The DATI Kukatonon Peace Project: Using Research and Performing and Visual Arts to Promote Peace and Reconciliation in Post-Genocide Liberian Society

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By Dr. Joseph Gbaba

There is a dire need for research-based and results-driven educational and cultural projects like the DATI Kukatonon Peace Project for a post-genocide society like ours for a couple of reasons: 1. To initiate the socio-cultural transformation of the dormant and defective mindset of Liberians which makes Liberians complacent to ask for handouts instead of being assertive to utilize their natural, human, and mineral resources to fend for themselves; and (2) Liberians need to be nationally awakened to face the realities and challenges in their lived world. For these reasons, the DATI Kukatonon Peace Project aspires to awaken all Liberians to stop living in an elusive world, and to stop being robots of deceptive demagoguery!  

Further, the Kukatonon Peace Project is very critical to the reconstruction of the Liberian society, as well as the mindset of post-genocide Liberian victims and survivors. The reason is because Liberians are now being coerced by the status quo to glamorize corruption, mayhem, and atrocities as ‘acceptable’ norms of post-genocide Liberian society. Therefore, we need research-based projects and socio-cultural interventions that espouse Pan African philosophy and postmodern theoretical lenses that advocate centering members of the Black Race in their own history and culture.

Accordingly, we need research-based projects that aim to liberate Blacks and Liberians from mental slavery and global racial inequality. In view of the forgoing, the DATI Kukatonon Peace Project is modeled after Dr. Joseph Gbaba’s doctoral qualitative research study at St. Joseph’s University entitled, “The Chiandeh Afrocentric Curriculum and Textbook Experience: Exploring Children’s Responses to an Afrocentric Curriculum” (Gbaba, 2009).

DATI Gbenelue Maryland Peace Advocates celebrating the Grebo War Dance

The Chiandeh study uses several postmodern theoretical lenses (i.e., constructivism, ideological literacy model, transactional theory, multiliteracies, and multicultural concepts), along with the educational and philosophical arguments of Molefi Kete Asante (1980, 1991, 1992), Carter G. Woodson (1938), W.E.B. DuBois (1908), Marcus Garvey (1977), Maulana Karenga (1990), and many others, to investigate two research questions:  (1)  In what ways do children respond to the Chiandeh project, and (2) How does the Chiandeh project shape children’s cultural esteem?

The Chiandeh project centers African American children in their own ancestry to enhance their cultural esteem and learning, and specifically highlights the term cultural esteem and the lack thereof by many Blacks as an important issue affecting Black children’s learning in American classrooms due to the monolithic Euro-centered curriculum that drives their instruction. It advocates the use of African-centered materials in mainstream curricula to provide children with equity pedagogy and equality of educational opportunities, and to combat the negative stereotypes about Africa in most American and western published materials and textbooks. The study revealed that when African American children were centered in their own history and culture, they exhibited more interest in literacy projects involving Afrocentric content; they displayed awareness of certain Afrocentric values and exhibited greater affinity for their ancestry, and ultimately developed self-awareness.

DATI Peace Advocates of the Dougbor Montserrado Chapter

Rationale for the DATI Kukatonon Peace Project in Liberia

Like participants of the Chiandeh project in the United States, Liberians are also faced with the same dilemma of being isolated from their cultural heritage. A good example will be the closure of the Kendeja National Cultural Village by President Sirleaf to have a foreign-owned hotel built in its stead. Also, through Liberia’s national curriculum, educational system and instructional materials, as well as institutionalized Liberian government policies over the span of a century and seven decades, Liberians have been dragged into believing they are more ‘Caucasian’ or ‘western’, instead of accepting and appreciating their African identity.

In other words, Liberians have been provided what former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf proudly referred to as a “messy education” for more than one hundred years! As a result, most Liberians suffer from identity crisis and this is one of the root causes of the Liberian genocide. Also, the rumble and lawlessness in Liberia speak to the fact that any nation whose foundations are not built on their history and culture can be likened to a man who built his house in sinking sand!

