Healing With History and Heritage
Welcome to Patrick’s Place, a website offering a variety of resources on Liberia’s rich history and heritage.
This site will serve as the hub of a campaign to address negative portrayals of Liberian history and to counteract their harmful effects on the Liberian psyche. Entitled “Reclaim the Dream,” it is designed to do for Liberian history what Carter G. Woodson and other pioneering scholar achieved for black history in America.
The campaign will highlight many commonalities and bring to light significant accomplishments of earlier Liberians. It aims to foster greater unity, a sense of national dignity, and empathy among Liberians, regardless of ethnicity.
How can history and heritage help to heal our national rifts? To understand that idea, take a tour of the menu bar at the top of this page, from left to right.
The first three menu tabs link to examples of my research. Of these, the most timely is Kola Forest, which presents a description of my next book.
That book, Between the Kola Forest and the Salty Sea, presents the history of the Liberian people before 1822. It will fill a longstanding void in our understanding of our ourselves. It will also help cement our connection to previous generations, which is critical to any sense of national identity.
Our “Cinderella” and Iliad
Another section is labeled Folktales. It presents a small sample of Liberian folktales.
The primary goal is to increase interest in Liberia’s storehouse of oral literature which, although undeniably rich, is often overlooked by students of African oral traditions. Most of the tales in this collection were taken from “Legends of Liberia,” published sometime in the 1960s
A second purpose is to draw attention to the genres and other patterns that run through these stories. These patterns, which transcend linguistic and even national boundaries, have long been obscured by a tradition among Liberianists that emphasized ethnic differences over commonalities.
Liberia’s recent war has left many Liberians with an inferiority complex tied to a reliance on foreign relief. One way for Liberians to overcome that mindset is by building upon our folk tales and other oral traditions. These need to be incorporated into curriculum. Like The Iliad and “Cinderella” do in Western countries, our folk arts could well be the basis for short stories and movies.
From divorces to cemeteries
Next, the Acts section of this website presents bills passed by the Liberian Legislature between 1857 and 1940.
You’re not a lawyer or senator, so why should you care about a bunch of acts?
You’ll be surprise. The acts name some couples who were granted divorces and criminals who had their citizenship restored. They also mention churches, community associations and cemeteries, all incorporated by the legislature.
In addition, earlier acts provide the names and salaries of all government employees, a degree of transparency not shown in later years. Use the search option to look up the name of your home town or a relative. You’ll be surprised what you might find.
At the far right is a link to my Contact page. It offers several ways for you to reach me. In my view, dialogue is critical to any process of national healing. It must also be at the heart of any scholarship that serves that process.
Kolokwa, a child born out of wedlock
Finally, a box labeled “Kolokwa Wisdom” appears at the top right of this page. It features sayings or proverbs derived from Kolokwa, the language spoken by most Liberians.
The sayings featured here are comparable to the sayings of Confucius. They often lessons derived from the Liberian experience specifically. They deserve to be transmitted from generation to generation.
Kolokwa is often called “Liberian English,” but that is misleading. In reality, the language is a hybrid, with words and rules derived from a variety of local languages. Its name is derived from “colloquial.”
Its widespread use notwithstanding, Kolokwa is often denigrated by Liberian policy-makers. Some regard it, erroneously, as a corrupt imitation of standard English. Others dismiss it as impure and lack the urban poor, some of who now call themselves “Kolokwadians.”
Those hoping to ignore Kolokwa out of existence do so at their own peril. Like a child born out of wedlock, it is here to stay. It deserves to be legally recognized, sooner rather than latter.
In highlighting these resources, this website offers an alternative approach to national healing. Not peace-keeping based on foreign military forces alone. Not development policies imported from Washington, DC, or Brussels.
None of those will ensure a stable society, without a healing of hearts and spirits. That work can not be achieved by partner governments and foreign NGOs, no matter how well intentioned. At the end of the day, none but ourselves can heal our minds.
A House Divided Will Fall
Between 1980 and 2005, my homeland, Liberia, spiraled into an ever deeper cycle of violence. More than 200,000 people were killed, and over 1.5 million were displaced. Some 700,00 were driven into exile. Casualties of the war included the water and electrical systems, many public buildings, roads and bridges.
In 2006, a civilian government was installed, silencing the rockets and AK-47s. But 10 years later, Liberians remain deeply divided.
The Liberian government and its foreign partners have largely ignored those wounds to the national psyche, while spending billions of dollars on bridges, roads and first-class travel accommodations to discuss rebuilding. The recent Ebola crisis ripped off the scab to expose a festering sore.
How to explain this gross failure?
Most Liberians fault politicians. Nine times out of ten, we blame the political party we already dislike and always distrusted. Some simply damn all politicians. Others have given up on Liberia, believing it to be cursed.
Those reactions may seem different. But, below the surface, they are knee-jerk emotional reactions masquerading as analysis.
According to those explanations, someone else is always to blame. As the end of the current administration rapidly approaches, it is common to hear even high-level officials heap all blame for failures solely on the president whose confidence and largess they shared.
Whoever is explaining doesn’t have to change. We don’t even have to think differently. We expect to carry on exactly as we always have yet somehow produce better results. That is the definition of magical thinking.
Big shame better than small shame.