Joseph Saye Guanue

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By Henry M. Mamulu, student and eye witness.

One of the things I am accused of is that I seem to never want to grow up. “A Long Summer Running.” It is a strength, not a weakness. But in a city like Me, Myself and I, where we begin to be big boys as soon as we put on long pants and girls become women long before their tay-tay can grow, that strength can keep you unemployed.

You see, it is about appearances. Appearing to be doing something instead of actually doing it is what is important in Me, Myself and I.

I remember the names of my first grade classmates at Saint Patrick’s Elementary in 1961-62 more keenly than I remember my 12th Grade classmates at Saint Patrick’s High School. Perhaps it was because we were the first generation of students who were vaccinated with the new, shining, gun-like instrument introduced by Public Health at the end of 1961. It replaced the straight pin that they stuck me with 22 times in 1960-1961. Believe me, I counted. That straight pin made one helliber sore on my arm that I can never forget. And the fever! You remember the scar it left?

Or perhaps I remember all those boys from 1961 and ‘62 because they introduced me to ‘Mame Open Wide, Put the Pepper’. Or it could be because we all were traumatized by drilling in Pupu Platoon and booting (my man, we could not say ‘butt’ in our house, you said ‘hind’) on ourselves or it could be because of Joseph Saye Guanu, The Terrorist.

The Principal of Saint Patrick’s Elementary was Father John O’Donavan. I don’t remember much except that he introduced Nonfat Dry Milk to the school which became the stimulus behind Pupu Platoon. Occasionally, he gave us chocolates that I want to believe was provided also by the Americans. Back then, every good thing that became bad for us apparently came from America as opposed to China and India these days.

Two Liberian Teachers ran the school, John Tweh whom we called “Teacher Tweh” or “Chay Pay Chay” and Joseph Saye Guanue, “Teacher Guanu”.

During those early years, even in Kru Boys School, as Saint Patrick’s Elementary was dubbed, we did not have or know any Krahn students — or rather no one identified himself as such. The warriors that we feared were the Grebo warriors. The tribe most respected by the Monrovia establishment, the Kru tribe.

It was not until that other do-nothing President Tubman built Zwedru Multilateral and Teacher Chay Pay Chay went to teach there that we started to suspect that he really was not Kru.

As the girls can say on the movie set, “the secret leaked out” in 1980.  John Tweh became Krahn, as did Edwin Zeelee; Salee Diggs became Salee Thompson and G. Alvin Jones who lived with Father E. George King became Gao Jones. So here we got one Teacher who was Krahn and the other Gio. Things that make you go Hmmm!!

Both Teacher Chay Pay Chay and Teacher Guanue beat us like slaves on the plantation. Instead of Kru Boy School, Saint Patrick’s Elementary should be remembered as “my slave years” or “six years a slave”.  You see they had permission to discipline us as they saw fit. They were instructed to prepare us for the future.

It was my Congo Mammie, Teacher Ora Dennis who married the Madinka man Teacher Moses Mamulu and had Vivian, Judy, Maggie, Boikai and Mr. Red Head Henry, who brought the damned rattan to school and gave it to Tweh and Guanue. Then when the “heathen raged and imagined a vain thing,” they said “the tender mercy of the heathen is…” However, I got to gave it to Teacher Chay Pay Chay . Every Friday he took us into the church (away from the trauma) and taught us songs, songs I remember today.

Later on during the war they say one man was cutting another man’s neck and telling him none-mind-yah, as he cut his neck from the back.

Teacher Guanue on the other hand never sang or smiled for that matter and seemed to take it all personally. I was made to feel that his only joy came from brutalizing us, but particularly the Congo children even though he actually was an equal opportunity sadist.

Teacher Guanue was handsome, neat and very sharp. He was articulate and that was inspiring in itself. John Tweh was light-skinned, had a big nose and small beady eyes. He appeared to have a secret and was not going to tell. Teacher Guanue, on the other hand, had nothing to hide. He was in your face or flesh all the time.

Here are the names of the brave warriors who scuffered (that’s a Congo term) as opposed to suffered at the hands of the “raging heathens who imagined a vain thing”.  In previous writings we described a heathen as not an indigenous, but a person so bent on carrying out his agenda he had no place for a compromise.

