The Kru & New krutown
The religious group in New Krutown had a church program last Sunday, December 9 to give thanks to God for the appointment of members of the Kru tribe in the George Weah cabinet. 11 members of the Kru officials, including a Supreme Court Judge, district representative, and the town governor were invited but only 4 came to say thanks to God. The occasion was held in New Krutown, Monrovia, Liberia in a packed temple of the Baffu Bay Pentecostal Church.
The invited and confirmed honorees were Joseph Nagbe, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, Dixon Seboe, District 16 Representative, Jefferson Kanmoh, Security Advisor to the President, Celia Cuffy Brown, Deputy Manager of Freeport, Thomas Doe Nah, Director General of Liberia Revenue Authority, Mobutu Nyenpan, Minister of Public Works, Francis Wreh, Director General of Liberia Institute of Statistics and Information Service, Wilson Tarpeh, Minister of Commence, Alice Weah, Governor of the Borough of New Krutown, Emmanuel Nimely, Religious Advisor to the President, and Samuel Tweah, Minister of Finance and Development Planning. Only Honorable Joseph Nagbe, Francis Wreh, Emmanuel Nimley, and Alice Weah attended.
Pastor Freddy Toquie of the Victory People Center preached for the occasion. He spoke of thanksgiving and the need to thank God for his grace. “Life is a blessing, and we have to be grateful for having it”. He spoke of the help and blessing of Jesus and the ungratefulness of men. He reiterated that Jesus cured 10 lepers, but only 1 came back to say thanks. “What about the nine”? Jesus asked. Reverend Toguie repeated the question, apparently in reference to those officials invited but did not come. “It is God that appoints and gives us power, not men”, the pastor pointed out in essence. A member of the prayer warrior sitting in the back from me agreed quietly, ‘Preach it, pastor’. ‘They would have come if it were election time. They would have come if it were a social affair’ with “merrymaking”, another member pointed out. I wanted to look back at them but decided not to. Perhaps the absent officials had good reasons for their no-show, but they have given prior assurance that they would come, according to information.
I attended the program. At first, I sat among the congregation. But the church bishop asked me to come up the stage. As I walked with him, I asked why he is taking me up on stage. I am not an official, a pastor, and I am not well known, I said to myself. Also, I did not know the bishop either. I shook his hand in appreciation as I sat. The MC continued announcing the officials as they entered. The audience stood up as each official came in. I did not hear clearly this announcement. It sounded to me that the MC was announcing and saying to the audience, “His Excellency George Manneh Weah, President of Liberia. The congregation stood up. A tall young man entered, the crowd clapped their hands.
“Is that President Weah? He looks different from his pictures I said again to myself. I have never met Weah, never saw him in person, though I covered the Liberian 2017 presidential election and have written about him in articles. I knew his father Tarpeh very well; we all lived in Claratown. Weah was born one month before I left for the US in November 1966. He is a bless child indeed. The cameramen took pictures of the just arrived official. Other individuals who knew him shook his hands. But that was not Weah. The official was the advisor to the president on religious affairs. I got to know later during the program.
The Kru choir sang in Kru, the drums beat, the tambourines sounded, and the congregation stood. Some sang the songs, and I did too. The Kru religious songs are parts of me. I grew up singing them as a child born in New Krutown and raised in Claratown. The two towns are all ghettoes of Monrovia. My dad was a Methodist minister and mom was a choir matron in the Grandoe Church, a Pentecostal church in New Krutown where I worship when I am in Liberia. I was in mom’s choir too.
At the occasion when the Kru choir sang the songs, “Under the rock, I stand”, “Someday will be a happy day”, I stood and sang with the congregation. These were some of the old and powerful Kru religious songs. They took me back on a memory lane.
I was five years old during the Didwho Welleh Twe presidential campaign in 1951. He was a representative for the New Krutown area, now District 16. Twe was expelled from the House because of his advocacy particularly in the Fernando Po incident in which native Liberians were forced to work as slave laborers on a plantation in Fernando Po, a Spanish colony in Africa. He was the first native Liberian to openly express the desire to seek the Liberian presidency. He was a legend, he was the political leader not only for the United People Party, which later became the Reformation Party, and he was the leader of the Kru people. My aunt, Amma Tugbe, was his religious advisor. The song, ‘Someday will be a happy day’ was also the Kru national song. It was the battle cry song of the Kru people. Back in the day, we were singing that “one day we will gain power and no one will defeat us but God”. Twe was the Messiah to liberate we the native people.
Back to the Thanksgiving program, more people came in. When Supreme Court Associate Judge Joseph Nagbe entered, the people greeted him with a song. He sat in the front seat with the other honorees. The cameramen were taking his pictures. He had a unique smile, looking happy to be in attendance I guessed.
