Left in the Cold
Boima Ngebla suffers from complete visual impairment or blindness. A 65 year old pensioner and father of three, Boima and his dependents live on the 2000 Liberian dollars monthly income he receives as pension benefit. Marie Myers, in her late 50s, is also a pensioner just like Ma Gbessay, Garmai Carter and Nyeapu Flomo.
A common thread runs through their lives as well as that of many other pensioners found around the ELWA-RIA beltway and other parts of the country. They were all members of the Kendeja National Cultural Centre. At one time as students, and later as instructors who imparted traditional culture, homemaking, arts and craft, and many other traditional social skills to young entrants at the Centre. Looking back, the pensioners all agree that something radical needs to be done to revive traditional Liberian culture.
“Our culture is slowly dying,” maintains Boima, who joined the National Cultural Centre in 1965, two years after its establishment. “At the Centre, we learned how to respect our elders, we learned etiquette, we learned how to survive and we also went to school. President Tolbert was one of those who taught us about respect. Whenever he visited the Centre, President Tolbert always sat on the bare floor in his white Higher-Heights suit. Of course, his Ministers had to do the same when the President himself sat down on the floor in the presence of traditional leaders,” Boima said, noting sadly that “the civil war broke down our culture and traditional systems to the lowest level.”
According to Boima and several Kendeja pensioners interviewed, they were personally recruited by President Tolbert to join the Kendeja National Cultural Centre, where he (Boima) featured as chief drummer and dancer. Boima and others believe that not much is happening to revive Kendeja to its prewar status after Government had received US$400,000 to relocate the Centre on the Mar-shall Highway. “We were forced out of Kendeja, given US$500 and told the Centre would be rebuilt in Marshall. Nothing has happened yet,” he says.
Cultural “Decentralization Plan” Afoot
Liberia’s Deputy Minister for Culture and Tourism at the Ministry of Information, Elizabeth Hoff, however, assures that reconstruction of the new Cultural Center is underway. “We acquired a 50-acre land in Behn Town, Marshall Highway, to construct the new National Cultural Centre. We’ve resurveyed the land and plan serious construction this year,” Minister Hoff said. She also intimated that the focus of government is to decentralize the National Cultural Centre. “We have appointed national culture coordinators in the 16 counties to scout for local talents who will form part of their respective county Cultural Centres. In this regard, MICAT is working closely with the Ministry of Internal Affairs, through the office of the Deputy Minister for Operations, Ms. Gbemie Kollie, to effect our decentralization plan,” Hoff maintains, adding that even for the pending July 26, 2015 Independence Day Celebrations in Sinoe County, the Ministry will work through the local Cultural Centre to highlight “our rich tradition and culture”.
Pensioner Npeapu Flomo owns the Nyeapu Flomo Arts and Crafts Business Center, a stone thrown away from the RLJ Kendeja Resorts and Villa. Once the lead dancer in the National Cultural Troupe, Nyeapu now sells raf¬fia, sassa, African drums, ratto and eye-catching beads to adorn the wrists and ankles of cultural dancers. She learned all her craft as a Kendeja student, when President Tolbert brought her from Belefanai, Bong County, in 1974 to attend the institution. “It is because of Kendeja that I am making money to help my family today. Through my shop, I get contracts from the Red Cross and Save the Children to produce traditional materials. It will be a good thing if government rebuilds the National Cultural Centre so our culture and tradition will be passed down to the next generation,” Nyeapu observed, noting that “our older artists who were fortunate to go to America during the war, must help to convince investors and other well-meaning organizations to rebuild the National Cultural Centre, to be even better than what it used to be.”