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Liberia: Dr. Joseph Saye Guannu, a tribute to an Iconic Historian

By Dagbayonoh Kiah Nyanfore II

Joseph Saye Guannu, birthed September 17, 1940, was an iconic Liberian historian and statesman. He died on August 29, 2022, in Nimba County, where he was born in Liberia. He was buried on October 15, 2022. He was 81 years old, or almost 82.

Guannu taught history at St. Patrick High School in Liberia in the sixties. During then, the Liberian government made it mandatory to teach Liberian history using “Heroes and Heroines of Liberia,” a book by A. Dories Banks Henries, wife of Richard Henries, then Speaker of the Liberian House of Representatives. The book generally glorifies the Americo-Liberians and downplays the Liberian natives. Prior and subsequent books on Liberia primarily give one-sided views of past and present events. Indeed, the government was of Americo-Liberians and saw history from its perspective. The Americo-Liberians were the settlers that ruled and controlled Liberia before 1980. Young Guannu had no choice but to teach accordingly. He knew, however, that there was a problem, that the history book was partial.

Upon completing his doctoral degree, he wrote several books on Liberian history. They include. “Liberian History before 1857”, “Liberian History up to 1847″, and Liberian Civics 2004-2010”. These books are text materials in Liberian schools. 

Here, as a young man, Guannu did not talk, did not voice out his anger and frustration. Instead, he did something to correct the problem by researching and writing accurate and inclusive history. Liberia can now tell her story correctly.

Sometimes, Guannu wanted us to write an excellent history for the future generation. He advised Comrade Siahyonkron Nyanseor to “Go to school to learn ‘proper book’ so that Liberia’s history will be rewritten to include the ‘natives.’ This way, Liberia will truly be united as one nation under God.”

The history of a people defines the nation. It tells from where they came and where they are. We talked about our history in the past but did not write it for the younger and future generations. Today, Guannu left with us a written account of our past. We are grateful.

Let me add a personal note to Guannu’s life. I met him in 1967 in New York in high school. He was doing his Ph.D. at Fordham University. Our friendship continued when he became the Liberian Ambassador to the US in the early 1980s. I served him as an unofficial advisor on American affairs. We shared an ordinary friendship in the person of Dr. Togba-Nah Tipoteh, who is a friend to both of us. When he visited Washington, DC, and was my guest in 1981, Guannu stopped by to see him. The comradeship strengthened our bond. Joe tried to get me to work for the Doe administration as a senior economist at the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs. After the diplomatic post, Guannu taught at Cuttington College. He learned about my late father’s years as a student at the college in the 50s. Information Joe gathered helped me to know more about my dad. I proudly learned that my father was a student advocate and a progressive during the Tubman era. Again, I thank Joe.

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Guannu could have become a rich man for his research, writing skills, and enormous contributions, but he died as a simple person. Indeed, he sacrificed for the good of Liberia. However, his works will live on forever. His life should be inspirational, particularly to the Liberian youths who are future leaders. They should learn that mere talking will not solve the issue, but action and hard work will improve the problem.

On October 12, 2022, friends of Guannu in Monrovia paid their final tributes to him at the Lutheran Headquarters on 13th Street in Sinkor, Monrovia. Many individuals, including government dignitaries, attended the occasion.

At his funeral service on October 15 in Nimba County, Liberia, family members, friends, and admirers paid their last respects and praised him for his personality, character, and his contributions. Attendees included his children from the US, relatives, friends, governmental officials and others, entailing Senator Prince Johnson, Tiawan Gonglo, Senator Conmany Wesseh, and Musa  Hassah Ability. Togba-Nah Tipoteh, his 2011 presidential running mate, also attended. Guannu was buried in Nimba.

Now that he has done the more significant part by writing our national history, it behooves us to do our part by writing our individual stories. Everyone has a history, a story about you, when and where you were born, and background information about you and your family. Do not wait, and do not say that you are not important or people will not care. Please do it now, for your story will speak for you when you cannot talk and are no longer in this world. Also, you do not have to be well-educated. In 2018, Koffa Kro Nimley, a Liberian native from Grandcess, wrote her history without completing high school. One year after, she died. She was 93 years old, and her family did not have to compose her life sketch. She wrote it herself. Her death and story were published worldwide. http://www.thepatrioticvanguard.com/death-and-celebration-of-the-life-of-koffa-kro-naka-nimley?pr=94058&lang=ar. Like Joe, her history lives on.

Farewell, brother Joe Guannu, and thanks for your brilliant work.

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The New Dawn is Liberia’s Truly Independent Newspaper Published by Searchlight Communications Inc. Established on November 16, 2009, with its first hard copy publication on January 22, 2010. The office is located on UN Drive in Monrovia Liberia. The New Dawn is bilingual (both English & French).
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