Written by Diamonds for Peace Liberia staff
Welcome; according to the English dictionary is the act of greeting the arrival of a person with gladness and open arms. When a stranger is welcomed, s/he feels at home and at liberty to do some things and enjoy certain privilege. People welcome strangers into their homes for many different reasons; some strangers are welcomed just for accommodation, while others are welcomed for the purpose of mutual benefits, and some are welcomed because they want to provide certain aid to their hosts but whatever the reason, strangers are expected to be of good morals and intentions.
There are sixteen different tribal groups living across Liberia’s fifteen political subdivisions (counties). Each of these tribes practices different traditions but the tradition of welcoming strangers is a common practice amongst them. However, the way each tribe demonstrates the practice is what matters to this article. This article highlights the practice of the tribes living in southeastern and northern regions of Liberia. The southeastern region is comprised of the Grebo, Kru, Krahn and Bassa tribes while the Northern region is comprised of the Mano, Gio, Kpelleh, Lorma, Gbandi, Kissi and Mende tribes. These tribes have different beliefs and way of life but by virtue of being in the same region, they have some practices in common.
The way different tribes welcome strangers
The presentment of the kola nut is a form of welcoming strangers in Liberia; it is mostly practiced amongst the tribes in the southeastern region. In the Liberian culture, the kola nut is a symbol of life and peace, so people say “he who gives kola nut gives life” therefore, these groups of people use it to welcome strangers signifying whole hearted reception of strangers.
The Gbandi, Lorma and Kissi in the Northern region also use the kola nut; they mix it with coins or bank notes to indicate their joy and acceptance when they receive a stranger.
The formality and its importance
In the southeast when a stranger arrives, the people put the kola nut in a bowl with a little pepper and a little salt and present it to him/her and say “we are happy that you are visiting with us so this is our way of expressing our happiness to receive you”. When this is done, they expect the stranger to at least break a piece of the kola nut and eat it with small amount of the pepper and the salt. This means the stranger is also happy to stay with them for as long as s/he may wish. But if the stranger doesn’t eat of it, s/he has committed no crime but the people will hold back and not open their hearts because their offer has been rejected.
It is a little different with the Gbandi, Lorma and Kissi since they do not add pepper and salt, they add coins or bank notes and expect the stranger to eat at least piece of the kola nut in their presence to signify the establishment of a bond of trust between them.
The exercise may look simple and funny but it is a very powerful formality that expresses a message from the bottom of the heart. People think to welcome strangers is good but establishing a bond of trust is even more important because it fosters peaceful coexistence.
In Weasua, Diamonds for Peace Liberia (DFPL) was welcomed in like manner. The presentment of the kola nut to welcome strangers is not widely practiced amongst the people in the western region; however, because of travels and interrelationship, people practice this tradition in some of the areas like Weasua. Weasua is a diamond rich community thus it inhabits many persons from across the fifteen counties in Liberia and beyond, giving it a multicultural experience. The stakeholders in Weasua are enthusiastic about the implementation of Diamonds for Peace Liberia’s activities in their community and have since expressed their willingness to work together and help it to succeed. On one of Diamonds for Peace Liberia coordinator’s visits, the stakeholders presented kola nuts and a cash value of LRD$100 (about USD0.70) to welcome DFPL.
It is important that people traveling to the different parts of Liberia understand the traditions of the people so they can have an idea of the dos and don’ts and be guided consistently. The presentment of the kola nut, pepper and salt for eating just to welcome strangers sounds odd and might cause one to think some thoughts like; “is this form of initiation into a secret cult or what”. One could have many different thoughts running through his/her mind but being aware of things before they happen puts a person in control to some extent, otherwise ignorance may cause the person to do the unexpected.