Dr. Togbah Nah Tipoteh: The Fallacy of a Legacy

By Theodore Hodge


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

September 15, 2016

                  



 
 
 
 
Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh

Something has puzzled me for a very long time, and perhaps the time has come to share my thoughts with you in this very public manner. Let’s pose some relevant questions:  Is it acceptable for a man to build a popular and grandiose legacy on an outright falsehood? Is it worth the deception, just to receive the accolades and praise, knowing that what is attributed to one is in fact a lie? 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.

Such is the case with Dr. Togbah Nah Tipoteh and his claim to being the inventor or creator (perhaps designer is a better word), of the so-called “Tipoteh Shoes”. Before going any further, for the sake of truth and earnestness, I must admit that I have never heard Dr. Tipoteh himself make such a claim directly. But the claim has been made over and over by his mentees, cronies and praise singers. Over the last several weeks, as Dr. Tipoteh has reached the milestone of his 75th birth anniversary, the false claim has grown louder and bolder. What is striking to me is that I have yet to hear or read any correction, or disclaimer, by Dr. Tipoteh or anybody else, to set the record straight. Here, I shall attempt to do so; bear with me.

What many erroneously refer to as the “Tipoteh Shoes” is a North Vietnamese invention. Commonly called the “dep lop”, roughly translated as “tire rubber sandals”. We shall trace its history a bit more fully as the article continues.

There is a familiar saying: “Necessity is the mother of invention”. This truism could not be more applicable to the scenario under discussion. Here’s the story of the dep lop: During the Indochina and later the Vietnam War… (Vietnam used to be part of a land mass referred to as Indochina; it included Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, West Malaysia and Burma… They fought the French and won in the 1950s before the USA started a war against North Vietnam, commonly referred to as the Vietnam War)).

During these wars, there arose a great and practical need for army boots for the soldiers and shoes for the North Vietnamese peasants. In substitution for army boots and regular shoes, they began to wear sandals made from old car and truck tires. According to the story, these sandals were “cheap, easy to make, water-resistant and super durable.”

The footwear scored high on the practical scale: affordability, effectiveness and simplicity. The soldiers found the sandals most useful because they allowed the feet to stay dry, thereby preventing jungle rot, as is the case with Western-styled boots worn in terrain where a there is a lot of rainfall.

Here is the kicker: The sandals were made even more popular and appealing because they were worn by Ho Chi Minh, iconic guerilla leader who later became President of North Vietnam. The Americans who observed the amazing phenomenon in the making, took to referring to the sandals as Ho Chi Minh Sandals, hence its popular name in Vietnam and abroad. Two points are essential here; first the timeline: This phenomenon, the wearing of these popular sandals occurred from the late 1940s, during the French-Indochina War, straight on through the 1950s when the Vietnam War began, through the 1960s  and early 1970s when the Vietnam War finally ended.

The second essential point is a brief history of the iconic figure known as Ho Chi Minh. He was born in 1890 and died September 2, 1969. Originally known as Nguyen Sinh Cung, he was the founder of the Indo-China Communist Party, during the French Indo-China War. Eventually, North Vietnam declared its independence and officially became the Democratic Republic of Vietnam; Ho Chi Minh became its first president from 1945 until his death in 1969.

Here is what Encyclopedia Britannica had to say about him: “As the leader of the Vietnamese nationalist movement for nearly three decades, Ho Chi Minh was one of the prime movers of the post-World War II anticolonial movement in Asia and one of the most influential communist leaders of the 20th century…”

The reason I stress the timeline of the Vietnam War and the history of Ho Chi Minh is to demonstrate that it is impossible for Dr. Togbah Nah Tipoteh to claim he had never heard of this iconic Communist and world leader. Commonsense will tell us that he was aware of the Vietnam War which was the most important topic of political discourse during the time of his studies in the United States.

It would also be farfetched to conclude that Dr. Tipoteh did not have admiration for this great Third World and communist leader. After all, was Dr. Tipoteh himself not once branded a communist in Liberia, especially during the trial of H. B. Fahnbulleh, Sr? We will recall from history that he and his erstwhile academic colleagues were known openly to be communist sympathizers. Fair to say?

Then how come he didn’t know that the rubber tire sandals existed someplace else, and served practical national purposes before he adopted the fashion in Liberia? This raises a lot of ethical questions and exposes the insecurities of this phantom economist. This great man, in my opinion, imagines and embraces greatness but fails to demonstrate it when the occasion calls for it.

