How Tolbert Consolidated Power in 1971

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History was richly revisited in Dimeh last Friday when the  Moore family, under the leadership Mrs. Gillian Lorba  Moore, widow of Bai T. Moore, and his son Sando gathered with some Liberian officials and friends to commemorate the 26th anniversary of the passing of the celebrated international cultural icon.

Bai T, as he was affectionately called, was the man who, working with Information and  Cultural Affairs Secretary E. Reginald Townsend and others, beginning in the early 1960s through the seventies, elevated, refined and exhibited Liberia’s rich, colorful and dynamic culture as had never before been done.  

Kenneth Y. Best, in his book Cultural Policy in Liberia, published by UNESCO in 1974, recalled that it was on January 7, 1964 that the National Cultural Center at Kendeja near Monrovia was inaugurated by President William V.S. Tubman.  The key players in this historic enterprise, in addition to the President, were Secretary Townsend, his Deputy Secretary for Culture, Bai T. Moore, Madam Wilhelmina Dukuly, Chief of the Cultural Bureau and leader of the National Cultural Troupe, and Jangaba Johnson, a leading Liberian folklorist.  People who later played a pivotal role in the development of the National Cultural Troupe were Jallah K.K. Kamara and Peter Ballah, commonly called “Flomo.”  Both Kamara and Ballah also made their mark on Liberian theatre, which they brilliantly displayed on the national television, ELTV.

It was Bai T. Moore and his coworkers, under Townsend’s leadership, that created the Natural Cultural Troupe.  The Troupe performed at inaugurations, Independence Day celebrations, state and official visits by foreign leaders and dignitaries, and many other state occasions.  Cultural Policy in Liberia recalls that the National Cultural Troupe represented Liberia at many international cultural festivals, where it won many international awards for Liberia. These included the First World Festival of Negro Art (Dakar, April 1966); the Pan African Arts and Cultural Festival, Algeria, 1970; and the Second Black Arts Festival (Festac), in Lagos, Nigeria, December 1974.  The Troupe also performed at the 10th Anniversary Celebration of the founding of the Organization of African Unity in Addis Ababa, May 1973; in China, in the United States; and in Australia. 

The National Cultural Troupe and the Cultural Program as a whole, inspired Liberians with a new cultural reawakening and awareness that riveted (engrossed, captivated) the hearts and souls of the Liberian people.

The Monrovia Consolidated School System (MCSS) captured this new cultural awakening and dispatched scholars throughout Liberia researching the history, arts, culture and mores (customs, moral attitudes) of the   Liberian people, including every ethnic group.  The team of scholars returned and created a curriculum for African Studies that taught the History, Culture and Mores of all the ethnic groups.  The curriculum, used throughout the MCSS and at its flagship, the W.V.S Tubman High School, covered grades 7 through 12.  The complete curriculum is recorded in Mr. Best’s book, Cultural Policy in Liberia.

It was that Bai T. Moore whose life many gathered in Dimeh to celebrate last Friday. Among the speakers was Mrs. Neh Dukuly Tolbert, former Liberian Ambassador to China, former wife of the Liberian business tycoon Steve Tolbert and daughter of former Secretary of State Momolu Dukuly. 

She told the well attended ceremony in Dimeh last Friday that a month following President Tubman’s death on July 23, 1971 her former husband Steve Tolbert came one evening to see her father, Momolu Dukuly.  Steve told her father that since Tubman’s death a month earlier, on July 23, 1971, the country was at a standstill, as the people were still in a state of shock and nothing was happening.  They had not yet come to grips with the reality of Tubman’s death and that there was a new President.  Could Mr. Dukuly  do something about it by contacting the Moslems and others to give some recognition to the new President?

“My father said he would see what he could do.  The first thing he did was to go and see  Bai T. Moore.  Together they contacted people throughout the country, especially Moslems, and not long thereafter Moslems from all over Liberia came to pay their respects to President Tolbert.  They presented him with a copy of the Holy Koran and Bai T. Moore, though a Christian himself, like Mr. Dukuly, read the statement on behalf of group.” 

From that time, said Neh Dukuly Tolbert, she always had a fascination and great respect for Bai T. Moore.

Following that demonstration  by the Moslems, people from   all over Liberia began trooping  to Monrovia to pledge their allegiance to the new Liberian  President.  It was following this that President Tolbert  began to assert his authority as Liberia’s 20th President.    

Madam Neh Dukuly Tolbert thanked Sando Moore for inviting her to the program, and commended K.Y. Best, the first speaker, for calling for the National Cultural Center to be brought to the Cape Mount- Bomi-Gbarpolu area which he called “the corridor of Liberian culture.”

In his address earlier, Mr. Best said it was this Dowein District—comprising the people of Bomi, Grand Cape Mount and  Gbarpolou Counties—the Dey, Gola, Vai and Kpelle—that could be considered the citadel (fort, stronghold) of Liberian culture. 

This citadel reverberated (echoed, resounded) strong and tangible cultural links with Montserrado County, Margibi County, especially the greater Kakata area, Bong and Lofa Counties.  It is these areas and people that form the core of Liberian culture, Mr. Best declared.  There are parts of Nimba and Grand Bassa Counties, each bordering Bong County, that seriously share these cultural links, he added.

But, Mr. Best continued, the people of southeastern Liberia—Grand Gedeh, River Gee, Grand Kru, Maryland, Sinoe and River Cess counties—also share a rich cultural diversity.  All of these, along with Bong, Nimba, Lofa, Cape Mount, Gbarpolou, Bomi and Montserrado, comprising Liberia’s 16 major ethnic groups, were gathered together at the National Cultural Center at Kendeja since 1964.  According to the Cultural Policy of Liberia, the 16 major tribes were settled in 23 huts at Kendeja and there they stayed together and practiced, refined and displayed their indigenous cultures that found beautiful and exhilarating expression in the National Cultural Troupe and other performing arts.

Neh Dukuly Tolbert told the Dimeh audience that she agreed with Mr. Best that there was nothing culturally relevant in Marshall, the place where the Information Ministry was planning to plant the new National Cultural Center. 

In his remarks, Mr. Best had asked the audience why were the government of Liberia and the Ministry of Information running away from Bai T. Moore?  The town of his birth, Dimeh, and more importantly the Besao Cultural Village further inside Bomi, were the natural habitat of Liberian culture.

Neh Dukuly Tolbert, whose mother also hailed from the Dowein District, pledged that she would lobby to change the decision to put the Cultural Center in Marshall and bring it to where it belongs, among the ethnic groups that bear the genesis of Liberian culture.

In his book on Cultural Policy, Mr. Best quoted Bai T. Moore as saying that the Dey people strongly considered the Sande Society—the society for Liberian women—to be “the custodian of feminine chastity.”

The last person to give remarks at the Dimeh program was the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alex Tyler, a native of Arthington whose mother hailed from Klay District in the center of Bomi County.

Speaker Tyler said the people of Bomi partly share the blame for the Liberian government’s  neglect of Bai T. Moore.  “Bai T. is our son and father; but we the Bomi people have done nothing to restore his memory on the national consciousness.   But that has to change, and it will, he pledged.

The Speaker said he was in perfect agreement with Mr. Best that the National Cultural Center belongs in the Dowein area where Liberian culture is already alive and flourishing.   He pledged that he would consult with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to have it changed from Marshall.

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