ORIGINS OF THE LIBERIAN NATIONAL CULTURAL CENTER OF LIBERIA

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By George W. W. Tahmen

I would like to set the record straight about the origins of the organized National Cultural Troupe by providing the following brief historical background on its establishment.

Historically, we must first of all give credit to Mr. William Lewis who organized the first performing arts groups in Monrovia in the 50s. Mr. Lewis was connected to the then Bureau of Folksway at the Department of Interior, which Bureau eventually blended with the Information Service, which was also attached to the Department of State.

These two government agencies joined to give birth to the National Cultural Center, National Cultural Troupe – they formed the Department of Information and Cultural Affairs.

Members of the Bureau of Folksway from the Interior Department that joined the Information staff included Mr. William H. Williams, Director; Mr. Jangaba Johnson, Senior Research Officer; Mr. Nathaniel Jallah, Senior Typist; Mr. George W. W. Tahmen, Senior Research Officer; Mr. Bonard, Typist; and Old-man Momom, Interpreter.

The late Oscar S. Norman joined the Bureau later as Assistant Secretary for Cultural Affairs with Mr. Jerome Brocier as his secretary. Among the staff members from the Information Service is Honorable Bai T. Moore, Chief of Visual Aids at that time.

Members of the National Troupe stand ready for the Execution of an animal story dance (Courtesy: Depaartment of Information and Cultural Affairs, now MICAT)

Capt. Bai T. Moore, now Deputy Minister for Research and Planning at the Ministry of Information, played a major role in the creation of the National Cultural Troupe, the National Cultural Center and the Ministry.

A tourism program was added to the Department’s functions when the author returned from Israel, where he studied the tourism industry and its impact on the national cultural heritage, thus resulting into the Ministry of Information Cultural Affairs and Tourism.

Before then, we must mention the effort of Rev. Wilhelmina Dukuly who initiated a cultural group known as the “Liberian Jungle” which was composed of performing artists from the area of Bomi Territory in the National Cultural Troupe.

A Masked Kokpoh (Mende) humorous dancer (Courtesy: Depaartment of Information and Cultural Affairs (now MICAT)

Prior to the recruitment of troupe members, a Sande Bush School had been established near the Cultural Center, in the village of Kenema by Old-lady Zoe Kai, to commence the training of the nucleus of a National Troupe in 1963, with the encouragement of Information and Cultural Affairs.

After the Sande Bush School was dissolved in 1964, rehearsals continued at the Cultural Center. It was, however, until the early part of 1965 that the Troupe was regularly arranged with a supporting cast of singers and musicians under the training command of the Cultural Advisor, Mr. Roger Dorsenville, and Mr. W. W. Tahmen (author).

Between May and July 1965, the Troupe was augmented by eight boys who had been trained in professional dancing in the Gola male Poro Bush School of Bola, including Mr. Boima Ngebla, present Director of the Troupe, near Bomi Hills. Toward the end of that, a group of Krao (Kru) girls brought in by Mr. William Arthur, first Principal of the Kendeja School, was added to the Troupe, totaling 24 dancers, music and dance instructors, seven singers and five drummers.

To get the young people involved in their own cultural heritage, the Department made a public pronouncement for all interesting schools to request the assistance of the Cultural Bureau to help organize their cultural dance troupes. Many who responded positively included Risk Institute, Tubman High, B. W. Harris, College of West Africa, to mention a few.

Madam Zukeh Fahnbulleh and Mr. George W. W. Tahmen were in charge of the school cultural training program. To persuade more to join, the Cultural Bureau staged a series of periodical inter-school cultural competitions, which resulted in a greater cultural revival of performing arts in schools and communities as we see today.

The number of the Troupe increased to 100 members composed of performing artists from almost every region of the country. These artists gained their basic training in Poro, Bon, Blonyu, Sane (Sande) secret Bush Schools, or Institutions similar to them.

A village Troubadour plays a traditional instrument (Courtesy: Depaartment of Information and Cultural Affairs, now MICAT)

Since its formal organization in 1965, the Troupe has thrilled thousands of spectators with performances at home and abroad. In 1966 the Troupe performed at the Dakar Festival and again in Algeria in 1969. Among 47 competitors in Algiers, the Troupe won 3rd prize.

The Troupe also won high acclaim in 1977, during the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Cultural in Lagos, Nigeria. It has entertained audiences in the United States, Ethiopia and Somalia.

The Troupe often performs for private groups, on major national occasions and for important guests of government. The home of the Troupe is the National Cultural Center near Kendeja, a village located 10 miles from Monrovia. The National Cultural Center is often referred to as Kendeja.

The National Cultural Center is located about ten miles from the heart of Monrovia, on the Paynesville–Roberts International Airport highway. It was built in 1963 and was dedicated in January 1964 during the inauguration of the late President William V. S. Tubman.

OBJECTIVES OF THE CENTER

The center is intended to fulfill the following objectives:

  1. To project the cultural image of Liberia;
  2. To provide a base for an organized national dance troupe and craft artists from every ethnic group in the country;
  3. To preserve some of the traditional art forms of the country;
  4. Open an archive where documents, films and ethnographic and archeological research materials will be reserved, etc.

This article was originally published on Monday September 14, 1981, in the Daily Observer newspaper

Authors

2 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for this background on the history of our National Cultural Troupe and the National Cultural Center. It would be greatly appreciated if you would write an article bringing this history to the present so that our “new day” Liberian youths can learn and understand the importance of our cultural heritage.

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