Ethnic Origin

The Origin of the Putu

“The Putu people are not a distinct people, but are part of the Krahn of the Kru group.” (Liberian Bureau of Folkways.) However, the Putu were once a more powerful and numerous people than they are today, and incline to regard themselves as a group in their own right.

The following is one of the various legends which describes their origin:

In centuries gone by a people known as the Sabo lived in the Sudan. There came a time when, inspired by hunger and a desire for new and better land, and the need for salt, this group began moving southwest towards the sea; their leader was a warrior called Saydi.

They crossed rivers and mountains and penetrated deep into a region of thick forests, fighting hostile peoples as they advanced.

When they came to fertile land on the eastern edge of the river known today as the Cavally, one clan of the Sabo settled there. This was the Flebo clan, which prospered. Another clan settled at the Southern limits of Tchien land; this was the Zela clan.

The Sabo were weakened by the loss of these two clans, but when they met the Drebo people they fought with them and pushed them south. The Sabo failed to reach the sea for the groups between them and the coast were strong and well-established; They therefore occupied the Drebo land which they had won by conquest.

A certain stream called Putu creek ran through the middle of this land; the Sabo took this as their place-name, and became known as the People of Putu Creek, or the Putu.

 (An alternate theory is that “putu” meant “cost nothing,” and the land was thus called because it had not been paid for.)

The Zela, Flebo and Putu peoples remain a pure and loyal brotherhood, and no man among them may look upon the blood of any kinsman. Any member of these groups may walk into his kinsman’s house to sleep, to eat, to live; and if he fancies any object he may take it without question.

Ethnic Origin

The Putu Deity

In the land of the Putu there is a certain deity who lives in a cave on the side of Mount Gedeh; the name of this fabulous being is Tuobo Nyeka.

Tuobo Nyeka is an oracle and has served the Putu people well, giving wise advice on important matters and solving many problems which could not be solved by men. The position of the medium or Ba Weyon Sloo who deals directly with the deity is hereditary, passing from father to son; but today the modern Ba Weyon Sloo lives in a foreign land, and the oracle sleeps in the cave awaiting his return.

The surroundings of the cave were kept clean and orderly by the Putu, and fireplaces were maintained for visiting members of the Sapa, Half-Grebo and Putu groups who traveled from afar to consult Tuobo Nyeka on matters concerning tribal and clan welfare, ill-health, misfortune, barren wives and poor crops.

The deity was consulted only when the moon was full; strangers gathered on the mountainside to await the coming of the full moon and — as was the custom of the Greeks at the oracle of Delphi — they often used to pass the time by holding athletic contests.

When the moon was full the Ba Weyon Sloo would enter the cave and the visitors would follow bearing gifts of ivory, salt, gold or country cloth; no visitor was permitted to sit in the presence of Tuobo Nyeka, and if he did he would be devoured by a giant snake. the Ba Weyon Sloo would intercede on behalf of each visitor, and Tuobo Nyeka would give wise and uncanny counsel on their problems.

Barren wives bore children after intercession, and these children were usually gifted and highly respected in their groups; certain foods were forbidden them, lest Tuobo Nyeka be deprived of proper fare.

The Putu live in the most remote fastnesses of the nation and like other proud and virile peoples they proved reluctant to bend to the will of the Liberian Government. In 1924, when they learned that Government troops were advancing on this region, the Ba Weyon Sloo approached the deity and asked him what would happen.

Tuobo Nyeka answered that the Putu would never be conquered until the Ba Wyen Sloo’s little finger became pregnant and bore a son; but the Ba Weyon Sloo died on the following day, before the troops arrived, and this promise did not come true. The Putu people were severely defeated.

The son of the last Ba Weyon Sloo is a man called Kama-in, an educated man who lives in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Some say the deity who lives in the cave would have nothing to do with a westernized man, but others wait and pray for Kama-in to return and take up his lawful duties in the cave on the slopes of Mount Gedeh.


The Power of Nysoa’s Name

A certain chief had a rice farm on land across a river from his town. When his crop was ripe he caused it to be cut and stacked in the centre of a field. Green Pigeon made her nest upon the stack of rice, and laid three eggs therein.

One day the Chief said to his people:

“Tomorrow my rice must be hauled to town, nothing else will be done.”

Green Pigeon heard of this, and flew into the sky to see Nysoa.

“O God,” she said, “I have made my nest on a stack of rice in a field, and in the next I have three eggs. The Chief who owns this rice has said that it must be hauled to town tomorrow, although the proper time for hauling has not come. What must I do?

“Did the Chief call on my name?” Nysoa asked.

“No, God; he did not call on your name.”

“Then return to your place; for the strength of men is small, and you are safe.”