Bishop Benjamin Doe Wion of the Body of Christ presented the certificates to the honorees. He expressed the meaning of the certification, but he also indicated his disappointment with the absence of the others. “We went into a great work and spent a lot to prepare these certificates. They should have informed us that they would not be able to attend. But we will appoint a special delegation to give them the certificates at their respective offices”, he stated gracefully.
Honoring a kinsman is an African tradition. In Africa, we give thanks to the almighty, the creator for the blessing he has restored to a member of the family, the tribe, and the community. We see our success in the person of our kinsman. We see this expression in some African movies. Regrettably, this feeling sometimes is not mutual. The honoree or the fortunate does not sometimes give back. They turn their backs on those who have wished them well or have given them power.
Counselor Nagbe spoke on behalf of the present honorees. Before he spoke, he asked the Kru choir to sing a good Kru religious song. The choir did. He walked to the choir singing the song and dancing. The other honorees joined in, the congregation also, the church was on a “holy ghost fire”.
Nagbe thanked God for bringing him out of poverty to glory. He briefly narrated his days as a boy sleeping in an attic of a hut in Sinoe County and sometimes sleeping on a bare house mat floor. “It was not easy in Weahkron in Sinoe where I am from”. He stated that he and Honorable Francis Wreh encountered hardship growing up as students. It was God who brought us this far, he added. He gave thanks to God for making President Weah have appointed him to the Supreme Court bench.
he counselor also thanks to the church and the people of New Krutown where he lived. “Because of the unity and protection of the Kru people in New Krutown, the town was saved during the civil war”. “I am one of you”, he told the audience, adding, “when I am in my car, I sit in front and roll my windows down”. He made most of these remarks in Kru.
In 2005, Nagbe won a junior senatorial seat for Sinoe County. He won reelection in 2011 before his appointment to the bench this year. Many of the honorees live or have lived in New Krutown. The borough is the main area of District 16, which Honorable Dixon Seboe represents. The town was the second home of the Kru people who migrated to Monrovia from the interior particularly in the 40s. Rural poverty and the lack of social and economic development contributed to the migration. The first home was Old Krutown which was located in the area now called West Point. Old Krutown was demolished by the central government in 1945, and in that year, New Krutown was established.
Review and analysis of the present condition of the town reveal that New Krutown is considered “the largest slum community in Liberia”; but it is one of the powerful ethnic boroughs in urban Liberia. It has a population about 75,000, mostly youth, “below 25 years old”, and over 75% of the labor force is unemployed. That rate is just 10% below the national figure of 85% unemployment, which has been constant since Charles Taylor’s administration, over 15 years ago. Private schools are more than public schools, thus making it harder for poor parents to properly educate their children. At the same time, the church institution has grown and is one of the influential, social orders of the community. Politicians are or should be cognizant of this reality.
This means to say that all politics are local. And local factors in politics should not be ignored, the ABC of electoral politics. First-term Representative Dixon Seboe who was elected last year should not have been absent from the church event in his own district. Bishop Wion mentioned him disappointingly in a private discussion after the program that he promised to attend. Although the representative is said to be a personal friend of Weah, the president would not elect him next election but the people of New Krutown. This factor was realized this year November when a Weah personal friend and supported candidate in District 13 lost to a community-oriented candidate who was just a former bodyguard of the president. Weah’s personal appeal to District 13 voters during the campaign did not help the friend.
Seemingly, as I look back, New Krutown’s glory days are in the past: Unlike currently, the town was cleaner, not congested and was without sea erosion. It had some of the best soccer teams in the country. Teams like YB, Yankee, and Lone Star. It was the home of D. Twe and Nahklen was the governor.
“The advent in 1951 of the “Point Four Program”, a US technical assistance project, helped improve the community as there were electricity and fine concrete houses in the neighborhood. The Dr. West or the Colonel West community was located in the coastal beach area near the Atlantic Ocean. It was a fine place with an ocean view. West of the borough, the lagoon area, was a water view with the St. Paul River entering the Atlantic Ocean, displaying a spectacular scenery. The sea did not encroach inland. That was New Kru Town. Its population later increased when Claratown was demolished by the Methodist Church in 1971, and the inhabitants, all Kru, migrated to New Kru Town”.
The early Kru to New Krutown were divided by Dakos, sub-tribal groups, such as the Karbors, the Nuans, and the Jlaos. There appeared to have been more Karbors and Nuans than other Dakos. The Karbors were located in the middle of the town, and the Nuans resided in the Point Four section and Lagoon area. Old man Bobbob, a Bassa, lived near Point Four to the left going toward the Nuan quarter. He owned acres of land in the location. Alfred Mensah, a Ghanaian, had a fine concrete house near the main paved road. He was one of the successful foreign nationals.
The churches were also instrumental in the community. The now Grandoe Church, the Peter Wleh Church, and the Methodist Church were the original religious institutions in the borough. The Samuel Doe Church came later from Monbo Town in Duala. The churches were more powerful and had a strong belief in prayer and fasting. It was this belief that paved my way to the US as a teenager for education, and it has guided me and blessed me for 50 years of being abroad and through this day. So the church gathering was indeed a reflection and a personal thanksgiving for me for the grace of God.
