Which Way Liberia? Are the so-called “Traditional Leaders of Liberia trying to take the country back to the 19th century?

By Tolo Bonah Corfah

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
July 16, 2012

The focus of this paper is to briefly try to take a critical look at the role of the traditional leaders in the modern Liberian society. Should the main role of our traditional leaders be to warn citizens for exercisizing their constitutional rights of free speech? Is it the duty of the traditional leaders of Liberia to interfere in the workings of the legislative branch of our government? Why is it that the traditional Leaders are now playing a prominent role that they never played in past administrations?

Role of traditional societies in modern Liberian society
Before the advent of the written word in Liberian society, the Poro and Sande traditional societies play an important educational role amongst the peoples that practiced the ritual. When a boy or girl went to the Poro or Sande society, the boys learn how to hunt, lay traps, make farm and learned most of the responsibilities of a head of a household; as for the girls who went to the Sande society, the learn how to cook, clean house, and all of the rudiments of a good house wife. So, going to these indigenous societies was to learn the responsibilities of good citizenship. It is important to recognize the important roles that the Poro and Sande societies play in the lives of our people during those eras, but we have now entered a new modern age, where it is very important that we practice modern hygienic methods for our own healthy being.

Societies advance, and as they advance they tend to change some of the ways people live to cope with the forces of nature; in so doing, we change some of our old habits, customs, and traditions to cope with today’s reality. The writer here is a graduate of the Poro indigenous society, but will he send any of his children to the Poro or Sande? NO, because all that I learned in the Poro bush can be learned at home and school in a relatively shorter time span than the years and months that it took me to learn those things in the Poro bush. It is also important to note that we are not criticizing the Poro and Sande traditional society for criticisms sake, but we are trying to modernize these customs and traditions to suit the norms of modern day living. If these customs and traditions could only be reformed to cope with the realities of today, nobody would be criticizing the practice.

Role of Traditional Leaders
I believe that the proper role of our traditional leaders should be working with all stakeholders to restructure these indigenous societies to cope with the realities of today. This writer does not believe that it is healthy for our country when the traditional leaders of Liberia only make threats, and warn individuals when they try to speak freely on the workings of our traditional societies. I expected that when Ms. Azango first wrote about the ills of the Sande society as regards FGM, the traditional leaders of our country would have gather all stakeholders for consultation to find a way forward, because it is not only in Liberia that FGM is being vehemently criticized. Neither has this writer heard from our so-called traditional leaders on the closure of schools in some parts of Nimba County. Don’t the traditional leaders think that it is more important for our girl children to stay in school instead of closing the schools for the practice of Sande to take precedence?

I believe strongly that chief Zanzan Kawa and the other traditional leaders of Liberia can play a proactive role in our emerging democracy; they can even reform the Poro and Sande society to cope with the realities of today’s Liberia. But I think that our country experiences a set back when one of our schools in the hinterland is closed to make way for the so-called Sande ritual to take place. We, as a country have been left far behind because of the protracted civil war. Chief Zanzan Kawa must know that a society that encourages criticism from its citizens is in a better position to govern better, and build a modern democracy.

Why is it that the traditional leaders hate to be criticized? Why have they been picking and choosing who to give Cola Nuts on behave of at the legislature? Why couldn’t they wait until the legislature conducts its constitutional duties before impressing on the body that Blamo Nelson is their son, whom they wanted confirmed? Can chief Kawa truly say that Blamo went to the sane Poro society that I went to? Do the Kru people practice Poro and Sande traditions?

Which way are we going as a country? Are we going to honor all of these outlandish traditional rules and customs, or are we going to try to live as a civilized nation amongst the community of nations?

Author: Tolo Bonah Corfah
Twain Cities, MN

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