“Bah-Teen Oh, Bah-Teen”: Liberian Royal Family Call for National Unity in Liberia
Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Tonight, we have assembled as members and friends of the Nimley Family from Grand Cess, Grand Kru County, Republic of Liberia, to pay homage to the Patriarch and Matriarch of the Nimley Family in the persons of Thomas Kameneh and Mary Nimley. The couple’s marriage was blessed with eight children: Joseph Workeh Nimley, Donyan Nimley, Dr. Josephine Nimley, Agnes Nimley, Welleh Nimley, Maria Nimley, Vivian Nimley, and Jargadi Nimley.
As you can see, this family happened to be very closely knitted because of shared family values. Also, as the family is the basic unit of every society and indeed “charity begins at home”, the old folks say, I felt I should tie in my topic of discussion within the context of the African, Liberian, and Klao perception of a Family structure, to give you an idea about how our ancestors glued their families together based on the cultural, spiritual, and political precepts they received from their forefathers. Thus, tonight, I should like to address you on the topic: “Bah-teen-Oh, Bah-Teen”!
The Klao (Kru, Krahn, Grebo, Bassa) expression, “Bah-teen-oh, bah-teen”, literally means: “Let us stand together”; “Let us be on one side.” It is an expression our forefathers shouted out in time of battle, and in time of peace, to make sure everyone in the gathering was on the same page or in agreement with the decision to be executed. Hence, as is commonly said in Liberia, “A family that prays together, sticks together.”
In this light it is crucial that my conversation with you tonight be tailored to contextualize the essence of the family in our quest to promote peace and national unity in Liberia because peace cannot be attained in a society when its families are dysfunctional and not united. Together, we will examine some of the inherent, in-built family qualities and mechanisms our ancestors used to maintain a cohesive family structure that we lack today due to the influence of western culture.
Consequently, this perceived oneness and the cultural knowledge and tools we need to form and enact our philosophy as a family, as a tribe, as an ethnic or linguistic group, is contingent upon our desire and efforts to observe, celebrate, and preserve our rich but diverse cultural heritage and roots as a family, as an ethnic and linguistic group, and as a nation and people. Therefore, the preservation of our cultural heritage is dependent upon obtaining a clear perception of the African, Liberian, Klao family relationship so that we may not go astray as we have done in the past and are doing in the present.
The “Bah-teen-oh” Perception of the African, Liberian, Klao Family Structure
People around the world perceive the notion of family in several different ways based on their cultural, socio-economic, and political backgrounds and persuasions. For instance, the western concept of a family (father, mother, children as core family members) is very different from the extended family structure of the African, Liberian, Klao peoples. Westerners tend to partition the family into splinter groups by forming vocabularies that delineate one family member from another, such as the words “cousin”, “aunty”, “uncle”.
On the contrary, the African, Liberian, Klao concept of family includes every member of the clan and this concept is mandated through African, Liberian, Klao languages that espouse the “Bah-teen-oh” concept or “oneness” of a family. Thus, unlike western languages, African, Liberian, Klao/Mande languages do not have vocabularies such as “uncle”, “aunty”, “cousin”. Instead, there are only linguistic terms such as, “mother”, “father”, “brother”, “sister”. The basic reason is to maintain unity in the family.
African, Liberian, Klao Precepts of Family Discourages Discrimination
Based on the African, Liberian, Klao definition of a family, your mother’s or father’s brothers and sisters are your mothers and fathers. When you address them, you will refer to them as “Father”, “Mother”, and their children are your “Brothers” and “Sisters” when speaking your African, Liberian, Klao, or Mande languages. For this reason, there are no vocabularies for aunty, uncle and cousin in any African, Liberian or Klao/Mande languages. Another reason is because Africans despise segregation in the family. Within that context, all members of the Nimley family gathered here tonight are Brothers and Sisters and the surviving children of Thomas Kameneh and Mary Nimley are mothers and fathers to their siblings’ children and offspring.
Having established the premise regarding the “Bah-teen-oh” concept of our African, Liberian and Klao family relationship, I now come to the Liberian, Klao perception by citing the Nimley Family as a case study. Our Patriarch and Matriarch Thomas and Mary were blessed with eight children. Just like them, Liberia as our Mother is blessed with many children who speak various languages and belong to diverse ethnic groups: Krahn, Kru, Grebo, Bassa, Deiweion, Belleh, Gola, Vai, Lorma, Gbandhi, Kissi, Kpelle, Mandingo, Mano, Gio, Congau, Créole. Thus, from the “Bah-teen” perspective, all these ethnic groups put together are one happy Liberian family that should pray and stick together. In other words, all Liberians are brothers and sisters from the same mother, Mama Liberia.
On the linguistic and ethnic levels, members of the Kwa linguistic group of Africa have a common hegemony and biological trait. For instance, the Krahn, Kru, Grebo, Bassa, Deiweion, Belleh originate from one Patriarch. So, they are Brothers and Sisters’ children. That is the reason their linguistic and anthropological and sociological characteristics are similar, and the reason why they are clustered in Southeastern and Southcentral Liberia.
Before I take my seat, I want to acquaint you with my work as Executive Director of Dehkontee Artists Theatre, Inc. (DATI). I started as a playwright 1974 (45 years ago) on Carroll High. The theme of my first play “Kekula” was about National Integration. Kekula, a Native Liberian fell in love with a Congau girl named Sussie. They had children and their children became the core lineage of the Liberian society because they had blood connection with both the Natives and Settlers.
In other words, the play promoted the “Bah-teen-oh” concept. Nine years later, I began to live what I preach: I, a Native royalty married an Americo-Liberian from the Porte family 36 years ago. Our marriage is blessed with five beautiful “Country-Congau” children who have blood relationships to both divide of the Liberian society.
Presently, DATI’s Management established two branches of Dehkontee Artists Theatre, Inc. (DATI) in Liberia to promote peace and national unity through the performing and visual arts. Over fifty Liberian college students residing in Monrovia, Montserrado County and Harper, Maryland County, enrolled in our Peace Advocate program. They completed their two-month online training and are expected to graduate in October.
Thereafter, DATI Peace Advocates will travel to various parts of Liberia to perform peace and reconciliation dramas, musicals, and conduct literacy classes to children and adults in the hinterland of Liberia. We need your support to implement this worthwhile project. Please donate generously towards our national peace and reconciliation campaign by logging on to our official website: https://www.dehkonteeartiststheatreinc.com and click on the “Donate” button to make your tax-deductible contribution to a worthy cause.
In closing, I challenge the Nimley Family and all African and Liberian families to go a little deeper in researching your family history to learn more about your ancestors due to the devastating influence of western culture on African and Liberian families. For instance, in the Nimely family, of the eight children, only three had traditional Kru names: Welleh, Jargadi, and Donyan. The rest had European names. This manifests that during the time the parents had their children European or western culture greatly affected their decision to give most of their children European or western names, even though they were members of the Kru ethnic group from Grand Cess, Grand Kru County. However, the Nimleys are not alone. Most Liberian families (including mine) did the same thing back in the day to be “accepted” or considered “Kwi” or “civilized’ by the status quo of Liberia.
Therefore, the “Bah-teen-oh” concept of a family structure or the unity I advocate in Liberia is not only a theory I preach, but it is a way of life for my wife and me as a Liberian couple. It should also be a way of life for all Liberians and not just “mouth talk” for it is the right way for all Africans, all Liberians, all Klao and Mande families, and for all members of the Nimley Family as well.
Rabbi Prince Joseph Tomoonh-Garlodeyh Gbaba, Sr., Ed. D.
July 28, 2019