I Married an African
As a white college student in the 1960s, I married my anthropology professor who was a hereditary Mende chief from Liberia, West Africa. After 30 years of marriage, we wrote together Slaves to Racism: An Unbroken Chain from America to Liberia, which was published in 2009. While writing that book, I learned more than ever before, his Mende heritage and social change in Liberia and in his tribe. The Effect of Westernization & Urbanization upon the Mende & Gbandi Tribes.
The Effect of Westernization and Urbanization upon the Mende & Gbandi tribes of Liberia, West Africa
During the 1930s and 40s, Liberia’s 16 indigenous tribes lived upcountry from the capital, Monrovia. For the most part, they were minimally affected by the Americo-Liberians, the ruling settlers from America, through the Frontier Force, a military police force.
Over time, outside influence grew through contact with missionaries who introduced Western education. Foreign concessions mining Liberia’s natural resources needed labor and set up labor camps, primarily the Firestone Rubber Plantation to provide a source of rubber for WWII. Liberia was used as an airbase for the North African campaign, which flooded the capital, Monrovia, with 5 thousand black and white GIs – another strong change agent. Indigenous Liberians who had migrated to Monrovia became assertive as Black GIs sided with them as the underdog.
1.Rural to urban migration
As indigenous Liberians were lured to Firestone with the promise of wages, they were provided housing. Those who left their tribal areas never returned to their tribe. In Monrovia, the Americo-Liberians needed domestic labor for household tasks in the absence of machines. Tribal people gave their children to them for the children to live in the household and become civilized and educated. These young people came to identify with the Americo-Liberians and never returned home.
2.A Distortion of Kinship Reciprocity
Indigenous children living in Monrovia became the avenue for more tribal people to migrate to the city. Those tribal people who succeeded became hosts for their relatives who lived in their homes and provided household labor. In turn, their relative provided them room and board. However, in a Western wage economy, tribal rights and privileges became distorted. In some cases, care was rudimentary or successful individuals were stretched thin providing for kinsmen.
3.Loss of Respect and Authority of Elders
With the introduction of Western education through missionaries working upcountry, literacy became a threat to the oral tradition. Young people no longer relied on the elders as the only repository of knowledge. As a result, authority and social control were weakened within the tribe.
4.Western education vs. traditional education
Western education emphasizes the individual rather than the group, which challenged loyalty and obedience to the tribe. Sons of chiefs were sent abroad for education. In Western values, individual success no longer led to the success of the tribe.
All of this was the precursor to Liberia’s Coup of 1980 when indigenous tribes overthrew the Americo-Liberian ruling class. A loss of social control was further accelerated during Liberia’s two civil wars lasting a span of fourteen years. A freefall of anarchy emerged as boy soldiers with machine guns roamed the countryside in warring factions and Liberia is still trying to recover.
Our Love Story
When my husband died in
2009, I coped with my grief by writing our love story, Beyond Myself: The Farm Girl and the African Chief. It tells a lot more about us!