My illustrious friends and well-wishers in cyber land, I bring you greetings from the spirits of our forebears from Mt. Kilimanjaro in Kenya, East Africa, and from the sandy and cool breezy and palm shores of Lake Shepherd in “Gbelleh-dru”, Maryland County, Liberia–West Africa.
Just to digress a little for those of you who may not know the subsequent historical fact, “Gbelleh-dru” is the original traditional Kwa (Grebo) name for what was later renamed “Cabo das Palmas in 1458 by a Portugese sea captain named Diogo Gomes (1440-1482) who was on a voyage of discovery, trade, and slaving that took him and his crew as far south down the coast of West Africa. Gbelleh-dru was later semi-anglicized to Cape Palmas (Wikipedia).
Nevertheless, I will focus in a later post on how “Gbelleh-dru” was founded and the relationship between the sea side Gbor Grebos of Maryland County in Liberia and their Krahn siblings in Grand Gedeh as narrated to me by a Grebo elder (Old Man Brownell) in the late 1990s in Monrovia, Liberia. But for now, let us deal with the request made by Brother Charles E. King as per his correspondence below that was dated April 28th, 2015:
“Greetings Bro. Joseph:
I would like for you to please consider writing more about "The House of the Nien Dynasty of the Krahn Ethnic Group of Liberia". I think it will be fascinating. Do please consider giving us more information about it."
Kind Regards Bro. King.”
My Motivation for Writing this Short Historical Narrative
I feel elated and honored to positively respond to the request of Mr. Charles E. King because very seldom do Liberians seek self-knowledge or information about their blessed heritage that the Lord has so graciously and richly endowed upon all Liberians, the Israelites of Africa in particular, and the Black Race in general. Therefore, there is reason to rejoice when one of us through divine inspiration and out of sheer inquisitiveness requests in a friendly and respectful manner to learn about the buried golden royal and political past of Liberia and Africa, respectively. I pray fervently that many of you young Liberians, Africans and students of history and culture will emulate the fine example of my illustrious friend and Brother to seek wisdom and knowledge whenever the opportunity avails itself to you because teaching and learning are an unending and integral process of life.
The Unpublished Krahn Manuah Qualitative Research Study and Its Significance to This Conversation
Firstly, permit me to establish the historical and theoretical perspectives of our conversation and then subsequently lay the premise as to how I happen to be one of the surviving descendants of the House of the Nien Royal Dynasty of the Krahn Ethnic Group of Liberia. Thereafter, I will define what the word “dynasty” means, so that we may better understand how the dynastic system began and how it subsequently continued during the traditional historic period of Liberia and other African societies and civilizations. Please note that most of my information is based on the unpublished findings of the Krahn Mahnuah Qualitative Research Study I conducted from 2008-2010 using as research participants some senior Krahn elders that were descendants of Krahn royalties and legendary leaders. The holdup right now is the lack of funds to travel to regions of Africa that my research participants claimed the Kwa people in general and the Krahn ethnic group particularly originated from in order to verify my findings before publication is done.
My research participants included descendants of Krahn royalties including but not limited to: my parents, Prince Jack Tomoonh Yeleyon Gbaba (descendant of King Boduo, II),Princess Martha Gbeh-Nyennonh-Garh Gaye (my mother, descendant of King Boduo Chelleyh, son of King Boduo, II and father of King Barduway-Jaylah); Prince Robert Wrighyee-Zarbay Flahn (grandson of King Barduway-Jaylah, the last of the Nien Kings before the introduction and expansion of political inclusion of the Krahn people into the Republic of Liberia. Barduaway-Jaylah’s reign ended when the Liberian government expanded its authority in the hinterland in the early 1920s and when the chieftaincy system was introduced to neutralize the political power of traditional kings); Elder Joseph Quaye (grandson of legendary Krahn leader Grear-Gbarbo), and Bai M. Gbala (son of legendary Krahn warrior named Kwiyah-Gbala).
