Tribute To Dr. Togba Nah Tipoteh ("Tipoteh Shoes")

By J. Yanqui Zaza  

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

August 31, 2016


Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh

It is a general knowledge that mankind is not only endowed with his/her genes, but endowed with family norms, educational developments, religious upbringings, community influences, etc.; or as Ms. Carolyn N. Kinder of Yale University puts it: “The genes you are born with influence your behavior. Your social environment including your family, school and neighborhood also influence your behavior.”

So your protégé’s character was not only impacted by the values from Lofa County and the Monrovia-ghettos’ diverse culture, but also impacted by two less obvious things among the different developments in the 70s. These two things, A Song And A Pair Of Sandals, grounded in the goodness of simplicity, also added a meaningful interpretation for me to what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. meant when he said; “…they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” In addition, I understood later that when Dr. King, Jr. used the phrase “the beloved community” he was restating God’s demand on human to seek an “equitable society,” not just ordinary love, according to Rev. Otis Moss III, the pastor of Trinity Church of Christ of Chicago, IL.

The message of equity was mentioned in many songs Liberians sang. And the song called “Blue Diamond Says,” preaching the message of equity, was among the many informative and poor-people’s uplifting songs Mr. Anthony Nagbe sang. The message in “Blue Diamond Says” taught me a lesson. The lyrics of the Song did inform someone that his/her wearing of an expensive shirt as compared to my inexpensive shirt did not indicate he/she was more important than I am. To me, and some friends, this Song reminded us to appreciate ourselves and respect others. I used the lyrics of this Song to mentally insulate myself from the shame of wearing cheap clothes/shoes, living within huts/zinc shacks or eating malnourished food. 

 I do not know whether Mr. Nabge’s songs influenced Dr. Togba Nah-Tipoteh who introduced the idea to wear a pair of sandals (called “Tipoteh  Sandals”) made out of used tire of a vehicle or vice versa. Dr. Tipoteh, who could afford any kind of expensive pair of shoes, wore this pair of sandals to all gatherings, both private and public, in order to spread the issues of Rice and Rights within the monthly newspaper published under the name GWEI FEI KPEI. This monthly newspaper, produced by the 70s progressives, called on Liberians to seek justice at any time, and anywhere.

Dr. Tipoteh was one of the progressives in the 70s whose agenda was to change the mentality of the Liberian people, especially the youth. They did believe that the “unchecked gap between the Monrovia-elites and the masses could lead to Catastrophe if the masses did not speak out. The masses’ rejection of the harsh economic conditions was a better remedy since Liberians could not depend on the benevolence of society to care for those who are left behind. These progressives were educated and had the experience to earn high salaries either at private companies or public offices, but they chose to work in places where they would interact with the youth.  In addition to teaching Liberians at formal gatherings such as academic environment, they organized intellectual forums or monthly meetings to discuss issues ranging from Liberia’s social, economic, cultural and political conditions to issues affecting other poor countries.

Unlike the stories about the issues of Rice and Rights in Liberia published in the GWEI FEI KPEI, wearing the “Tipoteh Sandals” was a message that was visible and eye-catching. Besides being loud, clear and convincing, wearing of the "Tipoteh Sandals" indicated to the poor that all Liberians are equal irrespective of economic or social status. Implicitly, it indicated to the onlooker to respect the person wearing the “Tipoteh Sandals” and he/she will be respected. Also, implicitly, the pair of “Tipoteh Sandals” did not represent the individual. If it were so, Dr. Tipoteh, someone who had earned a doctorate degree in economics, would not have worn shoes made out of tire of a vehicle. Further, to the onlooker, the message was not to allow material things to be the priority; rather to encourage people to acquire knowledge. Finally, the message invited the onlooker to join the idea of enhancing knowledge and rejecting material things, bigotry, ethnicity, hatred, religious prejudice, etc. Dr. Tipoteh’s colleagues joined him in wearing not only the sandals made from used tire that are found on dump sites, but wore kaki pants and inexpensive shirts. The progressives’ attire became the dress code for many people, especially students attending the University and night schools.