Why didn’t he state for the public record: “Look, I did not invent or design this footwear; Ho Chi Minh gets that credit… The Vietnamese used these sandals for practical purposes… And I only adopted them to make a fashion statement; no more, no less…” Instead, he accepted the false glory to have the sandals named in his honor. That’s disingenuous at best.

There are those who will consider me obnoxious for even raising this question; I owe no apologies because this is not a personal attack. I did not simply wake up and decided to rain on Dr. Tpoteh’s parade. I do not know him personally and have not met him, therefore, I have no reason to bear a personal grudge. As a matter of fact, I used to have great admiration and respect for him. As I’ve already stated elsewhere, this is a matter of setting the record straight and challenging false claims.

Right now as I compose this article, these sandals, referred to as dep lop or Ho Chi Minh sandals are considered a national cultural treasure in Vietnam and are proudly displayed in a museum dedicated to Ho Chi Minh. Additionally, there are craftsmen who still work hard to keep producing these sandals on a daily basis. There is a gentleman, perhaps in his mid-seventies now, who has dedicated his life to making these sandals available. They even have a website where the sandals could be ordered by anyone who desires a pair.

Now, can we say the same about Liberia? Is there such an industry or factory, or any dedicated craftsmen as is the case in Vietnam? Is there a museum in Liberia for this product? The obvious answer is no, and we know the reason why. Let’s quit kidding ourselves, folks.

For the record, we have a due responsibility to check and expose such intellectual dishonesty. In this era of intellectual property wars, full disclosure is necessary, to protect one’s own integrity. To treat such matters with reckless abandon is to risk exposure and costly backtracking and late disclaimers.

What I’ll like to see, going forth, is a credible explanation as to why we should continue to buy into this bogus claim to fame. If, on the other hand, Dr. Tipoteh could put up a statement, or a disclaimer, renouncing this unfounded claim, I shall be content; but I’m not holding my breath. Perhaps he’s content to have this grandiose legacy bestowed on him. After all, every great hero deserves great legacy; if you haven’t lived one, make one up; that seems to be the underlying motive here.


john h. t. stewart
Bro Hodge,

You have missed the point completely. Prior to Dr. Tipoteh's return to the country, rubber tire sandals were being worn right here in Liberia and I am assured in the belief that ordinary Liberians who wore such sandals then did not borrow the idea from Ho Chi Minh nor from the Vietnamese people.

One cannot deny the historical fact that Liberia was a rigid class society in which highly educated individuals held a pride of place. And the Liberian ruling class, to which there can be no denying, was deeply steeped in western values that decried anything indigenous. In this scheme of things, symbolisms such as the wearing of top hats and tail coats and the driving of long limousines was the order of the day. Appearances at public functions demanded a dress code which was strictly western.

Footwear like rubber tire sandals,loose fitting slippers, commonly called pa pa, were associated with uneducated, backward, lower class individuals. For the sake of the record, the only individual(female) who always sported traditional dress at official state functions to the utter dismay and disgust of her peers was Mrs. Doris Grimes, spouse of respected statesman and former Secretary of State J. Rudolph Grimes. More to that was President Tolbert who broke tradition and introduced the simple safari suit (Higher Heights suit) as appropriate wear for formal state occasions.

And so when Dr. Tipoteh, a well educated individual who could afford any expensive footwear and chic western suits began wearing shoes associated with the poverty stricken masses, he inspired a whole new generation to believe in themselves and that they could achieve their fullest potential even while wearing "low class rubber sandals". I was a witness to this at the University of Liberia during the seventies.

But more to that who can deny the fact that Liberia was and still is an unequal society in which a tiny 2 percent of the population is accounting for more than 80 percent of national income and that it currently ranks the lowest world wide in terms of children's access to education. It was Dr. Tipoteh who first raised such issues in simple analytic form to the Liberian public and encouraged young students to think critically analysing society from a class perspective.

And the problems of rising inequality is still with us today threatening to stifle our democracy. Just consider for a minute Bro. Hodge how many thousands of kids in Liberian have to go barefoot daily because their parents cannot afford shoes for them. And consider also just consider how much better of they will be (health wise) wearing cheap rubber tire sandals made from rubber produced right here.