The approximated time frame of perhaps two hundred or more years of the reign (founding and duration) of the Nien Dynasty was determined based on the number of kings (eight in all with a span of twenty-five or more years of rule of each king). The information was gathered through the Krahn Manuah Qualitative Research Study through face-to-face and telephone interviews I conducted with Krahn elders residing in Liberia and in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., respectively, from 2010-2012.
In addition, while discussing the history of the House of the Nien Royal Dynasty of the Krahn Ethnic Group of Liberia as the foundation of our conversation it is as well expedient to reflect on the historical periods and existence of other previous African dynasties and kingdoms because the Krahn society is a subset of the Kwa ethnic groups of Africa, and consequently an outer reflection and offshoot of pre-existing African dynasties and kingdoms of Kemet (3150 B.C.), New Kemet (1515-1070 B.C.), Kush (1200 B.C.), Aksum (c. 100 C.E.), Nubia (c. 400 C.E.), Ghana (c. 400 C.E.), Songhai (ca. 2365-1591), Mali (early 13th century), etc. These ancient African kingdoms and dynasties preceded the Nien Dynasty of the Krahn Ethnic Group of Liberia (that lasted roughly 200 hundred or more years, ca. late 17th-early 20th century).
Special Notation about the Krahn Manuah Qualitative Research Study
Note that given that most of our information was based on oral tradition and not on written or recorded history my research participants were not too sure of the actual date that the Nien Dynasty came into existence. However, there was a general consensus among participants as to when the reign of the Nien Dynasty ended because almost all of the participants saw and remembered the last Nien King Barduway-Jaylah and witnessed the inception of the expansion of the Monrovia government’s authority in what was then called the Eastern Province, now comprising Grand Gedeh and River Gee Counties. Also, please be informed that the findings of the Krahn Manuah Research have not be published because of lack of funds to travel to areas in Eastern, Central, and Southwestern Africa where research participants said the Krahn people originated.
The Krahn Genealogical System
One great cultural practice that Krahn ancestors passed on to succeeding generations of Krahns prior to reaching the Promise Land (Liberia) is the Krahn genealogical system. This system categorizes every Krahn person into a specific traditional household based on the person’s family genealogy or family tree. As traditional African Jews the Krahns were able to maintain and preserve the history and names of their various households and clans over the centuries. Based on this family genealogical system, it is very easy to trace the ancestral heritage of anyone who claims to be a Krahn man or woman and to determine who their blood or distant relatives are as descendants of the same patriarchy or hegemony.
For an example, the Tchien Krahn subgroup has two distinctive clans: Tchien Menyienh and Tchien Menzon Clans. All Tchien families fall within either one of these two clans and this was also how they interacted with one another from the beginning of creation up to the present. The other Krahn sections like the Gorbo, Gbarbo, or Konobo practice the same genealogical system.
Below, I provide a breakdown of the two Tchien clans and the names of individual families that constitute the two Tchien clans as confirmed by Krahn elders who served as research participants during the Krahn Mahnuanh Research Study (interview with Krahn Elder Grear-Nyanoo, and Prince Wrighyee-Zarbay Flahn, October 2009).
Tchien Menyien Clan includes the following set of families: Zian-moon; Tarbehyee-youn; Wan-mah-ownh (Gweh-bo and Bai-lay-bo); Nlan-kon-youn; Nien (the ruling Krahn clan under study in this text); Beibo; Jlah-bayee; Gbar-yee-bo; Gbo-dwoo-dee (Garbo and Geebo); Sayee-nloon and Zelah-youn.
Tchien Menzon Clan includes: Yahlow; Genabo; Geneflebo; Gaywon; Gayla-youn; Doiyah-youn; Flebo; and zian-youn (Joloh-dee; Saye-gbaydee; Gbarwoo-dee; Taidee; Polee-gbain-dee; and Bar-jubah-dee). These are the families that constitute the Tchien subgroup of the Krahn ethnic group that originally travelled from Central and East Africa and crossed the Doo-boo-gboon River (known today as Cavalla River) to the Promise Land (Liberia).