I got the message, that is, be yourself and do not pretend to be someone else. In any case, I wore the “Tipoteh Sandals” because of necessity, not necessarily to appreciate the goodness of simplicity. This is because I did not only save myself the money I did not have, but it allowed me to attend the University of Liberia without the shame of being perceived as an unwanted student. This is because there was an unwritten rule for all students to wear nice shoes and clothes to attend classes, which I did not have. More so, being aware that many other students living in better communities in Monrovia will wear nice shoes and clothes, I would have to secure money to purchase for myself a niece pair of shoes and clothes, if Dr. Tipoteh did not introduce the idea of wearing kaki pants and the “Tipoteh Sandals.”

Well, since attitude is contagious, students of the haves and have-nots at the University of Liberia began wearing the progressives’ attire. Interestingly, the “Tipoteh Sandals” –wearing students were smart, had acceptable characters, and had excellent family upbringing, etc. I joined many Liberians who accepted the clarion call to wear simple attire including the “Tipoteh Sandals” and seek advance knowledge. In fact after the April 12, 1980 military coup, the late Cephas Mabandee, a professor at the University of Liberia, refused to accept his appointment as an Associate Justice of the Republic of Liberia because the legal system did not allow him to wear his cultural shirt. Also, Dr. Boima H. Fanhnbulleh paid US $50 fine because he wore his African shirt and refused to wear western attire during his confirmation hearing in 1980. 

The idea of simplicity and honesty began to have an impact in Liberia before April 12, 1980. Government officials of the William R. Tolbert Government participated in the famous Student Intellectual Discourse Symposium at the University of Liberia where the audience asked any questions affecting the country. Students debated unlimited issues under the Palava Hut at the University of Liberia. The University Spokesman, a newspaper produced by the Student Government at the University of Liberia, carried stories narrating the ills of the Liberian society.

Certainly, there were many other factors that impacted my life, but the activities undertaken by the progressives, especially the “Tipoteh Sandals,” issues carried within the GWEI FEI KPEI newspaper and University Spokesman, made a memorable impact and helped to make me what I am today. So, I say thanks to Dr. Togba Nah-Tipoteh for a job well done. I hope Liberians will follow the philosophy of the progressives by moving away from this money culture or get rich quick culture, bigger house, bigger yards, ostentatious lifestyles, etc. to the culture of the virtue of simplicity, demonstrated by getting affordable attire, reasonable home, etc. 

Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah
On the contrary, J.Nyankoi Zayzay! Liberians SHOULD NEVER EVER "follow the philosophy of the "progressives" which is as proven by their acts and omissions in this despotic, corrupt, incompent, undemoctatic, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf government IS EXACTLY AS YOU PUT IT "COME GET RICH QUICK" PHILOSPPHY! Theodore Hodge has aptly described them as "supporting cast", but we see them as aiders, abetters, and accomplices of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and her criminal and murderous gang! And with such views here from you and Nyanseor as cheer leaders!!!
Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah at 07:30AM, 2016/08/31.
justice nelson
Thanks Zayzay for your analysis and no pity for this foreigner wasting on our land. Zoe is pathetic encroacher on Liberian soil.
justice nelson at 05:38PM, 2016/08/31.
sylvester moses
Mr. Yanqui Zaza, highlighting the “Tipoteh shoes” and its symbolism was perceptive. Interestingly, President Tolbert was also forward - looking: he dropped long coats, top hats, and articulated a clearly transformative agenda of Higher Heights. Apparently, he was surely a ‘progressive’ proscribed from making that leap by the peccadilloes of reactionaries within; what a tragedy which consequence is around our "fragile" nation's neck like an albatross.

Moreover, Yanqui, our honoree, Dr. Tipoteh, went further than “shoes” in abandoning foreign identities. He dropped the nomenclature 'Rudolph Robert', and added 'Tipoteh', a name pregnant with meaning. In other words, from the get – go, TNT was practicing the principles of cultural pride and identity he preached. Perhaps, to ensure that the vast majority first felt confident in who they were in order to become politically aware.

And why not?

