When the war intensified in 1990, I was a ninth grader at Robert Baker Richardson Baptist High School in the provincial town of Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County, Liberia. In June of that year, my guardians decided that safety outweighed the pursuit of education. So, we packed up for lower Grand Gedeh (now River Gee), where we assumed safety awaited us. In less than five hours of riding rough, we arrived in the fundamentally Grebo region of this Krahn county. My guardians dutifully dropped me off at my parents’ house in Jarkaken and went on to theirs, Killepo Towloken, a stone throw away.
Relocation didn’t provide the kind of safety I believed my guardians had in mind. Barely eight months after entering the country through Nimba County, Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), with no one standing in their way, reached the little known town of Jarkaken, Grand Gedeh County on August 24, 1990. They entered the town from all directions because Jarkaken, like the rest of the country, lay vulnerable. In just hours, the NPFL firmly had the town of about five thousand people on complete lockdown, but some of the targeted people like Krahns, Mandingoes, government officials and other people of interest had managed somehow to escape before the lockdown was completed.
A family of Krahns who rented Mr. David K. Swen’s tiny shop was among the lucky rebel targets to get out of harm’s way. While they were heading out, they met my family on the outskirt of Jarkaken. We were en route to town after several hours of work along the path that led to our farmland. Even though there was no resistance to the rebels’ entry, the runaway family told us that the rebels had just “captured” the town. We stood for several minutes, pondering whether to enter the town or turn around and go back to the village. We agreed to enter the town.
... a week to address safety regarding food, water and the generator (Disaster in Franklin County a Public Health Simulation, ... a civil defense officer, private relief organizational representative, city/county officials, political leaders and media representatives. Together, the ... services, volunteers and rescue workers (Disaster in Franklin County: A Public Health Simulation, 2006). The health personnel ...
Upon entry, the town had dispatched announcers, without loudspeakers, to inform all residents in the community at the time to proceed immediately to the center of the town. So, we went straight to the town center. It was mid-afternoon when we gathered at the center of the town. Many residents were still on their farms. But to their credit, the announcers had managed to assemble a very large crowd. It was very quiet at the town center while the people waited the rebels’ briefing. A few horrible-looking men, the so-called patriots, gallantly marched to the town center. They were no more than ten in all. And they were not uniformed. Many of them were partially dressed in military colors. Some men had on army trousers, but there were no corresponding tops; others had on army tops, but no matching bottoms. They elaborately had different shades of red on their clothes. Also affixed to their headbands were red strings. A few held their weapons as if they were about to shoot them, but a great many of them slung theirs behind them. They were mostly Nimba citizens, but we also knew a few local converts in their ranks. Using the locals who joined them as interpreters, they briefed the town and laid down some ground rules:
All former and current government officials had to come out of hiding, renounce President Samuel K. Doe and his government and embrace the NPFL;
No locals were targets, even those in the government at the time, as long as they renounced President Doe and embraced the National Patriotic Front of Liberia;
Krahns and Mandingoes were the targets;
Those who knew the whereabouts of Krahn or Mandingo tribe members were ordered to turn them in, failure to do so was punishable by death;
The rebels’ color was red, so every house was ordered to display red piece of cloth as a sign of support for the NPFL;
The fighters were not “rebels”, as the government called them; they were to be called “Freedom Fighters.”
... They were not able to communicate with state and local governments and coordinate procedures in providing relief. However, during ... federalism is the midpoint between nation-centered federalism and state-centered federalism; nation-centered federalism being the belief that the ... and that the national government should take superiority over the states, and state-centered federalism is the exact ...
“If you follow somebody woman you will die,” the rebels declared;
All crimes, including murder, theft and rape, were declared punishable by death;
There was a new order – the NPFL;
Depending on the number of boys in a given home, a certain percent would be slated to fight for Taylor, or ‘Papay’. [This was never enforced, thankfully.]
