Profile of Rabbi Prince Joseph Tomoonh-Garlodeyh Gbaba, Sr., Ed. D. B.A., M.F.A., M.Sc.Ed., Ed. D.
High School Diploma, Carroll High School, Grassfield, Yekepa, Nimba County, Liberia (1974)
Bachelor of Arts, (English Literature major and French minor), Liberia College, University of Liberia (1980)
Master of Fine Arts (Drama: Directing and Acting), The University of North Carolina Greensboro (1983)
Master of Science in Education (specialty in Elementary and Special Education), St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S. A. (2002)
Doctor of Education (Specialty in Afrocentric Curriculum Development and Textbook Production), St. Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. (2009)
Self-published Author of three books: Ah-zeo, Ma Garh, The Frogs and Black Snake in Frogsville, Conflict Resolution and the Concept of Change.
Qualitative Research Scholar: doctoral dissertation entitled, “The Chiandeh Afrocentric Curriculum and Textbook Experience: Exploring Children’s Responses to an Afrocentric Curriculum”
Educator: taught English, World Literature, Composition, Creative Writing, Expository Writing, Drama at the following educational institutions in Liberia: St. Patrick’s High School, A.M.E. Zion Academy, St. Teresa’s Convent, College of West Africa, University of Liberia, Cuttington University, Zwedru Multilateral High School, A.M. E. Zion Community College War Trauma Counseling Program, etc.
Married to Wife of 40 Years: Princess Ariminta Porte-Gbaba
Father: five children (four sons, one daughter),
Grandfather: fourteen grandchildren
Founder/Executive Director, Dehkontee Artists Theatre, Inc. (DATI)
Rabbi Prince Joseph Tomoonh-Garlodeyh Gbaba was Born in Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) barracks called Barclay Training Center (BTC), in Monrovia, Montserrado County, Liberia unto the union of Princess Martha Gbeh-Nyennonh-Garh Gaye, great-great, great-granddaughter of Princess Kpaylee, the daughter of King Boduo-Chelley of the Nien Dynasty of Krahn kings. His father, Prince Jack Tomah Yeleyon Gbaba, is both a descendant of King Boduo, II of the Nien Dynasty of Krahn Kings, and the great-great-grandson of Yarlee-Gbehn, the founder of Zwedru, the capital city of Grand Gedeh County in Eastern Liberia.
Dr. Gbaba began his early education at the Barracks Union School, in BTC, Monrovia, Liberia, under the tutorship of Mrs. Margaret Karpeh-Koffa, mother of the Honorable J. Fonati Koffa, Speaker of the House of Representatives of the Republic of Liberia. He continued his early grades at Daniel E. Howard Elementary School on Sekou Toure Avenue from the first to the 6th grade under the scholarship of Dolly Bracewell, Mildred Davis, and Anthony Davis, and Gertrude Gibson-Weeks, and earned his elementary diploma at Matilda Newport Elementary School on Newport Street, Monrovia, Liberia under the professorship of Mr. Joseph Seth.
Rabbi Gbaba and his mother relocated to Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County where he attended and completed middle school from the 7th the grades at St. Philomena’s Catholic Mission School, under the discipline ship of the SMA Catholic Priests and School Sisters of Notre Dame. He was valedictorian of the St. Philomena’s 9th -Grade Class of ’71.
Subsequently, the young scholar earned a Catholic scholarship in 1972 to attend the prestigious Carroll High School, a Catholic all-boys boarding school in Grassfield, Yekepa, Nimba County. Back in the day Carroll High School was the equivalent of Achimota College in Ghana, with respect to its rigorous academic and artistic programs. The institution was run by Irish and English Christian Brothers under whom Joe Gbaba studied English, French, World History, World Literature and Shakespeare. Gbaba successfully completed his studies and earned a high school diploma in 1974. Dr. William R. Tolbert, Jr., 19th President of Liberia, served as keynote guest speaker at Dr. Gbaba’s graduation ceremonies at the Open-Door Theatre in Yekepa, Nimba County in fifty years ago.
The Rise of Rabbi Gbaba as Playwright, Theatre Director and Producer 50 Years Ago!
Rabbi Gbaba is a renowned Liberian playwright, theatre director and producer. He is at the forefront of promoting Liberia’s culture, peace and national unity and integration in Liberia and abroad. He began his literary and artistic vocation fifty years ago on the lower range of Mount Nimba.
Below is how he earned this national and international recognition and repute as a global advocate of peace and culture. In 1974, while in the senior class at Carroll High School, Rabbi Gbaba received his calling from the Lord. He was inspired to write a play that he entitled, “Life Story of Kekula” fifty years ago, out of his concern to see all Liberians to be united nation and people.
