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.