Bandi Ethnic Origin Historical Account

The Bandi

Old Bandi myths refer to a large inland area of water as being the place of origin of the Bandi, and state that they came to Liberia from that point several centuries ago. Their legends would seem to allude to Lake Chad; but Paramount Chief Jallah of the Bandi describes the movement of the Bandi as having been generally southward from some undetermined point far north in what is now French territory. There is evidence that they did come from the North, forced by war or lured by hopes of salt and conquest.

ribal legend says that Ngala (God) made the first of the Bandi in the form of a mighty chief called Yallawalla. Presumably Yallawalla had a wife, or wives, for he fathered a powerful son called Harlingi; Harlingi had many, many children, and these became the Bandi.

When the Bandi moved south much serious fighting was involved. The Kissi arrived before the Bandi, also from the North, and a terrible battle took place between the Kissi and the Bandi some time after the Bandi arrived. The dispute, Jallah alleges, developed in the following manner:

The Zoes, or medicine men, claimed that they possessed more power than anyone else among the Bandi. The liars said this was not true, and when no one would believe them they decided they would demonstrate their powers. A liar went to the Kissi and told their chief that the Bandi were preparing to make war on them, and that they should gather a strong army to defend themselves. He then returned to the Bandi Chief and declared the Kissi were preparing a strong army to attack the Bandi:

But a Bandi Zoe threw medicine on the liar and no one believed him.

The liar hurried off to an unknown neighboring people and told their chief that the Kissi were preparing to attack them. That group sent spies and saw the Kissi preparing an army. The nameless group took the initiative and marched against the Kissi, and thus a great battle developed. All the Bandi Zoes pooled their powers but could not stop he fight; inevitably the Bandi tribe was drawn in, other tribes became involved, and finally so many warriors were killed that no one could think of anything better to do than go home, and no one knew what the fight had been about anyway.

The liars had proved their point, but had nearly destroyed their tribe.

Ethnic Origin

The Origin of Wubomai

Condensed from reports made by Paul Korvah and Mr. S. Atkinson, the sequence of this legend has suffered damage while in transit through many generations and does not explain how a Bandi clan became part of the Loma tribe.

In olden times there was a mighty Bandi chief called Fonikgema; he was the richest and most powerful man in all the region of Halipo, and although his family name was Halingi he was head of the Tahamba Clan. Halipo was a large town which now lies close to Kolahun, Government Headquarters of the Kolahun District in the Western Province.

Fonikgema’s clan made war palaver with the Kissis. A cruel conflict ensued in which the very rocks were shattered and trees were torn from the ground and used as clubs. When the battle was over, Fonikgema discovered he had captured a beautiful Kissi maiden whose name was Kumba; she was a gentle and sweet-natured lady of high quality and he took her as wife. He already had give sons by his Bandi wives, but Kumba gave him two more sons called Fala Wubo and Seimavile Halingi.

The seven sons grew to manhood. The five sons of Fonikgema’s Bandi wives took many women to themselves and each began to form a new clan; but Fala Wubo and Seimavile were the sons of a slave woman, and therefore could not inherit either power or property; and the proud Bandi people whispered against them.

Fala Wubo was an accomplished warrior, hunter and blacksmith; he had married and sired two sons, but was not the man to submit for long to social discrimination. He decided to find new lands where he and Seimavile Halingi could live in freedom and found new clans. He fared abroad beyond the limits of Bandi territory, and climbing a tall mountain he saw fertile hills and valleys reaching as far as the eye could see.

“Kanifokoi!” he cried, which means “Rejoice!”, and thus was the mountain named. He fell to wondering who possessed these lands, and if he could gain some for himself by treaty or by war. He went home to report to his brother Seimavile; together they consulted a Moli man or Mohammedan called Famoiya, who was the best diviner in Halipo.

Famoiya consulted his magic sands, and eventually he said: “Your children will be honored and will bring great power and fame to your clans on one condition: two of your finest cloths must be presented to the chief of the lands you saw.”

Thus the wily Famoiya avoided a direct answer, as the best diviners will; but he did volunteer to go alone to this distant land, beyond Kanifokoi Mountain, and discovered the inhabitants were a tribe of giants from eight to nine feet in height, who called themselves Wono. Their arms were as thick as oranges; their principle weapons were bows and arrows, and hair of their heads were never cut. In all, they had a fierce and dreadful appearance.