No one in the town owned any domestic animals;
All the animals in the town, the rebel said, belonged to Papay;
Anyone found tempering with any animals was to be put to death
A courageous citizen immediately raised his hand for permission to speak. Granted, he said majority of the town population didn’t speak English; it would have been extremely challenging for them to pronounce or even remember “Freedom Fighters,” the rebels’ preferred name. The NPFL thankfully acknowledged the resident’s concern and had to settle for an equivalent in Chedepo, the variety of the Grebo language spoken in and around Jarkaken. Instead of, or in addition to Freedom Fighters, the rebels agreed to be called “Wowanyo”, or “Saviors.” Gradually, the Chedepo equivalent evolved, particularly among local elders, into “Wunwonyo” or “Fighters”, but the predominately Nimba fighters couldn’t figure out any distinction.
The get-together at the town center lasted a little over an hour. One message stood out well; a state of lawlessness had just started in the town. Uncharacteristic of the rebels, they did not shoot their weapons a lot on the first day. In fact I didn’t hear a single shot that day. The only shots heard by other residents were those informing the locals that the rebels had captured their town. Thankfully, I missed that mid-air shooting because I was still busy with other family members trimming the edges of the footpath that led to Pueken, our village.
Little by little, the local government officials came out of hiding. They renounced President Doe and his government and embraced the NPFL. Hon. Josiah S. Winn, Sr. was the Township Commissioner at the time. After attending the briefing, we told him to do the right thing. He was among the first to show up and “embrace” the rebels. He and his “Nine Counsel Men,” headed by Hon. Fulton Pah, kept their jobs. A great many officials retained their jobs. For example, Hon. George Wesseh, one of the town announcers, retained his post as the Quarter Chief. Mr. Henry Jah also retained his post as the Paramount Chief. The officials, who had intermittently received wages under the ex-government, were now rehired as unpaid employees “until the Papay sets up his government.” In any case, the people were nothing more than rubber-stamps for the NPFL. They had no influences at all, and no one really took them serious, except when they got the backing of the rebels.
... barbed wire stockade where she was interned before being imprisoned. Freedom struggle was in full force and she came under the ... the British as the best and bravest military leader of rebels this sparkling epitome of courage died a hero's death ...
In just few days, the town was totally crowded with rebels. Jarkaken drew seemingly endless string of Taylor soldiers because it was one of few places that still retained some semblance of civilization. Prime Timber Products (PTP) was still operating there; therefore, while much of Liberia was in the dark, some parts of Jarkaken were electrified. These latest groups of rebels who descended on the town were among those who had convoyed with self-proclaimed “General Noriega,” one of Taylor’s deputies who came to Jarkaken to join the rest of the rebels who were looting PTP. On the day the general arrived, the rebels killed three cows and maybe one on each day that followed. So, the rebels were shooting cows, goats, sheep and any animals they had craving for on a given day. Mostly uncommitted local women and girls, who were lured to the rebels by fear, cooked their food.
Mr. Friday Doe’s compound was electrified, too. He was the acting manager of PTP who opted to rent a giant concrete building right among the locals instead of living in a bungalow built on company ground. The Taylor rebels demanded and obtained their fuel, food, cars and even housing from PTP. Any sign of repudiation to their demands by Mr. Friday Doe, a stubborn Kru from Sinoe County, usually triggered rebel reactions that sent the rest of us running for protections or covers. The rebels used to unleash an intimidating onslaught of mid-air gunfire in and around Mr. Doe’s home. Mr. Isaac K. Doe – not related to the company manager – rented his compound to the timber company in the section of our town called Karwea. Hence, we saw the dreadful activities of the rebels firsthand. It was unpleasant, especially at night, because we saw tracer rounds – or red hot bullets – flying over homes from the rebels’ AK-47s and their relished “Sister Berettas.” Sometimes they had “to dig” their victims’ “potatoes” just to get what they wanted; that is, they pointed their rifles just few inches from the feet of the would-be looting victims and fired off rounds into the dirt.
... page 532, Dr. and Mrs. Gibbs are gossiping about the town drunk.Dr. Gibbs says 'I guess I know more about ... Stimson's affairs than anybody in this town. Some people ain't made for small-town life. I don't know how ...
