I Married an African Chief

Anita and Ben Wedding Photo

Wedding photo

In the 1960’s, as a white college student, I married my anthropology professor who was a hereditary Mende chief from Liberia, West Africa. We were married over 41 years and he took me numerous times to Liberia, West Africa.  We lived in his remote village for a year in the 1980’s where we saw a Gbandi Chief have his first bush plane ride. In the later years of our life together, we wrote Slaves to Racism: An Unbroken Chain from America to Liberia about the effect of racism in Liberia and America.

My Husband was a Consummate Storyteller

Ben was not only related to the Mende tribe, but to the Gbandi tribe as well through his mother.  On one of his solo trips to Liberia in the 1970s, he told me about his plane ride with a powerful Liberian Gbandi chief. In his words:

A Gbandi Chief Has A Harrowing Plane Ride to Kolahun

I was flying to Vahun in a bush plane out of Spriggs-Payne Airport in Monrovia. Chief Kollie, a powerful Gbandi chief, asked me in Gbandi, “Will you drop me and my messenger in Kolahun?”

I said in Gbandi, “Of course.”Slaves to Racism Book Cover

The plane could only hold three passengers. I sat next to the pilot in front with Chief Kollie behind me. His messenger sat behind the pilot. It was rainy season and as usual, there were low clouds. As the plane ascended into the clouds, Chief Kollie grabbed my neck and pulled me back. He said in Gbandi, “I can’t see! I can’t see!”

I replied in Gbandi, “It’s OK, Chief. It’s OK.”

“No! No!  You think he can put me down?”

“He can’t put you down because we’d have to land somewhere. We’ll soon be there.”

The chief strangled me the entire trip, only relenting now and then. As we began our descent into the Kolahun air strip, he tightened his grip, yelling, “We die today! It’s going down!”

Choking, I struggled to catch my breath and glanced back, trying to free myself. I saw his eyes closed as we hit the runway. He must have thought we crashed as he yelled, “It’s all finished now! I’m dying!”

Gbandi Chief First Plane Ride - 3 People Posing for PhotoI said, “Chief, open your eyes. We’re on the ground. Please let me go. We’re on the ground now.”

He opened his eyes and said, “Bpo…Bpo…Bpo…(a Gbande expression of wonderment)  Nevermore! I will never go in this thing. We’re in Kolahun already?”

I said, “Yes.”

As he walked away, he looked at the plane and told me, “Issie ho (Thank you).) But I’ll never do this again.”

The pilot asked, “What was the chief yelling about?”

I said, “There must be imprints on my neck. He almost killed me.”

The pilot laughed and said, “I’m glad I put him behind you instead of me.”

A Plane Ride Described by a Mende Man in the 1980’s

In the 1980’s, during our year in Vahun with our three boys, Momoh, the Mende driver for the LPMC (Liberian Produce Marketing Cooperative,) came along with us in our bush plane ride to the capital. After we landed at Spriggs-Payne Airport in Monrovia, he said, “I’d much rather go over Kamboi (a steep mountain) a thousand times than go in that plane again. I thought we were high enough, and the houses looked so small, and then the plane kept going higher and higher. All I could see were trees, no ground. Group photo outside buildingI didn’t even know where I would jump if the plane crashed. I looked around—sky up, sky down. The pilot didn’t look frightened, but me, I was scared like hell.”

When he returned by vehicle to Vahun, he reported on his stay with us at the mission apartment. “We all slept in the same place and used the same bathroom. I had a real good shower with hot water. I ate all kinds of food. I watched the children. They didn’t complain, so I ate it. I didn’t feel hungry, but I never ate rice the whole time.”

Our Love Story

After Ben died in 2009, I wrote Beyond Myself: The Farm Girl and the African Chief, to honor our love and tell what God did in our lives.  There are lots of funny stories in that book too!Beyond Myself Book Cover by Author Anita Katherine Dennis