Liberian Letters 6

By Merran Fraenkel

Krutown, 10th January 1959.

Do you know what happened this morning when I made the bed? I found myself absent mindedly hunting around for your pyjamas.  Even more touching, I hardly ever remember laying the table for one…. Doesn’t that tug at your heart-strings?…

In the evening there was a concert by the Youth Spiritual Club in Doe’s church…. Lots of improvised playlets under the guiding hand of a lively man who calls himself Dr. S. Wia, B.Sc. (Freetown) who clearly has plenty of ability plus a sense of humour…. Interspersed with some glueye hymn singinging, some very funnt parodies about the church … taking off the prechers who go on too long, pinch the collection etc.and the old ladies who “get the shakes“. The audience roared with laughter, especially when they started guying the ideosycracies of the local revs.  The revs‘ pew, I might say, sat looking benevolent and puzzled. Another play was the Woman of Samaria and that was a real riot, women getting the holy ghost all over the place.

Krutown, 15th January 1959.

We are in the middle of the Kru celebrations. Yesterday they marched through Monrovia, a fascinating procession of people in every kind of dress – top hats to war dancers, the Shosimmy girls and about five other dancing societies….

At 5 p.m. we all went in to the [presidential] Mansion. It was carefully segregated into Big Shots on the Broad Street side, the Kru hoi-poloi in the Ashmun Street side, with the president and the Kru big shots on the dais in the middle. I moved rapidly to the lower orders‘ side which was entertaining but it made it almost impossible to hear the speeches because the odd 4,ooo Kru present were a very lively crowd indeed…. One or two of the big men on the platform periodically leaping up and yelling Bati! Bati! Batio – to be greeted by shouts of delighted laughter, which helped not one bit to diminish the din. The speeches went on for three hours, all rather repetitive adulation of WVS [President Tubman]  I alternated between a European-type distaste at the boot-licking and an African-type delight at hearing the Big Chief’s praise-song….. It’s when you see them altogether … you realise what curously lively and intelligent faces the Kru have, even the women’s associations – mostly illiterate … a sort of impudent beauty…. The female associations have written a new song “The presidenrt gave a cow and Governor Nanklen ate the head“.. apparently he kept half for himself… I felt rather sorry for Nanklen [governor of New Kru town who was always helpful to Merran] It was a terrific task to undertake. Somebody should have stopped him or organised it for him.

1st February 1959.

Do you remember the lame man from the house next door…the one with good English? (They call him Speaker because of that) Well, he’s a professional beggar, relies particularly on the Saturday morning visit the the Mansion. Doolittle [Merran’s code name for Pres. Tubman] used to give $1.oo to each beggar every Saturday. Well, one day the beggars, infected by the general tralala, put their money together and bought a goat as a grateful thanks present to Doolittle. Latter took one look at it and reduced the dole to 50 cents.

I’ve been having streams of visitors including Rev Moffat…..There is a glorious tale about Moffat.  He has never married and this is a terrible thorn in the flesh of his congregation since he continually carries on with young female worshippers and gets involved in paying woman damages – which the congregation meets in order to hush up the scandal…. Recently the congregation got really mad, and since he was known to be carrying on, for once, with an unmarried woman, they besieged his house one night and demanded her. He denied that she was there. Ensued a search which eventually disclosed her concealed beneath the Liberian flag.  The congregation tried to bring pressure on them to marry but she  refused and, what is more, took the church to court for libel, denying she had been in the house.  The hushing up of that one brought in various big shots from Monrovia…..Quite a man, our twinkling little Rev. Moffat.

I’m getting letters from the Institute … congratulating me (and you) for the fact that unlike lots of women anthropologists, I haven’t immediately packed up on getting married and have carried on with the job.  And I want to keep that reputation for future days…