Traditional Bassa Education and Leadership


The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

June 14, 2003

Editor's Note: Joseph M.N. Gbadyu, served as the Keynote Speaker for the “African Governance, Philosophical Thought & Rule of Law” Symposium held in Greensboro, NC on April 26, 2003. Due to illness, his message was delivered via a VCR recording. Mr. Gbadyu is a Bassa Historian, former Radio News Reporter, former Deputy Minister of Local Government and former Superintendent of Grand Bassa County, Republic of Liberia. Find below the full text of Hon. Gbadyu's speech:

My contribution to this Symposium is to refer briefly to Traditional Bassa Education and Leadership. That is a difficult assignment, however, I shall do the best I can.

May I, however, first say that there are many interpretations to the term “LEADERSHIP”. Two of the principle aims of those portrayals are (1) to lead mentally in ways the leaders consider most appropriate for promotion of their cultures, philosophies, and politics and (2) to lead physically for complete control.

Africa sees two giant systems of leadership: Capitalism and Socialism, by which the world, we may say, is somewhat divided into Capitalistic West and Socialistic (formerly Communistic) East. You have immense knowledge of their characters, concerns and their operations throughout the world.

We in the so-called West, operate within the framework of the West’s Capitalistic/ Socialistic system and those in the East, within the East’s Socialistic/Capitalistic system.

Any person may contest this assessment as long as he or she fails to see the costly struggles these two systems of government sustain, to remain in the giver-taker posture in their relation to the receivers, largely, we in Africa.

Is anything wrong with such appraisal?

Let me give you my double-edged answer: Absolutely, “NO!” and Positively, “YES!”

“NO”, because nothing is wrong with the rivalry between East and West, as long as the one or the other remains sincere to the principle of “GIVE-AND-TAKE” in dealing with the receivers.

“YES,” because something is plainly wrong: a huge imbalance, especially of knowledge, creative ability, and genuine respect one for the other, does exist between the giver/takers and the receivers. Greed and unproved theory give rise to this disparity.

When parties concerned graciously observe the principle of Give-and-Take, it also recognizes the receiver’s personality, valued effectual leadership, centuries-old education, practical social systems, and admirable norms. Then the receivers increase in creativity, self-promotion with greater productivity beneficial to them and the honest giver/takers. Otherwise, they squirm in their communities, dwindle dangerously in self-respect and productivity, and become beggars looking up to the givers/takers for survival. Take for examples, the following situations in transactions between givers and receivers:

1) Firestone Rubber Plantations and Liberia’s Bassa people, one million acres of land

2) UniRoyal Company and Liberia’s Bassa, and 650,000 acres of land

3) B. F. Goodridge and the people of Liberia

4) Palm Bay and Liberia’s Bassaland and labor, over 70,000 acres of land

5) Delimco (German mining company)---called Bong Mine, and the people of Liberia

6) LAMCO Joint Venture and Liberia’s Nimba County covering thousands acres of land

7) Mino River Mining Company and Liberia.

Establishing these and other companies called for removal of people from their villages and towns.

Though to the human givers in the present painful unbalanced situation it appears like the receivers only hold the shadows of all they boast of having, the Bassa people still have much to promote and be proud of. The crucial open door to undo the apparent imbalance is that the Bassa people need to commit to the powerful truths in their millennia-old axioms. They can do so only through their educated sons and daughters, all those young people intentionally exposed to others’ ways of market communications, community development, improved leadership, and human welfare. One of the Bassa axioms is this:

Zohoh doh wein m gboheh dee, keh m seyeh kon.

English: You look great in borrowed suit, but it is not yours.

In other words, receivers rejoice and feel great in others’ cultures, languages and facilities. The receivers boast in others’ wares and great productions. Receivers work hours, sweat and crow with others and honestly labor to promote what are within the gait of the others cultures. Receivers go to great extent, even to sacrificing all our interests to gain the giver/takers’ “well-done”.

Receivers do all that because, from time to time, they fully perceive the necessity of inter-dependence that provides the security of togetherness, crucial to the preservation of humanity.

Receivers’ act of yielding to other members of humanity is the basis of that knowledge. For that reason, they unselfishly sacrifice even their dignity, anticipating the “givers” to demonstrate similar understanding, that mutuality in every transaction is the foundation of the principle of reciprocity or “Give-and-take”, eternally fundamental to truly balanced “Equality.”

