Dutch Photographer VIII: Professor Logemoh

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Senebundu Okagoo Logemoh seems to have been a well-connected man with outspoken ideas. He exchanged letters with important figures in the Pan-African movement such as Egyptian-British actor and political activist Dusé Mohamed Ali, civil rights activists John Edward Bruce and Marcus Garvey and Bronislaw Malinowski, who was a prominent anthropologist at the time. During the second and third decade of the twentieth century Logemoh lives in the United States.

The Indianapolis Recorder of December 2nd 1916 writes about Logemoh as ‘a native African gentleman of fine culture and much perseverance’ who was the editor of a new paper called ‘The Negro Illustrated News’. The paper was ‘devoted primarily to the fostering of a better understanding between the Negroes of Africa […] who are a commercial people, and those of the United States […].’ The reader is informed that ‘Mr. Logemoh is a former schoolteacher […] a Christian gentleman and a clearheaded man of business. He is well connected in his home city and has a reputation for probity, business integrity and honesty. […] He is modest, retiring, optimistic for his race, indefatigable in his work and enthusiastic about the future of Africa.’

Information on the website of the African Studies Center of the University of California in Los Angeles describes Logemoh as ‘a Liberian entrepreneur usually referred to in Monrovia as ‘Professor’ who became director of the African Industries Company in 1922’. Two years earlier he had been involved in plans for an African Steamship and Sawmill Company to operate between Monrovia and Philadelphia. As a representative for that company he was interviewed for ‘The Afro-American, Baltimore’ and said that ‘One of the reasons why Christian missionaries are unwelcome in Africa is that Africa is already divided. The people up in the headwaters of a river speak a certain dialect, those at the mouth speak a different dialect, while the natives on the East and West banks cannot understand either of the others. Then the missionaries come. Each one of the Christian denominations starts up the mission station, to teach the natives the true God. It would be all right if they would stop there, but the Catholic says we cannot be Catholic and worship in the Baptist station and the Methodists teach us to stay away from the Episcopal station, so that the net result of the work of all the mission stations is to divide us more than we were before. What Africa needs is a religion that will bring their tribes together, not pull them apart. Another fault that we find with Christian missionaries is that they make fun of our worship of images and say that they are idols. They are no more idols than Catholic images are idols. The African worships nature, or he worships God through Mohamet. Now what do the Christian missionaries teach? They teach us to eat at a table, wear clothes and tell us we are going to hell if we do not go to the church services. Eating at a table is all right and so is the wearing of clothes, but we are not caring about death so much that it should frighten us out of our wits. Our problem is how to live, not how to die. In the wake of the so-called civilized customs, lying, stealing, rape gambling, and drunkenness have gained a foothold among African natives. They are worse off under Christianity than they were before.’

In 1932 the Liberian government sent Logemoh to Gbarnga to persuade local chiefs to reject a League of Nations plan for white district commissioners. This must be where Paul Julien found him while stopping in Gbarnga for his research. He was carrying a letter for Mr. Ross, the Americo-Liberian district commissioner at the time who Logemoh must have been working with. Mr. Ross was, as the letter requested, supposed to help Julien with his research. This did not quite work, as we will see in a next contribution to History and Us.

Author's Note:

Paul Julien (1901-2001) was an anthropologist from the Netherlands who traveled through Liberia in 1932. Andrea Stultiens (1974) is a photographer and researcher from the Netherlands. As part of her PhD-research she tries to connect the past that was documented by Paul Julien to the past as remembered in Liberia and the way it is connected to the present. Julien’s photographs are part of the collection of the Nederlands Fotomuseum in Rotterdam.

From July 19th till August 19th 2014 Julien’s photographs and the film he made will be on display at the National Museum. Leading up to this some of the stories are shared in History and Us columns. Comments are most welcome on [email protected]

Several of the individuals on Paul Julien’s photographs also appear in his writing and film footage. Most of the people are ‘types’, representatives of groups of tribes or people who are identified by the position they have as missionaries or governmental officers. The exception is a portrait of a man that only has the name Professor Logemoh attached to it. Mentioning him to historians I met in Liberia did not seem to ring bells. Google helped me out. I will share some of the findings and connect them back to our photographer Paul Julien.

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