Grand Gedeh, Montserrado, Bong, Maryland, Sinoe, Grand Kru, Grand Capemount, Loffa, Grand Bassa, Rivercess, MarGibi, Bopolu, and so forth. This is what it means to be a “true Liberian.”
Finally, Madam President-elect, officers, and members of the Grand Gedeh Associations in the Americas, I commend you for your patriotism and hard work. I have known you a little over forty years and you have not ceased to be beautiful and productive. In fact, you seem to be the energetic lady you were when I first met you and you have added more laurels to your achievements in life. I am very proud of you and that is why I honored you in my recently published autobiographical book entitled: Ah-zeo, Ma Garh. I congratulate you and your corps of officers and wish you the very best in your future programs. As a citizen of Liberia and a “true Liberian,” please feel free to call on me to render voluntary services to your Organization, especially in the areas of arts and culture and education. I will also be more than willing to provide expert knowledge and consultation that may help to improve your public relations and to organize fundraising programs to initiate development projects in Grand Gedeh County. I would also like to extend the same opportunity to all the Liberian organizations in the United States as well as those in Liberia. As a “true Liberian,” my country comes first before anything else, including myself. Therefore, please feel free to call on me whenever you need my help.
Once again, this has been a great privilege to serve as your guest speaker. As I take my seat, I want you to remember that we need to harmonize our differences by ourselves without involving outsiders. As “true Liberians” we should put our country first by embracing all Liberians as our brothers and sisters. Further, we should as “true Liberians” advocate for peace and reconciliation with our Gio and Mano Brothers and Sisters from Nimba County and we should support them in their endeavors as we would like them to do for us. In addition, as “true Liberians” we should recognize the Constitution of Liberia as the organic laws of the Liberia and we should bring to justice perpetrators of violence and mayhem so that justice and peace may prevail throughout the “Glorious Land of Liberty by God’s Command.” In view of the foregoing, I am again urging all “true Liberians” to remember that we acted like Cain toward our brothers and sisters and that is why we have been cursed by God and are wandering from country to country around the world. Therefore, in order to be forgiven by God and to regain our blessings from God, we should learn to offer the first born of our sheep and give the best parts to God as Abel did so that God may be pleased with us once agian. In conclusion, I thank you very much for inviting me to be your storyteller tonight. I hope the message I have provided will help all of us to become the “true Liberians” we all ought to be.
I thank you.