This article is part of an LIB Life five part series to promote Liberia’s already decaying culture
Behsao, Western Liberia – The center of Behsao, Liberia’s second ‘culture village’ dedicated by President William R. Tolbert more 15 years ago, is dominated by a tree that stands over the grave of King N’jola, one of the kings who sold land to the freed African Americans hoping to settle in present day Liberia.
Beneath the tree, a neglected historical rock, grass covered presidential residence, a palava hut shaped museum, and stage lie in ruins – all testaments to the neglect that resulted from Liberia’s prolonged civil war.
If resurrected Behsao could be an ideal tourist hotpot in Liberia, with roads leading to the village dotted with palm trees and swamps.
On a trip to the village a few months ago, a sprightly old man greeted us in his 80s, Morris Beysow, who welcomed us to the village. Elder Beysow led us to the town hall, where he lectured on the relevance of culture in modern Liberia.
The last surviving generation to descend from King N’jola, and a former superintendent of Kendeja, Elder Beysow said modern Liberian society has failed to respect the cultural practices of their forefathers
“It is shame that for a nation to sell its pride in the name of development. It’s a shame for a nation to classify its traditional practices as negative when these practices served as the center of civilization that the citizens boast of today,” bemoaned Mr Beysow.
An early 1950s graduate of the Poro Society, the old man wondered why the new generation of Liberians continues to value western culture and traditional practices over those of their forefathers.
“The unwillingness of Liberians to learn their cultural and traditional values has made them lose their identity as a people, leaving them exposed to foreign ones, which is now exhibited by the number of violent acts they are engaged in,” he said.
While the cultural icon blamed the government for the neglect of our ancestral way of life, he also heaped blame on traditional leaders for not actually performing their duties as is given and expected of them.
“The absence of cultural festivals such as the fire festival and harvest festival is evidence enough that the traditional leaders are at sleep and need to wake up as soon as possible to save the next generation from totally losing its identity,” he said.
As we walked from the town hall to King N’jola’s grave, which lay between the museum and the hall, elder Beysow said the festivals are the occasions traditional leaders use to teach the traditional and cultural norms to the youth, narrate history about great peoples of the past, among other things.
“I cannot do much any longer. I’m just appealing to the traditional leaders to make teaching the youth our culture a priority. And government needs to persuade historians to document the indigenous cultural history for everyone,” advised Mr Beysow.
He blamed the increase and spread of indiscipline and violence in Liberia on the lack of culture and tradition, adding that such attitudes pose a serious threat to the nation’s present and future.
Content with living among his people, who regard him as a fountain of wisdom, elder Beysow said that it is a total disgrace for young people of this generation not to know about Liberia’s ancient “female-warrior,” Madam Suakoko, or how Behsao came into existence.
Mr Beysow used our visit to appeal to government to make Behsao the national culture village since Kendeja is no more “because the village was declared as the national second culture village by a sitting president.”
“You cannot take the culture village to a place that does not have historical value. All government needs to do is transform Behsao into a vibrant national cultural center in place of Kendeja,” added elder Beysow.
Elder Morris Beysow, who is the oldest surviving person in Behsao, took us on a tour to show us a few sacred sites in the village, including graves of the great king’s ancestors and descendants. The gravesite is where the town hall and the museum are built.
“My father’s and other generations of children were buried here with the exception of three of my uncles who were buried on the outskirt of town,” he said before we parted ways.
It goes without saying that a country that forgets and neglects its past will not have a clear picture of where it is heading. Liberia’s developmental trajectory after 168 years leaves much to be desired. To say that a neglect of its cultural and traditional past are reasons enough would belie the role played, and continue to be played by corruption, something that could have been averted were we to value our traditions and culture, which decry such tendencies.