During the night rains came, and the lasted for a week. The river rose in flood, and even when the rains ceased no man could pass the river for many days. Green Pigeon’s eggs hatched out, but before the chicks had feathers the river fell, and the Chief announced again:

“Tomorrow my rice must be hauled to town; no other work will be done.”

Green Pigeon flew to God again:

“O Nysoa, I bring my thanks to you. My eggs have hatched, but my young are very young and cannot fly. The Chief has said today that he will haul his rice tomorrow, and my nest is on his rice; what shall I do?

“Did the Chief call on my name?” Nysoa demanded.

“No, O God; he did not call on your name.”

“Then return to your place; for the pride of men is great, but you are safe.”

Rains came again that night; the river swelled and men could no longer pass over it. Green Pigeon’s children grew long feathers, and when they were about to fly the river fell, and the Chief declared to his twin:

“Tomorrow, with the help of God, my rice will be hauled to town.”

Green Pigeon flew to God.

“O God, my children are ready to fly, and the Chief has again decided he will haul his rice to town. What must I do now?
“Did the Chief call on my name?”

“Yes, Nysoa, he called on your name.”

“Then leave your nest and fly away with your children; for tomorrow, with my help, the Chief will haul his rice to town.”


Why Hawk Kills Chickens

A woman had a little girl whose body was covered with ugly sores. She went to all the best country-doctors and Diviners, but nothing would remove the sore, so one day she became discouraged and decided to throw the child away. That night she carried her to a dung pile and left her there.

Hawk had built her nest above the dung pile in a tree, and in the morning she saw the child below her weeping. She carried the little girl up to her nest, and gave her a certain medicine only known to hawks; in time the child became well, her sores dropped off and her skin was clean and beautiful.

There came a day when Hawk told the child she could go back to her town and help her mother; but she told her to be sure to return before night fell. The little girl went to her mother’s home where she was welcomed; her mother wept bitterly to think that she had once abandoned her.

When evening came the child stole away and went back to Hawk, whom she had learned to love, and this went on for several days. No one in the town knew where the little girl went at night.

On the seventh day her mother and the townsfolk would not let her leave the town, although she cried and tried to go back to Hawk’s tree; and when Hawk saw that the people held the child she was vexed. She swooped down upon the people of that town scratching and biting and screaming, and there was palaver and excitement everywhere.

A wise man came and with wise words he put an end to the fighting. He said:

“That child belongs to its mother, for its flesh and blood are the mother’s flesh and blood. But Hawk has done good services, and for such service she must have some good reward. O Hawk, do you agree?”

“If the reward is good, I will agree.”

“Then name the things you want, and let it be a thing we can give.”

“Then let your chickens be my slaves,” said Hawk, “and you may keep the child . . . until you throw her out again.”

All the chickens in that town became the slaves of Hawk. They brought her food and washed her, scratched her back and gave her eggs to eat; Hawk lived in luxury for some years. In those days she wore a ring about one foot, a symbol of her rank among the birds, and one day she lent it to a chicken who was courting a cockerel.

When the chicken was walking about the ring fell off, and was lost among the leaves and dirt. On the following day Hawk said:
“Chicken, give me back my ring.”

Chicken could not give it. “I have lost your ring,” she said. Hawk flew into a rage, for the thing was precious to her and without it she could not command the respect of other birds.

“Lost?” she cried. “Lost? Then this is a sorry day for chickens! I shall kill every chicken I can toady, and the killing will not cease until my ring is found.

She killed that chicken first, and took it to her nest where she devoured it. All the other chickens began scratching among the leaves and dirt, searching and searching for the ring. The ring has not been found. Hawk has never ceased killing chickens, and chickens still scratch up leaves and dirt looking for that ring.

Hawk no longer has the respect of other birds, and that is why they dart about her singing mocking songs as she hovers in the air.


The Discontented Spider

When Hungry Season came Spider assembled his people and said:

“Tomorrow I will go from you and seek food, and nothing I can do will be of help to you if I stay here.”

He journeyed many miles from his house, and saw smoke rising from a distant village. He walked and walked until he came to this village, and found it was inhabited by cassavas.

“You are welcome, Spider,” they declared. “We are waiting to be eaten. Will you have us boiled or fried, or roasted?”

Spider said he would eat them any way at all, but just as he sat down to dine he spied a column of smoke arising from another distant town.

“Who lives there?” he asked.“That is where the eddoes live… Oh Spider, don’t leave us yet! But already Spider was hurrying off towards the eddoes’ town!

Spider swooned away, and his family found him lying on the ground. They gave him fish-bone soup and corn husks, and he revived a little; but never again did he find the villages of food which he had seen.