The Relationship we Shared in the Past
By Siahyonkron Jglay Kpa-kay Nyanseor
Editor's Note: Siahyonkron Jglay Kpa-kay Nyanseor, Chairperson of the Liberian Democratic Future (LDF), served as Guest Speaker for Liberians of the 70s and 80s of Philadelphia, an organization that grew out of a meeting held at the United Missionary Baptist Church following the death one of the pioneers of the community Mrs. Rose Michael. Below is full text of Mr. Nyanseor's speech delivered on November 17, 2001:
The Relationship we Shared in the Past
How many of you here tonight, remember the 1960s! For example, in the early 1960s, there was a popular song entitled, "You Too Late, You Lost Your Chance". I cannot recall the group or artist that composed the song. "You Too Late" and "Hit The Road Jack, Dont Come Back No More" were two of the most popular songs of that period. Somehow, both songs were significant in that they communicated particular messages to our generation. Those messages were about Relationship and Direction. But there was another kind of message we got from "You Too Late". It was a warning to keep out of the streets after mid-night. After mid-night Heartmen, loosely referred to as Hidemen roam the streets of Monrovia in search of human parts for their clients or for themselves. The chorus of the "You Too Late" goes something like this:
You too late, you lost your chance
Okay, dont worry me
You too late
You lost your chance.
Perhaps, it was from the above song, the Heartmen (Hidemen) got its name - You Too Late. On the other hand, "Hit The Road Jack, Dont Come Back No More" was another popular song, which used to play at the end of socials held for teenagers, either at their schools, at the Sports Commission (Fancy Fare) or the "Lebanese Club". These socials were called "Cinderella dance" because they would end at midnight, and "Hit The Road Jack, Dont Come Back No More" was the signal that the end had come. At the end of the record, we had to rush home to avoid being the victims of Heartmen (You Too Late).
In other parts of the country, these Heartmen were referred to by other names. For example, in the Firestone Plantation area, they were called Gboyues (a Liberian slang, which means huge or tall); in Grand Bassa County, they were known as Bor-nyon-de-wrees (which means to brutalize or kill a person for money in the Bassa Language), and in Maryland County, Liberia and other parts of the country, they were called Hidemen or "Society Men". They were loosely referred to as "Society Men" simply because they wore black clothes like the members from the Masonic Lodges. The main purpose of these Heartmen was to obtain human body parts from their victims, which were later used for juju purposes.
Today in Liberia, there are different kinds of Heartmen. These new Heartmen do not have to wear black clothes and roam the streets after midnight in search of their victims; they are given uniforms and arms by the government to abuse and "erase" those they are told to get rid of. Some of them are known as Anti Terrorist Unit (ATUs), also called by the Liberian people as Another Terrorist Unit, the former combatants who are paid to stage pro government demonstrations for the government, while others are hired pens to prepare their victims for the kill - calling them anti government in order for the ATUs and the entire security network to go after they and their family, including their dogs, cats, and other household items.
Fellow Liberians and friends, these are naked realities in Liberia, today! Dont let any body mislead you by telling you everything is all right. How can everything be all right, when basic necessities such as safe drinking water, electricity, government health facilities, adequate sanitation, and good roads are things of the past? I think you need to know!
Now lets turn to the subject at hand! First, permit me to ask the following questions: What cause do we have to celebrate? Or what relationship did we share in the past? And before these questions are answered, let me set the stage for our conversation.
It is said that:
Children are the adults of the future; therefore, they need to be properly trained.
History is past and present events, which cannot be erased. It serves as the only road map to the future; for without it, there can be no future.
There are acres of diamonds in our backyard; therefore, we do not have to look any further.
In light of this reality, I have selected to talk to you on the subject "A Cause To Celebrate The Relationship We Shared In The Past."
I guess that some of you would like to know why the 70s & 80s Group of Philadelphia and Adjacent Areas, selected to honor our Guest of Honor?
Now, let me tell you about the lady in whose behalf some of us had to come from far and near, to pay her homage. She is no stranger to many of us who resided in these United States during the 70s and 80s. She is a good friend, a mother, a wife, a sister, a grandmother, and most of all as we say in Liberia "A good human being." The period for which she is being honored is one that many of us here cherished. It was a past of togetherness, concern, love and respect for each other. We were a God-fearing group and an organized community as well; we were able to settle our differences amicably. It took good and disciplined people to do what we did then. We were not born that way! But it was the training we received from the entire village (our parents, guidance and community back home).
The truth of the matter is, we were a community endowed with love, respect, along with our African values. As a result, those negative things that carried some immigrants astray did not easily influence us.
