When the civil war in Liberia ended 13 years ago, it set back the promotion of the country’s culture policy, a mark that has sliced through the fabric of the country’s rich culture, almost breaking it down completely.
Yet when peace returned there was still hope for a cultural rebirth. That hope started to fade immediately after government sold Kendeja, Liberia’s cultural center, to millionaire Bob Johnson for a resort.
While many well-known cultural practitioners do not believe another cultural renaissance can happen in Liberia, nevertheless four retired members of the now less active Liberia National Culture Troupe still believe that another cultural renaissance is a possibility.
Due to their strong belief and hope for a cultural rebirth, these four retired culture professional, who are well-trained in cultural values and norms, have begun training a little over 18 children, some below the age of five, and some adults cultural dance, the importance of diversity and morality among others.
“It is nearly 10 years now since the sale of Kendeja, the home of the Liberia National Culture Troupe, and nothing much has been done by government to have a new home, which will help bring about another culture rebirth.
“At the school, we teach each child traditional dance steps from all the tribes in Liberia, folklore and traditional songs as well as explaining to him or her to respect diversity and forgo immorality,” says Washington Z.M. Dagbeh Jr., head of the four retired traditional dancers and culture experts.
During extra training sessions, the students are taught to make traditional handmade crafts and unique traditional dancing outfits.
For now, the trainers are looking at perfecting the children’s dance steps, tuning their physical abilities to do acrobatic dances, and helping them understand the basic rules of respecting tradition and diversity, he said.
“This level one runs for roughly four months; thereafter, we kick start level two, which focuses on learning the history of our traditions, clans, towns and families,” Mr. Dagbeh said, adding, “We will be teaching them some basic traditional secrets about life. It will be purely practice; however, some hidden things will not be taught, except to those who can keep secrets.”
In the midst of financial constraints, Dagbeh and his team “still manage” with the little they have to continue their efforts breeding a new generation of cultural practitioners.
He said that the children practice three times a week; that sometimes the training is extended for additional activities; and that no matter the current financial difficulties they are experiencing, they cannot stop the training.
“Sometime it is difficult to work when you have financial problems; however, the team will continue making the necessary sacrifice that is needed to enable them pass down this valuable cultural knowledge to the children. This is the greatest responsibility we have, and it must be fulfilled while we are alive,”
he said in a confident tone.
Seated at the edge of the open theater, where the children were practicing their various local dialects, Nyeapu Flomo took a deep breath “as a sign of relief for the tremendous work we have done so far.”
As she looked at the children practicing, she said to herself “at long last I’m giving back to a new generation the same way my parents did for me.”
Ma Flomo, who joined the Liberia National Culture Troupe at a very tender age in 1970s upon her graduation from the Sande Society in Bong County, explained that her current task is to teach the children traditional greetings skills, laws and other moral behaviors, like refraining from sex before marriage.
“We have not even gone six months and the children have now mastered all I’m teaching them. They are now becoming agents for cultural values and norms.
“For us, it is traditionally unlawful for one to shout among his peers or at them; not to talk about elderly persons. It is also unlawful to stand straight and greet an older person; the best ways is to bow with your head.
“It is also unlawful to just see people talking and interfere; so in that case that individual has to wait until the end of the discussion before coming in. It is also unlawful for individuals to pass through people when they are sitting down; and in case the area is the only road, you have to bend down until you can
cross. These are some of the many moral values we are installing in them,” said Ma Flomo, 63.
Like Dagbeh and Ma Flomo, 23 year-old student Evelyn Cooper said for a cultural rebirth to happen, the older generation has to get more involved, like her mentors are doing, not waiting for government to act first.
“At long last, our understanding about culture is growing and I’m grateful for that. Many of us who came here with no knowledge of our culture are now going home with something. Though we are still at level one, everything we do is exciting and it is actually shaping our lives in a more positive way.
“The only regret I have now is that I was not taught these cultural values years ago before I had my first child. At first my thought was having a child outside marriage was acceptable, but now I have learned it is not acceptable in our culture,” noted Cooper.