Sorrow and weeping were visibly absent at the Palm Grove Cemetery in Monrovia yesterday as many who came to clean and decorate their loved ones’ graves found them vandalized and empty.
As many Liberians stared at empty graves that had once contained the remains of their loved ones, they simply stood in disbelief, unable to do what they had come to the cemetery to do—honor and pay respects to what the Decoration Day Presidential Proclamation called “the blessed dead.” There was no beating of drums, no cymbals, no weeping, no singing to their memory.
“I have no desire to weep,” a 40 year-old woman, identified only as Elizabeth, lamented. “Look at that grave where my mother was buried.”
“Even if the grave were still shut as we left it many years ago,” she added, “I would have had the feeling that my mother’s remains were still there.”
That outrage was heard throughout the celebration of the National Decoration Day, a day set aside by an act of the National Legislature in 1916 to remember the dead and to clean up the various cemeteries in the country.
But the most instructive outburst came from former international footballer, Mr. Thomas Kojo, who paid a visit to the resting places of dear loved ones.
Staring at several topless graves, the former winger, now a member of the coaching staff of the national soccer team, Lone Star, remarked, “What kind of country we live in so?”
Kojo could not accept the reality that so many graves had been ransacked, steel rods rooted out from them, remains of the dead dumped out of caskets and caskets sold to buyers, and the unfortunate result that emotions are naturally suppressed.
“My mother’s grave,” a young man pointed out to the Daily Observer, “is standing because after it was broken into, we decided to fill the tomb with rocks.”
“This is like a memorial to my mother,” he said.
But among the hundreds attempting to right the wrongs, were a number of young people whose duty was to volunteer to help visitors clean and paint what was left of their loved ones’ graves.
Samuel Howard, in his thirties, told the Daily Observer, “I am here to paint, brush and reprint names on still standing graves for a fee.” He said he earns LD100 per grave.
“Many people came here to see their peoples’ graves,” Howard said, “but when they came and saw the destruction done to them they went away deeply disappointed, distressed and sorrowful.”
John Tarpeh, 18, a student of New Kru Town’s Juah Sarweh Elementary and Jr High School, also came to clean to earn some income.
“I whitewash a grave and clean around it for LD100,” he said, with a smile. The Daily Observer observed several police officers positioned at specific areas outside the cemetery.
“As you can see, we are from the Monrovia City Corporation,” said another young man, who directed visitors to wash their hands before entering the cemetery. “We are here to make sure that Ebola preventive protocols are respected.”
The question that Lone Star coach, Thomas Kojo, asked as he viewed the vandalized, empty graves at Palm Grove yesterday, “What kind of country we live in so?” is a question that all Liberians need to ponder seriously. For as one bystander asked, “If we treat the dead who can do us no harm like that, how are we in this country treating the living—ourselves?”