Ethnic Origin

The Origin of the Gbeta

Men tell an ancient story of the first Gbeta man, who was the father of the Gbeta people.

Judu Kuhn To was a member of the Pahn centuries ago, and more; and Pahn settled among the Manii on the upper reaches of the Jedani or St. John River. Judu Kuhn To was a sad and lonely man, for although he was married to a gentle wife, he had no children, and he felt his life was only half the life a man should have.

Youth passed from the childless couple, but they still prayed fervently to Nyiswa that he might bless them with a child: and eventually he did this thing.

In her old age the woman conceived, and Judu Kahn To took her away from the village that their secret might be kept and she could bear her child in peace: for younger women might have laughed at her. He took her to a sick-bush, and all things were made ready for the child.

When it was born a servant who had visited them spread certain reports in the village. She said that although the woman had indeed been sick with a swollen belly, it was actually a sheep who had given birth to the child, and left it at the door of Judu Kahn To. And since the woman was beyond her fertile years, people believed the tale.

The child was called Kangbi (shut door), and everyone except his parents thought he was the miracle-child of sheep.

Kangbi grew up to be a strong and handsome young man, but when he wished to take a wife no girl would live with him; they thought his mother was a sheep. This made Kangbi sad and lonely.

As he was going forth to harvest rice one day he saw a beautiful maiden passing by, carrying a small basket on her head, and he wondered who she was and what lucky man would win her; but when he returned to his house that afternoon she was sitting in his kitchen preparing his evening meal. He was not at all alarmed; it gave him melancholy pleasure to see a lovely maiden in his kitchen, where no maiden had ever been before.

“Greetings, and welcome,” he said. “My name is Kangbi, and this is my house. My food is your food, and my house is your house for as long as you may wish to stay.”

“I thank you for your courtesy,” she said. “I come from Nyiswa. It is said that you are the son of a sheep, and for this falsehood no girl will marry you; so God has sent me to be your wife.”

She said she had no name and that he should call her (name lost). Kangbi gladly took her as his wife. He love her well, and she loved him, and when she bore a son his life was full. The boy was named Gbe.

Gbe had twelve sons, each of whom developed a ‘house’ which eventually became a clan.

Today there are still twelve Gbeta clans; Gbeta means the home or ‘house’ of Gbe.

Kru women still make and use a certain type of basket in memory of the one Nyenema carried on her head.

Ethnic Origin

The Loma and Mende

The Loma and the Mende came from the northeast, skirting the great Mandingo Plateau. They settled among the mountains and High Forests of northern Liberia, a wild and remote watershed where five of the nation’s greatest rivers find their source.

The Loma were a vigorous and warlike people and today they are relied upon to furnish some of the best recruits for the Liberian Frontier Force?

The Loma pressed against the peoples south of them, and were engaged in sporadic feuds with their neighbors. When a powerful Mandingo raiding force came down from the Mandingo homeland in the north, led by a man named Foli, a Loma Chief called Nyakwe joined the raiders with his army.

The Mandingo-Loma combination made a treaty with the Kpelle, attacked the Gola and drove them west into uninhabited forests. The raiders carried the war into Via territory, and it is said that Yabakwa on the Japala Creek was founded by these warriors.

The Loma later turned against the Kpelle, and a warrior called Bau led his people into battle. Amongst many places the Loma captured was Malawo Hill, and here Bau built a town which soon gained the reputation of being the most feared and dreadful place in the land.

The people of this town were known as Gizima, “the People on the Hill,” and they were the most powerful exponents of black magic and the art of poisons known in the land.

This town was also the home of outlaws, renegades and refugees from tribal justice, but has since been made aware of the law and power of the Liberian Government.

Legend tells of a movement south from the High Forests by a group of Loma people who were sent forth to find a route to the sea. They included some hundreds or warriors; they made their way down through Gola and Dey country and established a beach-head on the coast.

They began sending salt back to their people, but the Dey, who had developed the manufacture of salt by boiling sea-water and were jealous of their monopoly attacked and drove them north.

The Loma fought their way north to Gola country, and the Gola pushed them further until they came to the southern limits of their own land. Here they settled and became the Belle.

So much for the legend: but if the facts of the coastal sortie as described are based on truth, it must be pointed out that this group of people did not become the Belle. The Bureau of Folkways has evidence that the Belle belong to the Kru group and came from the east as an organized group.

Once a group of Loma people who knew the use of horses made an alliance with the Mende, hoping to conquer the remaining bulk of the Loma. The attempts failed, and the Loma-Mende group had to fall back behind a huge rock “fossa” called Kpaky fossa.

There are many such granite domes hereabouts and this one is between Bolahun and Kolahun. The defeated band settled here and became known as the Bandi.

Ethnic Origin

The Origin of the Mah and the Gio

They sat in a round thatched house in Gbloyi town, hard by Liberia’s northern border; outside twilight was knitting the shadows into night, and inside the house firelight lacquered the arms and faces of a wise old man and a youth.