Pride in one’s culture and identity wasn’t, and isn’t anything to be ashamed of. Needless to say, three rich empires flourished on the continent. Sankore University in Timbuctoo attracted Muslim scholars from everywhere to study, and other races accessed works by Renaissance authors and artists in its libraries. African American Historian Lerone Bennett, Jr. contends in his “Before The Mayflower A History of Black America” that it was gold and greed that goaded Europeans to the continent.

Well, they took not only the gold, they burned all the books they could lay hands on, and grabbed human beings too: final count, forty millions! It is against that historical background of the loss of African manhood, so to speak, and dignity amid more neo – colonialist outrages abroad, and undemocratic imbalances at home one must understand MOJA’s socio – cultural and political projections of the 1970’s.

Hence, it’s delusional to condemn progressivism for the failure of opportunists who hitched their camel - pulled wagons at the rear of its caravan. It is like repudiating the principles of “liberte, egalite, fraternite” of the French Revolution because Napoleon stole its thunder through greed, pathological narcissism, and power drunkenness.

To end, the progressivism of MOJA and PAL, one can confidently say, is a river flowing in an unending course. That’s why the few fans and fanatics of the Movement who were prematurely engaged in self – congratulatory pantomimes, a while ago, didn’t get it: the struggle ends when the masses say so. And that will be when they truly experience participatory democracy and equality of economic opportunities - Aluta Continua!
sylvester moses at 10:54AM, 2016/09/01.
Theodore Hodge
Mr. Nyanseor, perhaps you need to recuse yourself from this discussion because you're too emotionally attached to Dr. Tipoteh to have a rational input. Like cooler heads like Mr. Stewart and Dr. Wreh-Wilson and others take the lead on this one. Please calm your nerves...your response is so whacky, it does not even deserve a respectful response.
Theodore Hodge at 08:41AM, 2016/09/17.
Siahyonkron Nyanseor
Good morning my friend Hodge!

Are you confusing me with J. Yanqui Zaza? I am Siahyonkron Nyanseor, the one who challenged you to provide proofs to your accusation that Dr. Tipoteh claimed to be the inventor of the ‘rubber tire sandals’ Liberians named TIPOTEH. Why post your response intended for me under Zaza’s article? My friend referring to me as being too ‘whacky and emotional’ will not exonerate you from responding to my challenge. I am re-submitting my post for you to respond directly to me.

Thanks, as I await your response.

Good evening, Mr. Hodge!

As one who considers himself a writer, you have committed a cardinal sin of the craft of writing by not providing any supportive evidence or direct quotes from the elegant and perspicacious tributes to Dr. Tipoteh from lifelong activist like Professor Dr. Geepu-Nah Tiepoh, Human rights champion, Counsellor Tiawan Saye Gongloe, finance and economic activist writer, J. Yanqui Zaza, and myself, Siahyonkron Nyanseor; that would substantiate your claim that these tributes are suggesting that Dr. Tipoteh was the "inventor" of the sandals. At the minimum, you owe this much to The Perspective reading audience. I challenge you to provide this evidence.

Hodge, this is not your first or second time attacking those of us that support Tipoteh. In August 22, 2014, you wrote an article published in The Perspective titled: “The Great Liberian Drama: The Leading Lady and her Supporting Cast” in which you used the analogy that Tipoteh is Ellen’s ‘supporting cast’ member, and that he is not involved with Liberians on the ground. In response to your statement, J. Kpanneh Doe wrote a rejoinder titled: “What Hodge Failed to Mention about Tipoteh’s Activities in Liberia.” (The Perspective, August 29, 2014)

When I made the mistake in my tribute to Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh stating that he earned his Ph.D. from Harvard University; you accused me of knowingly committing deception. Even after I corrected my error, you insisted that I did not make an error. You came close to calling me a tribalist – implying that since Plenyono Gbe Wolo, a Kru (Klao) graduated from Harvard (June 21, 1883), I deliberately mentioned Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh who is also Kru (Klao) that he too, graduate from Harvard with his Ph.D. degree.

