Paul Yeenie Harry ~ (April 14 2006)
"...These are Krahn people, the main ethnic group targeted by Charles Taylor and his rebels. The whole group you see from here to the coconut tree down there were killed by Taylor’s rebels between 1990 and 1997. And the man in the middle is the late President Samuel Doe of the Krahn tribe, whom Taylor said he came to remove. He is the man about whom Taylor also said, ‘The only good Doe is a dead Doe.’ He, too, has just said that the only good Taylor is a handcuffed Taylor.” Upon hearing this, I forgot about my fear of not wanting to stay in the world of the Dead, and I almost laughed...”
"Great men are not always wise: neither do the aged understand judgment. Therefore I say: Hearken to me; I also will show my opinion." Job 32:9,10
As I looked at the people fall on the ground with laughter because of my actions and expressions and state, there was another thing that the woman’s remark reminded me of – my undergraduate Thesis. My Thesis, which is still on the shelf in the Department of English & Literature at the University of Liberia, is titled, “The Psychology of Death and the African Society.” I point out in my Thesis that Africans generally believe that the Underworld, the unseen abode of the dead, is believed to be situated across a river. I reflected on how Professor K. Moses Nagbe (now living and teaching in the United States), my Thesis Advisor at the time, after going through the final copy, remarked, “Paul, you have written on an important topic.” But, then, there I was, unknowingly ferried across the River of Death, forcing me to face the reality of my own Thesis topic. I didn’t like the situation at all. Perhaps, my Thesis Advisor should have been with me – across that river. We both would have discussed and analysed the content of my Thesis without interruption, except, perhaps, for the jubilations associated with the arrest and the reality of a handcuffed Charles Taylor. I am not even sure whether my Thesis Advisor is ready to go across that river.
The more I thought about situations back on earth, the more I wanted to return quickly. “Please take me back; I don’t want to stay here. You’re holding me here against my will. In law this is what we call False Imprisonment.” I meaninglessly threatened them. In fact, another old mad laughed and mockingly remarked, “Who’s speaking, Counsellor Paul?” At the end of his remark, I saw more people looking and laughing at me. I was really angry, but what could I do?
“We know you have not died, Paul. Take it easy. We will take you back after the visit.” An elderly man pointed out. But I still could not understand why they would want to invite me for a visit. Anyway, my only concern was that that should not be the end of my existence on earth. I wanted to come back on earth badly. I wanted to leave from across the River of Death.
“We will take you to a few places, and then you will go back. OK?” He continued.
“Okay!” I answered with a relief and some assurance, though not hundred percent sure. The assurance came from what the elderly man had said. I reflected on the saying of my maternal Grandfather who once told me that the ancestors don’t play with their words.
“Paul, we are aware that you are afraid of dying; that’s exactly how most of the people you see celebrating here were, but Taylor’s rebels didn’t care. They killed these people as if dying was like going for a Christmas party or a Ramadan celebration. Most of these people were crying, begging and running for their lives, but they were still killed. Their lives were cut short.” The old man continued.
I got even more frightened when I heard this from the old man. He sounded as if he wanted to hold me responsible for the activities of Charles Taylor and his rebels, which I feared. I didn’t want him to keep me in the World of the Dead because of Taylor’s deeds, as I was not ready, and still not ready, to die. Besides, I was never a supporter of Charles Taylor. The old man might have known all this, but his words portrayed something different to me.
“Paul, living might not be good, but life is worth having. Get ready for the tour, so that you can leave sooner. ” He emphasized, without my fully understanding his deep philosophical saying. The expression that I was more interested in was the ‘… so that you can leave sooner.’
So, the tour of the town started, with each group – my hosts and I – having different goals for the tour – I, to see and be taken back on earth as soon as possible and, they, to show me what was happening and why it was happening. After passing a few areas, my fear was being allayed a bit, especially seeing the various happy scenes.
“If I may ask, you said these people are celebrating the arrest, deportation and impending trial of Charles Taylor. But why are they so happy about it?” I asked.
“Oh, don’t you know, my son? What affects you over there, I mean on earth, also affects us here. Besides, most of the people you see celebrating either came here because of the deeds or words of Taylor, or because their relatives back on earth are suffering because of the deeds or words of the same Taylor, or because they are angry about how the deeds or words of Charles Taylor have affected Liberia and other countries.” The elderly woman, the one who was in the canoe with me, pointed out.
We reached an area and there was a huge, happy crowd with a man standing in the middle on a platform, addressing the crowd. I asked one of the men around me about the people in the crowd and the man doing the speaking.
“These are Krahn people, the main ethnic group targeted by Charles Taylor and his rebels. The whole group you see from here to the coconut tree down there were killed by Taylor’s rebels between 1990 and 1997. And the man in the middle is the late President Samuel Doe of the Krahn tribe, whom Taylor said he came to remove. He is the man about whom Taylor also said, ‘The only good Doe is a dead Doe.’ He, too, has just said that the only good Taylor is a handcuffed Taylor.” Upon hearing this, I forgot about my fear of not wanting to stay in the world of the Dead, and I almost laughed.
We passed the first crowd and reached another crowd – a huge crowd that was divided into two groups, by a narrow road between them. I was confused over the fact that the same group was divided into two parts, but each celebrating in the same manner. So, I asked the lady to clarify my doubt.
“All these people are Mandingoes. The group you see on the left are the Liberian Mandingoes, while the one on the left are the Guinean Mandingoes. They are united by religion, culture, etc. They were the second main ethnic group targeted, I mean massively killed, by Charles Taylor’s rebel faction. If you sat with these people, and they narrated to you how they came here, you would say there is no difference between a beast and a man. Besides, you would fully understand why they are ‘crazily’ celebrating the news of a handcuffed Charles Taylor.”
