Anita and Ben Wedding Photo

Wedding photo

I Married an African Chief

In the 1960s, as a white college student, I married my anthropology professor, who was a hereditary Mende chief from Liberia, West Africa. In the course of our 41-year marriage, we made numerous summer trips to Liberia, including a year in his tribal village of Vahun upcountry in Lofa County.

In 2009, we published Slaves to Racism: An Unbroken Chain from America to Liberia, a comparison of the effect of racism on Liberia comparing it with racism in 1950s America. During that year, I collected stories from my husband’s Slaves to Racism Book Coverteen years in Liberia as examples for the book.  Below is one of those stories:

Kru Town in 1940s Liberia

Kru Town in Monrovia was located on a sandy beach along the Atlantic Ocean. The Kru worked on ships. They were expert fishermen. At night, they propped their large canoes upside down on sticks on the beach. The next morning, they turned the canoe upright, pushed it out into the water and jumped inside.

People liked to walk the beach at Kru Town on moonlit nights. Uptown boys and big men went there to have sex with a Kru girl because they wanted to avoid gonorrhea. Kru girls were considered “clean” because they kept the same boyfriend for the most part.

When a boy followed close behind a Kru girl, she said, “Hey! Why you walk close to me for? What’s matter with you? You can’t see?”

If he kept following, she turned around and said, “What you followin’ me for?”

He smiled with all the charm he could muster and said, “I wanna to talk to you, girl.”

She sucked her teeth and said, “I don’t know you. What you wanna talk to me for?  You wanna fuck me? You better to go somewhere. You think me street girl.”

“Hey, man, I beg you. I want to talk to you, please. You plenty pretty. You look good, oh. Please, I beg you. Come talk to me now.”

If she liked him, she said, “You wanna fuck me. That’s why you wanna talk to me.”

If she didn’t like him, she said, “What you wanna talk to me for? You better go.”

“Oh, you fine, plenty. You too fine.”

“Go away!  I no be fine for you!”

“I no feel for go away. You too fine, oh.”

A Kru Girl’s Strategy

She then stopped snapping her gum and quietly took some hot peppers from a fold in her lappa skirt. As she chewed them, she said, “You come. I feel for see your face.”

As the boy drew close, she spit hot pepper juice in his eyes, blinding him. She ran away as he stood there yelling in pain. Kru people on the beach laughed and said, “That girl peppered someone! You go hear him crying, ‘Oh! Oh! Oh!’ ”

The guy would beg, “Somebody help me!” If he tried to rinse his eyes with ocean salt water, his eyes burned even more.

A good place to have sex on the beach was under an upside down canoe. People walking by ignored what was going on. Sometimes a Kru girl stood by a canoe with her hands on her hips daring anyone to approach her, because she had her “weapon.”

Sometimes a Kru girl said to a boy, “How much you go give me?”

“I don’t have much. I have twenty-five cents.”                                                                                                                                                        

“Make it thirty cents. Give fifty cents.”

“I go come back tomorrow.”

“What time you go come? You go come bring more money now.”

Loyalty was Involved

This wasn’t simply prostitution. When a Kru girl picked a boy, she stayed with him.  Most girls were honest and waited for the same lover each night. Boys who were sincere went to Kru Town during the day to first make friends. They said, “You think I can come see you tonight? Where can I meet you?”

“You be good person. I go wait for you.”

Sometimes a boy approached a Kru girl waiting for her lover and told her, “Oh, you fine too much.”

“I fine, fine, but I not fine for you. The one I fine for, he go come, oh.”

“Oh, you too fine. He won’t know. I be gone long time before he come.”

She sucked her teeth and said, “You think I be street girl?  I fine, fine for someone.  You go.”

If he persisted, saying, “Eh, yah, I beg you, oh. You too fine, fine,” she peppered him.

One day, I asked my Kru friend, “Titi, have you ever peppered someone?”

“Oh, you little boy. How you know about that?  I pepper plenty!  Those boys are too bad. You tell them, ‘Go, go,’ and they no feel for go. They follow you. How for do (What can I do)? You put pepper for their eye and they cry like baby. They think they big man, oh, when they come from uptown. But when you pepper them proper, they no feel for see you anymore for anything.”

Big Men Patronized Them as Well

Big men sometimes dressed in common clothes with sandals flopping so they wouldn’t be recognized. Titi told me, “Sometimes you ask for names, but they lie. They just wanna fuck you for nothing. The big men, they crokogee (crooks).”

“Do you always carry pepper?”

She opened the fold of her lappa and said, “You see my pepper? It’s plenty hot, oh.”

“Doesn’t it burn your mouth when you chew it?”

“It burns small, small, but it burns plenty in the eye.”

One day, she told me, “You know how for fuck?  I go teach you. You be fine boy.”

“I’m not ready for that.”

Tubman was a Visitor                                                                        

“Tubman comes to my house. He likes me plenty.”

“Senator Tubman?”

“Stay here in the shop. He go come tonight.”

That part of Gurley Street was full of big rocks. A vehicle couldn’t drive through. I watched as Tubman walked to a house past Aunt Louise’s shop. He stayed there a long time. After he left, Titi came over to the shop and said, “You see? He likes me plenty, oh.”

One day Aunt Louise said, “That Kru girl is always talking to you. What’s that all about?”

“She wants to teach me sex.”

She put her face in her hands and had to sit down. She said, “Oh, my God!” and started praying. After she gathered her composure, she said, “Benjamin, you’re far too young for that!  You better not think about that!”

“I told her no.”

She hugged me and said, “Thank you, Lord! You’re a good man, a book man.  If you do that, you’ll end up in Kru Town and never do anything!”

Beyond Myself Book Cover by Author Anita Katherine DennisI Wrote our Love Story

After his death in 2009, I coped with my grief by writing our love story, Beyond Myself: The Farm Girl and the African Chief.