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.


A Tale of Two Feasts

All the animals of the forest decided to have a grand feast. Spider was appointed Master of Ceremonies, for everyone knew he was the greediest animal in the forest and they felt confident he would make sure there was more than enough to eat.

After much dancing and drinking of palm wine everyone sat down to eat; but Spider announced that everyone must first wash their hands clean.

All the animals went to the river and washed their hands — but Monkey could not get his hands clean no matter how much he wished. He rubbed them with leaves, and sand, and oil, but they remained dirty; Spider knew quite well that Monkey’s hands can never be washed clean.

So Monkey was obliged to leave the feast; he was forbidden to eat anything, and returned to his home still hungry. He was disappointed, and sat down to think how he could have revenge. Next day he announced to all the animals that he himself would give a feast, and that it would be held under the waters of a pond.

On the appointed day the animals arrived, and one after another they splashed in to the water and let themselves sink to the bottom. Here the fund a fine array of luscious fruits, fish, herbs and nuts and roots spread before them.

Spider came to the pond, but try as he would he could not sink down to the bottom. He borrowed a kaftan, which is a long Mandingo robe striped blue and white, and by filling the pockets with stones he managed to sink to the bottom. As all the animals were about to begin eating, Monkey stood up and made an announcement:

“This is an under-water feast.” he said. “No one may wear a coat with stripes. Off with all striped coats!”

“Off with all striped coats!” echoed the animals, and looked around to see who was wearing one. There was only Spider, in his borrowed kaftan, and of course he was on the surface of the pond, while the other animals looked above their heads at him and laughed. Monkey was delighted, but since Spider was his guest he did not laugh.

“Why do you leave so early?” he gravely asked. “The feast has not yet begun. Have you already so much wind you cannot stay?”

Spider danced helplessly on the surface of the pond from time to time poking his head beneath the surface to gaze in hungry disappointment at the lavish feast below.

An evil deed always comes home to roost. Even today one may see Spider on the surface of a quiet pond, skating about on the water and anxiously peering into the depths below.


How Kpahna Defeated a Goblin

Men built a bridge across the Lofa River, so that when the rain God visited the land and made the river quick with flood people could still pass across.

But in one of the rocks beneath the bridge there dwelt a Goblin who was most annoyed when ordinary folk walked above his head; and he formed the habit of devouring them. When a man approached, the goblin would leap upon the bridge and thus challenge him:

“O man, if you would cross this bridge you must give me a hundred lashes with your stick, and I will give you one. I will lie on my stomach and cover my face; see that you beat me well.”

This seemed a reasonable request, and the man would readily agree.

The Goblin would lie down and cover his face, and when he had received a hundred lashes he would rise and kill the man with a single blow from a palm-rib, and then devour him.

Word spread about the land that a goblin possessed the bridge; men ceased to pass that way, villages close to it were abandoned, and people fled away as the Goblin began to roam afield in search or human flesh. The Chief announced that he would give his daughter and half his riches to the man who would defeat the Goblin; but few men were brave enough to try, and those who did were killed.

A youth whose name was Kpahna heard of this reward. He was a village blacksmith, and his arms were strong. He hollowed out a termites’ hill, put in iron ore and charcoal and added glowing coals, pumped in air with leather bellows to make a rearing fire, and smelted iron into a heavy ball. He fixed the iron ball to the end of a long, strong stick, and went to meet the Goblin. He boldly approached the bridge holding the stick so that the iron ball could not be seen, and the Goblin jumped on the bridge to challenge him.

“O youth, only fools came to this bridge, and I eat fools for supper! Lash me a hundred times with your stick and I will lash you once.”

“You’ve forgotten something,” said Kpahna.

“Forgotten what?”

“The part about lying down and covering your face.”

“Ah. Well. Yes, I will lie on my stomach and cover my face, and see that you beat me well, for one of us must die.”

He lay on his stomach and covered his face. Kpahna swung his stick aloft and brought the heavy iron ball crashing down on the Goblin’s head.

“Aieee!” the creature hollowed. He sat on his tail and held his hands to this head, and moaned and rocked himself to and fro.

