The afternoon wind blew across central Monrovia yesterday as the living struggled to get their businesses in order, while at the nearby Palm Grove Cemetery, the pungent smell of feces dishonor Liberia’s dead.
A sprawling cemetery spanning Center and Gurley Streets, Palm Grove, Monrovia’s oldest cemetery, is where ordinary and prominent Liberian dead have been buried for generations. They are committed to the ground to await the Lord’s return, said a local pastor on Center Street. Except for those who own family plots in this cemetery, it is now closed for any further burials.
On the outskirts of the cemetery is the unmarked mass grave bearing the remains of the late President William R. Tolbert assassinated in the 1980 coup and many other Liberian leaders and prominent citizens who shared his fate.
But a visit to the cemetery yesterday revealed a sorrowful sight that drew more questions than answers. In the end, the stench and other evidences of vandalism indicate how dishonorably and shamefully the Liberian society has allowed its dead to lie.
Said a bewildered young mechanic, who works at a nearby shop, “This is not how to honor the dead.”
At the Center Street entrance sat several workers from the Monrovia City Corporation, the custodian of memorial grounds of the Liberian dead.
A worker who spoke to the Daily Observer said, “The way we Liberians honor our dead is a disgrace.” His concern became quite evident when closer survey of the burial grounds revealed what he described as the “downright disrespect to our loved ones who have left us.” The Daily Observer saw that several graves were open or as the worker explained, “Were broken into by criminals who have no respect for the dead.” And the living have shown no concern or respect for their dead either.
Though all sides of the cemetery are enclosed by a high fence, yet residents in the area and other people have found it expedient to respond to nature’s call as well as throw trash inside the fence.
Though MCC workers provide some security to ward off those who have no business there, a worker said, “It’s been difficult to stop people from throwing all kinds of garbage inside here.” There are locks, of course, but when the workers are gone for the day, the miscreants and deviants then take over the cemetery grounds, the Daily Observer learned.
“You see the empty grave over there?” a worker pointed out to the Daily Observer. “They took everything that could be stolen.” A closer look showed that the only remains was a skull lying in the trash.
The worker who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak for the MCC continued, “Look at these graves that are broken. Who would do a thing like that?” Though that question was hard to answer, he admitted that there are people who live in the cemetery.
Tomorrow, March 11 is National Decoration Day, and Liberians from all walks of life are expected to visit the burial places of their loved ones. Although the recent Ebola disaster has contributed to the frustration of Liberians, many interviewed by the Daily Observer suggested that a new direction to ensure that the dead repose in honor and dignity was needed and it should be led by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
“We want her to help direct our actions,” said a resident on Center Street. “We may lose our sense of duty due to the many deaths, but this is not how to honor our dead.”