I Married an African Chief
As a white college student in the 1960’s, I married my anthropology professor who was a hereditary Mende chief from Liberia, West Africa, on his father’s side and a Gbandi on his mother’s side. In 1973, he published a book on his mother’s people, The Gbandes: A People of the Liberian Hinterland. I edited that book. Below is an excerpt about Gbandi tribal hunting:
Although a small portion of the game killed may be sold in the market to the general public, Gbandi tribal hunting is done mainly to augment the family food supply or the food supply of the villagers, depending on the type of hunting. If the hunting is organized by the villagers into a communal hunt, the catch is divided among the participants. A portion of the game is put into a special pile which is then given to those who for some reason, could not join in the hunt.
Gbandi Tribal Hunting with Uncle Komah
In my Gbandi village of Somalahun, my Uncle Komah was the village blacksmith, the position of highest prestige in Gbandi society. He was known as the best and most fearless hunter in the area. You could smell him coming when he was wearing his hunting clothes because he smeared them with animal blood for good luck. When I was five, Uncle Komah put his hunting shirt on me and boasted that I would be a great hunter. The smell made me vomit.
One of the women yelled, “Gongoli’s getting sick!”
My mother came running, “Did he eat anything?”
She said, “No, but he’s got on his uncle’s hunting shirt.”
My mother took off the shirt and told her brother, “Don’t do that anymore until you let me know.”
Komah said, “A little thing like that and he’s vomiting. He’s being spoiled. How’s he going to become a great hunter?”
My grandfather Morlu said, “That boy has to spend more time here. He’s a Gbandi.”
When I was eight, Uncle Komah took me with him at dawn to check his traps. I admired the birds in the trees as we walked along and he scolded me for going so slow.
At the first bird trap, I begged, “Please Uncle Komah, don’t kill them.”
“Something’s wrong with your head. These birds are for food.”
The next trap had two black monkeys with white faces. I told him, “Let’s take them home! I want both of them. Please hold them gently. When we get home, you can build a cage for them and I’ll feed them.”
He looked at me a long time and sucked his teeth in disgust, saying, “What kind of a man are you? And what do you think we’ll eat tonight?”
“I’ll eat anything. Just don’t kill the monkeys!”
“You don’t know how blessed we are. We found meat as soon as we got here. Besides, these monkeys eat corn and other things on the farm. Don’t talk to me anymore. I’m going to kill them right now.”
I ran away angry. A few minutes later, he called me, “Savolo! (Mate!) Let’s check the other traps.”
The Deadly Bush Cow
We reached a clearing where the trees and grass were all shredded. I was looking for clues at one end of the clearing, when suddenly, from behind the trees, a large bush cow with a torn trap around its neck, snorted and focused on me. I ran as fast as I could to Uncle Komah with the cow close behind.
In a split second, he took his machete and chopped its nose in two. The cow tried to run away. Komah chopped the hamstrings of its front legs. Its front legs buckled and it fell down, snorting and struggling to breathe as blood gushed from its nose. I understood then why in Gbandi tribal hunting people say, “If you don’t kill a bush cow outright, it will kill you.”
Komah cut up all the meat and wrapped it in leaves. He made a rattan carrier and packed the meat in it. Then he made a smaller carrier for me to carry the bush cow’s head because a nephew gets the head of any animal his maternal uncle kills. I walked home proudly with my hunting catch.
After 41 years of marriage, my husband died in 2009. To cope with my grief, I wrote our love story, Beyond Myself: The Farm Girl and the African Chief.