You see Hodge, no person is infallible! Here you misinterpret Dr. Geepu-Nah Tiepoh. Where in the statement, “One wonders if Dr. Tipoteh’s sandal lesson ever reached the ears of our nation’s economic policy makers and managers” is equated to mean, Tipoteh named the shoes/sandals after himself? You see Hodge, no person is infallible! Here you misinterpret Dr. Tiepoh. Where in the statement, “One wonders if Dr. Tipoteh’s sandal lesson ever reached the ears of our nation’s economic policy makers and managers” is equated to mean, Tipoteh named the shoes/sandals after himself? Or where in the statement “An important theme running through the many tributes made to Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh last week, as part of an historic symposium commemorating his 75th birthday, is the fact that during the 1970s he wore and popularized [mine] the now famous ‘Tipoteh Sandals’”, do you find any suggestion of Dr. Tipoteh “being the inventor or creator” of the shoes, as you falsely claimed? In the other tributes that you also implicitly referenced, where is the evidence suggesting that Dr. Tipoteh is “the inventor or creator” of the shoes, as you dishonestly claimed?

In your own words, you said, “What many erroneously [mine] refer to as the “Tipoteh Shoes” is a North Vietnamese invention. Commonly called the “dep lop”, roughly translated as “tire rubber sandals”.

You admit here that Tipoteh did not named tire rubber sandals after himself. So,
what is your point? Do you have a personal beef with Tipoteh? If so, please tell us!

Just read what you wrote!

“Is it acceptable for a man to build a popular and grandiose legacy on an outright falsehood?” DID HE DO IT? Yet, you went on to say:

“Is it worth the deception [mine], just to receive the accolades and praise, knowing that what is attributed to one is in fact a lie [mine]? How far must one be willing to go in encouraging the praise singers who call him a “great hero” over and over again? When we bask in glory while others sing and dance in false honor, ignoring the substance of reality, there lurks a danger… the danger of building a false legacy.

Hodge, my questions to you are: where did Tipoteh make the claim that he is the inventor or creator of the tire rubber sandals/shoes? Who created your so-called false legacy, Tipoteh or the Liberian people? With this kind of diatribe coming from you anytime someone praise Tipoteh, you make it your business to come up with rebuttals. For this reason, you cannot claim not to have anything against Tipoteh. Must I accuse you of deception for erroneously implying that Dr. Tiepoh stated in his tribute that it was Tipoteh who named the shoes/sandals Tipoteh?

It appears that you have a personal vendetta against the man called –Tipoteh. For some reasons, each time someone writes something good about him, you are ready to fine something negative to blame him about; even if there is none, ‘you try you best to create one’. It is the same with heaters who usually engage in such practice. You remind me of pagan haters of Jesus Christ who referred to His followers as Christians. At the time He was on earth, His followers were referred to as: “The Way” because He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (John 14:6 NKJV) Yet, today, we the followers of Jesus Christ are known by that name - Christians. The same can be said of the U.S. national healthcare plan – the “Affordable Care”. Republican haters of President Obama refer to it as “Obama Care” with the intent to make it unpopular so it will not become law. Instead today, the plan is popularly known as “Obama Care”. President Obama jokingly calls it “Obama Care”. It wasn’t him that named his healthcare plan - “Obama Care!” The same thing can be said about the “Tipoteh Sandals” or “Tipoteh Shoes”. It was because Tipoteh wore it most of the time, therefore, “…many erroneously refer to [it] as the “Tipoteh Shoes”. It was not Tipoteh that called it or named it TIPOTEH! That’s the TRUTH, plain and simple!

Another thing my friend, you mean you despise this man that much until you refuse to spell his first name CORRECTLY? Of all persons, you should be last one to do so. Tipoteh spells his name as: TOGBA-NAH and not Togbah Nah! It was mentioned three times in your article. Was it an error? I don’t think so! You were the same person who accused me of deception when I made an error in my tribute to him. Should I call yours – deception? No, I won’t because no one is infallible, but GOD!

In the world we live in, everybody has someone they believe in and support. We are not the first to do so. As much as President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s Unity Party government is corrupt and heartless, and Donald Trump is badmouthing everyone in and outside of America, they too, have their diehard supporters. So, Mr. Hodge, the DRYFUSS you are trying VERY HARD to pick with us, we will not fall for. We will not respond to any of your diatribe with an article. From here on, we will respond to your articles with ONLY COMMENTS.

Be truthful, my friend, and have a good evening!


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