Crispin Jones, Michael Itoka, Julius Weeks (son of Rocheforte who got pulled out of the school after being Guanuerized by Teacher Guanue), Michael Wilson, Phillip Cummings, Robert Cole, Augustine Myers (Sapkah Myers’ big brother), Anthony Gray, Ralph and Anthony Taplah, Eric and Samuel Davies, Nathaniel “solo Baby” Brownell, Alexander Montgomery (his father had tailor shop in front of Heinz and Maria), Mozart Bernard (pronounced Musa), Hans Massaquoi,  Christopher Sirleaf, Harry Gargar, Sylvester Blibo, Wibur Kesselly, George Morris, Gregory Johnson, James Sirleaf, Ian Yhap (got rescued when he was sent to Ricks), Gerald Richards’ big brother, Hamilton Jones, Reynold Stubblefield (could play football) and Pickney King. I kept Pickney for last because Joseph Saye Guanue beat that child unmercifully. It seemed as if Pickney was the embodiment of all Saye hated about the Congo people even back then and he was going to snuff it out before it grew any stronger.

Pickney lived on Newport Street across from the Group of Seventy-Seven and next to Total Gas Station. His father Pickney King Sr. drove an old truck. He was a farmer and did not work in government at this time. Perhaps he was rich but it did not show. He had sent his sons Pickney and Derrick to England and they returned to Monrovia by 1960 or so. In those days it rained for two weeks straight and there was nothing, absolutely nothing to keep one dry going to or coming from school, except maybe a car.

Well Mr. King had his old truck and Pickney had come from England. Coupled with the fact he was not really good at history, which was Saye Guanue’s area and spelling, could also be the reasons WHY Teacher Guanue’s apparent quest to exterminate, purge and rid Liberia once and for all of the Congo menace represented by Pickney, it would seem.

One week the rains just poured and poured. By Friday everybody in first grade had fresh cold and their book bags were soaking wet. We saw Teacher Guanue’s shadow come down the hall. John Tweh had just left after taking his pound of flesh and now entered the Main Bad Man in the show, Teacher Guanue.  The guy was bad like a war show.

It was like the end of days. I remembered clearly the wailing and gnashing of teeth. Every breath one took produced a fresh snot bubble. As we inhaled, snot bubbles went in and as we exhaled, snot bubbles came out. We whimpered and silently called out for our Pa to come help us. We were at Kru Boy School and the slave masters owned us, lock stock and barrel.

So by Thursday we were wet like drowning rats and sick like cats left out in the rain. Those days no one stayed home because they had cold. What one did was share it with your class mates. So there we were, every nose running green snot and entered Pickney Jr. King. My man took off his rain boots and it smelled like something had died in it. We knew that was cause for a beating but Jr. King did not.

Teacher Guanue was making one of his scary rounds and smelled the funk. He asked “what’s stinking in here?” Who was fool to answer, Jr. King! “That my boots,” the slave replied to the slave master, Simon Legre, you know the character from Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Simon Legre Guanue responded with a nasty slap. Jr. King did not cry but got off the floor looking bewildered as to the reason for the whack. Jr. said again “but that my boots!!” And that’s what sent Joseph Simon Legre Guanue over the top.

That man started whipping Pickney in front of us. Some students peepeed, some cried, all made snort bubbles but were all petrified into immobility.

When they say dying man strong, that not lie. Jr. King broke away and jumped out the window. He ran as if chased by the hounds from hell straight down Newport Street to his Pa house. The green snot, now mixed with the blood and looked like Monrovia Rock when it now melt, was all over his shirt. As for us and Joseph Saye Simon Legre Guanue we all knew there was going to be retributions. Mr. King Sr. had the reputation of being one of those “Razor Bottom My Shoe” Congos who also was a gun-toting, all-night-hell-raising of a fellow. The stage was set for the preamble of the Civil War.

Through the eyes of faith — wait now, when your Pastor says it you can believe oh but now you want to question my faith? I saw everyone in that class get up at three thirty (who could sleep) for the show about to unfold at Kru Boy School. Me-pah, Six o’clock I was out the door and ran on barracks road pass ATS, heading for Kru Boy School. I got there and my first-grade class was already assembled for the Pledge of Allegiance.

