By Robin Dopoe and Titus Babu
The Daily Observer, Liberia’s oldest surviving newspaper recently received a sizable collection of its old editions which were mostly missing from the paper’s Stanton P. Peabody Memorial Library located in the Liberian Observer Corporation’s headquarters near the ELWA Junction, Paynesville.
The newspaper collection, totaling 440 copies was given back by two longtime Daily Observer subscribers: John Singler, a linguist from the United States and another donor who preferred not to be named, who comes from the Federal Republic of Germany. Both men, who have a long time associations with Liberia, respectively, are visiting the country and brought back their Observer newspapers dating back from the paper’s early years of operation—1981 to 1990. The editions in their combined collection cover news stories of Master Samuel Kanyon Doe’s regime and other political and cultural events in the country at that time.
The old but well preserved newspapers have arrived ahead of the launch of a project to digitize the entire newspaper archive for which the management of the Liberian Observer Corporation (LOC) is seeking funding.
The Daily Observer is the only newspaper in the country with a library which has a collection of all Liberian newspapers spanning nearly all eras including its forerunner, The Crozierville Observer, published by the famous Liberian pamphleteer Albert Porte. Many other publications, including books by Liberian writers on various subjects are also on display and available to students and researchers in the Peabody library.
In remarks during his presentation, Prof. Singler stated that his intention for keeping the papers was to contribute to the preservation of the country’s history, especially for scholarly research.
“I am glad that I am returning these historical papers after so many years of keeping them. These papers here have significant historical value to Liberia because it is the record of the country’s troubled past—the military coup d’état and the beginning of the country’s cultural renaissance,” he said.
Prof. Singler added that the donated papers are important because they will help researchers to uncover lies told about the country’s ugly past. “The record-keeping of Liberian history is a significant value especially that the country lost the paper trail of its history during the war,” he said.
Prof. Singler, who is a professor of linguistics at New York University, has been associated with Liberia since 1969 when he first came to the country with a Catholic missionary group to teach. From 1969 to 1975 he taught English in secondary schools across Liberia.
His areas of expertise include pidgin and creole studies, socio-linguistics and phonology. In addition to pidgin and creole languages, he has also published on American English and languages in the Kru and Mande branches of Niger-Congo
Upon presenting his collection on a separate occasion, the German national who is partially based in Liberia and runs a local national storytelling competition, said his collection of the Observer newspapers arrives at a crucial time in the history of Liberia as many young people are zealous to learn more about the country’s historical past.
“I hope that you people will manage these papers properly without any of them being damaged. I’ve kept them for many years in tact and I know you people can do the same. History is very important and I am glad you people are taking the lead to preserve the country’s historical past. The Daily Observer is more than a paper; it’s a cultural heritage to Liberia,” the German declared.
Bai Sama G. Best, LOC Managing Director, told the donors separately how delighted and amazed he was that their collections came at a significant time when it was discovered how much of the archives was missing and the management realized that a lot of the newspapers they were returning were part of the missing inventory. “We have been wondering how to retrieve our lost copies and here you are, bringing them back to us! These are highly valuable and we are most grateful to you for them.”