Anita and Ben Wedding Photo

Wedding photo

I Married an African Chief

My husband and I were as opposite as two people could be. We came from completely different worlds. He came from an African village. I grew up on a Midwestern farm.  He was a thirty-five-year-old anthropology and sociology professor with a dual Ph.D. I was a nineteen-year-old girl just beginning my college education in the 1960s.  He was black (as you’ve already guessed.)  I was white. On top of that, he was a hereditary chief of the Mende tribe in Liberia, West Africa.

We were married four years when he took me to visit his tribal village. I watched as he wept over the gravesite of his ancestor. As I realized I was returning home to Michigan with a “different” man, I was terrified I had made a huge mistake. . Perhaps we were a total mismatch after all and our relationship would never work. Like the Ladies Home Journal, we were classic candidates for “Can This Marriage Be Saved?” I pondered, “What have I gotten myself into? A fleeting moment of respite came as I contemplated divorce. Although I knew it wasn’t God’s plan, I thought, I’m still young. I can start over.

One of His Brothers Propositioned Me

I was still reeling from culture shock of not only being the chief’s wife, but “belonging” to his brothers as well. One night, one of his brothers told me, “Tonight, you’re spending the night with me!”  Stunned and bewildered, I looked at Ben for help. He said, “Tell him you have to get your cover cloth and go into our room.”

The minute he came in for the night, I bombarded him, “What was that all about?”

He said, “Don’t worry. It’s just a joking relationship.”  Still, it rattled me.

BenYou’e Taking Our Husband Away!

As we were about to leave the village, a crowd of women scolded me, “You’re taking our husband away and we haven’t had a chance to sleep with him!”  Again, I was speechless.  I couldn’t wait to walk the trail out of that remote village back over the Kamboi mountain range and return to Monrovia, the “civilized” capital city of Liberia.

The only thing Ben and I truly shared was our Christian faith and reliance on God. I wondered if I could ever live in an African village or be a chief’s wife. My mind and heart said, “No!” I thought back to all the pain and struggle my love for him had already cost me. My college career was ended when my parents took me out of school and Ben and I were apart for two years.

We Muddle Through                                                                                                                

Back in Michigan, that fall, I enrolled to complete my last two years of college, majoring in anthropology and sociology.  Somehow, I muddled through my marriage until something extremely unusual occurred that Christmas – a phone call from the Executive Mansion in Monrovia.  President Tolbert told Ben, “If you join me in my visit to Vahun, I’ll consider building a road there.” It was Ben’s dream for his people to become connected with the rest of Liberia.

God Had a Plan for our Marriage

I was amazed that the president of a country would do so much for an expatriate citizen. It made me realize God had a greater calling for Ben than teaching on a college campus. I became dedicated to his cause of helping his people and sharing the Gospel with them and I’ve never regretted it. Our forty-year marriage led to subsequent visits to Liberia, living in his tribal village for a year, and writing and publishing a book together.

Our Love Story

Vahun, 1973

Vahun, 1973

I’m so glad I didn’t act rashly. I might have given up the love of my life.  Two days from now would have been our 48th wedding anniversary. It’s been six years since he died and I miss him still. However, I’m eternally grateful for the 41 years we had together.  To cope with my grief,  i wrote our love story, Beyond Myself: The Farm Girl and the African Chief                                                                                                                                                                      Beyond Myself Book Cover by Author Anita Katherine Dennis


Ever struggled in your marriage?  Thought of giving up?  Each situation is unique. I’m here to chat.