Then we heard Old Man King’s “duazeh” (“old car” another Congo term) coming. Teacher Guanue swallowed his first spit. Old Man King drove in front of Saint Patrick’s Elementary and true to his reputation jumped out the car before it hit full stop. He was on Teacher Guanue like a leopard on a hapless deer. First grade exploded into cheers as Teacher Guanue’s whipping at the hands of Pickney King Sr. began. Father O’Donavan ran around like his gown was on fire trying to restore order but we cheered our Champion Pickney Mohammed Ali King on. Teacher Guanue was rescued by Teacher James Bernard another whipper who whipped me until my back got purple. I went home and Sis. Ora wanted to whip me again. When they took off my shirt and saw my red back all purple she broke down and cried.

Well, order was restored, our liberator at least for one day got back into his truck and we went to class.

That night no one in First Grade did his homework. It was Thursday. So, Friday we got homework again and no one did anything for the weekend. Monday, we got to school and Fr. O ‘Donavan had arranged a program and had the Nuns from the Convent there also. If Kru Boy School had order, then Convent with Clara Doe, Clara Tunney, Judith Mamulu, Olga Hash, and Sonia Burrows would have had order too. First Grade was marched up on stage and whipped for not doing homework. A public execution of sorts. So, come 1980 and they played “we want to know who owned the land”, I smiled. Joseph Saye Guanue had already prepared me for the reality of the day. Therefore, I want to thank him and Teacher Chay Pay Chay for the good work that they did preparing us for the brave, new future of Liberia.

Happy 26 and I hope and pray that we get our independence someday!!!

Thanks, Sirs!

Authors

31 COMMENTS

  1. What a humorous and factual account of our elementary school experience. Because of all the whippings, many of us have tried to block those memories. Glad you are still around Professor Mamulu, to let us know that it was not all bad. Thank you.

  2. Lu don’t mean to be a spoiler but I’ve got to correct you here Gao Jones did not live with Fr. King. Dad and Mr. Jones were close as they both worked for the Episcopal Church. Gao Jones was the treasurer for the Diocese. In fact that’s how i got to know Mr. Jones from going with Dad sometimes to the office. He was always friendly. I last spoke with him when mum passed in March.

    • E George. How are you brother. Well we saw him there every day and thought he lived there. He used to be there early in the mornings.Henry

  3. A child develops certain desires and drives as a result of the situations he passes through earlier in his life. The child then develops certain personality traits that enables him to satisfy these drives. I’m just saying…

  4. Happy 26th Sir.
    You’ve got me “laffing” tears early this morning. Kind of comparing the Joseph Saye Guannue I knew on Cuttington in the mid 80’s and the one you featured in your 60’s memoir…except for one thing though…his passion for history.

    Great read Sir.

    • Well Sam. I did mention that he was a great teacher. Always neat and handsome. He did prepare us for the future

  5. My fellow Jr. Temptation, thanks for sharing your story. never knew what went on in that school or part of town at that time. Spent my early years on Ricks and C.D. B. King before attending St. Patrick’s High School and in my senior year, B. W. Harris. Some of the things you described seem nightmarish.

  6. LU you left out me out, I can now say it was the fear of chap pay chap that i repeted first grade. He was a devil in disguise. Great read.

  7. Happy two-six Luu. I enjoyed reading your piece; the style is entertaining. I should add that although it is safe to read at work, I advise that one should not start reading if, one is busy; I could not stop reading ’till the end. Keep up the good work Brother. Cheers.

  8. Wow! Henry, I enjoyed this story extremely well – so humorous and descriptive of the times. Keep up the writing and thanks for sharing. – Milton

  9. Hey Lou, you brought back sweet memories from St. Patrick’s Elementary School. The brothers that you mentioned in your article were all gone when we enrolled at St. Patrick’s elementary, you were all our senior. We became the new whipping victims of Teacher Pepper, Scott and the rest of the disciplinarian crew. They beat us for everything. We remained at St Patrick’s Elementary until the Bernadine Sisters arrived to run Cathedral. We, the students practically built the new Sacred Heart Cathedral; we were the “Day Laborers”. We graduated and enrolled at St. Patrick’s High School in 1973. You, my elder brother Michael Itoka and Phillip Cummings over the years has fostered a bond of friendship and brotherhood up till this day for which I really admired. We emulated a lot from you all for directions in life and today we are so appreciative of your guidance and support. The great Lou. Thanks for sharing this wonderful piece of history. Peace my brother!