One of the first victims claimed by the war in Jarkaken was Mr. Kehgbeh Kennedy. He was a native of Geeken, a hamlet just a stone throw from Jarkaken. He was also a former soldier of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) who had been absent without leave (AWOL) at the beginning of the Taylor war. The old soldier was fondly known as “Kill the Bitch”, a would-be fatal nickname he unpredictably acquired in the Liberian army way before the Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia even thought about launching its campaign. Like many previous government employees, the old soldier had come out of hiding, as the NPFL had demanded, so he could denounce his former Commander-in-Chief and embrace the rebels. That turned out to be a wrong decision. As a former AFL fighter with an obviously demeaning epithet, the so-called freedom fighters quickly analyzed the nickname and concluded it referred to the National Patriotic Front of Liberia. So, for several days, the freedom fighters consistently tortured the former soldier. He was tightly handcuffed, dragged and flogged at will by the rebels while his folks helplessly watched.
Occasionally, the freedom fighters upgraded their improvised cuffs to “duck-fat tabay”, their signature hands-behind-the-back tie down method, which was very effective at tearing the rib cages of their victims. For the record, his torturers were mostly Nimba citizens; they had seniority over the local NPFL converts. With little influence, the local “Wowanyo” reluctantly looked on as their superiors smacked Mr. Kehgbeh Kennedy around. He must have been in his early to mid fifties. Relatives of the ex-soldier in both Jarkaken and Geeken vigorously sought his release. They managed and came up with huge case amounts, which the rebels demanded, but without any success. The rebels appeared to be drugged all the time; they didn’t really care about life. They took the money and the proclaimed guilty soldier. He was duck-fat-tabayed and tossed in the back of a previously owned PTP truck. His graphic body was later found on the outskirt of the town, where he was tossed out of the moving truck and sprayed with Sister Beretta and AK-47 bullets.
The NPFL required relatives or the town residents to obtain burial or removal “permits” before touching anyone they shot or killed. Those permits were never written, but that did not make them readily available either. First, the relatives had to find permit fees; next, they had to find an approving authority within the NPFL. That was the problem. Finding the right freedom fighter was the challenging part because there was no specified permit authority. The right rebel today might be the wrong rebel tomorrow. It was not uncommon at all for victims’ relatives to get numerous run-arounds during the process, occasionally losing their hard-found fees to the “wrong” freedom fighters. Laying to rest “Kill the Bitch” took few days. Within those daunting days, while his lifeless body stayed by the side of the road, relatives and other concerned Jarkaken citizens negotiated with the rebels for a permit to bury his decomposing corpse. It was not easy to obtain a permit for him, but the folks finally secured it and buried the body. Kennedy must have been the lucky one because he was buried; others did not get that respect.
... released from prison or if Nigerian warplanes continue to attack rebel-held towns in the northern region of Sierra Leone. Sankoh was ... heard across the capital after a day of rebel attacks in the small neighboring town of Waterloo. Waterloo, 18 miles east of ... is based on English law and customary laws indigenous to local tribes. Sierra Leone's government consists of three branches, the ...
Mr. James Quiah, the next war victim in Jarkaken was unburied on rebels’ orders. Originally a Krahn, Mr. Quiah was practically a Jarkaken citizen. He came to Jarkaken while in his mid-teens to work for Bell Timber Company (BTC).
When BTC left, he stayed back in Jarkaken and married a local and had a family. So assimilated, many people in Jarkaken did not know that he was a Krahn. He spoke fluent Chedepo, perhaps better than Krahn. The few that knew about his Krahn root were older people because they knew how he came to the area; they knew his history. Others could tell by his somewhat unique Krahn name – Quiah.
Prime Timber Products, the new company that replaced BTC, employed Mr. Quiah as a security guide. Posted by a small shack, Mr. Quiah was tasked to regulate motor and human traffic at the main entrance to the sawmill compound, which the locals called “the camp”. Many kids knew him well. They had to know him because in order to collect “payday” on Saturdays, the kids needed to access the gated compound where the workers received their wages. Sure, James’ friends probably didn’t like to be bothered by the kids; but that didn’t deter him. He let them in anyway. Other times, the kids pleaded for nighttime entrance to collect giant seasonal beetles that briefly flew around lampposts before helplessly collapsing below. At night, there were fewer activities, so the kids usually got their wish. They gained access, thanks to James, and posted themselves by the lampposts.
