By Robin Dopoe Jr.
Siafa Kollie Ballah, Executive Director of Flomo Theater, Inc., and son of the late renowned cultural icon Peter Y. Ballah, has died. Siafa, who was in his 45th year, departed just over two decades shy of catching up to his father Peter, who passed away in December 2012 at the age of 67.
After his late father, who left a distinguished career as an actor, comedian, playwright and stage director, Siafa left his own mark in history fighting for the survival of Liberia’s cultural legacy. This legacy no doubt includes the profound works and memories of the late-great Liberian culturists, Peter Y. Ballah, Bai T. Moore and Ma Gbessie Kiazolu among others, as well as places, artifacts, literature, and music of cultural significance.
It was to the preservation and promotion of the cultural values embodied by these persons, places and things that Siafa dedicated his life and was regarded by many as a fearless culture advocate.
The family said in statement that, with profound regret, they acknowledge the passing of their brother, father and a cultural icon on the evening of Friday, May 5, at the ELWA Hospital, due to brief illness. A family source said days leading to his death, he suffered from a series of complications including low blood pressure, respiratory problems, liver failure, and Hepatitis B.
“A son of the late Peter Ballah, Liberia greatest cultural icon, Saifa’s death came to us as a shock and it is a total heartbreaking situation for us to bear.
“Liberia has truly lost an incredible son and cultural genius who during his lifetime fought and advocated for the rights of artists in Liberia and the perseveration of the national culture. Although he is no more, his legacy will live on,” the statement read by Flomo Theater’s program manager Alex Lassanah Swaray said on behalf of the family.
The family’s residence in Battery Factory, along the Somalia Drive, has since Friday been inundated with sympathizers, including immediate and extended relatives, colleagues and friends from near and far.
Born January 7, 1973, Ballah graduated from the Poro Society in the early 80s, but also had a formal education. In the mid-1990s, he obtained a Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree in Education from the Centre d’Étude de la Langue Anglaise (CELA) in Conakry, Republic of Guinea.
During his advocacy for the promotion of Liberia’s culture, and on several occasion, Ballah persistently challenged the government to preserve and protect cultural heritage sites across the country.
Results of his advocacy include the almost-concluded renovation works on the National Museum, carried out by the Government of Liberia. The Government has also developed a strategy to identify, preserve and promote several cultural and heritage sites around the country.
Ballah also challenged Liberians to respect and practice their culture through exhibiting their traditions and culture on a daily basis.
Former Assistant minister for Culture at the Ministry of information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism Louise W. McMillian described him as one of the most gifted and prolific cultural figures Liberia has ever had.
“Saifa was a person who has a strong passion for culture and never gave up doing his best to preserve and promote Liberian culture,” she said.
Kekura Kamara, a close friend of Siafa’s and the executive director of the Liberia National Cultural Union, an organization Ballah also served as vice president for administration, said he is heartbroken, and in utter disbelief that his friend is no more.
“Just like his father, Saifa was a person who inspired and touched the life of every individual he talked to or worked with to love and appreciate Liberian culture,” Kamara said. “He was a strong and fearless advocate.”
Dr. Dawn Cooper Barnes, Associate Vice President for Academic Support Services at the African Methodist Episcopal University (AMEU), added that the late cultural icon was one of her heroes and a person who inspired her to love Liberian culture more.
“This is a big blow to Liberia. He was a patriotic and visionary cultural leader who worked tirelessly to restore the heydays of Liberia’s culture. I’m absolutely devastated and cannot believe that he is no more,” Dr. Barnes said.
Darius Dorwoan Gweh, Director for Cultural Affairs at the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism (MICAT), said he is totally heart broken and saddened about Ballah’s death.
“Without Saifa, I don’t think we were going to have a modern museum, which will soon be dedicated, or even a plan about rebuilding Behsao, the nation’s second cultural village, or other cultural centers across the country.
“Almost every day, Saifa phoned me or the Assistant Minster for Culture in order to pressurize us to take on the museum project, as well as paying attention to other cultural sites across Liberia. Yes, Saifa was indeed a lover and promoter of culture,” Darius said.
Siafa Kollie Ballah is survived by his widow, Cecellia Roberts Ballah; Children Kebeh and Massah, residents of the Battery Factory community. Other survivors include his mother, Mama Kollie Ballah; two brothers, Zeze Evans Ballah and Nuku Kollie Ballah; and two sisters, Komassa Ballah and Mariam Ballah, all of Monrovia.
His remains have been deposited at the Abraham Roberts Funeral home, awaiting funeral arrangements, which will be announced later.
According to Scholastica Doe, Board Chairperson, Flomo Theater, Inc., “our offices remain open for business and all ongoing projects will go on as planned.”