A look at Gola Chief Gbogai and Sao Boso: an attempt to unravel the falsehoods
A dispute, which we believe lays the foundation for organized disunity and social tensions, in Liberia, lies in the historical distortions, misrepresentations, and misunderstandings presented to us, by those who we believe have the mental qualification to enlighten us. Of particular is the case of Sao Boso, celebrated as a hero by some Liberians. The story goes on to falsely accuse the Golas of robbing traders along the Duala to Bopolu trade routes. For this reason, Sao Boso was called upon, from the Gbandi Kingdom, to fight against the Golas. The Golas at that time was led by their powerful Chief called Gbogai.
The Sao Boso narratives are presented in such a manner that characterizes other tribes who were resistance to oppression of colonial rule, as bad people. Particularly characterizing the Bassa people as criminal elements who sold their lands and later tried to dupe the colonists. Again, Sao Boso, was called upon by colonial rulers, and Sao Boso threatened to cut off the heads of Bassa chiefs, if the Bassa people refused to give their land to the colonists. Sao Boso boasted that he had previously cut off the head of another Bassa Chief.
Before the arrival of free slaves from the American Antebellum South, in early 1800s, the tribal people of what is today called Liberia were already exposed to, and had been doing trading business with Europeans as far back as the 14th century. As a matter of fact, around 1461, Portuguese explorers established relationship with tribal leaders and due to the richness of the soil, in growing crops, the Portuguese called Liberia the Grain Coast. There were no known European settlements in that area because the tribal leaders consistently refused to sell lands to Europeans. Land in those days belong to tribes and families, and could not be sold to outsiders. Later, American abolitionists, under the organization of the American Colonization Society (ACS) would ferry freed slaves from the United States, to establish a Black republic in Africa. The Grain Coast was the chosen destination, and renamed as Christopolis by the Americans. The local tribal leaders welcome the returned of free slaves as brothers. But the question remains, did the ACS purchased the land from the local tribal chiefs? Or was the land taken by force from the tribal leaders?
US GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTS SAYS: NO LAND WERE PURCHASE
Thanks to the good people of the United States who I have always held in the most high esteem for their recording of history even if such records exposes their own wrong doing. This is what makes America the greatest nation on the face of the earth, and America will continue to be the greatest nation because of their nobility and beliefs in the principle of freedom, liberty, and justice.
According to the official United States Government’s historian, as published by the United States Department of State, and records from the Library of the United States Congress shows that tribal chiefs of Liberia, particularly the Bassa people never sold any land to the settlers:
“Jehudi Ashmun envisioned an American empire in Africa. During 1825 and 1826, Ashmun took steps to lease, annex, or buy tribal lands along the coast and on major rivers leading inland. Like his predecessor Lt. Robert Stockton, who in 1821 persuaded African King Peter to sell Cape Montserado (or Mesurado) by pointing a pistol at his head, Ashmun was prepared to use force to extend the colony’s territory.”
“….In 1818 the Society sent two representatives to West Africa to find a suitable location for the colony, but they were unable to persuade local tribal leaders to sell any territory.”
“ In 1821, a U.S. Navy vessel resumed the search for a place of permanent settlement in what is now Liberia. Once again the local leaders resisted American attempts to purchase land. This time, the Navy officer in charge, Lieutenant Robert Stockton, coerced a local ruler to sell a strip of land to the Society. “
This information is not from me but the United States of America’s Department of State’s Historian. This is the US government own official account of what they did in Liberia.
Today, Liberia comprises of sixteen ethnic groups, subdivided primarily by their languages. However, these sixteen ethnic groups are classified into two linguistic groups, Kwa and Mel. Kwa comprised of the Dei, Bassa, Kru, Grebo, Sarpo, and Krahn mainly on the coastal South and Eastern part of the country. The Mel group can be found in the West and Northern part of the country, and consists of the Gola, Vai, Kpelle, Kissi, Lorma, Gbandi, Mende, Dan, Mano, and Mandingo.
Anthropologists put the Gola as the earliest tribe to be present in the Western region of Liberia, and some even argues that the Gola are the original inhabitants of the Grain Coast areas. However, investigation of Gola oral history refers to the Dei as the first tribe to occupy the land area of the Grain Coast. And together with the Bassa, the Dei were the first tribes to directly come in contact with the American colonists and freed slaves that arrived.
Before coming to Liberia, the Gola can be trace to the Niger-Congo region around the 13th century, from which they fled. Although the Golas also practices Islam, their predominant religious belief at that time was animist. They believed in reincarnation, and is consider the originator of the Poro and Sande societies by some scholars. Except for the Mandingo tribe, other tribes of the Mel linguistic group have Poro and Sande societies. Poro Society is a traditional school for men, and the Sande society is traditional school for women.
Interestingly, of all the tribes of the Kwa speaking group, only the Bassa tribe is part of the Mel traditional society. The Bassa tribe is consider to be the most diverse culture people because they are members of all traditions and societies of Liberia. Bassa culture compose of a structure that organizes them into chiefdoms, with each chiefdom subdivided into different clans. It is important to understand the nexus of the Bassa tribe to the Mel traditional society and their relationship to the Gola people, in terms of responding to tribal disputes and resolution of land matters.
