Celebrating the resilience of post-genocide Liberian youths and DATI Peace Advocates
Treating other people’s children as your own is a virtuous thing to do in life. It is an inherent characteristic of African tradition and culture. Basically, African customs are dictated by the language we speak, and through verbal actions or expressions. The language one speaks also significantly impacts one’s thought process. For an example, in the Krahn language there are no direct terms for the words, “uncle”, “aunty,” “cousin”, etc. The only African family nomenclatures that describe family relationships in the Krahn language are the words: “father,”, “mother,” “sister,” “brother.” For this reason, African family relationships are sometimes informed by the language we speak and by our vocabulary repertoire. Consequently, our perception of how we treat one another as family members is embedded in our linguistic repertoire as a race and people.
Against this backdrop, when referring to one’s mother’s or father’s brother or sister in the Krahn language, one cannot say “uncle” or “aunty” because there are no such terms in the Krahn language. Hence, psychologically, one has no other choice but to perceive of your mother’s brother or sister as your “mother” or “father.” By the same token, your uncle’s children are perceived as your “brothers” and “sisters” because there are no terms for aunty, uncle, cousin, nephew, niece in Krahn.
Consequently, this linguistic limitation psychologically glues the African family as a coherent unit, unlike the western family structure which delineates family relationships into uncle, nephew, niece, cousin, aunty. African customs do not. The person is either your mother, father, brother, or sister. Thus, this perception of family relationship draws Africans closer together than when they adapt the western family perception which segregates and divides the family into splinter units: uncle, aunty, cousin, first-second-cousin, great-aunt, great-uncle, etc.
This is one reason back in the day we never had orphanages in Africa because the uncle or aunt of a child is regarded or perceived as the father or mother of the child. Therefore, in time of emergency, the “Mother-Aunt” or “Father-Uncle” is expected to rescue and treat his or her sibling’s children as his or hers. And, in the home both the biological children and their ‘cousins’ (in the western sense) refer to their ‘uncle’ and ‘aunt’ as Mother and Father. Thus, this entitles all the children in the home to equal treatment.
I recall in the Gbaba home, my first cousin (according to western family definition) was my “older brother’. He was regarded as my father’s first son in our household. My father consulted him first and even when there was what we call “tablay” (left over food) after my father finished eating, he would call my cousin-brother first to take out how much he wanted to eat before I could eat the remaining chew. In case of death, since he was older, he would be the next of kin, not me. My father treated his siblings’ children as his own and I learned from the good example he set.
Also, I learned the significance of treating other people’s children as my own from my father. When I got my first teaching job at St. Patrick’s High School on Capitol Hill in Monrovia, I happily informed my father I would be teaching in the classroom. He advised that I treat every child in my class with respect and equity. He also urged me to be impartial and fair when interacting with my students. Decades later, I am still reaping the dividends from my father’s sagacious counsel. Most of my students affectionately call me “Uncle Joe” and I regard and treat them as my nephews and nieces. Sometimes or most times, other people’s children treat you with respect and love than your own biological children. As an African, I have learned to be the father and uncle to every Liberian, African, and global child because there is no telling who will give you water to drink when you are incapacitated. I am speaking from experience.
Congratulations to DATI Peace Advocates Who Graduated from College This Year!
Today, Princess Ariminta and I celebrate with exceeding joy, the resilience and milestone achievements of post-genocide Liberian youths, particularly DATI Advocates who earned their baccalaureate degrees this year in various disciplines from Tubman University, the University of Liberia, Stella Marie University, and all other universities and colleges in Liberia. Congratulations to all of you!
Your resilient efforts are commendable when measured against the painstaking journey and hurdles that were imposed upon you by adults in your lives, mainly Liberian politicians and warlords. They should not have put you through so many hardships in the first place. Nevertheless, by virtue of your academic achievement as victims and survivors of the Liberian genocide, you have proven to the world the need for the establishment of a war crimes court to be established in Liberia to try Liberian warlords who have created a bleak future for you. They need to get out of the way so you can receive the light of hope and enter the dawn of a new democratic society pivoted on the ideals of genuine democracy, equity, justice and rule of law.
The Difference between Your Days and My Days as a Child in Liberia
There is a vast difference between your days now and mine as a child in Liberia. It is like the difference between night and day. When I was a youth like you, the elders in my life never gave me AK-47 or a Bazuka to fight war and to kill innocent people, but adults in your days did. Though I was born in a traditional royal family, I did not know all about my history and culture because traditional Liberian history and culture were forbidden to be taught in schools and to be practiced in real life situations in the country. The norm was to be “Melcan” or you would be ostracized from mainstream society in Liberia.
I ran errands for elders in the community and they rewarded me sometimes with a nice bowl of rice or a dollar for me to buy my pencils and copybooks to empower me to become literate–to learn how to read and write. They taught me to be law-abiding but not to disrespect constituted authorities or to take the law in my own hands.
Elders during my days taught children to appreciate the dignity of labor. We learned to clean our rooms, scrub floors, draw water from the well or stood in line at government community pumps to fetch water. We emptied chamber buckets at government toilets and we never said “No” to our parents when they asked us to do them a favor. You got whipped if you disobeyed your parents. The old folks discouraged stealing of any sort, lying or bearing false witness, etc. In addition, each child was expected to hold his family name in high esteem in the community because if you committed a crime or misbehaved in public it reflected on the home you came from. In school, we competed with one another in class. If you did not know your lesson but your classmate knew it, the teacher would authorize him to whip you!