Fomaiya courageously made his way to the main town of the Wonos, a large and well fortified town called Bitiyema and presented himself at the house of the Chief. The Chief was away hunting. This was a fortunate thing for the diviner, for the Wono Chief had no respect for strangers and was accustomed to putting them in a pot with potato greens, but Famoiya met the wife of the Chief as she was coming from her bath. He politely greeted her and announced:

“I belong to a distant tribe, and come to your land bearing messages of peace, goodwill, and friendship. My big men ask me to give you these fine cloths that our honorable intentions may be known and respected.”

The woman took the cloths and felt and fingered them with growing wonder and delight; for cloth was quite unknown to the Wonos. She had no wish to kill a man who could bring such splendid gifts, and said:

“My husband will be coming soon; but he eats strangers, so hide out back in the woodpile and I will see what I can do.”

Famoiya concealed himself and soon the Wono Chief appeared. He was a powerful giant nine feet high. His wife told him of the Mandingo stranger who brought presents from Halipo, but the savage giant fell into a rage, ground his teeth till chips flew and declared that strangers were not welcome in his land. Particularly those who came with gifts – for it was such as they who plotted to overthrow honest chiefs.

The diviner managed to slip away, and returned to Fala Wubo and Seimavile Halingi. Since the Wono Chief had violated the universal law called Zee, which held that ambassadors of peace must be respected, the brothers now felt justified in making war upon the Wonos. They assembled a strong army, and with Famoiya as their priest they sacrificed a bull and marched against the giants.

They were driven back. Time and again they joined battled with the Wonos, but the giants always drove them back.

At the insistence of Fala Bubo’s sons the army was divided into two; and the sons, Willibald and Kezi-zilema went to the right to decoy the Wonos from their town, while Wolobala went left through Galama and managed to reach the very gates of Bitiyema. He had been warned not to attack if the defenses were too strong, but being young and impetuous and anxious for glory he boldly led his men against a formidable garrison of giants.

He suffered severe defeat. The place of slaughter has been known ever since as “Koiwolomai,” or the Place of Crushed Maggots. The greatest warrior who fell was Valamuza; his skull is worshipped to this day.

Famoiya now dreamed a dream which revealed that a great sacrifice must be made before victory could be won. He told Fala Wubo to catch an elephant alive and sacrifice it after appropriate rituals had been performed.

This was considered impossible to do. Famoiya went on to say that if an elephant could not be had, then some man must volunteer to take its place. Seimavile Halingi at once came forward and offered himself as a living sacrifice: but Fala Wubo loved his brother well, and would not hear of it. Seimavile insisted; Fala Wubo would not hear him.

At that moment came news that a Wono expeditionary force was advancing through the High Forests towards a town called Da-azure, on the French side of the border. Fala Wubo decided one final onslaught must be made.

Rapidly the two intrepid brothers regrouped the battered remnants of their army, called for volunteers from neighboring tribes and hired the services of the most famous warriors in the land. Their army was now more powerful than it ever had been before. They marched to Da-azu, and launched a determined and vicious assault on the Wono force: and soon the over-confident Wonos found they were fighting a desperate rear-guard action which brought them to the mouth of an enormous cave.

Out-numbered, outfought, and suffering heavy loss, the Wonos sought refuge deep inside the cave; and the victors massed outside wondering how the remaining giants might be slain or enslaved. Fala Wubo and Seimavile appealed to their priest, Famoiya, to discover some solution. Realizing that equivocation would no longer serve his purpose, Famoiya sought the aid of two of his followers, Faubela and Fandawule, and they made powerful medicine and threw it on a gourd of sand, and placed the gourd at the mouth of the cave.

The sand immediately turned into a horde of big driver ants which streamed into the cave and bit the giants. Some giants were eaten, others were driven mad with pain and rushed forth from the cave. Most of them were killed or captured, but a few fought free and fled back to Bitiyema.

There remained one bloody battled to fight before the giants could be decisively defeated: this was the battle for Bitiyema, where all the remaining Wonos were assembling to defend their central town against the persistent attacks of the invaders. It now became essential to sacrifice an elephant, or some human volunteer; and Seimavile Halingi came forward again and declared he was willing to die for the sake of his descendants and those of Fala Wubo.