Above all, we knew that as human beings, we were born into this world as equals in the sight of God yet, in life, we were called by different names, such as: children, parents, young, old, wise, unwise, kind, mean, etc. This makes us unique and different, and in a way - unequal due to age and experience. But due to our home-grown training we were able to maintain our African values. And being who we were, we cared for one another, respected our mothers and fathers, our women, the elderly, loved our children, and took pride in our African culture including our dress, food and Liberian accent.
For one thing, we believed in the fact that Children were the adults of the future; therefore, they had to be properly trained, and that history is past and present events, which cannot be erased. It serves as the only road map to the future; for without it, there can be no future. On the other hand, we knew then that we had acres of diamonds in our backyard; therefore, we did not have to look any further, but from amongst us to have our goals accomplished.
Oh yes, Philadelphia was the place! Philadelphia, in the 70s and 80s was truly the "City of Brotherly Love" as well as "Sisterly Affection". It was a community of extended families. We were truly our brothers and sisters keeper. We lived like the way most of our people used to live back home "All for one, and one for all."
The City of Philadelphia was the center of Liberian community activities in these United States. Almost every weekend, there was something going on soccer game, birthday party, wedding, graduation, social or the Liberian Community meeting. Ma Ellen played active role in almost all of these activities. She spent her resources freely and her time to make sure that the Liberian community in Philadelphia was second to none.
One thing many of you may not have noticed about Ma Ellen is she had a way of turning chameleon on you. For example, if she felt that someone she was conversing with didnt know what he was talking about, and she wanted that person to know, she would adjust herself, practically, changed her voice switched from speaking Liberian English to proper English accompanied by a commanding diction and got into what I called, her "Socratic mood" and bombard the person with question after question (Who told you; how you got to know; Where you physically present? Etc., etc.). Thats her way of telling that person to hush because he didnt know what he was talking about. Thats the Ma Ellen many of us know! She is generous, kind, loving and pleasant to be around.
The Philadelphia that Liberians of the 70s & 80s call home was a place to us like the "Liberty Bell" is to Americans. It is from this very place, the Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas that we commonly referred to as the "Union" or "ULAA" was founded. Later on, this concept mushroomed into County, Alumni, Reunion, and soccer associations.
However, there are some differences regarding the emphasis Liberians of the 90s and today placed on these organizations and what we did. For us then, the emphasis was Liberia. We didnt place too much emphasis on the political sub-division we came from. We were Liberians first, and that was what matter! Also, if you were looking for a palaver, just talk around Augustine Jallah about Country and Kongo, you would be for a treat or a lesson of your life. He would have given you the lesson of your life. As for Herbert Cooper, he was always in heated arguments with some big guy, three times his size never his size. We used to say, "He has big heart." He would give you "piece of his mind" in a minute. He never ran from a fight. Unlike Herbert Cooper, Jlah Nyanue was never satisfy, until he was arguing with everybody at the meeting or the social. Once an argument was going on, Jlah would jump into it. He didnt care to know how it got started. Then there was the small man we called "Peacemaker;" he was always making peace. In Numa Davis book, no one was ever wrong. To him everybody was always right!
We had our differences, but they never amounted to the point where we took up guns to shoot at each other. When individuals in our community made palaver and were not speaking to each other, the elders among us would intervened to judge their palaver. We lived the philosophy of Kweisi Mfume (Current President of the NAACP), who believed that "Life is a short commodity. You have to do all you can when you can." For this reason, we had no goal post to keep scores. We saw ourselves as an organic whole that placed premium on getting along with each other.
During the period we referred to as the 70s and 80s, we were not confused about our gender either men dressed like men and women dressed like women. Although, some of us had Afro hair-do, we wore bell-bottom and hipster pants and platform shoes, our pants did not come down as we walk; men did not wear earrings and cornrow hairdo or had tattoo all over their body. We knew that God did not make mistake by creating man separate from woman.
Moreover, we were respectful to each other. We valued the training our parents gave us; such training like respect for female and the elderly. Therefore, the reference to women as bitches and whore, where not words one would use to address our women. They were too precious to be called by such names. Age was highly respected, and you were reminded, when you step out of line.
In fact, the African community as a whole was together then, especially, the Liberian and Sierra Leonean communities. By virtue of our socialization as Liberians, we adjusted easily in America. Since many of us at that time saw ourselves as Americans due to our "confused history." We saw ourselves as "Jack of all trade-master of none." The Sierra Leoneans, on the other, were of British orientation. Liberians those days, referred to them as - "One-way traffic." And if you put "Jack of all trade-master of none" and "One-way traffic" together at a social gathering, you were bound to have some confusion before the night was over.
At one such social event - at Bengies (Benjamin Blake) apartment on 5014 Spruce Street, a fight broke out. The fight was between a Sierra Leonean and a Liberian gentleman regarding the Sierra Leonean gentlemans date, who was a beautiful African American female. The facts of the matter was, the Sierra Leonean whose date it was, did a lot of talking about himself and his family to his date that evening-instead of paying her compliments. In other words, he bored her to death talking about himself and his family. While all of this was going on, a Liberian gentleman was observing, and waiting for the first opportunity to make his move.