Despite the fine environment, New Krutown was underdeveloped more than now. There were only three elementary schools; two religious and one public school, no high schools, no health facility, and no employment opportunity site except the Freeport, where the men did dock work or worked as seafarers. The men also work as self-employed local fishermen.
Majority of the residents of New Krutown are of the Kru tribe, a semi-Bantu linguistic group of the Kwa speaking family. While one can glorify the tribe for its many achievements, including the ascendency to the presidency of George Manneh Weah, the Kru have politically suffered more than the other Liberian tribes from the domination and oppression of the settler rule in Liberia. Kru chiefs were brutally killed in Sinoe with impunity, and the imposition of taxation without representation prompted the Kru revolt in 1915-1916. The revenge of the Edwin Barclay regime specifically against the Kru for advocating and testifying in the Fernando Po case resulted in the Sasstown war of 1930-1936 which Juah Nimely and his fellow warriors fought.
In the Fernando Po case mentioned earlier, President Charles King and his Vice President Allen Yancy resigned in 1930 because of the incident. But the League of Nations Commission investigated the matter during the Barclay administration, which succeeded the King presidency. The investigation also unearthed that King and Yancy benefited financially from the practice.
The League imposed a high sanction on Liberia for the mistreatment. The Barclay government retaliated by taking action against Liberian testifiers and advocates. In addition to removing Twe from the House, the government also expelled other progressives, including Professor Dr. F.W.M. Morias, a Grebo from Maryland County, from the Liberian legislature. The Barclay regime singled out the Sasstown Kru by killing “81 men, 49 women, and 29 children when (the victims’) huts were burned”, according to a report. Among the men victims were chiefs. The Sasstown people without sophisticated weaponry and international support bravely fought back. Though poor, they felt that the government was taking advantage of them. They did not give up, despite an appeal from some educated Kru. The war lasted for almost 6 years.
Moreover, when Twe ran for the presidency, he and his supporters were politically harassed, which led to the suffering and the deaths of many of his followers, such as Thorgues Sie, Teacher Jugbe, Nimene Botoe, and Wesley Wiah Wisseh. Wiah Wisseh at night took Twe on his back in hiding from one place to another. Sometimes Twe was buried with just a small hole to see. His public announcement to become president was viewed by the settler elite as an affront. Twe was forced into exile to Sierra Leone. He returned home after many years. He died shortly after in the early 60s. Kru people, in general, were kept out of the government. Only a selected and a token few had good government jobs. It was unfashionable and politically incorrect to be Kru. Young Kru men in the cities were stereotyped as “Babi”, describing them as stupid, troublemakers, and mere fighters, though Babi, among the Kru, means big brother. Consequently, many Kru youngsters became ashamed of being Kru and speaking Kru. This suppression and ethnic negativism continued until 1980 with the demise of the settler ruling True Whig Party by the April 12 Revolution.
With the overthrow in 1980, Twe was celebrated again in New Krutown. A newly constructed high school was renamed D. Twe High in his honor posthumously. An area of District 16 was named Twe Farm, which was his personal residence. New Krutown became a respectable and important political subdivision. The Redemption Hospital was structured in New Krutown as a major health center in Monrovia.
Culturally, the Kru do not like to be taken advantage of. They are not afraid to speak their minds. Further, they have traveled the world; they had helped build communities abroad and had taught the Europeans how to navigate the sea. The late “Poet, Maya Angelou acknowledged the contributions of the Kru internationally in her poem, “On the Pulse of Morning”, which was read at the first inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1993″. Yet in their country Liberia before 1980, the Kru were viewed as enemies of the state and were largely excluded in the leadership of the nation.
In short, from my recollection, even though other Liberian tribes suffered from the Congo rule, the Kru suffered the most.So it is not tribalism for Kru churches to get together to thank God for providing the way for the elevation of qualified members of the Kru to positions of authority in the Weah government. It would be tribalism though if the Kru feel that because Weah is Kru, most positions should be occupied by Kru; and I would speak against that. I would also speak against the view that only Kru should be around the president. The president needs the best advice from any qualified Liberian who honestly means well for the interest and benefit of the Liberian people.
Judging from past and present activities of Weah, he does not appear to be a “tribalist”, or one who believes in and promotes only the interest of his/her tribe over others. He is a matured adult; and I think he knows the consequences of having selfish, corrupt, and sycophantic individuals around him. Time will tell.
I was happy for my church to have been invited to and participated in the Thanksgiving program. The pastors and the prayer warriors prayed for the honorees, the congregation, the government, the borough, and the nation. It was a rewarding occasion. It was religious, but also a cultural and historical reflection. I enjoyed it!
By Dagbayonoh Kiah Nyanfore ll