An opinion by Jacob N.B. Parley
Human history continues to reflect how places and institutions are named after certain individuals for various reasons. One of the generally accepted reasons for naming places and institutions after certain people in nearly every society is to recognize such people for contributions made. In nearly every human society, there are certain names that cannot easily be left out when it comes to where a particular nation is coming from and where it currently stands. For instance, in Liberia, we have the J.J Roberts United Methodist School, a faith-based institution of learning named in honor of Liberia’s pioneering President, Joseph Jenkins Roberts. He established and led the first government in the existence of Liberia.
We also have a bridge over the Mesurado River. Setting the records straight, there was a bridge there before. It broke down and a new one was constructed in 2011 during the administration of Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. It is called the Zolu Dumah Bridge. King Zolu Dumah was one of Liberia’s famous tribal leaders.
There are streets, public and private institutions and other places named in honor of other great men and women- both Liberians and non-Liberian citizens based on the respective roles played in reaching our country to where it is today.
For instance, John F. Kennedy Medical Center, named in honor of one of the former Presidents of the United States of America, the J.F.D Modern Referral Hospital in Tapita, Nimba County, in honor of fallen Liberian politician and prominent citizen of Nimba County, Jackson F. Doe, Randall, Ashmun, Johnson Streets, etc.
We also have the Martha Tubman Memorial Hospital in Zwedru City, Grand Gedeh County, Tubman University in Harper City, Maryland County, S.K.D Sports Complex in Paynesville, outside Monrovia, which is named after slain Liberian President, Samuel Kanyan Doe, etc.
Is there anyone who believes that these places or institutions were named after these people because Liberia ran out of names when the streets or institutions were being built? Certainly not.
Let’s look at two great West African states; the Federal Republic of Nigeria where you find the Murtalah Mohammed International Air Port, named in honor a man I personally considered as one of the brilliant leaders in African history at the time. Though a military man, the fallen Nigerian leader’s brilliant and revolutionary statements culminated in the independence of several African states. This does not however suggest that Gen. Murtallah Mohammed was the only person concerned about seeing an end to Apartheid, once described by him as a form of western civilization.
From what I have read, each time he called the attention of the global community to the situation in South Africa at the time, people would agree with him on the points or issues raised. However, whenever he called for collective action to end Apartheid, high dividends in the form of gold and related material benefits seemed better in the eyes of some powerful nations than the general welfare and freedom of South Africans.
In Ghana, a women known as Yaa Ashantewaa- a queen mother of Edusa, fearlessly challenged and defeated then British General Charles McCarty during the colonial period. According to what I was told about this woman in the 80’s when I was in high school, the British were occupying a place owned by the people of Ghana. This was during the colonial period. I realized that while the West African Peacekeeping Force- ECOWAS Monitoring Group (ECOMOG) was in Liberia during our brutal civil war, one of the armor carriers used by the Ghanaian contingent of ECOMOG bore the name, Yaa Ashantewaa. The moment I saw the armor carrier, I took a mental flight to the story told by one of my history teachers at the Zwedru Multilateral High School. May peace be unto General Mohammed and Madam Ashanteewaa’s ashes.
These are just a few examples of reasons for naming institutions and places after people, as we have heard from knowledgeable people society.
Do Names Have Bearing On People?
There are those who strongly believe that whenever a child is named after another person, the characteristics of the person after whom that child is named are likely to have some bearing on the child’s life. Some people do not actually see it that way as they just go about giving names to their children and equally telling the newly-born children how to conduct themselves when they grow up in society. I am one of those who buy the argument that the kind of name given to a child or instructions could either make that child a good citizen or a clever devil.
