Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Waki Waki

Juli Endee-Tarpeh, Liberia's Cultural Ambassador, gave a special seminar yesterday on "Waki! Waki! Peace Activism, Crusaders for Peace, and the Children's Village of Liberia." So I went.

Her style was pure Liberian: Layers of related statements punctuated with slogans, all pointing towards some rhetorical goal. She did not answer a question in less than 7 minutes, and usually it was more like 10.

She began with a brief history of the Truth and Reconciliation Committee for Liberia. (15 minutes) Then she opened the floor for questions. The only really interesting part of it was the description of the women who had arrived at the peace talks. Not allowed to enter, they in turn barred reporters from entering, until Rawlings agreed to let them in. Then, once in, they interjected all sorts of proposals that the reporters lapped up (the reporters didn't realize the women weren't formal members of the team at first).

She got into a (needless to say) long argument with one woman in the audience who took exception to a blanket statement that women before Ellen Johnson Sirleaf were never able to take positions of authority. I can summarize 20 minutes of her talk with "They don't count, they only got their positions because they had connections."

She stared uncomplainingly into the video projector for most of the hour, until the technician realized that the DVD was never going to work and turned it off.

With 5 minutes to go, she gave us a few cuts from one of her CD's, which were of traditional-style music whose lyrics were appeals for peace and the TRC: some in English and some in Kpelle.

Afterwards I asked her what there was to make "Liberia" for the Liberians--what common culture or aspirations were left. I don't think she understood me. Or maybe she did, and didn't want to answer.

She owns the Children's Village, but it was never made clear what exactly that was. Maybe the DVD would have helped. She also owns a cultural troope that made some of the music, and has traveled a lot.

It was nice to meet a few Liberians in the audience.

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