Fala Wubo, with considerable reluctance, now found himself obliged to accept his brother’s offer; defeat at this time would be a permanent disaster. The two brothers returned with their army to Halipo, and there Seimavile’s friends and relatives assembled. He was to be buried alive, and the burial was to take place on a Friday. Seimavile sat alone in a house until the fatal day, with no comp0any other than the rich foods which people sent him.

The burial hole was dug and Seimavile was brought forth. Fala Wubo, Seimavile and Famoiya each cut one finger and trickled their blood into a Mandingo ink vessel; using this blood. Famoiya wrote certain promises and agreements which assured the safety, prosperity and honor of Seimavile Halingi’s people. This written document was wrapped up and placed inside a pouch to be preserved as a charm. It was, and still is, kept by the oldest of Famoiya’s living descendants. It is called Famoiya, and is kept today by a man called Mbangua.

Seimavile’s brothers did not stay to witness his sacrifice. Seven arrows were aimed at his body and fired. He was lowered into the grave. Food was placed in there with him. The grave was sealed by a plank hewn by cutlasses, and a brass bucket was placed at the head. For seven days Seimavile Halingi lay in the hole crying in agony; and then died.

Fala Wubo meanwhile led his army against the fortified town of Bitiyema. His initial attack was strong and well-planned, and his warriors surged forward with fierce determination. They broke or overflowed the outer defenses of the town. In a series of swift and savage thrusts they pressed in with hacking swords and stabbing spears; and the twang of the Wonos’ bowstrings sang a song of sudden death. The battle raged day after day until bodies were piled on bodies and the very winds cried out against such carnage.

The Bitiyema creek ran red with blood for twenty days.

The Wono were defeated and destroyed. Those few who managed to escape sought refuge on a mountain top and grieved for their slain tribe. This mountain is now called “Wologizi,” the Mountain of Mourning.

Thus ended the long wars for possession of this land; Fala Wubo became the chief of all the Wono lands, and the clan which sprang from his loins are called the Wubomai. From that time no enemy has every conquered the Tahamba Clan, from which Seimavile Halingi and Fala Wubo came; Seimavile’s descendants live in Halipo, and for a long time after his death they used to occasionally sacrifice a black bull beside his grave.

A certain tree grew over the grave, and together with any sacrificial bull would serve as an oracle. An important question would be asked the full, and if it ate leaves from the tree, the answer would be “yes.” If, when the bull was killed and carved up for consumption, a traitor to the clan ate any of its meat, the food would be as razors in his stomach.

The custom of sacrificing bulls beside Seimavile Halingi’s grave has died; the grave is overgrown and neglected. Mbangua, who keeps the Famoiya (the document written in blood before Seimavile’s death) says that in the old days it took a chief or any augury to begin a war, but now all men listen to what the Government says. Even the inviolability of Seimavile Halingi’s family is no longer in force, and the promises men made to him have been forgotten.

The Liberian Bureau of Folkways adds an interesting footnote to this legend, offering several suggestions which may serve to guide the story along more authentic lines:

Falingama (Fonikgema) was a warrior of unusual fortitude who was born in distant Mecca of a man called Adama and a woman named Mawah. Having become famous in his own land he decided to carry his sword to foreign fields, and sat out to seek a certain mountain called Mamanda; travelers from the African Sudan had told him this was a fertile and well-watered place where a man with power and initiative could establish a prosperous chiefdom.

With his followers he journeyed west, and having traveled a great distance he met and fought a warlike tribe who called themselves the Kissi. Through this encounter he won himself a beautiful Kissi woman called Finda, and she bore him a son called Fala. Falingama settled at a town which men knew as Torlikoller, and Fala, who was his youngest son, surpassed his brothers in the warlike skills demanded of those times: the young warrior became known as Fala the Conqueror, or Fala-kruba, which the years corrupted to Fala-wuba.

Falingama died and was succeeded by Fala-Kruba, who continued to extend his father’s chiefdom; when he was old he had advanced as far as a town called Tolluzalazu, and at this place early one clear morning he saw a distant mountain-top now known “Woonsawa.” And seeing it, he exclaimed:

“Indeed, a man will be a child and develop into manhood, but no old man may ever regain his youth and grow again to manhood.”

His children asked what he meant, and he explained:

“Ah, my children, if I could become young again and possess my former strength I would not rest until I reached yonder three-headed mountain; and there I would build me a town.”