  10. A very captivating and funny read Lu, as only you could have written it!!! Had me laughing hard at work. Thanks for sharing this with the world. I forwarded it to my kids to read and get an insight what elementary school was like in Liberia. You’re right that it surely was a preparation for the world as it is today. I’m not sure if most kids today can look back and be so appreciative of such tough upbringing.

  11. Lu – very funny. I love the content, but disagreed with the context.
    Please do more of this to give us (young generation) windows of yesteryears.
    By the way, thank god I graduated from high school in 1992.

  12. Henry, what a vivid memory of “the good, the bad, and the ugly” days at the defunct “St. Patrick’s Elementary School”: the precursor to Cathedral High School that was situated near the old Government Hospital.

    St. Patrick’s Elementary at that time was a “no nonsense notorious boot camp” that prepared students to enter St. Patrick’s High School. Yes indeed, there were some teachers at that school (boot camp) that put fear into students: most especially those considered the “bad boys”. I remembered vividly how some boys in the 4th, 5th and 6th grades would run all the way to chase young girls at the nearby B.W. Harris Elementary School and then tried to run back before recess was over…only to get caught getting back late when recess was over.

    There was always a police woman at the school entrance (near the Principal’s office) waiting to catch someone breaking the school rules…I think her name was Mrs. Brumskin or so. It was a long time ago. I have forgotten a lot because I left the school after the 4th grade for Sweden with my foster parents, who worked for LAMCO. It was a year after the Benedictine nuns took over the school.

    During my short stay (4 years) at St. Patrick’s Elementary, I was so afraid of Teacher Guanue (the man that never smiles); Teacher Pepper (the mad Nigerian); and Chay Pay Chay (the man with the cane). I was very quiet and hardly spoke out of fear because I did not want the walking cane (rattan) on my back or buttocks. It seemed students got whipped for every little nuisance that went on at the school.

    Over fifty years, I’m retired. I’ve always wondered what happened to some of those popular boys from St. Patrick”s Elementary School? There was a goal keeper called, Charles Wordsworth (CooCoo); the football player (Joseph Nippy..Forkay); the choir director, (Wibur Kesselly); the well-dressed boy, (Sekou Selah); the guitar player, (Jimmy Yhap/ his brother Ian Yhap); and so many that I just can’t remember their names)?

    Also, I hate those days when we had to dress up on flag days just to be put in the infamous “poo-poo platoon line’” just to get soaking wet. Also, the “Non-Fat- Dried Milk” the school gave us made it very difficult to march (with running stomachs)all day in the soaking Monrovia rain. I also remember the funny looking brown rice the school gave us called “Bucker Wheat”…it tasted like rubber.

    Some of my favorite teachers I remember were Mrs. Scott (Martin Scott’s Mother); Mrs. Stewart (John T. Stewart’s Mother); and the Benedictine Nuns: Sister Rose Grabriel, Sister Mary Lauren and others that took over the school.

    Yes indeed, I remember my favorite “Mamie put the pepper”. That “hot collard” was a good relief after all the whipping in the notorious boot camp “St. Patrick’s Elementary School. Nevertheless, St.Patrick’s Elementary School disciplined us to be good citizens by all means necessary!!!!! LOL

    Henry Mamulu, you may not know me, but thanks for the old memory! May God bless Liberia. I wish all Liberians a peaceful and fair election! Liberians, Please Vote Wisely !!!!

  13. Henry, my first best friend at St Patrick’s Elementary school, I see now why you were special to me. Your wit, even back then was sharp and relentless. This memoir, just forwarded to me by my younger brother Alex, brought instant nostalgia of bygone days. Ian Yhap is correct about many of us blocking those wicked memories from that period. They were akin to Oliver Twist at the orphanage asking “more please sir.”