He got the green light when the Sierra Leonean excused himself to go to the restroom. Immediately after he left, the Liberian moved in. First, he introduced himself to the young lady and he began to let her know that since he arrived at the party, her beauty caught his attention; therefore, he decided to stand in the corner to admire her ebony features, which reminded him of the story about Cinderella and the Prince; and by just looking at her, brought him satisfaction, and that he was waiting for the opportunity to come over to let her know how he felt about her. But for each time he attempted, her escort was on her, like "white on rice;" he didnt give her breathing room. By now, the young lady was all smiles.
The Liberian continued his rap. Next, he asked her what perfume she had on. She answered! He then said the fragrant was the best he has ever smelt since his dear mother gave him birth. And while they were engulfed in their conversation, the young ladys escort returned, things were not normal anymore. The young lady continued her conversation with the Liberian and paid very little attention to her date. This developed into a big argument, and hell broke loose from there on. The rest is history!
As a matter of fact, I met my wife of 27 years at a Sierra Leonean party. This is not to suggest that I was the Liberian gentleman!
Now, lets return to the main subject of our celebration! Why are we here? Why was our Guest of Honor selected? I assume, she was selected because she believes that no condition is permanent, and that God gave us the freedom to make choices in life be it the company we keep and the position we take in social, political and economic matters. Our Guest of Honor does not profess to be a Max Weber who believed that "God predestinates individuals for salvation." If that was the case, those who were selected for salvation didnt have to do much in life but rather relax until they are called to the great beyond. But thank God our Guest of Honor reminds me of Lorraine Hansberry, who said, "The human race does command its own destiny and that destiny can eventually embrace the stars."
Ladies and Gentlemen, the lady we honor here tonight is not only a good human being; she is a "Good Christian" in the true sense of the word. She does not only subscribe to the principles of the universe - principles without which, I believe, life cannot continue; also, lives by these principles. Her entire life is guarded by the adage that says, "The way you make your bed, so shall you lie in it."
I must confess to you tonight that I find myself limited in the selection of words to describe to you all that our Guest of Honor stands for; therefore, I had to borrowed the words that best describe her from the Liberian writer and poet, Bai Tamia Moore (better known as Bai T. Moore) to do her the honor that she rightly deserves. It is titled:
It's not the dress we have
But what we're
And what we mean
For men will soon or later change
But what we do will here remain
Men care not from where we come
But watch to see what we have done
And when we're gone
And turn over leaf
They watch the victory we've won.
The question that remains to be answered is - how can the qualities we celebrate here tonight are pass onto the next generation? Or how can we direct them in the right path? In searching for answers to these questions, I came up with Seven Recommendations. These recommendations are intended to assist NOW generation in their journey in life as we benefited from the training of the "Village," training - popularly referred to as "It takes a village to raise a child."
1. HONESTY & RESPECT: - To be Honest and Respectful are qualities that set us apart from others and place us in a category all by ourselves.
2. CULTURE & HISTORY: - The reason we should teach history constantly - is to save the NOW generation who know very little about their past - not to repeat it. It is for similar reason, the Jewish people keep teaching about the Holocaust. As a people, we should do the same by teaching our children about slavery, Americo-Liberianism, Colonialism, neo-colonialism, oppression, corruption and undemocratic practices in Liberia.
In other words, Culture and History are what make us unique and different, and should be celebrated.
3. CRITICAL REASONING: - Critical thinking is necessary in other to make informed decision, and will make us objective in most of our undertakings.
4. EDUCATION: - Education and information are powerful tools; one becomes less powerful if he/she is without access to them. Moreover, the lack of knowledge is often the direct result of the choices we make, either by deciding not to obtain the knowledge needed to fight for what we believe in. For example, the greatest strategy that can be used to win whatever cause we are fighting for is to know much as possible the other sides point of view, which in the long run can be used to convince the undecided and uncommitted. This is known as "counterintelligence."
In the final analysis, education allows us to make changes in our lives as well as help us to make improvement in the society in, which we live.
5. SKILL ACQUISITION: - Skill is an indispensable commodity that will make our lives comfortable and the lives of those we come in contact with.
6. SELF CRITICISM: - Self examination enables us to be in the position to judge others better, and
7. COMMUNITY PARTICIPATION: - No person is an island; "MAN" as a social being needs to interact with others in other to receive knowledge as well as pass it on.
Ladies and Gentlemen, friends and well wishers, please join me in saluting our beloved Guest of Honor, Mrs. Ellen Morris-Warah, to whom we affectionately referred as "Ma Ellen."