The theme of his first play was “National Unification and Integration.” It was in support of President Tubman’s policy that Tubman introduced while Gbaba was a child growing up in the AFL BTC barracks and the slums of PHP where his parents built their home and lived. Those days, the economic, social, and political segregation or gap between indigenous Liberians and descendants of settlers was very wide. Then, there were only very few interethnic marriages that took place and there was no middle class. There were only a handful of very wealthy and powerful families versus the very poor and illiterate peasants. Segregation and nepotism were institutionalized and known as “Who know you?”
“Life Story of Kekula” was staged at the Open-Door Theatre in November 1974, fifty years ago! Kekula, a Kpelle boy from a Kpelle village, was sent by his parents to live with a settler family in a settlement to go to school and to become “kwi’. While there, he fell in love with his adoptive parents’ daughter named Sussie and she got pregnant. Back in the day, most settler families forbade their sons or daughters to marry Native boys or girls, so sussie’s pregnancy was an issue for a minute. Finally, the parents decided Kekula and Sussie must get married so their grandchild may not be a vagabond (a child born out of wedlock).
DATI Montserrado Chapter on left and DATI Maryland Chapter on right.
Thus, symbolically, the union of Kekula and Sussie and their children cemented the bond between indigenous and settler Liberians as one people. In addition, even though back then Tubman had introduced his National Integration and Unification Policy, most Liberians felt comfortable just only marrying spouses who were members of their own ethnic groups but only a few indigenous Liberians ventured to intermarry outside of their indigenous ethnic groups and/or would marry descendants of settlers, and vice versa. However, after fifty years, today, Liberians are more integrated than they were fifty years ago. Thanks to Tubman’s National Integration and Unification Policy.
Rabbi Gbaba Sets Example for Liberians to Emulate
The reason Rabbi Gbaba’s first theatre production, “Life Story of Kekula” became an historic Liberian literary piece is because its central theme of unification and integration has been the guiding post of the author himself. Nine years after Dr. Gbaba wrote, directed, and produced his first drama,” Life Story of Kekula, “Dr. Joe Gbaba got married to an Americo-Liberian, Princess Ariminta Porte-Gbaba, a distant cousin of the legendary Liberian pamphleteer and political critic, Albert Porte from Crozierville, Montserrado County, Liberia. Their wedding took place on November 19, 1983 in St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Gbarnga, Bong County, Liberia.
As a result, the Gbaba Family is related biologically to the Portes, Clarkes, Barnards, Reeves, Johnsons, Dennis, Weeks, Goodridge, Carter, Ninnehs, Flahns, Gayes, etc. This shows how integrated we are as a nation and people.
Liberia’s “Shakespeare” within the Walls of “Lux in Tenebris”
Dr. Gbaba got the pen name “Liberia’s Shakespeare” through an elementary school teacher at the LAMCO International School named Mrs. Dolly McCritty-Massaquoi. She was one of “Shakespeare’s” earliest audience members and supporters. After she attended the “Life Story of Kekula” play production at the Open-Door Theatre, Mrs. McCritty-Massaquoi was so impressed and moved by the youthful playwright’s artistic creativity and leadership, that she wrote the young playwright and theatre director, an appreciation note that read: “Congratulations, Joe. I foresee your becoming the “Shakespeare” of Liberia.”
Since then, Gbaba has been recognized and known as “Liberia’s Shakespeare”, but it was not an empty title for Joe. He lived and exhibited for fifty years that he is a true Liberian Cultural Ambassador. When Rabbi Gbaba matriculated at the University of Liberia in 1975 second semester, he brought with him his literary and theatre skills. And, with the help of university professors the likes of Wingrove Dwamina, Amos Sawyer, William Brown, Williette Musgrove, Gbedemah, Father Harrington, and the students of the University of Liberia, SUP, MOJA, and other progressive organizations such as People’s Alliance of Liberia (PAL), Gbaba’s skills were harnessed and well promoted.
For an example, during his freshman year in 1976, Dr. Gbaba was elected President of the Silver Jubilee Freshman Class. Under his auspices as leader of the class, he wrote, directed, and produced his second major drama production entitled, “No More Hard Times.” It was a satire that ridiculed the status quo for exploiting the poor of the Liberian society, particularly Liberian big shots preying on poor Liberian school age female teenagers. Gbaba took the play on the road and performed at Sanniquillie Administration Building, Harper City Hall, and at the Grand Bassa County Fairgrounds.
