From Stones, by Douglas Farah
Baa Salaka: Sacrificial Lamb
The writing of novels is rather new to the Liberian literary genre. Except for "Murder in the Cassava Patch," a Liberian literary classic, there aren't many others that can be grouped or classified as Liberian literature, or for that matter, constituting a literary tradition. Poetry, short stories, novels, etc., help humanize complex situations, and can capture the heart and soul of a people, a community or nation. While it is fictional, it gives a face and voice to what maybe happening in society.
Dunstan L. D. Macauley, an Engineer turned writer, has written a novel, Baa Salaka: Sacrificial Lamb (published by Xlibris Corporation in the year 2000, 269 pages), that grasps developments in Liberia, which occurred in the very recent past. While it is written as a political novel, by using several other stories, the author brings to light other themes such as discrimination in education, domestic slavery, dissatisfaction in the army, among many others, to give real meaning to why the society was poised for change.
The book's title, Baa Salaka, means sacrifice. It is taken from the Gola language. Discussing the Liberian character, Macauley writes: "The Liberian people are just like that; everyone believes that he must be a big man, nobody want to be "Baa Salaka". If he can't get there, he will not let his friend get there. He will pull everybody down with him."
There is no shortage of characters in the story. But the main characters in the story are Aaron and Cora Ashe of Americo-Liberian pedigree who owned a farm in the countryside; Arthur Duncan, a native son of educated indigenous parents, who was dedicated to change; and Fahn Tamba, born in rural Liberia, who seemed determined to live a better life than his parents who worked hard on the farm of the Ashes, by pursuing education in Monrovia.
As the plot of the story builds, Fahn leaves the countryside to live with the Ashe family in Monrovia in the hope that he can pursue his lifelong dream of becoming educated. Aaron Ashe, the good Samaritan, always showed generosity and respect and motivation to Fahn whenever there was that opportunity. But Cora Ashe, the cantankerous housewife was always condescending and frequently reminded Fahn of his low status in life and his "country" origin. Cora overworked Fahn, basically domesticating him to be responsible for all of the house chores to the point that Fahn had no time to read and study. His mistreatment by Cora included such things as sleeping on the kitchen floor and being the last to eat in the house.
Frustrated by all of the mistreatments, Fahn Tamba decides to leave the Ashes, and whatever hopes he had for pursuing his education were dashed. Encouraged by friends, he joins the Liberian Army and develops a camaraderie with other like-minded friends in a group called the Bad Boys Club (BBC).
Having set his plot, Macauley takes us to other scenes and elements of the story. There is the role of the students, especially those at the University of Liberia, and their agitation for change both on campus and in the larger society. Macauley strikes a revealing conversation between Liberian students studying in the United States who had been exposed to the freedom and democratic nature of the society, and their brethren at home.
Fahn Tamba, now in the army, and who had been friends to several of these students from childhood days, reconnects with them and begins to increase his awareness of the ills of the society, which he had already been acutely aware. In alliance with these students, Fahn begins to plan for the overthrow of the Liberian government.
This is an excellent novel. The plot and character of the story are well-developed.
Book Reviews and Commentary
In a review of the historical literature on Liberia, there is a plethora of academic studies geared towards the political and social, rather than the personal. There is not only a scarcity but also a glaring absence of memoirs and autobiographical studies, which emphasize an individual's account or personal experience of events, scenes and developments as they have occurred. In a sense, there is a huge shortage of literature that provides a personal or "eyewitness" account of history as it has unfolded. This has created a gap in our national history in which personal perspectives have been lacking.
But new grounds are now being broken. There is a personal storytelling tradition that is now beginning to emerge in Liberian studies or historiography. If this trend continues, this would help contribute to a large body of knowledge and a better understanding of Liberian history.
"The Memoirs of a Liberian Ambassador, George Arthur
This book offers a rare and insightful glimpse into the journey of George Arthur Padmore's rise to becoming Liberia's Ambassador accredited to the United States, member of the Liberian delegation at the founding of the United Nations in San Francisco, and First Dean of the African Diplomatic Corps in Washington, D. C. Ambassador Padmore's social relationships and connections to the center of power and privilege are also very evident. He is a foster son of President Edwin Barclay, brother-in-law of President V. S. Tubman, and personal friends to various other Liberian presidents such as William R. Tolbert and Samuel Kanyon Doe.
The book's strengths lie in its beautiful narration and description of events, witty observations and social commentary. The Ambassador's account of Liberia's trouble with the League of Nations for its involvement in slavery and forced labor practices which led to the resignation of President Charles Dunbar Burgess King, his meeting with various American Presidents such as Richard M. Nixon and John F. Kennedy, and his discussion of U. S. -Liberian relationship, are well described.