His children then vowed they would build him a town under that very mountain, even if he died before he reached it: and Fala-wuba did die before he reached that place, but in dying he declared that if the promised town was built his spirit would certainly dwell within the mountain. His children built a town in the appointed place and called it Bitiyema, and it is still believed that Fala-wuba’s spirit lives nearby in Woosawa Mountain to this day: and the area around it is known as Wubamai.

The Wubamai people used to honor Fala-wuba with human sacrifices, but with the coming of “’Merican-palaver” and Government influence, the practice of sacrificing humans was abolished, and in these more enlightened times a black cow is offered.

Ethnic Origin

Why Grand Bassa Was Called Gbezohn

In times gone by in Bassa land the people of the interior used to walk down to the coast bearing kinjahs, or palm-leaf hamper, filled with the various inland produce they habitually traded for salt and articles of foreign manufacture.

At the appointed place of trade they would unload their kinjahs, and having sold the contents they would toss the empty hampers into a small stream which ran to the town.

The thousands of discarded hampers clogged the water, causing it to become stagnant and odorous, and thus this place earned the name Gbezohn. “Gbe” in Bassa means kinjah; and Gbezohn means a marshy, smelly place.

Another version offered by F. Harper holds an interesting story but appears erroneous!

There was a chief called Nendeh who lived in the hinterland, and he traded with the coastal Krus for salt. Among his subjects was a man whose name was Tetteh, and his wife was known as Ku-welee. Tetteh and Ku-welee stole a bag of salt from Chief Nendeh, and when this was discovered they were obliged to flee. Since they both loved salt they fled towards the coast. They traveled far, and one day Ku-welee said:

“I am weary, and with child. For many and many days we have been walking, and we are nowhere yet. The road we follow is too long; let us take another, shorter one.”

They traveled on another road, and in time they came to a pleasant place where a river called Jedani met the sea. They began to build their house beneath a cotton tree. During their first night there Ku-welee awake and said:

“I smell something strange. I think it is a ghost.”

Tetteh rose and looked about, and behind the cotton tree he saw a ghost of a mighty snake which people in that land called Gba.

“It is a Gba-zonh,” he told his wife, “and this place is his home.”Therefore the place was called Gba-zonh after the ghost of a snake, and grew to be the town which is Grand Bassa today.

Ethnic Origin

The Kuwaa

The Kuwaa are sandwiched between the Loma, Gola, and Bandi in the northwest Liberian hinterland, and though they are well isolated from the Kru group in general, the Bureau of Folkways describes the language and customs of the Kuwaa as bearing a distinct resemblance to those of the Kru to the south and east.

There is other equally convincing evidence that the Kuwaa are blood-brothers of the Kru, Grebo, Bassa, Krahn and Dey, and indeed it is said that the founder of the Kuwaa was a great Bassa hunter.

Ethnic Origin

Origin of the Dey

According to legend, a man called Baa Gaa Volen Bili was the father of the Deys; he had two sons, Baa Gaa Gao and Baa Fai. Baa Fai was the first Propro Kan of Gawlon, or the original grand Master of the Dey degree of Poro.

These ancestors lived on Bilisue, or Cat Mountain, which is today Maban Point on Cape Montserrado; it is said that wild cats lived in this region until twenty years ago.

Baa Fai had a son called Baa Jiiwa, who went to Gawen and founded Dian Town; the place he settled in is known as Dian Kambele. The Maban, a Bassa people on the eastern side of Monrovia, also originated on Cat Mountain.

This legend, which locates the Dey’s place of origin as being on the very coast, suggests that they and other members of the same maritime linguistic group came to the Grain Coast by a water route.

The Dey have well-formulated fishing methods and are related to the Kru, Bassa and the Grebo peoples by language: they are thought to be a western extension of the Kru group. They Dey have been on the coast for several hundred years, but the date of their arrival is uncertain.

Development of salt manufacture by the Dey brought them power, wealth, and a series of wars with neighboring groups, particularly the Gola. As a result of warfare and intermarriage with such groups the Dey have lost much of their original strength and identity, but those who remain are vigorous and progressive and have learned to reap their harvests on land as well as from the son.

The late Elder Bala Setuma, a renowned leader of the Bolon Society, once summed up his philosophy of religion in this manner:

“Koon mae bolo men ji ko se kpela bele?”

