I Married an African Chief
In the 1960s, as a white college student, I married my Liberian anthropology professor, who was a Gbandi on his mother’s side and a hereditary Mende chief on his father’s side. In the course of our 41-year marriage, we made numerous summer trips to Liberia, including a year in the 1980s in his tribal village of Vahun upcountry in Lofa County.
We Wrote a Book Together
During Liberia’s two civil wars, Ben wanted to describe some of the reasons for the unrest in Liberia. In Slaves to Racism: An Unbroken Chain from America to Liberia, he described the effect of racism on Liberia, comparing it with racism in America. Since we used examples from his life, I learned more about his Gbandi/Mende childhood than at any other time in my life. Below is an excerpt from that book:
Life in Somalahun in the 1940s
When I was eight, Uncle Komah took me with him on a far hunting trip. We left at 3 a.m. I very much wanted to make a good impression on my uncle, but by daybreak, I was tired. We arrived at a Belle village just as the people were leaving for their rice farms.
Visiting a Belle Village
The Gbandis considered the Belle people mysterious because they had no paths to their villages. The Belle people walked in the creeks. While the Gbandi lived adjacent to the Belle, they never learned the Belle language. However, the Belle spoke perfect Gbandi and Loma without an accent.
I was thirsty so I asked a young girl walking by for a drink. She handed me a drinking gourd of water from her bucket. As I reached for it, Uncle Komah walked over, grabbed the gourd, put it back in the bucket, and ordered the girl to leave. He told me, “It’s better to drink running water from a creek that we’ll soon reach. These are a dirty people. Even their water is dirty.”
“But the water was clean! I saw it.”
Uncle Komah Objects
“They’re spoiling you in that other country. You don’t have any sense because you don’t know our ways.”
When we got back to Somalahun, Uncle Komah spent a half hour telling Morlu what happened.
“Did he drink the water?”
“No, I stopped him.”
“Well, no harm done,” and he gave me a big hug.
I was angry with Uncle Komah but I remembered my mother’s words, “Respect the people in your village, especially your own family. Don’t lie. Don’t steal. And don’t show anger.”
I 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.