... from Jarkaken perished in the wicked hands of the Krahns. Their dismembered copses, I was told, were scattered around the town of Putuken. Just ... to channel water to the reservoir were stolen by the rebels 7. All the pipes underground are untouched, assumed to be ... immigration and custom officials endorsing travel documents of foreign and local travelers on the corners for a charge. I refused to ...
Mr. Quiah had to leave the town when the rebels entered. He faced almost instant death when sighted by the rebels because he was born Krahn, a tribe he barely knew and interacted with. Mr. Wlehly Young, a compassionate and courageous local, took Mr. Quiah to his farmland. It was a few miles outside the town, and the Krahn native found safety there – well, for about a month before something tragic happened. The rebels had promised not to target the truly local residents when they captured Jarkaken, except those who broke their laws. The courageous Young had broken their law by providing sanctuary for a man whose only crime was being born into the Krahn tribe. Living in a town where death was the ultimate penalty for crimes, however petty these were, the refuge provider had legitimate concern for the safety of his family, especially after someone in the town had maliciously leaked into rebel ranks that a Krahn man named James Quiah was hiding somewhere in the town.
Infuriated for being duped, the rebels put out a timeline demand for Mr. Quiah. By late afternoon, Mr. Wlehly Young reluctantly turned him over to the rebels; he became their instant prey. He was ‘duck-fat tabayed’ and unabatedly tortured by the rebels. Like the first victim, the rebels tossed the Krahn native in the back of a cattle truck and drove away. His lifeless body was found just two hundred meters from the town – between Hon. Joe Sayee’s house and the cemetery along Geeken Road. He was thrown out of a moving vehicle and riddled with bullets. The town begged the rebels to burry the man, whom had kids with a local woman, but to no avail. He was never buried; thanks to the “freedom fighters.” His body was eaten away by wildlife and strayed dogs.
For sometime, the town was largely peaceful, if you excluded the routine firing of rebel weapons into mid air and also their periodic looting of market women. The community was concerned about its residents’ safety, so it advised the mostly woman merchants to avoid walking the hour long distance every Saturday to the region’s main marketplace in the main-road community of Putuken. The township commissioner, the equivalent of a city mayor for the town, offered his front yard on Saturdays for the people of Jarkaken to trade local products. The Jarkaken market didn’t get a great deal of support from the locals. The reasons were comprehensible. Many of the sellers had the same products, and there were hardly any buyers. Their usual buyers were outsiders, including transient Liberians who parked and rested while heading to and from the east. The buyers hardly, if ever, went to Jarkaken. Instead, they stopped at the main market in Putuken. While Jarkaken and its surrounding villages were relatively peaceful, other places that were not so far way could not claim the same level of safety.
The timber companies named above, for several years, had an improvised “airfield” between Putuken and Jarkaken. During normal time, as Liberians often refer to the calm before the Taylor era, only single-engine planes with fixed wings landed on it. This so-called airfield was nothing more than a roadside stretch of land, essentially a leveled dirt strip. When the rebels arrived, they dug huge holes on it and laid logs there to prevent other factions from landing there. They also turned it into a killing field, literally. The NPFL rebels who primarily lived in Jarkaken patrolled other places, too. Every night, as they returned home, they dumped their captured, tortured and subsequently murdered victims on the area’s airfield, leaving horrible scent in adjacent areas. While heading to the commercial town of Putuken, we had to hold on to our noses, an attempt to avoid the fouled odor. We also tried to run the entire course of the airfield, which was well over two miles long. Sometimes we saw lifeless bodies on the dirt strip; other times, it was just their horrible odor. The bodies dumped on the field from the far-away communities were considered buried by the rebels. No one dared to ask the rebels any questions.
