Let’s Teach Our Children Our Languages, and Let Our Culture Bloom

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A prominent Liberian, who hails from Bomi County, has sounded a very serious warning about the imminent extinction (disappearance, death) of one of Liberia’s oldest indigenous languages, Gola.  He sounded this terrible warning simply because, according to him, Gola parents and grandparents are NOT teaching their children the language—not even in the villages.

Our Reporter, Alvin Worzi, in his great story, Gola Language in Danger of Extinction,” published in yesterday’s Daily Observer, captured this visionary warning about the Gola language not from a program on Liberian linguistics.  No, the statement was made at a program held for the historic launching the New Testament in Gola, held in Bomi’s capital, Tubmanburg.

Reporter Worzi could well have chosen for his lead the launching of the New Testament in Gola, and he would have been on point, for that was the primary purpose of the whole program.  But  Worzi proved himself an exceptional journalist because he went beyond the call of duty, to expose to Daily Observer readers and the world what he felt was a far more critical and serious theme—the imminent extinction of a whole Liberian language, one of the nation’s oldest, Gola.

“The characters used in the translation for the translation,” the story said, “are International Phonetic Alphabet symbols, which help to form the intricate consonant and vowel sounds that are normally found in Gola and other Liberian languages, but not in English.”

Dr. Norman praised the Bible Society of Liberia (BSOF) “which served as chief sponsor of the translation and played a pivotal role in the realization of the New Testament in Gola for the Christian community in Liberia and the world at large.”

We highly commend the BSOF for this great initiative, giving us, for the first time, the New Testament in Gola!  For a number of years the Stanton Peabody Library at the Daily Observer headquarters at the ELWA Junction has stocked the New Testament in 11 Liberian languages, but not Gola.

Why did we decide over 15 years ago to carry the New Testament in Liberian indigenous languages?  Because we strongly believe in upholding and sustaining the integrity and perpetuity of Liberian languages—and what better way to do so than through the Holy Bible!  And once we discovered the New Testament in these 11 Liberian languages—Bassa, Belleh, Gbandi, Grebo, Kissi, Kpelle, Krahn, Kru, Lorma, Mano, Vai—we rushed to the Bible Society Book Store in Sinkor, Monrovia to purchase them all and made them an important part of our collection.  Now we have the New Testament in the 12th Liberian language—Gola!

Dr. Zobong Norman is not the first Liberian to sound a warning about the creeping extinction of Liberian languages.  For years we at the Daily Observer have been sounding this warning.  At one point, we made it clear that if we continued to deprive our children of the knowledge of speaking Liberian languages, they would lose their culture, because languages are the bearers of culture.  Alas, there are today many leading Liberian intellectuals and thousands of ordinary Liberian folk who cannot speak their native tongues.

We pray for more and more of those grand aunts and grandmothers who labor to teach their children’s children their languages!

In 1966 the Liberian National Students Union (LINSU) held its Congress at the University of Liberia.  The keynote speaker was the Secretary of Education, G. Flamma Sherman.  One of the great things recalled from that speech was his narration of how the Roman Catholic priests at St. Peter Claver School in Buchanan “told our parents NOT to permit us, their children, to speak Bassa in the home because if we did, we would not be able to learn English!”

So Mr. Sherman narrated that he and his siblings had to hide to speak Bassa at home!

One of the most important Resolutions from that 1966 LINSU Congress was a call on the Liberian government to teach Liberian languages in all elementary and high schools throughout the country.  The Congress suggested, for example, that students in Cape Mount should learn Vai; those in Maryland, Grebo, those in Sinoe, Kru and those in Bong, Kpelle, and so on.

When the resolution was presented to President W.V.S. Tubman, he immediately shot it down by saying, “that would be divisive.”  And so that was the end of that resolution.

Here we are today, with so many of our talented young people not being able to speak their indigenous languages. When the same President Tubman established the National Cultural Center at Kendeja in 1962, there were 16 huts of the 16 major Liberian tribes, working together in peace and harmony and practicing all the linguistic, cultural and acrobatic manifestations (displays, expressions, exhibitions) of them all.

We appeal to the George Weah government to reopen the National Cultural Center somewhere in Gola country—either in Dimeh, ancestral home of cultural icon Bai T. Moore, or in Beh Sao, left of the Bomi Highway, where a lot of cultural activities are taking place.

Thank you, Dr. Zobong Norman, and your coworkers, and the Bible Society of Liberia, for this great initiative, publishing the New Testament in Gola, and also, thankfully, reminding us of the importance of learning to speak our precious indigenous languages.  Liberians, let’s teach our children our languages and uphold and revitalize the integrity of Liberian culture.

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