“Has a belief ever came to a people who were not non-believers?”

That is, any religion finds fertile ground in a land which lacks religion. In this he alluded to Christianity and Islam, the only two great religions with which he was familiar. Either of these two religions, he asserted, might be right; and perhaps both were wrong.

God, whose existence Bala Setuma did not doubt, had his own standards by which to judge the merits of such religions; but the standards he used were wrapped in mystery and speculation, and in their arrogance with Christians and Moslems interpreted their own standards as being those of God.

God might consider the Christians were wrong, or the Moslems wrong, or both; and if he, Bala Setuma, subscribed to one of those religions he might identify himself with a lost cause.

Therefore he preferred to be neutral, locking to his own heart to find what truth he could; and he was prepared to be judged accordingly.

Ethnic Origin

The Gola

The Gola people seem to have been among the first to migrate to the region of Liberia. Their language is difficult to classify; it is virtually distinct from neighboring languages, and is possibly a direct descendant of the mother tongue of West Africa.

The Gola were an invading group from the Upper Sudan, a turbulent and aggressive people who first settled in the Kongba Forest. They were skillful fighters and the blood of their enemies was liberally spilled about the edges of their land. They were formidable opponents to early Liberian rule.

Elder N’jola Pate of Gbonjima states that one group of Gola people, the Tehr, migrated south from their early Liberian habitat in search of salt. They were infested with yaws and wore bark shoes to prevent rocks from cutting their feet; they lived in huts built of bee bark covered with pawa grass.

When the Tehr Gola approached the coast they arrived at the northern perimeter of Dey territory and sought permission to pass through to the sea. With true diplomacy they presented their White Heart to one of the Dey Leader, Disson, in the form of seven women and seven slave-money (about $49).

Disson held council, and invited the Tehr Gola to enter his land. In a fitting ceremony he place some Dey soil on a white plate and gave it to the leader of the Gola. a symbol that they could not only pass through to the sea, but were welcome to settle on Dey soil as his stranger-children.

The Tehr Gola later turned against the Dey and almost destroyed them.

Ethnic Origin

The Origin of the Grebo and Wlebo

In his ‘Tribes of the Liberian Hinterland’ George Schwab relates a Grebo legend pertaining to the origin of that group. The legend holds that the Grebo, who used to live in the interior, came down-river in canoes to an uninhabited part of the coast and made their first settlement at Rocktown.

Just before they reached the coast several of their canoes capsized, possible at a sand bar across the river’s mouth; everyone in the capsized canoes was saved, but the others laughed at them in scorn and they were obliged to leave the group. The word Grebo means ‘quick people’ (clever with canoes), and the new group was called Wlebo, from Wle to capsize, and Bo, people.

The Grebo built Take, later called Rocktown, on a great seaward-thrusting rock; the Wlebo, sometimes called Half-Grebo, lived in the interior behind Rocktown. The Grebo spread each way along the coast. Some went by sea to the mouth of the Cavalla River, where they built Kablake and Cavalla towns.

The men of both these groups handle canoes with consummate skill and are past-masters in the art of snaring fish. They are a vigorous and courageous people of splendid physique, and demand high standards of honor and skill from their children.

A Wlebo legend suggests a different history of their group:
Far beyond the Cavalla River there lived a man called Nepala and his wife, Titi. They left their home in search of new and better lands and traveled west, but when they reached the river it was in flood, and they could not cross.

A leopard happened to come along as they were wondering what to do, and he carried them safely on his back to the other side. For this reason leopards are never killed by this group. Nepala had no fire and begged the Great Spirit to help him. The Great Spirit told him to take two hard stones and strike them together above a little pile of soft raffia fibber; and thus fire given to Kepala.

Titi bore a son called Dogaya, who in turn fathered three sons whom he named Suan, Ke, and Tuobe. Suan was the father of the Pallepo, or Wlebo; Ke was father to the Ketibo clan, and Tuobo’s descendants were the Sasstown Krus.

This Tuobo is not to be confused with Tuobo Nyaka who lived in a cave on the side of Mount Gedeh, and was the oracle of the Putu people.