Finally Bro. Hodge, Dr. Tipoteh may have have his failings as we all do as frail mortals ever prone as we are to making to mistakes. However none can deny or denigrate Dr. Tipoteh's contribution to the struggle for democracy in Liberia. Dr. Tipoteh did not invent the use of rubber tire sandals however he popularized the introduction of its use amonng Liberians such that it became known as Tipoteh sandals or just "Tipoteh". And it still goes by that name today.
john h. t. stewart at 05:15AM, 2016/09/16.
Theodore Hodge


Thanks, Mr. Stewart, for your spirited defense of Dr. Tipoteh. Perhaps you missed my point. Let me correct you here: If you read my article and came away with the impression that my aim was to "denigrate" or "deny" Dr. Tipoteh's contribution to the so-called revolutionary movement of Liberia, you definitely missed my point. I, too, was fond of Dr. Tipoteh, as I clearly stated, but my point was to point out the case of intellect fraud.

There are PhDs and other professionals who are assigning credit where it doesn’t belong. The Ho Chi Minh sandals are not Tipoteh Sandals and for a man who has been a “great” economist to build his fame on such a flimsy tale is preposterous. Read the tributes posted on this very website and see how the issue of the sandals becomes the dominant theme from writer to writer. My point is, since this gentleman has been a popular professor of Economics, a revolutionary and social leader, a government minister, and head of various government committees, including board member of various corporations… why should so much pain be taken to push the idea that his claim to fame lies in being a mere model of a footwear? What are his other accomplishments in the professional arena and why are they dwarfed in comparison to this fairy tale? Has he not been a policy maker and a mover and shaker of Liberian politics? Why not highlight his accomplishments instead of putting so much emphasis on such an obscure event and then blowing it out of proportion?

I know there has been the case of others traveling and adopting or introducing foreign fashion to his or her homeland; that doesn’t shift credit. The first African who went abroad and started imitating the wearing of neckties did not have neck ties named in his honor. Tubman popularized the wearing of tail coats and the smoking of Cuban Cigars, there was no intellectual attempt to attribute these things to him as the originator. My point here is to point out the deliberate falsification of history here. Thank you for your comments and viewpoint. I appreciate your reading and discussion.
Theodore Hodge at 09:35AM, 2016/09/16.
Elliott Wreh-Wilson
Dr. Tipoteh did not invent the so-called "dep lop" or discarded rubber tire sandals; he popularized their use in the country. Before Dr. Tipoteh, no high profile Liberian wore them as he did. I always thought of them as the poor man's sandals. We gave them the name "Tipoteh" to confer on them a uniquely Liberian stamp. How is that?
Elliott Wreh-Wilson at 09:53AM, 2016/09/16.
Elliott Wreh-Wilson
Dr. Tipoteh did not invent the so-called "dep lop" or discarded rubber tire sandals; he popularized their use in the country. Before Dr. Tipoteh, no high profile Liberian wore them as he did. I always thought of them as the poor man's sandals. We gave them the name "Tipoteh" to confer on them a uniquely Liberian stamp. How is that?
Elliott Wreh-Wilson at 09:53AM, 2016/09/16.
Theodore Hodge
And his popular use of it has conferred on him greatness, although he is a so-called renowned economist. Again, I ask, why not examine the man's contributions to his chosen field of academic discipline where he has had an opportunity to be a policy maker or at least has had opportunities to influence national economic policy? Again, my issue is defining the greatness of this hero on such a trivial basis, as the articles referred to here have done? The issue is the legacy.
Theodore Hodge at 11:14AM, 2016/09/16.
Siahyonkron Nyanseor
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!

Nyanseor
Siahyonkron Nyanseor at 06:21PM, 2016/09/16.
Garblejay
So Mr.Hodge you are correct. Tipoteh is not the inventor or creator of "Tipoteh" Shoes as some Liberians will think.All the writers admitted that Tipoteh did not create or invent the so-called shoes. Hodge proposition was never personal, that Tipooteh did not invent "Tipoteh shoes." Rest your case.

John Stewart agreed: "Dr. Tipoteh did not invent the use of rubber tire sandals however he popularized the introduction of its use among Liberians such that it became known as Tipoteh sandals or just "Tipoteh". And it still goes by that name today."

All the other writers also agreed. Rest your case Mr.Hodge
Garblejay at 06:43PM, 2016/09/16.
Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah
Garblejay, "all the other writers agreed" not because they are honest, BUT rather because Mr. Hodge forced them to come out of the closet! And now Tipoteh should do the honorable thing: by coming out publicly and MAKING his confession, AND NOT PRETEND NOT TO KNOW WHAT THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER IS WHILE ENJOYING "The Fallacy of a Legacy"!

