The Troubled Liberia: A Liberian Tragedy


By Siahyonkron Nyanseor



The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
February 14, 2005

There is a proverb in the Yoruba Language of Nigeria that says, “If a person has made up his mind not to see the TRUTH, nothing can wake him to it”. The Troubled Liberia tells of such people in the Liberian society. The Troubled Liberia is a tragedy in which an indigenous Liberian woman found herself. This tragedy is the result of a century and a half old social conflict between the settlers (freed slaves from North America and the Africans who they met in present day Liberia).

How did it get started? Based on recorded accounts, the class system introduced by the Americo Liberians “…fostered ethnic hatred among the Liberian people. Years before independence, the Liberian colony passed a law which placed indigenous African children with settlers who came to live in the colony in servitude. The law stipulated that, ‘... no native youth under the age of eighteen shall be allowed to dwell in the families of colonists without being bound for a specified term of years according to the rules prescribed in an act concerning apprentices.’" This law was in complete contradiction to the colonial constitution which forbid servitude in Liberia. Samuel Williams, an African-American who attempted to start a lumber business in Liberia in the 1860s, said the following about the mistreatment of indigenous Liberians at the hands of repatriated Liberians, "They take advantage of the natives and by so doing injure the cause of Christ". Commenting on the ill-treatment received by the "Congos," John Seys, who served as United States Agent for recaptured Africans, said: "That there have been some cases of wrong and oppression and neglect on one part, and ingratitude and treachery on the other, must be admitted. Not every citizen of Liberia has done his duty to these adopted children of the Republic. Some deny them even the few hours per diem to attend school and improve their minds. There have been those who have ill-treated them in other ways."(Bird’s View of Liberian History and Government

Ma Korlu as this indigenous woman is known, is a victim of these two distinct and opposing cultures. The settlers considered their culture or way of life superior to that of the Africans. The Africans on the other hand, fought with whatever they had to resist the condemnation and imposition of a culture they could not understand nor relate to. Although, The Troubled Liberia is a fictional story, many Liberians can relate to it.

Ma Korlu’s problem began when she begot two sons; the first son, George F. Washington was born as a result of a one-night affair she had with former District Commission Joseph Jenkins Washington when she was 13 years old. George’s younger brother, Gbamokollie Yarkpawolo was an offspring of Mr. Kollie Yarkpawolo, the man she married, later on. Mr. Yarkpawolo worked as a Warehouse Clerk in Harbel, Firestone. Commission Washington is a descendent of the settlers, while Mr. Yarkpawolo is a member of the largest ethnic group in Liberia, the Kpelle.

Due to the way Ma Korlu was socialized, she treated George “very special” because as she puts it, “George’s father is Kwii”. On the other hand, she related to Gbamokollie as if he was a servant in their household. She showered praises and anything associated with good upon George, while poor Gbamokollie was always reminded that “no good will ever become of him.

George became intoxicated with his Kwii side of his family to the point that, he refused to be called by his name - Flomo, the name given to him by his uncle, his mother’s older brother, Corporal Flomo in the AFL (Armed Forces of Liberia). George did not like the Flomo name. He only use the initial “F”; and when asked what the “F” stands for, his usual response was - “Frances”.

At an early age the siblings parted company. George in Liberian social arrangement is an "outside child". However, he was elevated to an "inside child" position, because his father's wife was unable to bear a child of her own. Therefore, when George came to live with them, Mrs. Mary Ann Washington took him as if he was her own. Joseph and Mary Ann taught him to distance himself from his native culture because they claimed, “it was a backward and primitive culture”. George was always reminded that his mother's people were “country people”, and that he was better off because of his civilized upbringing. He was told never to use the Flomo name that his mother’s brother gave him nor ever speak the Kpelle language of his mother. It got to the point where George was ashamed to be seen with his mother and his younger brother Gbamokollie.

As for Gbamokollie Yarkpawolo, he went to live with his father Zaza Yarkpawolo in Firestone. In Firestone, the house in which Zaza lived had only two bedrooms for a family of eight, Zaza, his two wives, one of whom was Gbamokollie’s mother and five of his “half brothers and sisters”. With Gbamokollie, they were nine in a two-room family house built by the Firestone Plantation Company for the Liberian workers.

