from Chapter 1

Images a bridge evokes-linkage, strength, accessibility-brings vividly to my mind my mother, Victoria Elizabeth Jellemoh. Born in February, 1889, in the traditional world of the village of Jondu, Gawula Chiefdom, Cape Mount, Liberia, she entered Liberian "sophisticated society" as a little child through Liberia's President Joseph James Cheeseman and his wife, Mary Ann. Increased relationships were thereby facilitated between people of the Vai indigenous ethnic group and the "new world" settlers who landed in the 1820s on the shores of West Africa's Grain Coast, which later came to be known as Liberia.

Jellemoh was the first of two children of her parents, Ambollai and Jarsie Fahnbulleh, to survive infancy and spare them the pain of infant deaths which they had experienced after several successive births from their union. The name she was given, Jellemoh, communicated their sense of despair. It signified that she was not to stay with them. However, by a miracle of God, she beat the odds and transformed their sad expectations into hope and joy. About two years after her birth, a second child, Hawa Pai, arrived and, by her survival, provided another surprise, adding to the joy of their parents. Jellemoh and Hawa Pai outlived their parents, each of their lives spanning more than the three score years and ten promised in the Bible. They were separated for most of their childhood but reunited as young adults, maintaining after their reunion a close relationship until Jellemoh's death nearly six decades later. Through their surviving children and the succeeding generations of grandchildren and great grandchildren, they live on, close ties intact.

When Jellemoh was born in Jondu (Vai word meaning slave town), the town was still one of the important towns in the Vai country. Jondu had become an important center, partly because, during the slave trading period, it was a place where enslaved Africans were held for exchange and sale. Its importance was also due to the fact that it was there that Dwalu Bukere and his five relatives-his brother, Dshara Barakora and their cousins Dshara Kali, Kali Bara, Fa Gbasi and So Tabaku invented the Vai system of syllabic writing in the 1840s. There in Jondu, their place of residence, they established the first school for teaching the system of writing and ran it for 17 months-until an outbreak of war forced them to seek refuge in Tombe.2 By then, there were a number of graduates who would preserve and pass down the script mainly through letters, but also diaries, traditional tales, travelogues and autobiographies...

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