I Married a Gbandi Man
As a white college student in the 1960’s, I married my anthropology professor who was descended from the Mende and Gbandi tribes in Liberia, West Africa. Many years later, when we wrote Slaves to Racism: An Unbroken Chain from America to Liberia together, I recorded stories from his 1930’s Gbandi childhood & Gbandi history.
The Scourge of “Kpley Kpley”
In his words: During the 1930’s, in Somalahun, when I was six-years-old, my Grandfather Morlu loved to have me scratch his back. As we sat on a large smooth rock by his house, he told me the story of the hero buried beneath it. During Morlu’s childhood, there was a deadly plague in Gbandiland they called “kpley, kpley.”
So many people died so quickly that villages could scarcely bury their dead. Representatives from other villages couldn’t attend the funerals. Everyone was in mourning. The Gbandi elders said, “We’ve done something very bad to make ‘Ngawongola’ (God) angry with us. A person must be sacrificed to beg Him to forgive and help us. He must suffer greatly – his eyes plucked out and buried alive. It must be a man of means who will willingly offers himself. And it must be done quickly.”
A man named Harley asked if the people would accept him for sacrifice. He wanted to first visit every Gbandi village to assure everyone that his sacrifice was voluntary. The people placed a wreath of leaves upon his shaved head. Some days he visited two or three villages that were close together. People came out to greet him everywhere he went. The last village was Somalahun, the place of sacrifice.
Harley – A Gbandi Hero
People came from other villages to spend the last three days with him. On the third day, his grave was dug. Placed inside it were his machete, hunting clothes, and bow and arrow. Chickens were killed and prepared for his journey to the ancestor spirits. A bowl of rice was also placed in the grave.
On the morning of the fourth day, Harley said he was ready to go. The people asked Ngawongola, the Maker of the world, to accept their sacrifice. He was shot with four arrows, one for each division of Gbandeland. After his eyes were plucked out, he was laid on his back in the grave. He told the men, “Put the dirt in now.” His groaning stopped when the grave was filled in.
Gradually, the people stopped dying. The Gbandi people were so appreciative of Harley’s sacrificial act, they paid his family’s taxes from then on and did his family’s share of government work.
Our Love Story
My husband died in 2009. To cope with my grief, I wrote our love story, Beyond Myself: The Farm Girl and the African Chief. If you’d like to hear more about the Mende and Gbandi culture, you can get it on Amazon.
To learn more Gbandi history, read my husband’s book, The Gbandes: A People of the Liberian Hinterland.