From 1988 to 1996, I was actively involved in commercial photographing in Monrovia and parts adjacent for survival, especially when I did not have some of the improved skills I have today to win daily bread for the family. On a Sunday I was invited to cover a program on the Bushrod Island where an elderly man was due to name his a newly-born child. In our Liberian way, we refer to this practice as “putting the child outside.” I don’t know whether people do this in other African countries. But in Liberia, there are certain ethnic groups that plan what I will call elaborate programs to name their children. I don’t also know whether those of us from the Southeastern Region of Liberia also plan specific programs to name our newly-born children. I hope God will touch the minds of those who are endowed with knowledge, especially from a traditional perspective to help provide an answer so as to help improve my argument in case of future publication.
However, I recall many years back when I was a child when some elderly people in our quarter woke one early morning to name a child. As a kid, I recall when they (mother and father) spewed cold water in the full head of the child and made special comments such as “Be a great leader, farmer, teacher, care for others, be a great preacher.”
At some other point they would also go to the extent of admonishing the child to adopt a reactionary life style, for example: “Do not all allow your friends to eat over your head.” This particular instruction is interpreted to mean such child should not be quiet, easy or vulnerable to being ridicule by the peers, whether physically or through any other degrading means. It is widely believed that such child is likely to conduct himself in line with whatever name or instructions given when being named. This could be one of the reasons why some of us found ourselves in the boxing circle in some sandy communities during early childhood days in Harper, Greenville, and Zwedru Cities, Maryland, Sinoe and Grand Gedeh Counties, respectively. Thanks that God was able to change some of us from spending time in the boxing ring where we unknowingly inflicted lacerations on ourselves in the name of showing our strength through fighting.
Costly Effects of Directives At Naming Program
Now back to the story I was talking about, there was a time I was invited to do some photographs for an elderly man who was naming his child in one of Monrovia’s slum communities. The occasion was well-attended and remained packed not until at certain point when the child’s father went beyond the bound by making utterances that most participants, especially women considered as breach of tradition and disrespect to womanhood.
According to the elderly man, nature had cheated him by not giving him any boy child when he was approaching his late forties. “My son, from the time my eyes opened, that’s only girls children I have been having until they are five now, every time I think about getting a boy that girl child God can send to me.” “But today God has answered my prayer to born you, and maybe you will be the only boy child for me and my wife.” He went on saying: “My parents made me to be too easy and because of this plenty people can eat over my head too much. “As mentioned earlier, “eat over my head”, in the typical Liberian environment means an individual allowing himself to be looked down upon by others.
“My son, please pay my debt,” (avenge) by doing those things that I did not do when I was young. “I want you to born plenty boys children so that we can name them after your grandparents and the other family members.”
I noticed that those who graced the occasion were listening attentively, as the DJ was made to fade the music so that the message being given would be heard loud and clear as the ageing man went on instructing his child. The last of the instructions that obviously disrupted the gathering through an uncontrollable up roar of noise was, when he closed his comments in this way: “When any woman stands in front of you do it to her (have an affair), anything it costs I will pay.” “Do not be cold like cold water for people to just be playing with you or eating over your head, when the police people come we will talk it with cash.” These were some of the things the man was telling his son as the mother’s face reflected complete anger and displeasure. The man’s comments also sparked a walkout by some of the family members and friends who graced the program.
Long-running Effects of Father’s Action
But guess what happened some time ago when I visited a friend in that same area, twenty years after that program, the very father is allegedly running from church to church asking God to transform his son from being sexually promiscuous and a street fighter. The father has accordingly accused some neighbors of spoiling his son (bewitching) for drinking excessively, unable to pass by woman and beating on people in the community, thereby causing him to be spending a lot of money behind him.
For instance, in Grebo, when is child is named Swen, (klaytutuway), that child is likely to be engaged in constant wrestling with others, when the child is named Chea (dobior), it is traditionally believed that the life of such child will be associated with constant fighting, when the child is named Toe, (Targbaye), his life is likely to be associated with excessive drinking of liquor, not only that, but breaking the bottles after drinking the alcohol, etc.
Based on this, including what I have been hearing from elderly people, some of whom are blessed with wisdom, I am getting convinced that the kind of names given our children or instructions passed unto them when they are born could either make them productive citizens or potential trouble makers.
A hint to the wise is quite sufficient!
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