This narrative was provided to express how pleased and gratified Dr. Gbaba feels receiving from the Alumni Association of Nathan E. Gibson Academy, a custom-made pen with his name engraved on it. The symbolic gesture of presenting the Liberian playwright with a custom-made pen that has his name inscribed on it, shows that the leadership of the organization thoughtfully made an informed decision that reflects the importance they attach to literacy and education. It also signifies their true belief in the merit system, achievement, and the dignity of labor.
The symbolic gesture of the NEGMA Alumni Association has given the playwright a booster to continue his human rights advocacy and literary advancement and promotion in Liberia and abroad. In other words, sometimes it is not the big gestures or things that matter the most but the little things, the little symbolic gestures that are culturally relevant, such as gifting a playwright with a pen! Against this backdrop, it is safe to say NEGMA’s Alumni’s patriotic gesture speaks volumes especially at a time in Liberian history when it is averred that “Education is not important.” Further, it interprets the true intent of the those who presented their gift to Dr. Gbaba, as being a new breed of Liberians who strongly believe in and support the truth, wisdom, knowledge, justice and rule of law.
The NEGMA’s Alumni’s gift reflects their ardent desire to lift Liberia up from the dungeon of genocide and self-destruction. It speaks to the need to construct a merit-based society and to reward those who work diligently to uplift the image of Liberia nationally and internationally and that deserve their flowers while they are alive. Consequently, the Rabbi expresses grateful thanks and appreciation to the NEGMA Family for their support and recognition of his services to Liberia and humanity. He considers this unique gesture as a worthy gift for a national playwright. Your gift brings back memories of Dr. Gbaba’s forty-five years of service to Liberians and humanity as narrated below.
What Did Liberia Look Like Forty-Five Years Ago?
Liberia forty-five years ago was quite different from what it is now. Back in the day it was ruled by a privileged minority clique who were descendants of liberated African Americans referred to as Americo-Liberians and as Congaus. Their ancestors repatriated to Liberia after the abolition of slavery in the United States. Thus, Liberia was divided on ethnic, social, and economic lines. The Americo-Liberians/Congaus enjoyed political and economic powers for over a century and thirty-three years and during that time frame they marginalized the indigenous peoples who were in the majority.
Thus, as an indigenous child Joe grew up as part of the oppressed class in the Liberian society, despite the fact he was from a royal background. Joe was a victim of economic deprivation and political isolation. Therefore, he felt something should be done to bridge the gap between the “haves” and “have-nots” in the Liberian society. How this would be done was still not clear in his mind’s eye when he enrolled at Carroll High School in 1972 in the tenth grade.
Forty-five years ago (1974), a young Liberian not quite twenty years old received a calling from God in a vision. This happened when he was a senior student and while attending one of Africa’s most prestigious secondary institutions called Carroll High School (CHS). The school was an all-boys Catholic boarding school established in 1969 in Grassfield, Yekepa, on the slopes of the highest mountain peak called Mount Nimba, in Nimba County, and in the northern region of the Republic of Liberia, Africa’s oldest Republic. The mountain forms part of the Futa Jallons Mountain Range and as part of the official border between Liberia and Guinea on the north and the northeastern border between la Cote d’Ivoire and Liberia. CHS is presently a coeducational institution.
The school’s mission was to provide inexpensive education for boys from poor economic backgrounds, almost the same reason Nathan E. Gibson Academy was established though NEGMA is co-educational. Its secondary purpose was to also serve as a minor seminary for young men that wanted to join the Catholic priesthood. Carroll High was run by English and Irish religious order called the Congregation of Christian Brothers (CFC) founded by the Blessed Edmund Ignatius Rice.