Lo and behold! The situation leaves much to desire. Most givers consider as self-betrayal of inability, our giving nearly all we are. So they turn the giving into covers of their real intentions. Continually, they perceive (1) the receivers’ action as indicating absolute material, spiritual, mental and philosophical helplessness; (2) the receivers’ natural and physical properties and working abilities should, therefore, be taken for their benefit; and (3) since, it seems, the receivers concede the point, nothing they do can be rated whole-heartedly up to standard.

Nothing, as long as the receivers remain unconcerned, making no effort to lift themselves up by their own bootstraps. Receiver they must be, blinded to realities. Nothing ever! Why?

Listen, a man called Dahdah was in Grand Bassa County’s District Number Four, Liberia, decades ago. People considered him insane. His daily mantra was this:

M se m mion deh dani, niin nyondo se m deh daa mu.”

(English: “If you do not value yourself, then no one will value you.”)

You see, the present giant givers in time past were in the same position as the present receivers’. But they realized the power of God’s decree:

“Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.”

Then they lifted themselves up, out of the chasm of human welfare, by their own bootstraps based upon their acceptance of the challenge of God’s assignment. They sweated and worked themselves out of the rut. Now they are givers and insatiably dominate takers.

Should the giver/takers do otherwise? Should the givers give up their aggressive respect of God’s assignment and lose the vast extent of their position in humanity?

I say, that decision shall not be in the interest of humanity and, presently, under no circumstances! For, obviously, otherwise the question of “equality” might turn the table upside down! No human ever give up position towering over nonchalant.

Not until the receivers see the power of God’s assignment, sweat and work themselves out of the rut by their inherent, natural abilities, will the present giver/takers, I grant, agree to terms of genuine equality in the Principle of “Give-and-take”.

Let me, on behalf of Liberia’s Bassa, sincerely assure USA “givers,” that Bassa people, though hurt, continuously value the good ideas and things you give, things and ideas we may consider useful to promoting, particularly the Bassa Alphabet---our Modernized System of EDUCATION---and THE BASSA MODEL OF LEADERSHIP.

Please bear with me as I briefly offer a few points on Bassa Traditional Education and Steps to Leadership.

“Traditional” Training for Bassa Leadership

Traditional Bassa Society requires complete knowledge of four powerful elements of leadership. These elements are (1) the Home, (2) the Town-quarters, (3) the Community and (4) the Clan. We found this knowledge in four training stages.

The Home

The Home is the first stage in traditional training for Bassa leadership. Home training is the foundation of character and leadership. This knowledge is inherent with all Bassa leadership issues. The parents are the models and prompter, giving children training as they walk, talk and work. Parents know they are the eyeglasses through which children see the society and the world.

Usually there are 5 to 8 persons in an individual House: parents and children and, often, needy extended family members.

a) The Mother: Before they are 6 or 7, our children are almost completely in the care of the Mother, custodian of family values. She feeds and medicates the child with breast-milk and repeatedly infuses in him/her, in baby language, the essentials of her family. She increases the transmission with her child’s growth. Subjects she talks about with her child at the early ages of I to 7, include names of both immediate and extended family members. She repeatedly mentions all conduct and deeds vital to perpetuating positions of family members, dead or alive, to impress the child and give reasons for imitation.

The great mother is the one traditionally educated. She is crucial to her family attaining enviable positions in her household, extended family, the quarters, community and clan. She works diligently to lay rightful claims to local and clan-wise positions. She carefully performs in this duty because she wants (1) to be a proud mother (2) the family, quarters, community and clan to recognize her worth. She knows that her position in the family depends on whether or not she succeeds in training the child for his or her place in the home, family circles, the quarters, home community and clan.

b) The Father: The father knows he is the bridge between his personal family on one side and members of the extended family, the Quarters, the Community and the Clan on the other.

He assumes about 90% of training his 7 or 8 years old son, leaving daughter training duties with the mother. He calls his son “M ba” (my father) a traditional acts to inspire sons to greatness through knowing early the values of self-confidence under every circumstance. He takes the boy with him on all trips around the Home, the Quarters and Community.