Another point we must debunk here is this LIE OR IN FACT MYTH that Tipoteh is a true fighter for democracy.

If Tipoteh were any true fighter for democracy, he would have never been an accomplice to dictator Charles Taylor, nor would he have been a de facto campaign manager or at least a staunch supporter of BLOOD-DRENCHED DESPOT Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who stole two elections. Not to talk about his silence in the wake of this government´s undemocratic policies to the extent that Mayors are no more elected by appointed by this blood-drenched despot Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Which fighter of democracy would ever be an ally of such so called leader?
Kandajaba Zoebohn Zoedjallah at 06:52AM, 2016/09/17.
William Nyanue
My Hodge has written many insightful articles but I think this one missed the mark. Dr. Tipoteh and the other members of the progressive group may be criticized for many things they got wrong, particularly in recent times, but fairness demands that they be given due credit for things that they got right, even if for a brief period.

And I think Mr. Hodge undercut his argument when, tracing the history of the rubber sandals, he wrote: "The sandals were made even more popular and appealing because they were worn by Ho Chi Minh, iconic guerilla leader who later became President of North Vietnam. The Americans who observed the amazing phenomenon in the making, took to referring to the sandals as Ho Chi Minh Sandals." The Americans referred to the Sandals as Ho Chi Minh sandals not because Ho Chi Minh invented them but because he elevated their value in the mind of his people, he gave them visibility. That was just what Dr. Tipoteh did for the Liberian people at the time he wore what we now call Tipoteh (sandals)

William Nyanue
William Nyanue at 04:25AM, 2016/09/19.
Stephanie Horton
Hodge misses the mark for true-true by a very wide margin. He makes an entirely false equivalence here by postulating that Togba-Nah Tipoteh's popularity rests on an illegitimate claim. It baffles me that with such sound, logical assessments offered to provide nuance to the analysis, he remains entangled in distorted notions of political correctness. This brother needs basic political education.
Stephanie Horton at 08:55AM, 2016/10/07.
James Samolu

It is ridiculously ludicrous that Mr. Siahyonkron, the self-proclaimed Liberian griot, is asking Mr. Hodge to produce evidence as from whom he heard the claim that Dr. Tipoteh is the inventor of the rubber sandals.

No evidence is needed here. If one was living in Liberia during the panicle of Dr. Tipoteh’s intellectual fame, and heard the name Tipoteh he would automatically associate him with those sandals. The phrase, “Tipoteh sandals,” has today become a corollary in Liberian conversation and needs no further proof.


I want to thank Mr. Hodge immensely for disproving this specious argument and false syllogism.

Mr. Siayonkron insinuates that Mr. Hodge is begrudging Dr. Tipoteh. I wonder over what? Is he not happy that we are blessed with this towering intellectual figure, and even though his views are often considered controversial and unsavory by many, but yet are necessary for the public good?

I am absolutely aghast, that Mr. Siahyonkron – an individual who professes to possess the depth of historical knowledge of the Liberian culture is oblivious to this issue and instead, has been one of them amplifying the sound waves of the Tipoteh’s orchestra.

Mr. Hodge raised the issue in one of his commentaries about how close he is to Dr. Tipoteh and still lied about the University from which he received his PH.D. His admittance of error was not without a tussle. In his sharp reactions he stated that Mr. Hodge “was picking a fuss” with him. I have said this over and over about Mr. Siahyonkron: his profile is not befitting of an intellectual. Why? He does not take dissent, and he is mentally fixated.

If Dr. Tipoteh is the, “Diamond in the backyard,” as Mr. Siahyonkron claims, then why he did not respond to the question raised by Zoebohn that Dr. Tipoteh, a so-called stalwart freedom fighter for justice, became a stooge and an accomplice of Charles Taylor over those fourteen deadly years of civil year?

How can Mr. Siahyonkron address the fact that as rumors have it, Dr. Tipoteh ill-advised the late Samuel Kanyon Doe to raise the soldiers’ salaries by 150% during the advent of the People’s Redemption Council (PRC) and it therefore left the Civil Service sector of the economy unpaid for years. The spiral effect from this decision led to the minting of worthless money to pay the government workers with accompanying hyper-inflationary pressure.

Well, I am sorry to conclude that Mr. Siahyonkron’s "diamond in the backyard"(Dr. Tipoteh) does not meet the Kimberley Process Certification requirements. His hyperbole about the greatness of this man is grossly tribally misguided.




James Samolu at 04:50PM, 2016/10/12.

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