The break in Jarkaken’s relative calm came when the rebels intensified the killing of domestic animals. A rebel named Bigboy (Boelfoe) went on a shooting rampage. As a local rebel who answered to those that came from Nimba, he was sent to shoot a cow. With no formal gun training, the local rebel removed his weapon’s selector level from safe to automatic and sent a barrage of rounds through the cow at knee high. He dutifully killed the cow. He also unintentionally killed Mr. Karwea, a middle-aged man who was recuperating at home after a daylong farming work. Still, some of Boelfoe’s bullets ended up into Mr. Gbegeah Saylee. He was the lucky one; surgery saved him. For the fear of being punished by his fellow rebels, including the likelihood of even being killed, the local rebel managed to escape to the Ivory Coast.
The rebels really didn’t provide any security for the people. All they cared about was personal comfort; therefore, they left the people of Jarkaken and other Grebo towns extremely vulnerable. After PTP was long gone, the rebels stayed around just enough to deplete the company’s resources and the cattle in the area. Then the NPFL left a skeleton team – comprising mostly of local rebels – and went to larger towns in the general area like River Gbeh, Pleebo or Harper to increase their chances to loot well-to-do people.
The remnants of Krahns near River Gee took advantage of the vulnerability created by the rebels. The Krahns were the real victims. They lost so many lives and properties. Some Krahn towns were wiped out entirely. But they wrongly took on the Grebos for their losses. Instead of heading west toward Nimba County, where the NPFL came from, they headed east toward Greboland. They were infuriated with the Grebos for hosting the rebels, as if the Grebos had any choice in the rebels’ unilateral decision to capture their territory on gunpoint and stay. Well, the absence of the core rebel fighters paved the way for the Krahns to leave their hideouts and set up armed teams who came to Grebo areas and attacked mostly at night. In Jarkaken, the Krahns killed several kids, women and elderly whom they encountered en route to the town. They also burned homes containing elderly or disabled before hurrying back into their safety zones. In some Grebo regions, entire towns were set ablaze.
To counter the Krahns, residents on farmlands around Jarkaken were ordered to come to town, and a twenty-four-hour local defense force – comprising aptly of local militia and rebels – was initiated in the town.
During the Krahn violence, one could have easily used his or her fingers to count the entire local rebels, the ones who were still active. In defending the town, the local rebels played bare minimum role. But, let’s be fair or even-handed, they were not supplied regularly, if at all. The truth, before the Krahn retaliation actually started, many of them had imprudently depleted their bullets. They unabatedly fired on the town’s cattle. They also spent lots of their ammunitions recklessly “digging” their looting victims’ “potatoes” – the bizarre rebel behavior explained above. In fact, only a handful of the local rebels had automatic rifles, so their defense capabilities were not any better – if not worse – than their non-rebel counterparts. I suppose their weapons were for mere intimidation because, by the time the hit-and-run Krahns exploited the period of reduced security, the local rebels had long discontinued firing off rounds into midair. Either they, all of the sudden, became gun-disciplined or they no longer had any bullets left to shoot off. How else could anyone logically explain the reasons for their lack of mid-air gunfire? Believe me, this dangerous act – shooting the sky for little or no apparent reasons – ironically became a norm over time during the Taylor war in Jarkaken and other communities around it. Therefore, this sudden lack of “show of strength” raised doubts about the rebels overall might. Rebel Karpeh Toe, one of the first enlistees, left the town to fight in other parts of the country. His cousin, Rebel Komohbutu Quayee, the son of Oldman Wemon Quayee, also left the town. They never returned home. While many of the local rebels were either out of the fight or in far-away places, Rebel Tynue Williams headed those who were still active in Jarkaken. He was also called “Smallboel”, an altered pronunciation of Smallboy (not related to Boelfoe, the cattle warrior mentioned above who killed Mr. Karwea).
Tynue was an inflexible rebel leader; he was tough and very, very uncompromising. He was always on the move though – from Jarkaken to Maryland County and in between. Another rebel named Junior, a much more slender no-nonsense teen who lived near the John Cholopray United Methodist Church, aided Smallboel in bringing much-needed order to the conflict prone rebels.