Consistent with his son’s aptitude, the father gives him a cutlass (machete) for farm work; sling, for bird chasing on the farm. Also, he gives his son a bow and arrows for target practice; a small spear, for courage; and a tiny fishing pole (if they live near a river) to practice endurance and persistence in pursuit.

The father shows his son everything in the “Home”, the Quarters, and the Community, explaining their importance. He re-enforces Mother’s teaching about family members, their credentials; and introduces to his son the family beliefs, philosophy, laws and essentials of togetherness---oneness.

The farsighted father commits to training his son at all cost, drawing upon the Bassa demands of every Bassa father’s obligations to the son. The statement to that effect is, as follows:

“Tro m se dyaa, ni dyu mueh dyan wehweh.” English: “The mountain I do not climb, my son shall climb anyway.”

Second Stage of Training for Leadership

The Leadership training process on this level is household and continuous: no recess, no break. It runs from “Before Dawn” to “Before Mid-night”. Father and Mother take special note of the son or daughter’s behavior and leadership qualities. They strictly work to steer the daughter to leadership in the “Home”, and the son to wider leadership in the Clan.

Between ages 7 and 12 for boys and 6 and 13 for girls, it is an intensive preparatory training for the actual traditional education for leadership. Children practice fishing, simple debate on the values of family culture and beliefs; and study relationships in the Home, Extended Family, Quarters, Community and Clan. The father lays every possible emphasis on the power of respect for members in his Home, the Quarters, the Community and the Clan. This respect of people is the foundation of true leadership; not money, not machete, not M-l6, neither braggadocio, nor pretense.

During this Second Training period, parents repeat all subjects taught in the First Training period. They increase emphasis on subjects’ importance.

Third Stage of Training

for Leadership

For the parents, training prospective leadership gets into high gear on this stage. For at the age of 13, the son receives four years training in the Gaagba (male) Training; and at the age of 12 the daughter receives three years of Maagba (female) Training. Both go through blood-and-guts leadership training. Happily, the trainers are from their own and neighboring communities.

Subjects for girls are domestic body of laws or principles, pediatrics, herbalism, home economics, weaving, family and community duties, requisite leadership duties, essentials of good family, and basic religious obligations.

A father traditionally trained is familiar with his community’s need of a concerned, responsible leadership. Therefore, he selects qualified traditional trainers for his son. In the first two years, training takes place in an enclosure excluded from visitors, except fathers or society persons the head master grants permission.

“Subjects” this level offers, include hunting, herbalism, family protection, and biographies of famous family members, family genealogy, philosophy and religious belief. Others are stories of family war feats, as well as love and respect for all persons---rich or poor. In addition, community laws, custom, and the significance of reliable relationships in the Home, Family, Quarters, Community and Clan, everything positive or negative things that damage family relations.

The traditional father sees his son as a prospective community leader, and agrees to train him to know almost everything about the Family, the Community, the Quarters and the Clan at an early age. He is aware that his son can “dyezoe” (gain insights or knowledge) only during the Third Training period. Therefore, at graduation from the four years of guarded training, he needs two to three years of further training.

Fourth Stage of Training

For Leadership

Upon a son’s graduation from the Third Stage of Training, the ambitious father---if he is living--- registers his son in Zuzeh (High Spirit) Gbah for continues training for Clan leadership. The Zuzeh gives quality Character Building Education. If the father is deceased, an authorized surviving uncle can do that, otherwise the son, obedient to his father’s insight and concept of leadership, walks in the way.

Training is quit demanding on this stage and rigorous. Every young man must go through rough “human terrain” and mental calisthenics. He must know the values of the custom, practices and beliefs of his families, quarters and community, as well as those of adjoining communities and clans. He must interpret them according to his father’s concept of leadership. He must know the elements of farming and of community growth. He must know the difference between Community and Clan’s Zoo Veneh (Chief of Societies) and of warfare.

“Campaign time during this training?” one may ask. The answer is “Yes, indeed!” Trainers seriously screen the ambitious trainees for leadership, to make selections of the best qualified for leadership in several positions. Parents make sure that much, much early on trainers advise the boys in the Gaagba and girls in the Maagba (Gregre Bush) Training, as incentive to earnest performance. The graduates best qualified to lead the Family, the Home or the Quarters receive further training in the local Gbahahn (Graduate) Training. One to two years training there exposes the trainees to deep human concerns, higher philosophy and things peculiar to the Home, Quarters and Community. At the end of two to three years training, the best qualified for the community is chosen, garlanded with beautiful flowers and presented to the “Local Sanctum” (highest authority) for consideration.