To counter these negative socio-cultural and political effects in post-genocide Liberian society, the Board of Directors and management of Dehkontee Artists Theatre, Inc. launched the DATI Kukatonon Peace Project in Liberia in 2019 in collaboration with Liberian college students from various ethnic groups, regions of Liberia and institutions of higher learning. The goal is to promote peace and reconciliation among Liberians and to create cultural awareness and national consciousness and unity among survivors of the Liberian genocide.

Also, the purpose for starting this project is to resuscitate the stalled ECOWAS Peace Plan for Liberia through a Liberian initiative that will engender national support in terms of financial, material and moral resources to bring the long suffering of the Liberian people to a peaceful end.  To initiate this important task, DATI recruited some of the most accomplished and well-mannered post-genocide Liberian youths and scholars who have a burning desire to promote peace and democracy and reinstitute genuine rule of Liberia in Liberia.

Dehkontee Theatre Artists

Cohort I began with a total of forty-six college students in two different locales in Liberia: one set of college students were in the nation’s capital (Monrovia) and another set of students are students or graduates of Tubman University in Harper, Maryland County, Southeastern Liberia. The youths were required to submit legitimate academic credentials and professional references and they were vetted before being admitted in the program.

As part of their peacebuilding and cultural awareness training, they were provided instructions in history, drama, language arts, peace education, cultural diversity and gender awareness to improve their peacebuilding skills and to help them become aware of their history and culture. Notably, most of the youths were just as innocent of Liberian history and culture as the African American children were of their Black history and culture during the Chiandeh Project in the United States.

For an example most of the DATI Kukatonon participants could tell you at the snap of a finger where Washington, D.C. is but they could not state where the town or City of Gbapa is in Liberia. What was most disappointing was for Liberian youths born in the hinterland of Liberia to tell me “Prof, I can’t speak that thing oh” when asked to speak their local vernacular! In addition, many of them cannot even speak, read, and write English at their present academic level. Hence, these revelations indeed reflect the aftermaths of a “messy education!”

For this reason, much of the initial training focused on providing remedial English assignments to help improve trainees’ communication skills. There were taught how to conduct cultural research and gather more personal information about themselves, their respective ethnic groups of origin, and their family roots. They also went on field trips to meet traditional elders in two village settings in Liberia. The youths in Montserrado went to Barnersville Kebbah, and the Peace Advocates in Maryland paid a courtesy call on the elders in Gbenelue (“Big Town) in Maryland County.

Dehkontee USA Chapter performing during the 40th Anniversary of DATI’s founding.

Cohort I graduated forty-five college students and a few college degree holders in November 2019. They took oath to defend the Constitution of Liberia and to promote nonviolence in Liberia as DATI Peace Advocates. Since their graduation, DATI’s Board of Directors and management have embarked on a fundraising project to provide these patriotic youths the tools and conducive facilities they need to carry out their peacebuilding activities throughout Liberia. Your financial, material contributions and moral support can help bring about the desired peaceful change and development we all yearn for very dearly. Therefore, please do not be an onlooker but be an active participant in the peacebuilding process of our beloved homeland.

DATI Kukatonon Peace and Youth Study Center Project Fundraiser.

In early mid December 2020, DATI management launched a fund drive to raise Ten Thousand Dollars to establish two peace and youth study centers in Harper, Maryland County and in Paynesville, Montserrado County. To date, the organization has raised Three Thousand Dollars. We have secured a space for our peace and youth study center in the Museum building in Harper, Maryland County. Negotiations are underway to secure another building in Paynesville, Montserrado County. We are appealing to the public for more donations to reach our Ten Thousand Dollar goal. You can donate by logging on our website: www.dehkonteeartiststheatreinc.com. We are a 501 ©(3) nonprofit organization in the United States and DATI is a legally registered nonprofit in the Republic of Liberia as well.

Published by Dehkontee Artists Theatre Public Relations Section.

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