Forty-seven years ago, Rabbi Gbaba organized Dehkontee Artists Theatre, Inc. (DATI) at the University of Liberia. This was his first time at attempting to institutionalize Liberian history and culture through the performing and visual arts, including dance, music, theatre, audio-video recordings, television productions, storytelling, community engagement activities and literacy.
Later, DATI, would become a household name in Liberia and established abroad at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Bowie, Maryland, U.S.A.
“Chains of Apartheid”
In the seventies, DATI performed for several West African heads of states, world class diplomats accredited near Monrovia and Freetown, as well as for the public across Liberia, Sierra Leone, and in the United States of America. One of Rabbi Gbaba’s major literary works is “Chains of Apartheid” he wrote, directed and produced in 1977, forty-seven years ago. By then he was serving as Secretary General of the Student Unification Party.
Gbaba wrote “Chains of Apartheid” in support of President Tolbert’s foreign policy against Apartheid in Southern Africa. The play supported the liberation struggles of Africans fighting fiercely for their independence from their colonial masters in the seventies. “Chains of Apartheid” was first staged at the State House in Freetown, Sierra Leone under the aegis of Sierra Leone’s First Vice President, S. I. Koroma and twice at the Executive Mansion Theatre in Monrovia as a private performance for the President of Liberia, First Lady Victoria Tolbert, Speaker Henries, and Chief Justice James A. A. Pierre, and some members of the cabinet. The second performance was held during the state visit of Ghanaian Head of State General Fred Akkuffo and Flight Lieutenant Jerry Johns Rawlings.
Over the past four decades, Dehkontee Artists Theatre, Inc. has been in the vanguard of promoting Liberia’s culture globally on the continents of Africa and Europe and in the United States. DATI has also performed at some prestigious performance houses in the United States, including the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts, The Ibrahim Theatre and the African Cultural Center in Philadelphia, respectively.
To date, there are three DATI chapters located in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., and we have two DATI chapters in Liberia: the DATI Maryland Gbenelue Chapter in Maryland County, Southeastern Liberia is headed by youth leader Statesman Meshach Sieh Elliott as DATI County Director. He holds a B.Sc. in Public Health from Tubman University and the DATI Montserrado Dugbor Chapter in Southcentral and Northern Liberia is headed by Statesman Henry Fayiah Tamba. He holds a B.Sc. degree in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Liberia. Overall, the DATI Kukatonon Peace Project is research-based, resultsdriven, and it is a youth empowerment social science and cultural program. It provides Liberian youth leadership skills and prepare them to exercise their franchise and executive their civic responsibilities as productive citizens of Liberia.
The Liberia chapters were organized in 2019 when we launched the DATI Kukatonon Peace Project in Liberia after the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) pulled out of Liberia. We felt it was our civic responsibility to step in and educate our people about being forerunners of their destiny by being culturally aware.
Training Liberian Youths to Promote National Unity and Nonviolence through Culture From 2019 to present, DATI has been actively involved in training and engaging Liberian youths from across all ethnic lines in peacebuilding activities. Both chapters comprise Liberian youths that hold first degrees or that are currently enrolled in several universities in Liberia, such as Tubman University, University of Liberia, Cuttington University, Stella Maris University, A.M.E. Zion University, and Methodist University, etc. They were trained in the areas of conflict resolution, peace education, and promotion of national unity and peace through music, dance, theatre, and literacy. DATI Peace Advocates take oath before they are inducted into the Honorable Body of Dehkontee Artists Theatre, Inc. It is mandatory that DATI Peace Advocates must attest and affirm before God and man, their commitment to promote peace and nonviolence in Liberia and anywhere they go, before they complete their training as DATI’s Peace Advocates and volunteers.
Raising Funds to Preserve and Promote Liberia’s Culture
Over the past five years we raised more than FORTY-THOUSAND DOLLARS ($40,000) through the support of our donors to sponsor civic and peace education and voters awareness radio programs on local radio stations in Liberia, such as Radio Advent 93.7 FM in Monrovia, Radio Paraclete 93.7 FM in Gbarnga, Bong County, and Radio Phoenix 102.7 FM in Harper, Maryland County, in Southeastern Liberia, for a period of eight months before the current election that brought you to power was held.
During the five-year period under review, we also launched the Rabbi Joe Gbaba Peace and Cultural Festival in Harper, Maryland from April 15-17, 2022. It was the first of its kind in Liberia for more than four decades! More than six thousand people including youths and residents in Harper City, Maryland County and parts adjacent participated in the festivities. The DATI Montserrado Chapter has undertaken humanitarian relief distributions in at-risk communities in Monrovia, such as Doe Community, Claratown, and Gilbrata, etc.