The May 18 edition of the Daily Observer paid tributes to three of Liberian History writers whose names now lie in history. They are Nigerian-born Dr. Igolima Amacree, Guinean-born Dr. Alpha Bah and American-born Dr. Svend Holsoe. The emphasis placed on these men’s works is not meant to glorify them as the best writers among all, but to stress the significance of their work to the Liberian society.
History as the focus of this Editorial plays key roles in nation building, sustaining culture and unity, and kindling the spirit of patriotism. In the Liberian school system, most students define History as, “The written record of past events.” This short clause has a lot of meaning as to why we study History. History helps us understand change and how the society we live in came to be.
History is also an inescapable subject of serious study. The past causes the present, and so the future (American Historical Association).
History also provides identity, contributes to moral understanding and good citizenship (Peter N. Stearns). Another commentator, Pearl Buck, said “If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.”
Why lay these premises in support of the significance of History to society? Liberia has many young and old people who do not know Liberian History. As a result of lack of knowledge of our history, you will note that our identities are hardly known; whether or not we are Africans. In fact, writing our history has been a difficult task. Either interested writers will not have the financial capacity to publish, or they will be biased to praise one group of people and demonize another. History is meant to give people the direction to recognize where they fell short and how they can correct their past mistakes to prepare for the future. But as Liberia stands without a comprehensive volume of history, the younger generation has no knowledge about what makes them Liberian. Why should they be proud of their country and what it means to preserve their culture? How, then, do we prepare for our future in the absence of history? Unfortunately, our National Archives building is lacking in the collection of artifacts and other important historical documents. In his Tribute to Dr. Svend Holsoe, who recently passed, Liberian historian Dr. Elwood Dunn feared that the Holsoe historical collection on Liberia “may contain the only surviving copies of important Liberian state papers and historical and cultural documents.”
Without readily available historical and cultural documents and artifacts, how do people trace their history and culture with appreciation and gratitude? You will recall that all children born from the 1980s up to 2000, including many elderly, have no knowledge about the civil conflict that took place in this country because no history is being published about it.
In our Editorial last Thursday, we suggested that the Liberian government or one or two of our universities, for example the University of Liberia an Cuttington University, could take the initiative to negotiate with Indiana University to obtain copies of the Holsoe collection and make them available right here in Liberia.
There is something unique to learn about the United States of America. A tour guide leading African journalists in Washington, D.C. said, “United States is built on history, and by our history we are able to direct our socio-economic development path.” Because of the importance of history to the Americans, he noted, everyone that played certain roles in that society is remembered by a statue. For that, you will see statutes in almost all cities in the United States. This historical pattern, he said, motivates Americans to do the best they can so that society will remember them. That is exactly what the Class of 1959 of the Booker Washington Institute (BWI) did in erecting on their campus a statue of R. Vanjah Richards (BWI Class of ‘52), Liberia’s most celebrated sculptor.
An African proverb says, “Until lions have their historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunters.” A commentator, Thomas Carlyle, also said, “History is a mighty dramos, enacted upon the theatre of times, with suns for lamps and eternity for a background.” Without history a country cannot easily direct its step or plan its future.
More simply put, how can we know who we are or where we are going, if we do not know where we come from? Let the Government of Liberia provide a budget to hire independent writers to write the History of Liberia in order to help Liberians to know themselves, appreciate their culture and history, and build the spirit of patriotism.