I Married a Liberian
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 trips to Liberia, including visits to his tribal village of Vahun upcountry in Lofa County. My husband taught me a lot about tribal life in Liberia – from his training and his life experiences. I edited his book, The Gbandes: A People of the Liberian Hinterland, published in 1973. Below is an excerpt from that book in his words:
Rural to Urban Migration in the 1940s
In the urbanized area, one finds Gbandes with different urban backgrounds and experiences. The only thing these individuals have in common is their culture of primary socialization. Even this, as a cohesive factor, tends to be stronger for newcomers than for those who have lived longer in the city. The newcomer is at the mercy of those who are long-term residents of the city. He depends on them to give him a place to stay, to feed him, to get a job for him, and to teach him city behavior. He has complete confidence in their judgment and follows their advice closely. Because they are Gbandes, he considers them kinsmen even though this may not be the case. He subordinates himself to them in every conceivable way. As a result, he leaves himself open for exploitation at the hands of older urban dwellers.
Rural/Urban Reciprocity in the 1970s
After my husband’s death in 2009, I coped with my grief by writing our love story, Beyond Myself: The Farm Girl and the African Chief.
Below is an excerpt from that book on the situation of tribal reciprocity in the 1970s in my words:
As a businessman, J. Rud wore a suit and tie. His Vai wife, Gladys, was a lawyer who preferred fashionable Western dresses with a satin Liberian head tie. Tribal women wore head ties, and many Americo-Liberian women used them as a fashion statement. Matching the fabric of an African gown, they could be quite elaborate. The Johnsons had met and married while in college in America. In their impressive home, which reflected Americo-Liberian grandiosity, it took me five minutes to walk from our guest wing into their spacious living room.
In their situation, the child servants were tribal relatives. Within the tribal reciprocity system, those who became urbanized and successful were obligated to provide opportunities for family and other tribesmen to do as well in Monrovia. In return, the hosts were provided free household labor. The bedrooms for their four children and the servants were on the second floor. Each morning, a Gbandi chauffer drove the children to school and dropped Gladys off at her office. J. Rud and Gladys were busy with their careers. Except for special occasions, we spent more time with their children and the household staff. Each day, our kids disappeared to play with theirs.
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