I Married an African Chief

Anita and Ben Wedding Photo

Wedding photo

I was put into a very unique situation when, as an American white woman, I married into an African tribe. During the 1960’s I fell in love with my anthropology professor who was a hereditary chief of the Mende tribe of Liberia, West Africa. Our faith in Jesus Christ united us and as our marriage progressed and we had three sons, we lived a year in his remote tribal village doing lay missionary work – assisting the white missionary family stationed there Christmas in a tribal village…

Below is an excerpt from my book, Beyond Myself: The Farm Girl and the African Chief.           

Christmas in a Tribal Village

The fog was lifting on Christmas morning as we walked to church. Ben and I welcomed everyone, wishing them, “Merry Christmas!” On this holiest of days, worshipers crammed the wooden benches.  Communion was served. From the back of the church, I quickly took a picture of the crowd.

Ben had purchased a cow for the feast that afternoon, and soon after we arrived home, The Mende wife of the missionary’s assistant arrived at the door with a large enamel bowl holding the cow’s liver and a choice piece of beef—the best of the animal, according to the Mendes. My kerosene fridge wasn’t reliable at the time, so I urged her to keep them as a gift from me. She was thrilled.

Vahun was popping with visitors, who were all housed and fed. Santa was a masked being with raffia arms and legs, his brightly colored headdress mask adorned

Christmas in a Tribal Village - Worshiping in a Liberian Villagewith tiny mirrors. Instead of giving gifts, he asked for them. The day before, our son, Peter, had brought him to our porch, and I took a picture of Santa hugging him with a crowd of boys standing around, grinning. That day, Santa was drifting around town with other masked beings, followed by crowds of kids. Musicians wandered by, singing, the women playing sassas and the men accompanying on the drums.

At noon there were games for the kids at the school grounds and a hearty soccer match between the Vahun boys and the visitors. Ben Jr. had just recovered from a bout of malaria, probably brought on by training so hard for the races. Even so, he won 1st place in the sack race and second in the meter race with people on the sidelines, obviously pleased, yelling, “Ngombu!”

The Feeding of Vahun’s Five Thousand

In Vahun’s “Biblical feeding of the 5,000,” there was plenty of stew and rice for all, with two cows, three goats, and a sheep slaughtered. Unfortunately, I missed it. After I watched the races, I limped back to our house to nurse my ankle, which was swollen from a bug bite.

Slaughtered Goat in Liberia - Christmas in a Tribal VillageDespite my homesickness, I had put on a cheerful face for my kids who remained at the festivities.  However, in the privacy of my home, my facade didn’t hold up. I no sooner propped up my leg than the missionary’s daughter arrived with a small box of Christmas cookies from her mother —colored sugars, sprinkles and all, just the way my mother made them. After she left, I sat there crying at that touch of home.

Christmas is that time of year when there’s no place like home! Ever been away during the holidays??  Tell me about it.