I Married a Gbandi Man in the 1960’s

As a white college student in the 1960’s, I married my anthropology professor who was a hereditary Mende chief from Liberia, West Africa. On his mother’s side, he was related to the adjacent Gbandi tribe. In Slaves to Racism: An Unbroken Chain from America to Liberia, which we published in 2009, he shared his experiences as a boy in 1930’s & teenager in 1940’s Liberia including a story of a Frontier Force soldier.

Anita and Ben Wedding Photo

Wedding photo

Admiration for Yekeh, a Frontier Force Soldier

During the 1930s, as a boy, I admired Yekeh, a Gbandi Frontier Force soldier from Somalahun. The people loved him so much. Yekeh was tall and handsome. He looked distinguished in his uniform. He was somewhat sophisticated as he had lived in Monrovia.

There was a feast whenever Yekeh visited Somalahun, because he always brought a hamper full of chickens and a few goats he had commandeered from another tribe. When he arrived, he called out, “You all come! Let the boys kill and clean these chickens! Tell the women to make goat soup! Bring palm wine. Let’s drink together.”

I once asked Yekeh, “Where’d you get all this from?”

He said, “I got this from the Belle people. They’ve got lots of chickens. They’ve got more than they can eat because there aren’t many of them. You people in Somalahun are many. You need these chickens.”Slaves to Racism Book Cover

I said, “Maybe the Belle people ran away when they saw you coming.”

He said, “Little wingee (Westerner,) you like to talk complicated things. How do you know about the Belle people? They don’t even have trails to their villages because they don’t want people to know where they are.”

Yekeh, the Gbandi Frontier Force soldier from Somalahun, became a tax collector for the Kissi and Gbandi people. He refused to collect from those who were suffering and the Gbandi people praised him for it. Yekeh particularly resented Commissioner Carter because he was so ruthless in confiscating all kinds of cattle and other livestock for his cattle ranch in Arthington.

Frontier Force Soldier's Dilemma - Child feeding chickens in LiberiaYekeh Doesn’t Turn in All the Tax Money

Yekeh was conscientious in collecting taxes but he didn’t turn them all in. More than once, he gave some of the money back to the people, saying, “We’re not going to give them all this money. Carter is stealing, making our people suffer for nothing.”  Once he gave twelve shillings of tax money to his mother which he intended to repay.

Carter wondered why the taxes were low. He sent spies to find out what Yekeh was doing. One of the spies unknowingly blabbed to one of Yekeh’s friends, who told him, “Carter’s coming for you. He’ll either kill you or take you to the prison at Belleh Yallah from which you’ll never return.”

Yekeh called everyone to the town hall in Somalahun. He told them, “Goodbye to all of you. They’ll never take me alive. You know I’ve done my best for you. I’m not a liar and I didn’t steal. I’m going to die tonight but don’t move my gun. Let it stay right by me so they’ll see that I killed myself. Tell them I didn’t steal one single cent but I can no longer be an agent who steals from my people to give to Carter. I’d rather die.” With that, he said, “Amalaho (Farewell), and shot himself in the head. The people stood in the mud weeping as the rain poured down.  Yekeh’s mother had to be restrained.Frontier Force Soldier's Dilemma - Hut in a Liberian village

Yekeh was so well-loved. Everyone was stunned to hear of his death. Carter sent word that he had to have proof. Men carried Yekeh’s body on a stretcher to Kolahun. As they passed through each village along the way, they took his body to the town hall. Everyone came and said, “That’s Yekeh. Oh, he’s gone!  He was so good to our people. Why did he do this?” The women stood weeping.

As I understand it, Yekeh resented the fact that native tax collectors were forced to exploit their own people for the corruption of the ruling Americo-Liberians. Yekeh felt he was doing the right thing and protested by killing himself. My husband’s accounts of early Liberia gave me, as an Ohio farm girl, a glimpse into the tragedy and dilemma of native Liberians forced into the Americo-Liberian system.

Our Love Story

I adopted my husband’s country and wrote our love story, Beyond Myself: The Farm Girl and the African Chief to carry on his work.Beyond Myself Book Cover by Author Anita Katherine Dennis