I Married a Liberian Chief

In the 1960’s, as a white college student, I married my anthropology professor who was a hereditary Mende chief from Liberia, West Africa.  In our 41 years of marriage, he took me to Liberia and we lived with our three boys in his remote tribal village for a year. After he retired, we wrote a book together on the cycle of racism in Liberia, called Slaves to Racism: An Unbroken Chain from America to Liberia.  Below is an excerpt from that book in his words about Kru Chief Nimilah & his courtroom:

My Husband Worked in Liberia During His Teen Years

During my teen years, I worked as a medical representative for the government after I was fired from Duside Hospital. I was sent to the town of Marshal to check on the medical supplies in the dispensary there.

Anita and Ben Wedding Photo

Wedding photo

Marshall was Firestone’s point of entry on the Farmington River. George Williams was judge for the civilized people. His courtroom was on the second floor of the superintendent’s office. Kru Chief Nimilah (a different Chief Nimilah) was a judge for the natives. He held his court on his front porch.

I became friends with Chief Nimilah when I supplied him with sulfa and penicillin drugs for his gonorrhea. One day, he told me, “You a Qwi (Western) boy. You read and write. Come see my court today.”

The Courtroom of Kru Chief Nimilah

In his first case, a man said he had seen someone taking his three fish traps out of the river and quickly returning them. When he later checked on his traps, they were empty while the others downriver were full. Nimilah said, “You finish now. You quiet.”

Slaves to Racism Book CoverNimilah turned to the other man and said, “You! What be your name!

The man said, “My name is Togbah.”

“OK, Togbah, you hear this man say you take fish. He work hard to make traps and put chop (bait) in. Is that so?”

“But chief, I never touch any trap. You can come to my house. You no go find fish.”

“Put your head up and look me for face. Don’t put your face for ground.”

When Togbah looked up, the chief told me, “Ha! Ha! Ha! You see? You see his face?”

Pronounced Guility!

He said to Togbah, “You guil-i-ty!”

Togbah said, “But chief! I didn’t do it!”

The Courtroom of Kru Chief Nimilah - Beautiful Landscape of Liberia

Nimilah said to him, “You think you go fool me?”

He told me, “Look, doctor, he guil-i-ty. Bad look! He think me small boy. I see. I old, old man. I can tell. He guil-i-ty.”

Togbah said, “But chief! I have witnesses!”

Nimilah said, “No need for witness. Pay four dollar – two dollar for him and two dollar for me. Right now! Hey! You two soldiers, follow him! Bring four dollar before next case.”  Togbah had to borrow the four dollars.

The Courtroom of Kru Chief Nimilah - Two Men in Liberia Standing Together

I said, “Chief, that’s not right. Maybe he didn’t do it.”

Nimilah told me, “You too small. You no sabe (know) nothing. He guil-i-ty.”

I later found out that was the rule in Chief Nimilah’s courtroom. Whoever brought the complaint was invariably right. Nimilah told me, “They know me. If he no be right, he no come here. Those not be right, they no come here.”

My Husband Reported the Situation

I was so concerned about this, I reported to the superintendent that Chief Nimilah was collecting more in fines than Judge Williams. People were scared to go to the courtroom of Kru Chief Nimilah. Several weeks later, Nimilah even complained to me that not too many people were coming.

Uncle Komah sitting on bench

The superintendent told Nimilah, “You don’t have to fine people all the time. Have some witnesses.”

Nimilah told him, “Witnesses lie. When people come to my court, they look me and fear. If you no give fine, people thief, do all kinds of bad things. You Qwi people don’t know my people.” However, Nimilah did lower his court fines from four dollars to two, except for woman palaver when a man has an affair with another man’s wife, because he said that was bad.

Our Love Story

After my husband died in 2009, I wrote our love story to honor him and tell how God worked in our lives.                                       Beyond Myself Book Cover by Author Anita Katherine Dennis