Further, we had adequate adult supervision because any adult back in the day had the authority to spank you if you misbehaved in public and/or in the absence of your parents and then you would get additional beatings when they reported you to your parents when you got home. For this reason, we could not even use profanity before our elders, let alone their giving us weapons to commit crimes. I pray that your experience working as DATI Peace Advocates will bless you and the people you interact with during your peacebuilding campaign in Liberia. Do not lose track of your culture and history. Use them to guide you on your path to success in life and to help make a difference in the lives of your colleagues who do not have the opportunity you have to become a DATI Peace Advocate.
Lack of Cultural Competence
Due to the genocide in Liberia and owing to its unprecedented aftermaths, many Liberians are still traumatized. Many of them have not had closure to the irreparable losses they encountered and due to difficult times, victims and survivors of the Liberian genocide now go with the wind instead of adhering to their cultural values. In most instances nowadays, to be accepted into mainstream Liberian society one must hail Liberian warlords and economic criminals and play a blind eye to their corrupt practices. Those who abide by the law are regarded as ‘enemies of the state’ but those who break the laws of Liberia are the heroes of our time! What a bloody contradiction of the truths of life!
Hence, to say the least, Liberian culture has changed tremendously. Many of our cultural values, such as respect for elders, respect for rule of law, dignity of labor, and honesty, have been forsaken. Thus, lawlessness and corruption have become the new normal of the Liberian society. Whether consciously or subconsciously, Liberians exhibit a withdrawal and Stockholm Syndrome attitude, as well as lack of self-worth.
Members of Dehkontee Artists Theatre Dougbor Chapter celebrating the graduation of their peers Henry G. Brumskine, Albert Tito Ninneh, and Abraham Fokoe over the weekend in Barnersville-Kebbah, Montserrado County, Liberia.
What I mean is that those who suffered cruelties at the hands of Liberian warlords are first to tell you “Let bygones by bygones” when you talk to them about establishing a war crimes court to try their perpetrators. The Stockholm Syndrome effect not only puts fear in the victim, but it automatically creates a fearful and subservient relationship between the oppressors and the oppressed.
The issues surrounding lack of self-worth explains why DATI youths that were honored recently took for granted the slaughtering of cattle to celebrate them. For an example, initially, not one of them posted the pictures they took at the party tendered for them on their social media pages. They kept it secret even though normally they would ostensibly post political rallies and other social activities on their social media timelines. Thus, out of curiosity, I asked why DATI youths were not happy for the honor bestowed upon them. The question I asked was a wake-up call for them. They were speechless and they later apologized after I explained the significance and cultural implications of slaughtering cattle to honor an individual.
Nonetheless, two straight reasons for this awkward behavior readily come to mind: 1. Post-genocide Liberian youths are growing up ignorant about their history and culture. This is being deliberately orchestrated by the status quo to maintain a dummy society that they can pull by their noses; and 2. Post-genocide Liberian youths are growing up in a society that glamorizes the bad deeds of an individual and condemns their good behaviors. So, celebrating their achievement was very shocking for them. Perhaps it did not have a cultural meaning for them as it did during my childhood days. For DATI youths it was just an ordinary occasion and that they perhaps do not deserve to be honored because honoring people for their achievements is not something that is very common in Liberian nowadays.
Reversing the New Normal in Post-Genocide Liberian Society
In view of the foregoing, there is no such thing as celebrating the success of another person these days in Liberia. Everyone is jealous of his brother, sister, friend. According to the social norms of post-genocide Liberian society, anyone who accomplishes a great feat must be condemned but those who shoot and kill their brothers and sisters must be hailed. I recall a buddy of mine in the same social club and that I have known for more than fifty years got made when I earned my doctorate degree. He prefers to address me as “Mr. Gbaba” instead of Dr. Gbaba. Those who steal public funds and convert them into their personal use are called “Honorable This” or “Honorable That.” Whereas, the faithful Liberian public servant who does not steal public funds but diligently works his behind off so Liberia will become a better place to live is call a “Too-too” or “Gbonuah” (fool)!
Therefore, DATI Peace Advocates have a herculean task to fulfill in Liberia. The youths of Liberia and Dehkontee Artists Theatreer need your help to reverse the trend of evil that has subdued Liberians into mental slavery, for the good of the Liberian people and their post-genocide society. Let us not sit and say, “My children are not in Liberia so the children in Liberia are on their own.”
Instead, we must put into practice the African proverb that states, “It takes a village to raise a child.” In other words, we must learn to treat other people’s children like our own.
If we cannot give our children guns to kill or get killed as child soldiers or combatants, we should not give other people’s children guns. Instead, we must give them pencil and paper to go to school. We must motivate them to become productive future leaders of Liberia to replace us when we are dead and gone. I congratulate post-genocide Liberian youths who have accomplished academic success due to their resilience. May Almighty God supply your needs in life.
Rabbi Prince Joseph Tomoonh-Garlodeyh Gbaba, Sr., Ed. D. March 2, 2021