TUGBAKEN.........  My motorcycle taxi driver knew my friend Daniel and knew exactly where to go once we reached his village of Tugbaken.  But, honestly, in a cluster of twenty thatch-roofed homes, it wasn’t going to be that hard.  An unscheduled celebration began the moment I arrived.  Village elders showed up, representatives of various village groups were present, but most touching of all were the women.  About a dozen of them sang and danced for at least fifteen minutes.  I only knew one word in Grebo.  But, after a while I recognized that they sang “aweeoh” or “thank you”.  They were giving thanks for my safe arrival in their village.

Daniel said they all heard the announcement on the radio that he had a white man friend in Zwedru.  He told his neighbors that I was going to visit.  However, many of them never truly believed what he had to say until I showed up and stumbled off the motorcycle.  Yes, let the celebration begin.


If you are really welcomed in a Grebo village, there is protocol to follow.  And, it involves kola nut, a bitter nut with all kinds of ties to family ancestry.  Believe me, protocol was followed!  I’d never felt so welcomed in all of my travels.  At least 40 people crammed into the home as soon as I arrived.  I have no idea how many more were outside.  So, at least a fourth of the village showed up to make me feel at home.  And, when you’re at home in Tugbaken, you are given kola nut from the men and crushed hot peppers from the women.  The first is bitter and the second one burns.  In both cases, you’re going to need something to drink.  I was given water, alcohol and a dilemma.  I’d only had bottled water the entire time in Liberia.  I knew this wasn’t from any bottle.  Also, I don’t drink alcohol, but I certainly didn’t want to offend this group.  I quenched my thirst and washed down the bitter taste of the kola nut with the well water.  And, I took one sip of the alcohol.  I feared the fire of cane juice (distilled sugar can juice), which I can barely tolerate.  Instead, it was anise flavored pastis.  It was actually good, which pleased all my hosts.  But, I kept to the sip.

Kola Nuts and Handmade Fish Traps

I felt completely welcomed.  However, my hosts told me that this was just an informal welcome ceremony.  The real welcoming would happen the following day.  I didn’t know what to expect.

A steady stream of visitors passed by throughout the day and evening. The list included local chiefs, village elders, friends, family and a whole lot of curious children.  The person I remember most is the village historian.  He informed me that there had been a lot of white men come to Tugbaken with their NGO projects.  However, I was the first white man to ever spend the night.  I had no plans to make local history when I came to River Gee County.  It happened anyway.

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Copyright 2016 by Phillip Martin All rights reserved.