The old man was Bai Tee, the oldest living member of the Mah group (commonly called Mano) and Keeper of the Banner, lean and stooped with age but a study of natural dignity and full with the richness of his years; he gazed into the fire and as memories crowded in upon him his slow words tolled the knell of years gone by.

Konmah, a young, vigorous College student proud of his Mano ancestry, listened carefully and translated.

“We came,” the old man said, “from the northeast; from a far, far place which men now call Sudan. Perhaps four hundred years age, or five — no one really knows — there was a town up in Sudan called Beainfenten, and this was the town from which all Mano people came.

In this town there lived two brothers who were strong warriors, and who therefore were respected by all men of that place; their names were Nyan and Sae.

“Men loved Nyan, although he was not rich; but even though was rich few men loved him well. Many strangers came to visit Nyan, and for the necessary feasts he would take cattle from his brother, and kill them; and Sae was vexed. Often and often Nyan took Sae’s cattle, so one day Sae told his sons to go with slaves to a certain far place, cut down the high bush there, and build a town; and this was done.

Sae went to live with his wives, and his sons and their wives, and his slaves and their wives, in this new town.

“Nyan could now find no cattle to kill for the strangers who came to visit him, and he wondered what he should do. In his town of Beainfenten there was a man called San, and the family of San was also richer than Nyan’s own family.

Nyan traveled to the east to a certain Wise Man, bearing gifts, and asked what he should do in order that his family might become richer than the Sans. The Wise Man said that he must sacrifice the leading member of the Sans, and only then would his family become richer.

“When Nyan returned to Beainfenten, Son of the San family asked him what the Wise man said, but Nyan did not want to reveal the answer at that time. He said:

“I must make a sacrifice. The answer is in me and concerns you, but it will not come out on my tongue just now.”

San said: “Give me one ram, and then make your sacrifice!”Nyan then took San into the forest to a lonely place, and the two men sat to rest in a shelter beside the path.

“O Nyan,” San asked, “what is the sacrifice you must make?”

“I must kill you, O San. That is the sacrifice.”

“I have lived, I am old, I must soon die: to kill me is nothing. Before you kill me, O Nyan, you must promise me that your family will always honor and protect my family, and your sons and their sons must see to it that my descendants never live in poverty, shame, or danger.”

“I agree,” said Nyan. “It shall be so.”

The old man then arose, took off his robe and said it on the ground, and he lay on it. Nyan killed him. He placed San’s head in a bowl of brass and carried it to Beainfenten, and there San’s family assembled and dug a grave in the center of the town.

San’s head was buried, and precious stones were thrown on his grave; Nyan killed four cows and gave a feast for the San family, and ever since that day the Mano people have honored and protected his descendants.

“While those things were happening Nyan’s brother Sae had fallen sick in his town. His sons went to a diviner to ask what should be done, and the diviner said that Sae should make a sacrifice with four kola nuts. These nuts could not be found, although people searched in many places, until one of Sae’s sons went into the forest to hunt.

While there he saw the hole of a possum (giant rat) and dug; he found and killed the animal, but also discovered four whit kola nuts. He took the nuts to Sae, who made sacrifice and became well. Sae therefore said to his family:

“The four white kola nuts from the possum’s hole have saved my life. the possum has been killed; let the animal be buried, and let no member of our family ever kill another possum.”

“His wish is honored to this day by his descendants.

“Thus there were at that time the families of Nyan, Sae, and San living in their town, and when Nyan and Sae were old with grandchildren a certain thing took place:

“Sae had three grandsons called Lomia, Zama, and Sanben, and he had also one granddaughter. Lomia became a great warrior and leader, but he broke one of the secret Poro Society’s laws, and people demanded that he be killed. The wise man and tribal elders all decreed that Lomia should die, but Sae was not willing that this should happen, and planned his grandson’s escape.

When a meeting was held so that the matter could be discussed, Sae concealed Lomia where the young warrior could see and hear, discover his danger, and escape.

“Lomia fled that night, with his two brothers and his sister; other members of his family also went with him, and slaves his grandfather gave him. He decided to travel south and west in search of rich new lands, and adventurous young men of the San and Nyan families went with him. It was a strong and warlike band equipped for war which marched southwest from the Sudan; and many were the battles which they fought.

They overcame the Ge and enslaved them, and brought them down to a river which was the Mani River of today. Here they fought and defeated the local people, and Lomia built a town called Napa (“Na” means my father, “pa” means town) near Mount Nimba.

“In time they crossed the river and build a town named Gumpa after Gum, who was Lomia’s favorite wife. This town is the important frontier town of Ganta today; it is the oldest town of the Mah, the traditional axis of defense and attack and the core of commercial enterprise.

“The San family settled in Sanniquellie; the descendants of Nyan keep their ancestor’s promise, and at any time a San man may enter a Mah house to find food and shelter. The Mano people will not permit any of San’s descendants to be hungry, in danger, or in shame.

The remnants of the Ge, whom Lomia’s people had enslaved and almost absorbed, branched off to find land of their own and became the Gio. The Gio, Ge, Gwei, Gbe, Da and Ngere are all the same people.

