‘A Liberian Journey’ – CNDRA Launches Historical Website


Monrovia – The Center for National Documents and Records Agency (CNDRA), has launched a National Historical website title, A Liberian Journey. The website contains pictures from the past as early as 1926, history, memory, and the making of a nation.

The website features a pilot exhibit of former Chief Suah Koko of Bong County. The late Chief Suah Koko was a noted woman leader in Liberia’s history. The website features a pilot exhibit on Chief Suah Koko, along with digital collections containing nearly 600 photographs, more than two hours of motion picture footage, oral histories, and documents linked to an interactive map.

The website is meant to inform, raise questions, and invite stories about a transformational moment in Liberia’s past. And it is designed to be accessible via mobile phones and in areas with limited internet connectivity, in recognition of the needs faced by underserved populations and developing countries with less developed IT infrastructure.

The CNDRA in order to keep all of Liberia’s records from the past, the CNDRA established contact with Dr. Gregg Mitman of the University of Wisconsin-Madison to help build the website. Giving the overview of the project, Dr. Gregg Mitman said more than ten years ago, he learned of a private collection of photographs and motion picture footage taken on a 1926 Harvard expedition to Liberia.

He explained at the program the photos from Liberia during the period of 1926 were taken, “Led by Richard Strong, head of Harvard University’s Department of Tropical Medicine, the eight-member expedition team included some of the best minds in medical entomology, tropical medicine, botany, mammalogy, and parasitology. “It was on this expedition that Max Theiler began his research on yellow fever, work that would eventually win him the Nobel Prize for the development of yellow fever vaccine,” he said.

He further explained that, ”The team spent four months traveling through the interior of Liberia, documenting medical conditions, plant and animal species, and the life and culture among the different ethnic groups of Liberia,” he noted.  The Harvard team at the time had come to Liberia, in part, on behalf of Firestone, which was at the time establishing what would become one of the world’s largest rubber plantations.

Diseases that threatened both the survival and growth of rubber plants and the health and well-being of Liberians needed as a labor force proved some of the greatest obstacles to Firestone.  This was the main purpose of the expedition: to document, to investigate, and to experimentally treat tropical diseases encountered.

He noted that along the journey, Loring Whitman, the official expedition photographer and first year medical student at Harvard, took nearly 600 photographs and more than 2 hours of motion picture footage, which today offers a historical record of the peoples, cultures, and landscapes of Monrovia and Liberia’s hinterland at a time of rapid economic, cultural, and environmental change.

He however explained that he (Dr. Gregg Mitman) saw in the images the potential to tell quite different stories, stories of Liberia’s indigenous history that disappeared in the generational gaps created by more than a decade of civil war.  He noted that by triangulating the photographic and motion picture records with the expedition diaries, they retraced the paths upon which expedition members and their Liberian porters and guides trekked.

“Everywhere we traveled, paramount Chiefs, clan Chiefs, elders, and local villagers clamored to watch the footage and share their stories with our team, we met women educators, like Yatta Young, eager to use the only known footage and photographs of the great woman paramount Chief and Zoe healer, Madame Suakoko, to recollect memories of this mythic hero, now an inspiration and symbol of women empowerment in post-conflict Liberia, We met elders like Chief Flomo Barwolor in Gbanga, who cried upon seeing his father, Chief Gboveh, dancing, expressing in words: “my heart is like my face, smiling.”

In Quezah, a Bassa place name meaning “the foreigners pushed us away,” elders–upon watching traditional dances performed by their great grandfathers and grandmothers—spoke painfully of the still-open wounds sustained when Firestone displaced them from their ethnic homelands,” he noted. He it was these encounters that became the inspiration for the building of A Liberian Journey.  He thanked Randal Whitman, son of the expedition photographer, saying these materials are now publicly accessible in Liberia for the first time.

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf serving as Chief launcher welcomed the idea of creating website that will reveal the history of Liberia. She thanked the CNDRA family for taking such a bold step in creating the web. She wants young Liberian students to have the opportunity to access the website to have an idea as how Liberia in the past.

Reporting: Edwin G. Genoway, Jr (231886458910)[email protected]