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The Enduring Legacy of Bai T. Moore

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Though Liberia’s folk writer Bai T. Moore may be dead and long gone, his enduring legacy as a distinguished poet and folktale writer remains strong around the world with writers, artists and scholars from Liberia and afar visiting his gravesite each year to pay respect to him.

The late Bai T. Moore, born of a native Gola family in what later became Bomi County, died in 1988 in Liberia. Prior to his death, Mr. Moore had authored several novels, among them, EBONY DUST, a collection of poems that mainly focus on Moore’s village life before setting sail to America, and MURDER IN THE CAVASSA PATCH, a tragic narrative of an African love story between a man called Gortokai and his girlfriend Tene with exceptional beauty.

Besides establishing himself as a literary giant, such that could be compelled to Nigeria novel writer Chinua Achebe’s THINGS FALL APART or Guinea Camara Laye’s AFRICAN CHILD, Bai T. Moore, according to historical accounts, served as the brain behind the establishment of a National Cultural Troupe and a national cultural center that came to be known as Kendeja. 

More than two decades following his demise, Mr. Moore’s literary works which he effectively used to highlight the richness of his native Gola-Vai cultural heritage, continues to lure so many to his final resting place in Demen located on Bomi-Tubmanburg Highway. Among those who visited the late Moore’s tomb in his birthplace recently is American writer/history professor Dr.Tim Nevin.

Dr. Nevin described the late Moore as a “renaissance man whose works revolve around Liberian traditions.” “What makes Murder in the Cassava Patch and The Money Doubler different from others is they were written in typical Liberian language; this made them to stand out among other published African novels.”  

Dr. Nevin is currently a residence history professor at Tubman’s University, (formerly Tubman’s College TC) in Harper City, Maryland County, Liberia. Over the years, and after several visits, Dr. Nevin has become drawn more and more to the people and the country Liberia which provided a settlement for former freed black American slaves during the 1800s. Soon, he will be releasing his first book in the US which chronicles the life but intriguing struggle of Liberia’s musical and cultural movement beginning the 60s to the 1980 military revolution era.

Another individual who has been profoundly impacted by the late Bai T. Moore’s work is a European scholar only identified as Christian from Rome, Italy. Christian is reported to have visited the late author’s gravesite in Demen last year while he was on a tourist visit to Liberia. Fascinated by the cultural life style of the Gola-Vai people whose traditional customs was largely the focus of Moore’s work, Christian chose nowhere to live but the Dewoin Country. He camped out with the locals and even shared meal with them the cultural village of in Behsao located in the north-west of Demen, Bomi County. 

“He [Christian] lived with us here for one week before going back,” Behsao village chief and head of the village’s traditional Polor Bush, elder Morris Beysolow said of the European scholar.  

Among the late Moore’s literary work, “Murder In The cassava Patch” is the novel that gained him fame. The story was inspired by the tragic murder of Tene, whom the writer described as “the daughter of a well known Dewoin family who live in Bendabli” near Amina. The year of Teine’s murder is 1957 and the murder scene off today’s Bomi Highway is situated within proximity of all four towns, (Amina, Demen, Folley and Bendabli) that Mr. Moore used settings for Muder in the Cassava Patch.     

Many who have Moore’s “Murder in the Cavassa Patch” are left with the belief that the Tene story is a fiction. But it’s not.  This novel was inspired by a true story in which a young woman named Tene with fascinating beauty was murdered by someone referred to as “madman” in the summer of 1957 south-west of Demen. The ghastly murder of Tene left the entire Dewoin clan where crime of such nature is rarely occurs in total shock.

And as it is with many traditions across Liberia, the body of a victim killed in such gruesome manner can’t be taken to the town or village for burial and so “The chief ordered a grave hastily dug [at the murder scene] and Tene was thrown in it.”

Years later, Tene’s grave was elevated to a concrete vault and marked with this inscription: “1957 Murder in the Cassava Patch,” evidence that a murder indeed took place.

The man who led Dr. Nevin and me to Tene’s gravesite last December is Mr. Folley Siryon who informed us that it was in fact his Folley’s great-grand father who presided over Tene’s murdered case in the nearby town of Amina, as accurately indicated by the writer in “Murder in the Cassava Patch.” Now a commissioner of the Dewoin Country, Mr. Siryon is a seasoned and award-winning photojournalist who once worked together with me on a couple of daily local newspapers including the defunct fearless Sun Times and The News newspapers.

With an acute shortage of textbooks supplies in the Liberian school system nowadays, especially Liberian authored textbooks, scores of Liberian students have turned to Bai T. Moore’s Murder in the Cassava Patch which is in short supply and required by most junior and senior high schools to fill the vacuum- the result, thousands of pirated Ebony Dust together with Murder in the Cassava Patch are being sold around streets corners in Monrovia with no benefit to late Moore’s family.

Mr. Sando J. Moore, elder son of Bai T. Moore and publisher of the country’s most leading post-war news magazine called “Sando Moore’s Images,” confirmed news of the widespread piracy of his late father’s work during a brief telephone conversation with me prior to my departure from Liberia.

But for Mr. Philips Wesseh who is managing editor for the daily Inquirer in Monrovia, the problem of piracy in post-war Liberia is far beyond what many think. While he regrets the illegal re-production of intellectual properties including those belonging to the late Bai T. Moore, Mr. Wesseh attributes the ongoing widespread piracy to the lack of the availability of these novels on bookstalls for public consumption.

“Look Fasuekoi, there are no original copies of Bai T. Moore’s novels on the market presently. Besides, there’s no mechanism put in place for continued re-production of his [Moore’s] work since the war started and this leaves people with no alternative but resort to other means to get the novels,” Editor Wesseh told me recently in front of his Gurley Street Inquirer office.

In order to curb the high rate of plagiarizing his father’s life-long works, Photo-journalist Sando Moore set up a Bai T. Moore foundation few years ago through which he has successfully re-printed and placed in stock, considerable amount of original copies of both novels for use by Liberian schools. But his efforts did little to remedy the pirating of the two novels.

At least $350.00 LD which is the equivalent of US five dollars can get you either copy of Moore’s novels, Ebony Dust or Murder in the Cassava Patch. I had paid $10.00 USD for both plagiarized novels in order to do this article and even so a set of pages at the end of “Murder in the Cassava Patch” was missing as I later discovered.            

Education ministry officials in the capital were difficult to reach but even they too seem to have no answer to the outright misuse of intellectual properties belonging to Liberians in that the foot of the Education Ministry building hosts hundreds of streets peddlers who are engaged in the illegal re-production and sale of the works of many Liberian-African writers like Bai T. Moore.    

The late “Bai T” as he was sometimes called by his peers was taken to America by foster parent to attend school. Moore graduated from college and later returned to Liberia where served in various capacities including deputy minister for culture and tourism at the Ministry of Information, a position he held till his death.

During Liberia’s civil conflict, the author’s hometown of Demen near the Po River became the center of unrelenting gun battle changing hands between rival rebel militia groups like the combined erstwhile ULIMO movement and the NPFL, and later ULIMO-J and the ULIMO-K, thus earning it a nickname as “Combat Camp.”

Bai Tiama Moore has been gone for nearly 24 years. However, the inescapable truth is that had he “Bai T” been alive after the war, he would have carefully turned all those lost battle-ragging moments that once befell his birthplace of Demen into intriguing poems that one would never stop reading. That was the man called Bai T. Moore. Rest in peace “Bai T.”

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