An account is given by D’Ollons of an unknown group who lived beyond the Cavalla river in the Ivory Coast, in a place called Nienzokoue. One day these people killed an elephant and assembled to feast on it; for elephant meat is rich fare and highly prized. While they were eating an old women appeared and asked for meat, but no one knew who she was and she was told to go away. Only one man, whose name was Uoro, took pity on her and gave her meat.
That night the woman came in secret to Uoro, saying:

“Man, know that I am the owner and mistress of all this land. For the harm your people has offered me I am going to destroy them, but for the kindness you have shown me I shall allow you and your family to be saved. Therefore go at once, and take your family with you.”

Uoro left before dawn with his family. He had barely escaped when a rain of stones fell upon his town, burying it beneath a mountain of stones which today is known as Nienekeue Mountain. Uoro and his family crossed the Cavally River and settled, founding the Gruero Clan.

The Liberian Bureau of Folkways gives an additional account which is based on considerable research and bears the hallmarks of authenticity:

Long ago a militant warrior-tribe lived east of the Cavally river in French Ivory Coast; they were known as the Gborpo, which means “warlike” and they dwelt in the neighborhood of a region called Krahn, or N’Yerya. Under pressure of more powerful peoples they were obliged to move west, and their guide was a famous man called Tranbo, meaning great hunter; it was he who first caught sight of the Atlantic ocean, while out hunting.

While traveling west the Gborpo met another migrating group called the Kras (now known as Kru) who were making their way from the interior towards the coast in search of salt and trade. The Gborpo settled for a while in a large area of granite; the Kras passed on towards the coast, and their footprints as well as the hoof prints of their cattle were indelibly imprinted in the granite.

In time the Gborpos decided to follow the Kras down to the sea. The place where they had settled was close to the great Cavally River, which they knew as the Duo, and having decided to follow the river to the coast they set about solving the problem of transport by carving dugout canoes. In these simple craft they paddled down to the sea; they arrived at Picca-nene-Cess and some of them stayed there among the Krus today. A few of the Gborpo moved eastward to the San Pedro near Rocktown, Barribo, and are known as the Etehbo.

Most of the Gborpo settled at Cape Palmas, and established themselves as a strong and well-organized people. The first town they built was named L’Debalu, meaning the gathering-centre, generally known as “Big Town.” Subsequently it came to be called Gbenelu, with a chief by the name of Gyude.

The Gborpo, having mastered the art of controlling their light canoes in sheltered water, now turned their attention to the ocean in search of fish. By persistent endeavor they won the necessary skill to combat the ocean rollers and high winds and sudden storms, and as the waves tossed their frail craft up and down the motion reminded people vividly of forest monkeys leaping from tree to tree; hence the Gborpo were compared, in their agile manner of movement on the waves, with the action of monkeys in the woods, and they were given the name Glibe meaning “the people with much agility.” Glibe has since corrupted to Grebo.

Ethnic Origin

The Kissi

The Kissi were, like the Gola, one of the first people to settle in Liberia. Their language belongs to what is known as the West Atlantic Group, part of a larger classification of ‘class-languages’ which stretches from Lake Chad to the Senegal river.

The Kissi are a muscular and thickset people, proud and stubborn as well as being accomplished fighters.

Paramount Chief Quirmolu states that when the Kissi came south from the Sudan they found a people called the Kono occupying a fertile tract of forest and cultivated fields. They went to war with the Konos, invaded their land and drove a wedge through the center of that group, splitting it in two.

One half of the Konos was forced west into Sierra Leone, where they are today; the other half fled to the northeast into French Guinea.

It has been suggested that the Konos were in fact a Kissi advance-guard who, having been sent south on reconnaissance to find new land, settled here without bothering to send word back to their people, and married the women of neighboring peoples.

Ethnic Origin

Origin of the Sande Society

In ages gone by there lived a woman called Sande who earned her living fishing. She was so successful that after some years there were no fish left in the rivers of that country. Hearing of a fine river in a nearby land she left her town and went there, and began to fish.

The Chief of that land warned her not to walk in a certain part of the river, but suspecting that this place held many fish she took her net and went there. She sand as she threw her net again and again, and snared many fish.

While wading in the water Sande noticed a hole in the bank, and putting her hand inside she found a cooking spoon and a stirring stick. She placed them in her net.

Putting her hand in the hole again she discovered a pot and a bowl, and then a bucket and a drinking cup… and then something cold and evil grasped her hand and began to drag her into the hole.