Trainees that are quality timbers for Clan leadership are selected for further training in the ZuuZeh Gba (Highest Soul Leadership) Training. Trainers are the best in the Clan, individuals versed with the depths and science of human being. Trainees learn how to meet clan demands and how to create situations suitable to the desires of the people. The best-behaved graduate, showing real concern for the welfare of the people, is selected by the “Sanctum” (their highest authority), the Clan Council, to lead the Clan.

Thus, in the Bassaland the requirements for leadership position are four. They are: (1) Know the family, other people, their mores and norms; (2) Know the ties or relations in the family, quarters, communities and clans, their characters and objectives; (3) Love the people, their abilities and concerns, and (4) Work with the people on their terms, and with true passion lead them to positive achievements in their interest, self-assertion, their dignity and honor.

Bassa people know good leadership. Our concern is that of “Conscientious Unity” in the Home, the Quarters, the Communities and the Clans. Leadership that creates useful education that motivates people to beneficial activities for progress in agriculture, handcrafts, human needs, and good relations in community. Leadership that does not fraudulently impose its own ideas on the people; a leadership that relates to the people, considering that it grew up from within them; a leadership that consults its people on all issues of the Clans, Communities, and Quarters; a leadership that gives them hope. Our working and hope are for leadership that recognizes our values and helps promote them: values in education, philosophy, religious belief, human relations and welfare and community development.

A leadership that behaves contrary to these characteristics is just repellent of everything desirable.

We do not train our children for leadership that kills to gain wealth; that imposes personal ideas upon the people for political gains. No! We train our sons and daughters to lead with the people they lead. Therefore, in our traditional education programs, we train prospective leaders to know and exercise in all the requirements for leadership.

Parents and trainers put prospective leaders through those selective stages of training, from the age of seven or eight years to the time they assume the level of leadership according to their qualifications. Wealth, big mouth, burnished machetes, alleged reasons or threats do not obtain positions simply.

Traditional Bassa do not look for, nor accept any other terms of leadership. There has not been a change.

Liberia’s late President William V. S. Tubman’s appreciation of the Bassa standard of leadership, is worth mentioning: “If you want to be a good president, have the Bassa man on you side.” Cameroon’s President Ahmed Ahijo confirmed it when he said: “I have confidence in my Bassa people in the Cameroon. They are dependable.” Over a hundred and seventy years ago, American Colonization Society’s Jehudi Ashmun reported to the Society about Bassa greatness.

Several leaders of other Liberian Ethnic groups also attest to that. Some say, “The Bassa people are good to deal with on questions of leadership.”

Dr. Thomas Flo Narvin Lewis, our Bassa 1910 graduate of Syracuse University, Syracuse, New York, was forever enthralled by those qualities of his people. That is why he tirelessly labored on modernization of his people’s Vah Communications System. We thank Syracuse University. We are grateful to the Methodist Church missionaries who brought Thomas Flo Narvin [Lewis] to the USA around 1875 and helped him to greatness. We thank the US citizens of New York and other states who sincerely contributed to the modernization of our ENI KA SE FA Alphabet. Our humble gratitude to the people of Dresdan, East Germany, who manufactured the Bassa Printing Press that helped promote our personality and creative ability at a time it was extremely necessary.

We humbly thank North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University for permitting our son, Dr. Syrulwa Somah, the use of its facilities for the first Symposium on African Governance. And special thanks to every participant at this Symposium, you assure us your recognition of the need to promote the worth of Bassa values, philosophy and education. May the God of our fathers bless you.

Dr Syrulwa Somah, this day, April 26, 2003, and this Symposium, mark the beginning of your journey. Do not stop. You have followed in the footsteps of Dr. Fodo Navin Lewis and you stand tall by him. May the Almighty God bless you, multiply your abilities and your wonderful family.

Although everybody here knows you, may I ask you to stand and we again congratulate you with hearty ovation. Please, let us all stand and together voice our congratulations and love!

Great Bassa men and women, Dr. Somah humbly challenges you to engage in further research on Bassa creativity, Bassa visions and Bassa governance. The task is before you.

May the Almighty God richly bless you.