The explanation was moving. I was spellbound. We walked through the narrow road and reached a third crowd at the end of the road. There were certain individuals in the crowd who seemed to be very important, as other people were surrounding them. I wanted to know who those people were, so I asked my hosts to explain.
“That man is Moses Duopue. He is from Nimba County, one of the politically most important counties of Liberia. Basically, he and Taylor came together, but Taylor killed him in 1990. That other man is Emma Glee Johnson. He was something like the Chief of Staff or Commanding General of Taylor’s rebel group. He was against looting and lawlessness and was getting so popular that Taylor killed him in 1990, but Doe claimed that his soldiers killed him. The other man over there is Jackson F. Doe, the man popularly believed to have won the 1985 elections. He, too, was eliminated by Taylor in 1990. The person standing over there, the lady over there, the man on the other side, that tall lady you see, the short man over there, the man with the paper, that other man with the book, the woman standing under the tree there, and the man with the brown hat, were all eliminated by Charles Taylor. The man standing next to the table came here not too long ago. His name is Samuel Dokie. He and his wife and other associates were killed by Charles Taylor’s security in 1997.
Liberian man says, “My mouth was full,” when I listened to my hosts explain all this to me. But, there was something that I still wanted to know. I wanted to understand from my hosts why Charles Taylor would want to kill Jackson F. Doe, since he, Jackson, considered President Doe as a bitter enemy, and verse versa. After all, it is said that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. “Why did Taylor eliminate Jackson?” I asked my hosts.
“Don’t ask stupid question, Paul. Don’t you know that Taylor would even try to kill Jesus, if Taylor heard that Jesus wanted to be president of Liberia at the same time that he, Taylor, wanted to be president?” This respond came from an elderly man. I felt insulted by the use of the word ‘stupid,’ but I did not complain, fearing that they would not allow me to come back on earth. I just said, “I see.”
At the end of my statement, I saw a man jumping up and down, beating his chest and shouting in a kind of strange English accent, “It is good for that bobo. It is good for him. I helped that bobo for long time. That bobo na de think for me help. That bobo killed me. I was crying and beggin’ but he still killed me. That bobo na de get heart. Me, today, I am very damn happy that that bobo is disgraced.”
I turned to my hosts and asked, “Who is that man, what is he talking about and why is he found in the Liberian community, he doesn’t speak like a Liberian?” One of the men around me responded quickly.
“That man is a Sierra Leonean. He was the notorious commander of the Sierra Leonean rebel group, the RUF, which amputated men, women and children. His real name is Sam Bockarie, but his notorious name is “General Mosquito.” He was one of the confidants of Charles Taylor, as far as Taylor’s diabolical operations in Sierra Leone were concerned. But you know what? Taylor unmercifully killed him when he, Taylor, found out that the Sierra Leonean Special Court had indicted Sam Bockarie and had asked him, Taylor, to turn him over to the Court. He felt that if he had turned over General Mosquito to the Court, the General, under pressure, would have leaked some sensitive information about his activities in Sierra Leone. So, he chose to kill him, no matter the friendship. What is even worse for the man, called ‘General Mosquito,’ is the fact that he can’t venture around the Sierra Leonean community, so he’s always in the Liberian community.” As I listened to the man, I could only shake my head in disbelief.
We passed the third crowd and reached the fourth. We were still in the Liberian Community. One of my hosts tapped my shoulder and began to show and explain certain things to me.
“Look, Paul. Do you see this very huge crowd? These are some of the Liberians that were killed between 24 December 1989 and August 2003. All these people from here to that guava tree are Liberians who were killed in the different massacres. From that cotton tree to the little house on the hill are Liberians who were killed during the infamous ‘Octopus’ war, which was launched on Monrovia and its surroundings by Charles Taylor. The group that you see on the other side, where you see that palm tree, are Liberians who were killed during the April Six War, a war engineered and executed by Taylor. You see the group over there, I mean, near the breadfruit tree? Those people are the Krahn people whom Taylor killed during one of his vindictive elimination campaigns, which he launched in September of 1998, against the krahn people. The group on the right here are the victims of the 2003 Monrovia War. The group you see near the creek there are …”
The man was poised to continue his explanations like a tourist guide, but I interrupted him because of what I had seen on the other side. There were Liberians singing songs of praise in a huge church, but what cut my attention was the fact that there were five white people who were also dancing, not the American or European way, but the African way. It was clear that they, too, were very happy about the same reason, so I asked one of the men around me to clarify my doubts.
“You mean those white people?” He started.
So, I said, “Yes!” He then advised that we walk much closer to the church. I followed. We stood near one of the windows, and he began to narrate.
“They are the five American nuns who were killed by Charles Taylor’s rebel in 1992. They came here a few hours ago to celebrate with us the news of a handcuffed Charles Taylor. You remember they were working for the Catholic Church in Liberia? The horrible part is that they were first raped before being killed.”
My skin crept upon hearing this one. After his explanation, we went further and saw a relatively large group of taller and darker Africans dancing, smiling and shaking hands. I wanted to know who those people were, so I asked a short man who was close to me to explain.
“All those people are Senegalese. They are really excited about the arrest of Charles Taylor. That’s why they are celebrating like the Liberians are.”
But I could not really understand why a group of Senegalese would be so happy that they would not only be dancing, but would also be found dancing in the Liberian Community. But my narrator went on to clear my doubt.
“You see those six young, tall boys? They are the six Senegalese who were arrested by Charles Taylor’s rebels and executed in 1992 in Vahum, while serving in ECOMOG. They are celebrating with their ancestors.” I could only nod my head in remembrance.
We went further and saw another group of Africans. Two guys among them were …
Allow me to rest my pen for Part Three.
About the author:
Paul Yeenie Harry is a Liberian; he lives in Poland. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org