The Holiday season has always been an interesting time of year for me and my family. As I have explored the meaning of Kwanzaa, Christmas, Hanukah, etc, I have often wondered exactly how a Liberian-American Christmas played into the scenario.
This year, as I gathered my thoughts to write this Holiday story, I could not help but call upon my Mother. And as always she was there to help me through yet another challenge. I said Mom; “I need to write a story about the Holidays and I would like to incorporate something about my Liberian heritage in it.” Well, after careful contemplation, Gertrude Harris Kennedy as she often does, began to chime in and provide her input. She shared with me a Christmas song entitled; “Green Christmas,” written and made popular by Ms.Ana Clara Blaine that celebrates the lush green tropical flora and fauna as there is of course no “White Christmas” in Liberia. She then turned my attention to how I used to play on the beach in our backyard with hibiscus flowers ‘” creating “play-play” meals for me and my friends. Then she reminded me; “Saba it is crawfish season this time of year and the large crawfish are included in many holiday meals.” You see, Mom grew up with the St. Paul River in Harrisburg, Liberia as her back drop. Harrisburg, I have been told by Mom was settled by 7 Harris Brothers who left America to create a life for themselves and their ancestors back in West Africa. This piece of history is such an intricate part of her upbringing ‘” along with the seafood and lifestyle that it has influenced our family life for as long as I can remember. Finally, Mom suggests; “Saba you know you probably should call Delta or American Airlines to see what flights are like going back home because you know Christmas is a big time for Liberians to head back to visit.”
The Republic of Liberia holds a unique place in global history as it was established by the American Colonization Society at the end of Slavery ‘” as a place where freed American Slaves could return to Africa if they so desired ‘” and so, in 1847 it declared itself an independent nation. Greatly regarded as a beacon of democracy and a shining example of freedom and equality, the nation’s seal reads “The Love Of Liberty Brought Us Here.”
It is from this historical prospective and the impending season that I began this conversation with my Mother ‘” who is my living historical link, cultural point of reference and connection to a land I was born to and soon left (due to my Dad’s work in government) at the age of seven.
As I continue to share this story, I am overcome with thoughts of holiday foods that have become a part of my culinary repertoire ‘” homemade ginger beer, rice bread (made of bananas and rice), palm butter (a stew-like dish with meats and seafood served over rice), Joloff rice (one pot rice dish like jambalaya), potato salad (with spam and eggs), fried chicken, fufu & soup (like dumpling with soup), okra sauce (like gumbo), which are all staples that are a reflection of this unique fusion of African and American influences that define the Liberian Christmas.
Hungry for more, I reached out to Helena Boandolo who currently lives in Liberia and shares a deep knowledge of my family history. She has this to say about herself; “I was born unto the union of the late Henry Saa Korfah and Mrs. Tukor Tewa Korfah in the village of Yalladu, Foya District, Lofa County in 1962. I got my primary and secondary education in Shelloe and Bolahun schools, all in Lofa County. I am currently living in Monrovia. I enrolled at the University of Liberia in 1988 but had to leave and flee the civil crisis in 1989. I went back in my village with my family and was there up to 1992 when the war subsided. I travelled back to Monrovia and again enrolled at the University of Liberia. I graduated in 1996 with a Bachelor of Science in Economics (BSC) and minor in Management. I worked at the Foreign Ministry briefly. Because of the love I had for children, I enrolled in the Teachers school and went into teaching from 1994 -2005. I resigned and joined the government after helping to run the massive campaign for Ellen. I am now working at the House of Senate as the Deputy Director of Press. I am married and blessed with four children (one girl and three boys).” She goes on to disclose that she has formed a non-profit organization; LOUWFODAP, (Lofa United Women For Development and Peace). The organization is fully registered with local leadership in every District in Lofa. For those in the Rural areas, they are engaged in Agricultural and micro-loan. Money loans are given to them to do business and later return the principle.” As she ponders the question of holiday for her currently living in Liberia; she explains that “the special Holiday Tradition from my native-land that we usually do during the season is we come together at one of the officials’ houses, find out those in conflict and reconcile them. We also use this time to eat together and have fun. Those in Lofa can get together, have feasts for the dead and also settle their differences.” My link to Ms. Boandolo you ask? Well, she hails from the same county as my deceased Father ‘” known as Lofa. Additionally, as we have gotten to know one another, she talks of the influence both my parents have had on her life. This close link to Liberia ‘” makes the memory of my Father even more alive during this holiday season.
As I listen to these two women, My Mother and Ms. Boandolo, I am overcome by joy and excitement that heritage, the gift of family and the “ties that bind” us all during this season of celebration transcend geographical location. I feel enriched by the experiences and blessed to have these pieces that connect me to my past as I prepare for my own future, the upcoming new year and the beginning of a new decade.
During this time of year, I celebrate the season as an American with roots and culture deeply in Liberia, West Africa. I am overcome by the ancestral spirits – and how far we have all come in this continuous voyage I call “My 360 degree journey.”
Until next time, I wish you Happy Holidays with Love ‘” Liberian American Style!