CHS was named in honor of Archbishop Francis J. Carroll, an Irish Catholic Priest and Archbishop of Monrovia and Vatican Apostolic Nuncio accredited near Monrovia, the capital city of Liberia. For those who met and knew the late Catholic Archbishop and Vatican diplomat, they can attest that not only was he a seasoned politician and diplomat, but he was a true shepherd of his sheep. Further, Archbishop Carroll had a retentive memory as well. All you had to do was tell him your name and which part of Liberia you originate from and he would tell you something about some relative of yours. The Catholic prelate was a people’s person. His Grace Archbishop Francis J. Carroll was a loving and kind Catholic cleric who knew his sheep and he shepherded them with diligence and devotion until his death. Consequently, this is the reason a school was named in his honor.
Joe as a Youth Leader at St. Philomena’s and Carroll High Schools
Joe was a youth leader and the top of his class at St. Philomena’s Junior High School in his hometown called Zwedru, the capital city of Grand Gedeh County, and home of the Krahn ethnic group of Liberia. As a descendant of Krahn royalty, his patriarchs were kings for more than two hundred years and the City of Zwedru was founded by his great-great-grand ancestor named Yarlee-Gbanh more than a century ago. As a youth leader, Joe established a youth sports club known as “Gaye Sumu”. He named the organization after his cousin Honorable David Gaye who was then the local Police Director in Grand Gedeh County. So, the young intellectual lad had some youth leadership skills under his belt, and he was an intellectually gifted and artistically inclined lad before he enrolled at Carroll High School.
Joe matriculated to Carroll High on a Catholic Mission scholarship. There, he had the opportunity to compete with intellectually inclined peers. In addition, Carroll High offered extracurricular courses and opportunities besides the regular academic curriculum. Soon he found a mentor named Brother E.D. Egan who was an artist and linguist. Subsequently, Joe chose the artistic stream and did extra lessons in writing, reading, speech therapy. Through this, he improved his skills in the liberal arts during the first two years as a sophomore and junior student.
Later while at CHS, Gbaba also established a religious and social organization called Creating Friendship in Christ (CFC). It consisted of the younger students on campus. They had regular prayers as a Christian community, and they engaged in social and sports activities during their leisure time. Members of the CFC addressed one another as Brothers, and they learned to share with members of the organization.
Then in his senior year, Joe had a vision during the ungodly hours of the morning. Subsequently, he experienced an epiphany, a sudden and striking realization that changed his life forever!Joe recalls:
“I had a vision one morning and heard a voice call me: “Joseph”. I looked around me and I saw no one. Then for the second time when I heard my name called, I woke up and looked around to find out if one of my housemates was playing a prank on me. To my surprise, they were all sound asleep. Immediately, I remembered the Biblical story about Samuel and the High Priest Eli. So, the third time when I heard my name an idea dawned on me to write a play depicting the integration of descendants of Settlers and indigenous Liberians through marriage.”
Long story short, Joe said he grabbed a pen and wrote, directed and produced his first drama entitled: “Love Story of Kekula” at the Open-Door Theatre in Yekepa, Nimba County, Republic of Liberia. The play depicted an indigenous boy named Kekula who was adopted by an Americo-Liberian family so he could attend school. Later, Kekula and his stepsister named Sussie fell in love and they got married. Consequently, their children became what is known as “core lineage” of the Liberian society. What this expression means is that Kekaula and Sussie’s children became relatives to both indigenous and Americo-Liberian families. Nine years fast forward, Joe married an Americo-Liberian himself, thus accomplishing his long-held dream to unite Liberians as one.
After he graduated from high school, Joe enrolled at the University of Liberia. There, he organized Dehkontee Artists Theatre, Inc. (DATI) forty-two years ago. Since then, Joe’s career and vocation as a playwright made him a household name in Liberia and abroad. Presently he is Executive Director of Dehkontee Artists Theatre, Inc. and Chairman of Kukatonon Peace and Reconciliation Initiative, Inc. (KPRI). Dr. Gbaba is working along with many Liberians to put the Liberian peace process back on course.
DATI/KPRI Public Relations Section
August 26, 2019