In an attempt to prevent palaver from occurring between Gbamokollie and his other family members; Zaza decided to give Gbamokollie up as ward to Mr. & Mrs. Andrew Jefferson Jackson of Sinkor, Old Road. The Jackson's treated Gbamokollie as if he was a hired hand or a slave. Gbamokollie slept in the house located in the backyard, and he attended evening school. Gbamokollie’s chores consisted of: hauling water from the Government Toilet, buying food from the General Market, assisting with the preparation of food, washing clothes, caring for babyboy Andrew, and running errands. Whenever Gbamokollie was unable to complete these chores, his punishment was to stay home from school. After a while, Gbamokollie got fed up, he ran away to stay with his uncle Corporal Flomo in the solider barracks at BTC (Barclay Training Center). As fate would have it, Gbamokollie and George would one day meet under an unusual circumstance.

When the 1980 coup took place, George was arrested in Bong County because of his nasty disposition towards the local people in the county. At his place of work, he never associated with those he considered “Country People”. So when the coup took place, the people he had ill-treated in the past, went to search for him. When they arrived at his house, the houseboy showed them where he was hiding - under the bed.

When they got him from under the bed, he pleaded with them, “Please don’t kill me,” I am Flomo, the brother of Gbamokollie Yarkpawolo, our mother is Ma Korlu; she lives in Firestone. You got to believe me! In fact, I heard that my junior brother Gbamokollie Yarkpawolo is part of the revolution. Please find him for me, he will confirm my story”. At that point, George was asked to speak Kpelle. One of the child soldiers, who was known as General “Sea Never Dry” said to George, “If you want us to believe that General Gbamokollie Yarkpawolo is your brother, than greet me in Kpelle”. George response was, “I can hear Kpelle small, small but I can’t speak it”. “My man the big rusty man is lying, let’s waste him”, said another child soldier who was no more than ten years of age. George began to cry out loud and louder, calling his mother and brother’s names, “My Ma Korlu, my small brother Gbamokollie, they will kill me for nothing, oh! they will kill me for nothing, oh! O God, please send my brother Gbamokollie Yarkpawolo this way. Please find my brother Gbamokollie, I beg you God!”

At that very moment, General Gbamokollie Yarkpawolo stopped by to see what was going on. General Sea Never Dry said to him, “We caught that big Pa Pay who is crying over there (pointing in the direction of George) for the way he bad mouthed country people in the past; and when we were about to waste (execute) him, he said his name is Flomo, and that his mother is one Ma Korlu, and that you are his small brother”.

Upon hearing the news, “General Yarkpawolo said, if that’s that proud and selfish human being than he is nobody else but my big mouth brother who abandoned me and my mother.” Go bring him to me right away!

When George saw his brother he was more than happy. He started off by saying, “That’s him, that’s him, that’s my brother I was talking about - Gbamokollie Yarkpawolo; I told you so! I told you so! Gbamokollie then asked”. “How do you know that I am your brother when you have not seen me in 20 years?” “Oh! Gbamokollie stop that”, George insisted. Right then, General Sea Never Dry intervened, “You man, you better your mouth! You better address the general as General Yarkpawolo or else you will be in big trouble.! This man you see so (pointing to Gen. Yarkpawolo), he na be any small potato or your play thing oh! He be the Supreme Commander for the People’s Relief Council (PRC)”. General Sea Never Dry, I am sorry, I did not mean any disrespect”, says George. George continued, “General Yarkpawolo, I swear to God, I am very glad to see you!” General Yarkpawolo responded, “Why not say the truth that you are glad to see me in order for me to save your life, and not because I am your brother”. You could tell from General Yarkpawolo’s facial expression that he was pissed off. George then said, “Brother, Oh! I am sorry! I meant General Yarkpawolo. General, this is not the time for family quarries. General I beg you, forgive me for the way I acted towards you and our mother. I was young and stupid”. “Say that again”, the crowd responded.

For a while, General Yarkpawolo sat silently, he did not utter a word. But you could see tears running from his eyes. He then said, "In this world we live, you have to be careful how you treat other people. We are reminded by our people that, 'The way you make up your bed, that's how you will sleep in it'. God has a way of making you pay for your sins, even if it takes 90 years. God can't sleep! Life is like the laws of gravity - what goes up has to come down one way or the other. The laws of gravity cannot be suspended forever. For the sake of God and our mother, I will spare your life. Let this be a lesson my brother FLOMO. Your release him, let him go!"

While this particular story - The Troubled Liberia is a fictional tragedy, there are similar experiences that many Liberians, both African Liberians and Americo-Liberians can relate to. The intent of The Troubled Liberia is not to ridicule nor promote hatred but rather to serve as a point of departure for this generation and the one after - to use this example as a vivid reminder never again to engage in such practices in the Liberian society. Because in the sight of God, all Liberians are “precious jewels”.