Sande cried out in a loud voice, and women in the nearby town ran to assist her. When they arrived half her body was already in the hole; they tied a rope about her waist and all began to pull. They pulled and pulled, and began to drag her out; and they dragged with her a terrible Thinwhich held tightly to her hand.

Brave women attacked the Thing, but it made fearful sounds and began to swallow the women one by one. The Zoe women of the town came with her magic and took the Thing to a sacred bush, and called it Ter-Fahr-La. Ter-Fahr-La became the women’s devil, and those who know where and what it was, and how best to control it, became a secret society.

Thus the Sande Society was organized, and named in honor of Sande who discovered Ter-Fahr-La; the ceremonies still performed within that sacred bush are known as Sande-Koo to this day.

This story is criticized by the Bureau of Folkways as being inaccurate and misleading, and the following comment is offered:

“Just as a Dazoe is head of the Poro, so a Zoe is head of a Sande bush; and thus it is obvious that if a Zoe woman lived in the town described, a Sande Society already existed there.

“Ter-Fahr-La’ means sour cane leaf, and is the symbol of certain cultural societies among people from the Western boundary to the St. John River: it is not, therefore, a woman’s devil.

It is possible that this story was told by a member of the Sande Society and was deliberately distorted to conceal certain secret facts which may not, for any reason whatsoever, be revealed to people who are not initiates of the Society.”

Ethnic Origin

How Spirit Societies Began

A man was walking through a forest when he came upon a deserted village, and since he was far from home and night was falling, he decided to sleep in one of the village houses. He entered the largest house and climbed into the loft, between the ceiling and the roof.
While the man was asleep the moon arose and a Gofe came into the house. A Gofe is an evil spirit belonging to a dead man.

Soon after a second Gofe came, then a third and fourth, until Gofes were arriving thick and fast from every direction: for this house was their meeting place. that was why all the villagers had run away.

The noise of the Gofes talking woke the man, and when he realized he was in a spirit-house he began to fear for his life. More and more Gofes came, crowding in through doors and windows until they filled house, then they began climbing into the loft, and the terrified man had to scramble up under the roof and hang from one of the topmost beams.

Gofes overflowed the house, sat on the roof, and swarmed up nearby trees. They had their medicine pouch in the room below and began to dance around it, singing an awful spirit-song. Then they began discussing the best way to avoid Waras and Softlys.

Wara is a small animal which lives in hollow logs and makes scary noises in the night. No one has ever seen one or know exactly what it is, but they devour evil spirits.

A softly is an animal like a lemur, about the size of a kitten but with strong hands which can seize and strangle even the biggest spirits; these are the two animals which evil spirits fear. But they are particularly afraid of the Wara’s call.

The man hanging from the roof realized this, and began to see a way in which he might escape. He carefully cleared his throat, and above the noise which the Gofes were making he shouted:

“Oooo–Wara, Wara, Wara!”

Which is the noise which Waras make. One of the spirits below said:

“I thought I heard the call of something.”

“What kind of something?” asked a fellow-spirit. The first one shuddered and looked over his shoulder.

“It was the call of a … of a Wara!”

The spirits who heard this turned pale. Gofes. can.

“You’re lying. It cannot be true. Please don’t say such awful things in here.

“Then let’s listen,” said the first Gofe. they all listened, and in the middle of the silence the man gave a fearful cry which filled the house:

“Oooo–Wara, Wara, Wara!”

“A Wara!” cried the Gofes. “A Wara is upon us!”

Gofes leapt down from the left, slithered from the roof, fell from trees and threatened to burst the sides of the room below. They poured from doors and windows like beans from the mouth of a bag. Each of them wanted to escape first: and when outside they rapidly disappeared.

But in their hurry they left their precious medicine bag behind; the man found it, and in the morning he took it to his home. He built a strong fence about his house to keep out evil strangers and invited the members of his clan to come and use the medicine.

That was how secret Spirit Societies began among men.

Ethnic Origin

The Kru

The largest language family in Liberia is that of the Kru, which includes six groups — the Kru proper, Bassa, Grebo, Krahn, Dey and Belle. The Kru proper, Bassa and Grebo offer the main bulk,occupying the coastal lowlands between Monrovia and Cape Palmas.

The Coastal Krus are seafarers and quite fearless. They are typical Negro stock, sturdy and good-natured, intelligent and industrious.