The Rise and Fall of the Royal Household of the Nien Dynasty
To begin with, it is worthy to note that the dynasty system began in Africa and it was one of the virtues and leadership traits that African civilizations bequeathed to the world. A dynasty is a prominent and powerful family or group of people whose members retain their power and influence through several successive generations, most notably providing eight generations of uninterrupted leadership. Generally and traditionally speaking, the concept regarding the right to rule was believed to derive from above, from Almighty God. And, since Africans believe in the oneness of Younsuah (God), it was understood that there can only be one ruler, thus giving rise to the establishment of one throne and allowing one single king.
However the right to become a ruler in ancient traditional Krahn society was based on the virtue and wisdom of the leader, especially if he were a warrior that could defend and protect his people during periods of adversity. On the contrary if a traditional Krahn leader did not possess war-like qualities and vast knowledge of the culture and history of his people, he was automatically replaced by an individual who was more militarily prone and knowledgeable and prepared to lead his people through good times as well as bad times. Further, if a family had ruled for a protracted period of time but a successor was not competent to continue the legacy begun by his predecessors, the dynastic leadership would be relegated to another family or group.
During the existence of the Krahn people from the beginning of time to the introduction and expansion of the western governance system in Grand Gedeh County by the Liberian government in the early 1920s, members of the Royal Household of the Nien Dynasty were one particular trail blazing family among the Krahn clans that was successful in maintaining the dynasty system for eight consecutive generations, and their reign spanned over an uninterrupted period of more than two hundred years. This piece of information was based on the testimonies of my research participants and other Krahn elders that I interviewed outside of the Krahn Mahnuah Qualitative Research Study conducted between the years 2008-2010. Through genealogical research it was also confirmed that both my parents were descendants of the Nien Dynasty. Below is an account and proof of this discovery.
My Maternal and Paternal Lineage to Nien Dynasty
My mother was Princess Martha Gbeh-Nyennonh-Garh Gaye, the daughter of Princess Gbeh-Nyennonh, the daughter of Prince Wrighyee-Kpodeah. The latter was the son of Princess Manee-Doo-doo, the daughter of Princess Kpaylee who was the daughter of King Boduo-Chelleyh who happened to be the father of Barduaway-Jallah, the last of the Nien kings.
King Boduo-Chelleyh was the son of King Boduo, II, my father’s great, great-grandfather as well as my mother’s. This establishes the biological relationship between my mother and my father as members of the same royal household.
King Boduo, II was the son of King Mannah who was the son of King Gwenyon-Younlon, the son of King Gwenyon, and then King Gwenyon was the son of King Gaye who in turn was the son of the first Nien King called King Boduo, I.
In all, there were a total of eight Nien kings that ruled the Krahn people successively before the paramount chieftaincy system was introduced when the Monrovia government extended its authority to and included the Eastern Province within the territorial confines of the Republic of Liberia and in order to neutralize the political powers and influence of traditional Liberian kings. King Barduaway-Jallah’s successor was Paramount Chief Bellah-Beh who served under King Barduaway-Jallah as the king’s chief messenger.
The information contained in this historical document can be verified by traditional Krahn leaders who have knowledge of the culture and history of the Krahn ethnic group of Liberia. However, let me hasten to inform you that I or members of the Gbaba family are not the only descendants of the Nien Dynasty of the Krahn Ethnic Group of Liberia that are still alive. For an example, members of the Flahn and Tailey families are as well. The main reason for this is because many of our ancestors and parents and relatives practiced the polygamous system of marriage (marriage of one man to many wives).
Therefore, it is virtually impossible to name all members of the Royal Household of the Nien Dynasty of the Krahn Ethnic Group of Liberia because the wives of our fathers and family members have given birth to countless amounts of children than you and I can imagine or count or name one by one.
Nevertheless, one good thing that the Krahn Mahnuah Research Study revealed is that it is not too late for each of us to conduct research on our own in order to connect our past with our present and future. I hope that this piece of literature and history inspires you to engage in active research and to someday share your findings with all of us as I have done with you today.
Finally, I want to thank Mr. Charles E. King for challenging and inspiring me to write this work that I hope can be used in Liberian schools someday.
By: Rabbi Joe Gbaba, Sr., Ed. D.
Author & Researcher
April 28, 2015