The Jarkaken militia fortified the town to their best capacity; all the streets entering Jarkaken were gated and manned around the clock. Jarkaken Defense Force included forced and highly motivated volunteered men. It conducted day-to-day duties with improvised weapons. For example, the traditional hunting rifles that locked and loaded only BB cartridges – one cartridge at a time – were the primary weapons. Some men sat by their assigned entry and exit control points with machetes or “cutlasses” while others simply carried weird, but harmful, homemade objects. Many of the militiamen were confident that mere gunshots could “do nothing” to them because they had received confident-building war protection or “Zekay”. One of the people that protected the militia (and rebels) was the late Oldman Toe Wion. He was very popular during the early days of the war. Locals and non-locals went to him for war protections. The oldman charged outsiders a fee for his work; but he was said to have given an all-inclusive protection to the town militia for either pennies on a dollar or absolutely free. Whether the stuff worked depended on whom you asked, but they definitely gave the defenders new level of self-confidence. Oldman Wion lightly tattooed the people and inserted the so-called protection; the scars left were called “jilee”.
The town women also played an essential role in defending the town; they provided food for the checkpoint guards.
In 1993, Krahn militiamen overran the local defense force in Putuken, which is arguably a forty-minute foot distance from Jarkaken. Concerned that Jarkaken was next, very brave young men from the Jarkaken Defense Force took up whatever they had as weapons and set out for Putuken. They wanted to confront the militia. They wanted to stop them from entering Jarkaken. But, something went terribly wrong. Numerous attempts were made by the locals to explain away what had happened, but the truth is: we may never know exactly what happened that parted or disbanded the men from Jarkaken. They didn’t function as a team when they reached Putuken. One particular theory that stood out among others suggested that when the defenders arrived in Putuken, there was no sign of disturbances. In fact, there was a traditional dance, apparently staged by the Krahns. It was this particular Krahn scheme, according to the speculators, along with the scene appearing relatively peaceful, that led to the disbanding of the forces from Jarkaken. The facts collected from the crime scenes seemed to give some merits to the claim that the Jarkaken defenders had in fact disbanded before they were killed. They didn’t stay together, they didn’t fight together and they didn’t die in a shootout as a team. The men appeared to have been taken away one by one into isolated parts of Putuken and killed brutally with machetes.
One of the Jarkaken defenders killed in Putuken was Mr. Shannon Toe, the son of Hon. Borbor Geegba Wiah Toe. Shannon was practically a walking monument for the town. His name was a tribute to “Shannon,” the public worker that “brought” the main street to Jarkaken, according to local historians. Mr. Shannon Toe, along with Mr. Fa-yah Quayee, provided the leadership during the mission. Mr. Fa-yah Quayee (aka “Falla”) and his younger brother, Tutu Quayee, died in Putuken. They were sons of Hon. Brown Nyemah Quayee, a combined business proprietor and philanthropist who played a pivotal role in the establishment of an elementary school in Jarkaken for the Liberian Assemblies of God. [As a tribute, the school was named B. Nyemah Quayee Elementary]. Mr. Quayee also lost a nephew in Putuken; he was called Jlosoto. These young men – and more to name – had their bodies dismembered and tossed about in Putuken, which, according to another opinion, was deserted on that tragic day.
During the Taylor Presidency, Senator Nathaniel Wesseh from the Greboland petitioned the government of Charles Taylor to give Grebos their own county, and separate the rivals. Grebos had been seeking this autonomy from the Krahns for decades; so the senator was essentially re-echoing what his people had been petitioning previous administrations, but to no avail. Luckily, it was the mindless Taylor whose government understood the need to partition the opposing tribes. In a bored move, the Liberian House approved the petition in 1997. The Senate endorsed it in 2000. Finally, the proposed splitting of Grand Gedeh County got President Charles G. Taylor’s blessing. Thus, it became law and permanently separated the Krahns and the Grebos, and River Gee County was created from lower Grand Gedeh County. Today, the Krahns and Grebos live side by side peacefully. If there’s any fights to speak of, they are the ones done by their feet during soccer matches.
To say that the town of Jarkaken was truly battered by the Taylor war would be an understatement. But it is worth mentioning that while she had lost plenty of lives and few homes to mostly Krahn retaliation, the town survived the chaos. END. – W. K. Winn @ Cedar II, Iraq, August 2008