Lee University’s Splendid Example in Cultural Anthropology

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In our Editorial last Friday, we called on historians, journalists, scientists and students of anthropology and sociology to come forward and undertake research into the lives, history, habitat and upbringing of the two oldest Liberians recently discovered in our country.

They are Madam Klayonoh Bleorplue, who claims she was born in 1863 when Daniel Bashiel Warner was President of Liberia, and Alhaji M. Kamara, whose year of birth, he said, was 1884, during the presidency of Hilary Richard Wright Johnson.

Many of the Observer’s online readers rejected these ages, saying they are exaggerated, fictitious and imaginary. That may be true. But how do we know? Here, we surely felt, and still do, is a great opportunity for our anthropologists, herbalists, historians, journalists, scientists and sociologists to get to work and undertake serious research to determine the veracity of these genealogical claims by Madam Bleorplue and Alhaji Kamara.

That this is feasible and a good idea was illustrated last month by Dr. Carolyn Dirksen, Director of Lee University’s Center of Excellence and her team of anthropology students. The University is located in Cleveland, Tennessee, United States of America.

Dr. Dirksen in May led her anthropology students to Liberia to research the distress caused by 14 years of civil war and the Ebola pandemic. Their method of research was collecting survival stories and interviewing inmates and staff of the Phebe Gray Orphanage on Robertsfield Highway and studying a traditional rural village. “The cultural experience of the civil war and disease were made a reality to the students in a number of ways,” said a report prepared for newspaper publication. The group was housed in the guest quarters of Samaritan Purse treatment facility at Paynesville’s ELWA Hospital, where they interviewed doctors and other staff.

“At the orphanage,” the report continued, “the students interviewed staff and inmates and learned how, during the [Ebola] epidemic, every minute of every day was a matter of prayer, faith and taking special precautions of washing hands, washing and more washing.”

In the bush village, said the Lee Univ. report, the goal was ethnographic research, understanding the way of life of a bush village by spending time with elders, youth and experiencing daily life.

Oh, if our universities and even some of our better high schools could develop such a passion for investigative research into the things that matter in our country—its culture, history and the particular challenges facing us, such as the effects of the civil war and Ebola!

How many Liberians have written in depth about the civil war and its impact on our lives, our culture, history and anything else? We remember that one of the collections acquired by the Daily Observer’s Stanton B. Peabody Library is a book written by one of the Observer’s own Gabriel I. H. Williams, who joined the newspaper staff right out of D. Twe High School in 1983. The book is entitled ‘Liberia, the Heart of Darkness.’

What the initiative of Lee University’s professors and students has done for us at the Observer is to enhance our vision of the immense possibilities of research in our country. That is precisely why we have called in last Friday’s Editorial for serious research into the lives of these two of our eldest citizens,
Madam Klayonoh Bleorplue and Alhaji Kamara.

We hope, pray and trust that somebody, some university, some group will take up the challenge and begin the investigative research into the lives of these centenarians. May God bless them with continued long life until this scholarly undertaking is done. It will teach us a lot about ourselves and our country.

The Daily Observer, in collaboration with our partners at The Inquirer newspaper, will begin, by conducting in depth interviews with them, their children and the people around them, this worthy challenge in ethnographic, genealogical and historical research.

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