They were never sold into slavery; they resisted European slavers with such persistent ferocity that the Europeans learned it was just not worthwhile trying to enslave them. Instead, the foreign shipmasters made treaties with the Krus, who became middle men and raided weak or hostile peoples inland to barter slaves for European cloth, guns and rum.

Kru men were distinguished by a blue line running down the center of their foreheads, representing a ship’s mast, and few European slavers would dare to seize a man who bore this mark.

Shards of pottery and iron devices found on Liberian hilltops suggest that an aboriginal race of hill men may have lived in this country half a thousand years ago when many of Liberia’s contemporary peoples arrived. This aboriginal race appears to be extinct, and it is possible that slave raids by the Krus encouraged their disappearance.

Jacob Nma, a Kru-man whose unpublished writings cover an intensive study of his people, reveals that legends claim the Grebo and Kru proper migrated south to the coast from a point somewhere north of Mount Druyle.

On the other hand Bai Moore, who devoted many years to study of the coastal groups, suggests the Kru peoples may have come from the vicinity of Timbuktu by following the Niger River down to the Nigerian coast, and traveling west. He points out that the Krus are essentially a water-loving people and are largely dependent on rivers and the sea for their living; their fishing methods and traps are of advanced design and bear an interesting resemblance to some of those found along the Niger today.

Bai Moore points out that the Kru tongue has nothing in common with the language of any other group on the Guinea coast, and, since it is unlikely that the Kru are an aboriginal race, considers this proof that they must have come from some inland point.

A people so devoted to water would obviously have lived near a large body of water, and various factors point to the upper regions of the Niger, possibly near Timbuktu, as being the point of origin in question. In migration they would have been reluctant to leave the water and move by land, and the seaward-flowing Niger would have provided and obvious temptation and an admirable means of transport for a thousand miles.

However this hypothetical river-sea movement is not mentioned in any available Kru legend, and an equally plausible theory seems to be that they moved up the river, southwest and towards the source of precious salt.

By scaling Liberia’s northern mountains, which are part of the Niger’s source, they would have been able to reach the sea by the Cavalla, St. John, and Cestos rivers which run through their present territory.

The Kru were originally known as the Kedae. Prior to the establishment of the Republic of Liberia they had no chief in the strict sense of the word; they were governed by a council of elders, and the leader of the council was called the Kedakudu. When the masters of foreign ships made treaties with the group and hired Kedae men as seamen, such recruits were called Kedakudu’s men.

This name was inevitably abbreviated, and became Kudu. The Portuguese corrupted it to Kru, and doubtless this served the English and Americans very well, as Kru men or crew men would be a facile and familiar term.

Ethnic Origin

The Oracle of Ku-Jopleh

Ku-Jopleh was the oracle of the Kru groups, and lived in a cave on the heights of Mount Jidiah, just as the oracle of the Putu lived in a cave on the slopes of Mount Gedah.

Ku-Jopleh was a powerful oracle and possessed unnatural wisdom; the Kru groups along the coast worshipped him and sought his counsel in times of need; but he was particularly venerated by the Sasstown Krus.

The Sasstown Krus originally lived inland at a place called Boe-boe-jle, and when they decided to settle on the coast it was Ku-Jopleh who chose the site for their new town. A certain family called Gbae-wynpo belonged to this group, and only members of that family could speak with Ku-Jopleh.

When the Sasstown Krus settled on the coast and built Sasstown they continued to worship the oracle with admirable zeal, and Krus from many other groups came with gifts to seek advice on affairs of great importance.

Tradition says that Ku-Jopleh himself had no use for the gifts men brought, since he was not human, and that the Gbae-wynpo family took possession of such gifts: but Ku-Jopleh’s counsels and decisions were infallible and no one minded paying for the truth.

In matters of war, farming, trade and marriage the Sasstown Krus would do nothing before consulting him; the oracle even appointed the leaders of that group.

The Gbae-wynpo family has long since died out, and Ku-Jopleh is no longer consulted by the Krus. Yet he is respected still, and even today there is a man in Sasstown who blows on a hallowed elephant’s tusk and evokes sad, hollow-sounding notes in praise of Ku-Jopleh.

This horn is only blown when storms arise and lightning crackles across the sky; for thunder is thought to be his angry voice, and the melancholy notes of the horn beg him to rest in peace.