“Lomia had a son called Fynia. Fynia was the boldest warrior in the land, and although in those days great warriors were natural tribal leaders he had no wish to sit in council — he preferred to fight. He became general of the Mano army and built a town called Gbloyi, this town is which we sit, commanding the road south southwest to the Kpelle.

The Kpelle was a powerful neighboring people; fierce fighting persisted for many years between the Mah and these neighbors. With the aid of Sanbeh, Lomia’s brother, Fynia enslaved many of the Kpelle, and the descendants of these slaves now live on the eastern edge of Gio land at Tappita.

“Fynia’s son was another warrior-leader, called Membiasagbli. He was so fierce he would kill any stranger who entered Mah land, and many and great were his victories in war.

Membiasagbli is buried in Gbloyi town; a tall tree grew out of his grave, and all important local meetings are held under this tree, for any talk made under this tree is always sure of success.”

Ethnic Origin

Why Gbea Never Eat Chimpanzee

One night during Hungry Season when Chimpanzee was starving he kept walking around and round in one place in the forest saying:

“I am so hungry I cannot sleep. I am really so very hungry that I could not possible sleep.”

When the moon arose he found he was walking around a tree, and presently he climbed into the tree and went to sleep. He did not realize it was a kola tree bearing many nuts. In the morning he saw that he was in a kola tree and looked in surprise at all the nuts about him. He became disgusted with himself, saying:

“Last night I was so hungry I could not sleep, and I walked around this tree many times. I was too stupid to see that it was a kola tree. When I became tired of walking I climbed into the tree and slept; and still I was too stupid to know it was a kola tree, abounding with fine nuts. I will never eat kola nuts again, or at least not till tomorrow.”

Kola nut are the Tien, or taboo of the Gbea Clan; and when the Gbea saw Chimpanzee sitting in the tree without eating any nuts they thought such nuts must be his Tien also, and that he was therefore their brother-by-Tien.

That is why the Gbea never eat Chimpanzee.

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.

Ethnic Origin

The Rise and Fall of Zolu Dumah

Gorn is a town in the Vai-Koneh chiefdom of Grand Cape Mount County; and in recent years, within the compass of four life-spans, a man called Zolu Dumah was Chief of the town of Gorn.

The task of protecting his people concerned Chief Zolu deeply, for although he had no serious rival and his lands were unmolested, yet hostile spears beyond his borders were as sands on a sandy shore.

All peoples from the Mano River to the Junk River were included in his chiefdom, and during his reign none of his people ever rebelled against him; but he was uneasy, and finally revised a plan to make the safety of his chiefdom doubly certain.

A Muslim priest, or Imam, was invited to appear before the Chief, and when he came the Chief demanded of him:

“Can you make magic to preserve my power? There are enemies about me, inside my borders and without, and they may do some evil thing against me. Can you make magic to prevent this thing?”

The Imam nodded thoughtfully. “O Chief, it can be done.”

“And can you make magic so that I may overpower any rival who appears? If you can do this, then I shall give you the greatest reward that any man can ask.”

The priest was pleased to hear this, but though eaten with desire to know what his reward might be he dared not ask. He nodded head again, and announced:

“O Chief, with my skill and knowledge I can do this thing.”

Chief Zolu smiled hugely when he heard this and praised himself in his own heart, saying : Indeed, I am the cleverest of chiefs, and for my cleverness my sons will rule a mighty kingdom. I will die with the blessings of my sons in my ears.

The priest went away, and being an ardent and capable exponent of his art he labored long and earnestly and succeeded in preparing the necessary magic; he wondered greatly what his fabulous reward might be. On the appointed day he took Chief Zolu deep into the forest, and stood him in a shallow basket such as is used to winnow grain, called a fanner.

Certain magic formulae which he uttered caused the fanner to rise up in the air to such a height that Chief Zolu could gaze across great distances of forest and fertile farmland, from river to river and from the mountains to the sea.

“O Chief,” the priest cried up to him, “know that you will rule, till the end of your days, over all the land which you have see; and hostile spears will lose their power to hurt you.”

On returning to the ground the Chief exulted at his fortune, praised the priest, and declared:

“O best of Imams, you have done a fine and loyal deed; for this you have my gratitude, and the devotion of my sons. But you must understand I fear you may do some such thing for another chief, and work me harm. Therefore I must kill you.”

He grasped his lance. The Imam proudly stood his ground, returning the Chief’s gaze steadily.

“O faithless Chief,” he said, “has all honor left you? Or have you forgotten that you promised me the greatest reward that man can ask?”

“The greatest reward that any man can ask,” the Chief replied, “is a sudden and clean death. What has gone before is lost; what comes ahead, unknown. A clean death is a painless birth into another life.”

The Imam bowed his head in grief and disappointment; but was both a brave and holy man, and craved a boon of the Chief.

“What is this boon?” the Chief demanded.

“O Chief, I wish to pray.”

“Then pray.”

The Imam prayed to Allah the All-Highest; he prayed that Zolu might die slowly, slowly, and that no son of his might ever be a chief.

Then Chief Zolu killed him.

And in truth no son of Zolu ever became a chief, and no chief has come out of Gorn since that day.