Liberia, a nation of a little over four million inhabitants, carries a long history of feuds, always about one thing or another. One feud though, transcends even the written history of this small country.
It is the feud which is engrained in the fabrics of the society, the mother of all feuds in Liberia, and that is the feud between the “Native” Liberians, and the “Congo” Liberians.
Although this feud is known all across the lands, there are not many conversations or discussions held on it in an effort to foster national reconciliation and weave together a new fabric of the society. And then comes the movie, Providence.
Set in pre-independent, post-independent, and post-war Liberia, Providence is a classic forbidden love story about a rich Congo boy, falling in love with a poor Village girl. of course their love was forbidden.
How could a rich Congo boy, a Dunbar, of all people, in a classist society, in line for a governmental appointment among the likes of the Tubmans, the Tolberts, the Paynes, the Coopers, etc. fall in love with, and even think about marrying a mere village girl who eats meals like “Torbogee” out of a calabash instead of dining on baked chicken from the finest China known to man? Highly unlikely, right?
However, this is the tale the movie’s Writer and Producer, Dr. Clarice Ford-Kulah needed to resonate with the viewers, because love is, afterall, the most unifying emotion in all of existence, and we see proof of that in today’s Liberia.
As a girl, I remember my mother and Aunts telling me tales of life with the “Congo” people in pre-war Liberia. Tales of village girls learning how to set tables of fine china, taking care of their mates and care-taker’s children as their own, seeing the finest clothes they could never wear, and being witnesses to experiences they could only see in their dreams.
They told me tales of a tough life living with the Congos, however, they also told me of the strong work values, education, and etiquette instilled in them by their care-takers. So as the movie went on, I saw my mother and my aunts in these village girls.
Imagining how their lives would be had they fallen in love with their caretaker’s children and grandchildren. Would their love had triumphed over all? Their love-child cared for as a high class member of the society?
Or would they have been treated as low-class citizens undeserving of the love of their first-class masters, with their love-child plucked prematurely from their wombs, or stolen from them at its first encounter with the world? Proof of the existence of their love stolen from them? Both scenarios are very likely, as seen in Providence.
As the movie progressed, we see an attempt at identifying the root of the hatred of the Congos against the Natives, which then fostered the reverse hatred that developed against the Congos in the hearts of the Natives.
The movie explored the thought that the treatment of the Natives by the Congos was due to unresolved issues between the two groups, and feelings that the Natives are to blame for the horrible experiences of the Congos in their time of slavery and bondage in lands foreign to them, since they were sold into slavery by their own people.
This thought was flawed, as the people having these interaction were mostly generations removed from those who were sold into slavery, and those who did the selling. Nonetheless, it is a very plausible explanation, as it offers insight as to why people with experiences of ancestral slavery would see people who looked like them, and choose to now wear the shoes of slave masters.
This tale was the underlying theme of the movie in each segment of it, however, it made the movie a bit repetitive and scattered. The timelines in the movie were inconsistent with the language used and stories told, leaving the viewer very confused if they are without prior knowledge of Liberia’s history with a feud that contributed to its 14-year civil war - a feud which has yet to find proper reconciliation.
This same feud lingers in the society year after year as one group has a superiority complex over the other, while one feels more “Liberian” than the other. It is the same feud that was capitalized off in the ongoing 2017 electoral process with campaigns based on being a native or “son of the soil”.
The movie sums up to the conclusion that today’s generation of Liberians are removed from the feud between the Congos and the Natives, however, this conclusion is flawed.
The truth is, no real reconciliation efforts have been made to remove the society from that way of thinking. Jobs, and other opportunities are still awarded to people based on their last name, especially the more Congo last names, and the feud is transcending from Congo vs. Natives, to Natives vs. Congos, vs. Diaspora Liberians. Who is most Liberian of the group…
Providence is important because it gives light to conversations we run away from as a society. I believe that in order to progress as a nation, we must understand our history and why we were so divided in the first place to have resulted to a Civil War, so as to not repeat those same mistakes.
We have come a long way from the classist society we once were, to a more inclusive society, however, we have a longer way to go in our quest for total inclusion and equity.
In the main time, I recommend seeing the movie Providence, which can be viewed now at the Silverbird Theatre in TM Mall, Monrovia Liberia, as it helps ignite the discussions needed in changing these negative superiority complexes woven into the fabrics of our society.
Adrienne Tingba, Contributing Writer