But the book suffers from several weaknesses as well. There is a lack of coherence, and detailed analyses of events are inadequate. For example, in discussing various Liberian Presidents whom he described as follows: Arthur Barclay, the humanitarian; Daniel Edward Howard, the Pragmatist; Edwin Barclay, the intellectual; William V. S. Tubman, the architect; and, William R. Tolbert the dreamer. Surprisingly, he ran out of adjective when it came to his good friend, Samuel Kanyon Doe. Ambassador Padmore ably describes their styles and personalities, but does not provide a context as to what shaped them or what goals each of their presidency set out to accomplish.
Furthermore, Ambassador Padmore recounts how President Arthur Barclay married four times and had a reason for each marriage. He however counseled that one should "never marry for love." The relevance of this point to Barclay's presidency and the general theme of the book are lost to the readers.
Despite the book shortcomings, Ambassador Padmore's memoirs blaze the trail by documenting the experiences of his life in public service. Liberia's history can be enriched by his contribution. The book is therefore good to read.
"Beneath the Cold War: The Death of a Nation"
The book begins with the premise that Liberia, like all other Third World or developing country, is a victim of the cold war. Devoting the first half of the book to prove this point, the authors cite various methods such as psychological warfare, character assassination, harassment, destabilization, etc. employed by the CIA and the KGB, to undermine leaders and governments that have either step out of line or fallen out of favor with their patrons. "The KGB and the CIA were the designers and executioners of their nation's cold war policies," they assert.
In the second half, which is the crux of the book, the authors delve into a personal account of their experiences of what happened on the night of April 12, 1980, which led to the overthrow of the Tolbert government by the military junta. Narrating a gripping story and their ordeal, and drawing on eye-witness accounts of others, they conclude that the death of Tolbert was orchestrated by the CIA with considerable involvement of the American Embassy near Monrovia.
More than it being a personal narrative, the book offers a passionate defense of the Tolbert government, True Whig Party rule, and Americo-Liberian hegemony. The authors also make a scathing critique and paints a bleak portrait of the so-called progressive forces -MOJA and PPP - their leaders, and their purported role and challenge they pose to the Tolbert government and the True Whig Party.
On Americo-Liberian hegemony, the authors assert that: "Tribal Liberians joined with self- seeking expatriate Liberians to castigate and crucify a small segment of Liberians as being responsible for all the ills of society. Aided by covert operators of the cold war, they even misnamed this group "Congoes."
For example, the authors write: "Tolbert came to the presidency troubled by many things". His domestic and foreign relations activities were highly commended by his people, especially his mediation of the longstanding coolness between three of the leaders of Liberia's neighboring states."
Discussing MOJA and PPP, the authors state: " PPP and MOJA had promised their followers, especially the market element that they could bring rice into Liberia far less than ten dollars a beg. The Tolbert government gave them the opportunity to do so but they quickly back away from their own lies."
There are three significant problems with the book. Firstly, there is no disputing the fact that the cold war played a significant role in undermining the progress and development of many African and Third World countries, but to apportion blame solely on the cold war without addressing the internal problems that prevailed in Liberia, which accelerated the political crisis, not only miss a crucial point, but display a lack of objectivity in their analysis of the root causes of the existing problem that has bedeviled the country.
Secondly, the book is rife with inaccuracies, disjointed and incoherent, and does not stick with its stated aim of being a narrative of personal experience. It is difficult to discern whether the book is a narrative, or a political analysis of events as they transpired in 1980. The topics and subject matters also lack coherence and there is an absence of an in-depth analysis of discussion of critical issues. The authors casual attempt and treatment of deep historical problem leaves much to be desired.
Thirdly, there is a paucity of attribution and sousing. The
authors quote from other works, but fail to acknowledge sources.
However, the book needs to be read so that the necessary corrections
can be mad
In "Christendom: The Destruction of Edenic Values", Dr. Somah refutes the prevailing belief that European missionaries went to Africa (Eden) to spread the message of God. He explains how the missionaries propagated their concept of God and ignored the African (Edenic) concept of spirituality and preached alien deity. It is a step-by-step description of the overseas missionary work, the methodical destruction of African (Edenic) tradition, culture, and belief system. It also suggests what must be done to liberate blacks to their spirituality.
Stunning in scope and profound in wisdom, "Christendom: The Destruction of Edenic Values" is an important account of how over 500 years people of African origin have allowed other people to think their thought, write about them, speak for them and define who they are.
Dr. Syrulwa Somah is the author of Historical Resettlement of Liberia and Its Environment Impact; Christianity, Colonization and State of African Spirituality; Issues in Occupational Safety and Health and Nyanyan Gohn-Manan: History, Migration and Government of the Bassa; My Son in America: The African Experience in America (in print).