Several Express Anger and Disappointment at Desecration of Graves
The blazing sun poured its venom on the few hundreds who gathered in their numbers to clean the graves of their loved ones at the Palm Grove Cemetery in downtown Monrovia on Wednesday, March 14.
This event, unlike previous ones, was not characterized by the usual rituals of mourning and celebration as many of those spoken to by the Daily Observer said they were angry at the desecration of the cemetery claiming it is being used as a waste dump.
They also complained about bodies that were dumped there without being properly disposed, despite the Monrovia City Corporation’s (MCC) effort to provide a semblance of sanity at a location that has been the resting place of thousands of Liberian dead, including several presidents such as Arthur Barclay, Danaiel E. Howard, Joseph Jenkins Roberts, William R. Tolbert, and other government officials amongst others.
People had converged in their hundreds to celebrate the occasion. They brushed away the weeds that had covered graves of their loved ones and also repainted them. However the characteristic festivities including lavish outpouring of grief-some real and some paid for- as well as spirited drumming, singing and dancing by surviving relatives, friends, etc that would light up the occasion just did not happen.
The Daily Observer learned that several individuals visited the cemetery, gathered the skeletal remains of their relatives and told onlookers that they were transferring the bones to another secured cemetery. However, there was no health official on-site neither was there any MCC representative to confirm this information.
Additionally, a group of people who claimed they were usually paid to weep during past celebrations, complained that there was not enough business. “No one wanted to pay me to weep,” a young man, who claimed he was there for the occasion, said.
“Many people who came could not find graves where their relatives’ remains were buried,” another said.
But otherwise, there appeared to be business as usual as market women, selling food items, were on hand to fulfill the desires of those who were busy brushing and repainting graves of their loved ones.
An the edge of the public drainage on Center Street is a mass grave containing the remains of the late President William R. Tolbert Jr. and several of his officials executed along with him by the 1980 coup makers. President Tolbert, who was killed at age 66, was a Baptist minister. In 1965 he became the first African to serve as president of the Baptist World Alliance.
Dr. Richard Tolbert, nephew of former President William R. Tolbert and son of slain President Pro Tempore Frank Tolbert, declared at a wreath laying ceremony that national reconciliation would start the moment the Government of Liberia realizes the need to honor the memory of his slain father and uncle as well as those officials executed in the immediate aftermath of the 1980 military coup d’etat.
“We are not here to remember the past” he said, “it is for the central government to build a monument to represent the memory of the people who were killed on April 12, 1980”, he stressed.
He added that the deplorable nature of the Palm Grove Cemetery also suggests that the central government should set up a team to seek suggestions from Liberians on what to do with the Palm Grove Cemetery.
For many of those present, it was clear that Dr. Tolbert made those comments in reaction to the continued desecration of the Palm Grove Cemetery, where it is used as a dumpsite and toilet. It has also been reported that a group of troubled youths, known locally as Zogos, and their female counterparts, also known as ZOGESE, use the Palm Grove Cemetery as their home.
Dr. Tolbert noted that knowing the future of the Palm Grove Cemetery and building a monument to the memory of Liberian leaders who were buried there would begin the needed reconciliation that the country is yearning for.
He named some of the government officials murdered and buried in a mass grave as James T. Phillips Jr., P. Clarence Parker, lll, James A. A. Pierre, John W. F. Sherman, Frank J. Stewart, Sr., Frank E. Tolbert, Sr, E. Reginald Townsend, and President William R. Tolbert, Jr, among others.
Meanwhile, under the Pelham Building, overlooking the cemetery, a group identified as Operation Restore Hope (ORHL) staged a musical reggae show with renditions of the late Bob Marley’s popular songs, Redemption Song, as several young men and women rocked and danced to the beat.
The group is led by Mr. Boakai G. Cephas with support from Mr. Henry Wallace of Bassa Heritage of Canada and Mr. Jerry T. Bowen, (Ph.D. Edinburgh University) of Lift Liberia, Lift Africa.
Cephas said his organization was carrying out what he described as “Dark (DEAD) tourism awareness and sensitization campaign from 1-6pm that day.”
He said the ORHL has embarked on a hybrid program delivery strategy with four key components: physical, psychological, mental rehabilitation of disbanded people, to construct housing, training and vocation, agriculture (farming, training, and vocation) and culture heritage and tourism (tour guide, training, and vocation.”
He said its pro-poor initiative adopts a bottoms-up approach with emphasis on sustainable partnerships, to make ORHL well positioned to source funding and stimulate economic growth, among others.
As the day wore on, the ORHL group entertained those whose spirits were apparently not dampened by the wanton desecration of the Palm Grove Cemetery and the disappointment occasioned by their inability to locate the graves of their loved ones.