Brief Analysis of the Sao Boso’s heroism Sao Boso worked on slave vessels that landed in Liberia at that time, and he was given the name “Boatswain” by the slave merchant. Some scholar said his real name is Kalifah Kamara. Sao Boso was born in Guinea but his father sent him to the Gbandi Kingdom, to a warrior named Litombo Sewe, in Yawuyahun village. So Sao Boso himself was a stranger in Liberia and not part of the culture hierarchy. Litombo Sewe was a great Gbandi warrior and Sao Boso’s father wanted his son to be trained by Litombo Sewe. In essence, one can say Sao Boso was send to boarding school in Liberia, under the guidance of Litombo Sewe. Sao Boso lived in the Gbandi Kingdom, a place very far away from the Gola Kingdom, especially in those days. If we do an examination of locations, we can easily place several Kingdoms or tribes between the Gbandis and Golas at that time. One would have to pass through several tribes from Gbandi Kingdom before reaching to Gola Kingdom. You will have to pass through part of the Vai Kingdom, Kpelle Kingdom, part of Kissi Kingdom, ect before reaching the Gola Kingdom. It should also be noted that Bopolu was part of the Kpelle Kingdom. As a matter of fact, the name Bopolu comes from the Kpelle tribe meaning “BO” (pronounced as ‘Kpo’ referring to the Kpo Mountain). And “Polu” means ‘behind or beyond’, which would read Bopolu (behind the Kpo Mountain).
So if the Golas were robbers along that trade routes, other tribes would most definitely have such an account as part of their oral history, and one can assume there would have been tribal wars concerning this behavior of the Golas. Also considering that they were all part of the Mel speaking group, and are part of the same Poro and Sande societies, they would have used their traditional governance system to jointly address the issue of armed robbery on the trade routes. Besides, Sao Boso was not any tribal leader or tribal warrior, and there is no account whether oral or written that he was ever tested in any battle before his fight against the Gola tribe.
Sao Boso relationship with violence So let’s investigate who was Sao Boso’s father. Sao Boso’s father was Kamara, of the Dyulas in Guinea, who was been doing business with Europeans. The Dyulas are known to be people who like to have slaves. Sao Boso’s father, Sao Kamara had a friend across in Liberia named Tanu Jallah, who was also a trader and had become wealthy by trading and dealing with Europeans, mainly those involving selling slaves. For his protection, Tanu Jallah hired Litombo Sewe the great Gbandi warrior. At some point, Tanu Jallah was facing obstacles in his slave trading business because Gola Chief Gbogai would stop Tanu Jallah’s men along the trade routes, free those captured as slaves, and confiscate the belongings of Tanu Jallah’s men. Tanu Jallah slave business was in trouble, so he went to his man, the great Gbandi warrior Litombo Sewe for help. Litombo Sewe called upon his sons and other Gbandi warriors to go fight against the Gola Chief Gbogai but they refused upon learning the true reason behind Chief Gbogai action against. To prove his readiness as a trained warrior and to show his loyalty to Litombo Sewe, Sao Boso offered to fight against Chief Gbogai. This was how the ruthless rise of Sao Boso began.
The proponents would have us believe that Sao Boso was the single individual, disregarding the culture practices and traditional governance system, as a law unto himself, to address criminal justice problems of robbery on the trade routes, and at the same time resolve land matters between the Bassa people and strangers (settlers).
The reality is Sao Boso was a pillaging antagonist, supported by some elders who were doing business with slave merchants, and he was given guns to capture his own people and sell them into slavery. This behavior offended the traditions of our forefathers, especially Gola Chief Gbogai. So Chief Gbogai would arrest those associated with slavery passing through his Kingdom to do business with slave merchants. That was the issue which arose between Chief Gbogai and Tanu Jallah of the Lorma Kingdom. Tanu Jallah was not a traditional ruler.
Sao Boso has no royal linkage in Liberia and his ancestral has no royal kingship in Liberia. Thus, the glorification of Sao Boso by some Liberians, comes from a misunderstanding of perverted historical account, which refers to the Golas as armed robbers during the founding stages of Liberia. Such twisted narratives of Liberia’s early days ignores the rich cultural diversity that co-existed at that time, before the arrival of those colonial agents. And the promotion of characters such as Sao Boso, (a slave dealer and co-worker of slave merchants), as a hero, is intended to protrude Africans in a negative manner, as a people without a sense of organized society, as a people who culture did not provide for mechanism to redress civil disputes, especially matters dealing with land acquisition and distribution. Simply put, the story of Sao Boso’s heroism is a Euro-centric embellishment to cast African traditions as brutish socialization.
On the altar of Jehovah I pledge undying resistance to the glorification of nation wreckers. Excuse me while I throw out.
The writer of this article, Chorphie Charlie, is a social and political commentator who resides in Philadelphia. He can be reached at email@example.com.