“Aieee! Who are you, o youth? That was indeed a blow of blows. From what land do you come?”

“I am Kpahna, and I come from a distant land where man eat goblins for their supper.”

The Goblin looked at him uncertainly.

“Well…. but you are only a simple youth. Try again.”

Again the bludgeon smashed down on his skull; and, as before, Kpahna hid the ball of iron behind his back.

“Warrgh!” The Goblin rose to his feet and staggered into the forest, groaning with pain. Kpahna called him back.

“I cannot let you beat me any more,” the goblin cried.

“You must. It was your idea, not mine. Are you such a cowardly Goblin that you cannot stand a few more blows?”

“Well, only a few more then.”

“Ninety-eight more, O most worthless of all Goblins.”

“Then I will not lie down this time.”

Kpahna laughed.

What a miserable Goblin! You will lie down and cover your face, for thus it was agreed. Unless you want me to hit you in another and worse place ….”

The demon hurriedly lay down. Kpahna whirled his stick around and round above is head until it sang a thin little song; then he slammed the iron ball down on the goblin’s head with a terrible, crunching crack.

The Goblin shrieked in agony. He struggled to his knees, fell over the edge of the bridge to his rock below and disappeared inside it.

Kpahna leaned over the railing and sang a mocking song:

“Beat a Goblin, thrash a Goblin, make a Goblin suffer; beat his head until he’s dead, then eat him for your supper!”

The Goblin trembled, and crouched fearfully inside his rock.

Kpahna reported to the grateful Chief; he was given honor and riches, and the daughter of the Chief bore him many sons.

Thereafter when people crossed the bridge the Goblin would cry out:

“Who is that who walks above my head?”

And whoever it was, Siaffa or Boima or Zena or someone else, would sing in mocking tones:

“I beat a Goblin, thrashed a Goblin, Made a Goblin suffer; I’ll beat his head until he’s dead, and eat him for my supper!”

“Pass on, O Kpahna!” the Goblin would cry. “Move on, be gone, three blows from you is enough, and much too much.”

The Goblin stays within his rock, and men pass safely by.


How Hare Outwitted Woman With a Pot of Boiled Crabs

In a certain village there lived a woman who had a daughter as ripe as a yellow mango and as fair as the forest flowers. This daughter was a good and gentle girl, and so desirable was she that men of every rank and trade from many chiefdoms came with gifts and promises and tried to marry her. But her mother loved her jealously, and to herself she vowed no man would ever take away her only daughter.

Whenever a new suitor came, she said:

“To win my daughter you must pass a test: do you agree to this?”

Of course the suitor would agree; for the ways of women are devious, but a man must do his best. She would take him to a tall, thick tree, whose wood had the strength of iron, and she would say:

“O man, cut down this tree. From the wood of the tree you must build a house upon that stone you see.”

The man would attempt this impossible task, but no blade could even mark the tree. Many were the men who came in hope, and tried, and went away in black despair.

Brother Hare, whose long ears spring from a fertile brain, decided he would try. He made certain preparations, and went to the woman’s house.

“I wish to marry your daughter,” he boldly announced.

“Can you stand the test?” the woman asked.

“I can stand the test.”

She led him to the tall, thick tree.

“Cut down this tree,” she commanded him, “and from the wood of the tree build a house upon that stone.”

“I shall do that little thing,” Hare declared, and handed her a pot.

“But since I do not eat anything but crabs, will you cook these crabs soft for me before I start?”

The woman agreed to do this, and when she went away Brother

Hare sat down and began to sing a song.

“What man can cut an iron tree, or build a house upon a stone?

What woman can live honestly, or soften crabs with skins of bone?”

When the woman returned with his food he took one of the crabs and bit on it.

“O woman!” he cried. “You said you would cook these crabs soft for me. They are still as hard as bone!

The woman was puzzled.

“But Brother Hare,” she protested, “who can cook a crab so that all of it is soft?”

“Who indeed?” Hare echoed. “And who can cut an iron tree, or build a house upon a stone?”

The woman was outwitted; she could not keep her promise to cook the crabs soft, and was obliged to give her daughter to Brother Hare.