    My fondest memory was that having twenty five cents made you a big man for a day. That was because you were able to buy luncheon meat and five cents bread. But if your financial status was only fifteen cents you were still regaled cause you could buy a tin of sardines (with those little hot peppers)and three cent bread. At recess we ventured to that little shop opposite the school in the direction of and near Broad Street. The little shop was recessed from street level and and I wonder how come none of us broke a bone venturing down the drop to the shop in hopes that our broke ass would find a kind hearted class or school at willing to share a piece of his prized lunch!

    My worse memory was when we were about to take a test and out test sheets were passed out face down and I made the lethal mistake of turning it over before being told to do do. In an instant my back was assaulted by rattan (a wicked instrument used for chastisement) which produced never before experienced pain that made me squirm in total anguish. As soon as the pain subsided, I recall being totally embarrassed in front of my peers. Yes Henry and Michael, my two best friends at St Patrick’s Elementary, those were the days of Hell, we thought they’d never end …

    And talking about them Kru boys … How well I recall the fear instilled in me by the Julu brothers. Dennis was purported to be a warrior that could TKO anybody in the first few seconds of a fight. I lived in fear that one day, I would cross him and lose all my front teeth!

    Henry thanks so much for sharing that recollection. It put a smile on my face that will carry me through today.

    Best regards from mile high Denver, Colorado where I am visiting my daughter Pepper who just moved here from the DMV metropolis. How time flies! I can’t wait to see you in the flesh someday soon.

    We got lots of catching up to do …

    Warmly,

    “Juli” Weeks!!!

  14. Mr. OBSERVER: WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT VP BOIKAI AND HIS CANDIDACY FOR PRESIDENT OF LIBERIA? I THINK HE SHOULD NOT BE RUNNING. HE IS NOT QUALIFY TO REPRESENT LIBERIA ON THE GLOBAL STAGE. WHY LIBERIA IS NOT TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE WTO? LIBERIA IS TOO SMALL TO HAVE VILLAGES. BOIKAI IS IN THE WAY AS THE LAST ENEMY TRYING TO STOP THE re-EMERGENCE OF THE BASSA KINGDOM. THERE’S NO LANDMARK NAMED AFTER THE LATE KING PETER, KING FREEMAN & OLD KING GEORGE. DO YOU KNOW WHY? Concealment of evidence that the Bassa Kingdom existed. One last question: Where is the school for LIBERIAN GIRLS that MICHELLE OBAMA gave $27,000,000.00 for?

  15. My class preceeded the class of which you write by a few years Henry, but Chay Pay Chay was there and in my last year at St. Patricks Elementary School Joseph Say Guannue arrived. This man beat us. It was that simple. And if you were Congo or perceived to be he beat you more. I have never forgotten his crulity. I have come across him several times over the years, and he has no recollection of me; pobably the same for the other students who suffered in his hand.

  16. Joseph Saye Guanue might have been a terror to you as a first grader, but I am happy you ended the story saying that he “prepared (you) for the reality of the day .. and thank(ed) him and Teacher (Tweh) for the good work in preparing us for the brave, new future of Liberia.”

    There are two things I remember Dr. Guanue most for. First, being one of Liberia’s most imminent historians and his love for the subject. But more so, because he saved my life.

    Thirty-one years ago, he pulled me unconscious out of a wreck near Johnsonville, at the brink of death, put me in the back of his pickup and drove straight to Catholic Hospital. He did not care who it was, but was simply being a good Samaritan. Showing that he cared for everyone!

    I remained at Catholic Hospital for months, enduring operations, recovery and physical therapy. I dare say that if this happened now in Liberia, I would be dead. Had we heeded some of Dr. Guannue’s history lessons, maybe our health care would not be so messed up!

  17. The Lu….thanks again for the great read!! You guys really paid the price and paved the road for us. By the time we (Stephen Koffa, Wiefueh Sayeh, Abraham Kromah, George Gbenyon, etc) arrived circa ’67 – 68, the transition from St. Patrick’s Elementary to Cathedral was almost completed. We had one year of Teacher Pepper, the Nigerian and his wicked rattan, but soon that was over when corporal punishment was banned by Sister Mary Bernadine.

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