Former enslaved people brought Thanksgiving to Liberia — and rebooted it

Thanksgiving is a day at the beach — quite literally — for young Liberians. Above, the beach in West Point is a sandy playing field for soccer lovers.

Thanksgiving is a day on the seaside — fairly actually — for younger Liberians. Above, the seaside in West Point is a sandy taking part in area for soccer lovers.

Tommy Trenchard for NPR

The West African nation of Liberia was settled 200 years in the past by people of coloration from the United States. Brenda Brewer Moore can hint her household historical past again on each side to former enslaved people who grew to become a few of the most outstanding figures of their newly adopted nation — explorers, surveyors, ambassadors. These settlers, often called Americo-Liberians, brought cultural traditions throughout the Atlantic Ocean with them, together with Thanksgiving.

The two nations’ observations of the vacation have diverged over the centuries. Liberian Thanksgiving falls on the primary Thursday of November, slightly than the fourth. There’s no conventional meal, notes Moore, whose two children, ages 12 and 14, usually find yourself consuming pizza and popcorn. In Liberia, those that rejoice have a tendency to view it as a non secular event, she explains. For those that do not, it’s a day whose U.S. origins are sometimes some extent of rivalry.

Moore has a whole lot of titles. She’s the revealed creator of kids’s books, a ladies’s rights activist, an HR skilled, a snail farmer, a Senior Fellow on the Aspen Institute and the founding father of the Kids’ Educational Engagement Project, which she launched throughout the Ebola disaster to join college students to educational assets. We requested her to tackle a further job: clarify Liberian Thanksgiving to Americans.

"I am thankful that two months ago, we launched our 25th library," Brenda Brewer Moore said when asked about what she is thankful for this Thanksgiving. Her American ancestors helped found the African nation of Liberia — and brought over U.S. traditions, including the November holiday.

“I am thankful that two months ago, we launched our 25th library,” Brenda Brewer Moore mentioned when requested about what she is grateful for this Thanksgiving. Her American ancestors helped discovered the African nation of Liberia — and brought over U.S. traditions, together with the November vacation.

Brenda Brewer Moore/ Keep Liberia

How precisely do Liberians rejoice Thanksgiving?

It is dependent upon who you discuss to. When I used to be rising up, what I bear in mind is that my mom, who was very spiritual, would insist we go to church. And that is how we spent nearly the whole day as a result of it grew to become a protracted, drawn-out affair of thanking God for all times, thanking God for well being. And if you realize something about Black tradition, a one-hour service can very simply be drawn out to 3 hours. One individual will get up to give testimony, and then they maintain interrupting with “Hallelujah!” and “Praise the Lord.”

Some different households have barbecues and grill at house. I do not like to cook dinner, so for my household, we see it as a pleasant vacation to relaxation and watch films. I’ve been very deliberate about not doing a few of the issues my mother insisted that I do, like staying 5 or 6 hours at church. If you get a break day from college and work, relaxation.

I’m 42, however when you’re asking somebody 20 years youthful than me, they are going to most probably inform you they spend the whole Thanksgiving Day on the seaside hanging out with pals. Some people see Thanksgiving as an imposed vacation of the settlers from the U.S. Why ought to we be celebrating a vacation that is been imported?

Is there a neighborhood vacation that is extra analogous to American Thanksgiving?

So moreover Independence Day, the vacation I’ve seen people rejoice, no matter whichever aspect of the [Thanksgiving] divide they’re on, is the birthday of a former president: William Tubman. It’s November 29. And it’s not about him. It’s simply the vacation that is adopted because the launch of summer season. This is the launch of our dry season, our summer season season. It’s in all probability the third largest vacation after Christmas and Independence Day. You have Nov. 29 and that is when every part actually shuts down. People have large cookouts and come collectively on the seaside.

So I assume November is not harvest season — it’s the tip of the wet season. What’s that like?

When it rains right here, it rains! The rain droplets are nearly like a therapeutic massage. We undergo six months of heavy rainfall, and then people look ahead to the tip of November when rain begins to cease. I believe people are extra related to the phrase “thanksgiving” on that day as a result of it’s so celebratory.

You’re a snail farmer. Is {that a} conventional Liberian meals?

Snails aren’t a conventional meals of Liberia however it’s a a lot liked delicacy. West Africans love snails, seasoned with a whole lot of chili and pepper — we like very spicy meals.

What sorts of dishes are usually served at large events on holidays?

When you think about meals Liberians love, and we undoubtedly have at household occasions, it’s jollof rice. There’s no comparability with Ghanaian jollof and Nigerian jollof. Ours is simply on a unique airplane. If you order proper now a Ghanaian jollof, Nigerian jollof and Liberian jollof, simply presentation alone goes to inform you as a result of we cook dinner ours with greens and several types of meat. We have prawns in there, and chunks of hen, meats, pork. Ghanaians and Nigerians will simply have hen by itself. That’s not jollof. With us, when you cook dinner meals in Liberia and you cook dinner just one meat, we think about {that a} poor man’s meals. Things are laborious on you. If you simply have one meat, people are going to say this wasn’t good.

What are Liberians grateful for?

It evolves over time. Fifteen years in the past, people have been grateful for peace. We had simply come out of the civil conflict, so it was, “Let’s thank God for peace, thank God for security, thank God for stability.” There was a time when the nation was separated within the sense that you just could not transfer to one other a part of the nation freely due to the conflicts and you could not entry sure assets.

Now we’re grateful we’re not having flooding like our neighbors subsequent door in Sierra Leone. We’re grateful we’ve got a peaceable transition in authorities as a result of often our elections happen this time of 12 months. So there are a whole lot of prayers round peaceable elections.

What are you grateful for personally?

I’m grateful that two months in the past, we launched our twenty fifth library. Our group goes round and creates libraries in rural communities. When I began this in 2014, if anybody had mentioned, “This is where you’re going to be nationally, in terms of impacting thousands of children’s lives and being so involved with the education sector,” I’d have mentioned, “Ha ha, me?” So I simply am grateful for the assets that we have been entrusted with by Liberians, the reception from the communities that we go in. And I’m grateful for my household. My household has been very supportive, as a result of doing what I do requires me being away from them fairly often.

And I’m grateful for peace. Because I skilled the civil conflict — on totally different spectrums, working, hiding. I’m grateful that my children haven’t got to expertise what I had to expertise. This morning, driving to work, I attempted to give them chewable multivitamins. And they have been refusing it. Every morning, it’s a trouble with them. And so I instructed them, “Let me tell you why I’m always adamant about you taking your multivitamins.” I instructed them throughout the conflict, a whole lot of us grew to become stunted. We did not develop as we must always have grown as a result of we did not have entry to the form of diet that rising children ought to have entry to. And now I do not need you being 42 and 5’1″ like I am. I want you growing to your full possible genetic height. And so I want you to grow and eat your vegetables. The things we take for granted now are things that were a luxury for us before.

What should Americans know about Liberia this Thanksgiving?

Liberia has had over the years a very strong connection with the U.S. And I think as we go further, as we evolve as a nation, people are starting to question this relationship and just how much the American culture influences our culture in terms of how we dress, how we talk. Or just how much of that father relationship has really benefited our country in a way that’s sustainable after almost 200 years. The youthful generation has access to more information. There are a lot of more people that are interested in social justice issues and not being as afraid to ask questions like our parents and forefathers were.

A little too much of our identity has been attached to the U.S., and some of it hasn’t been realistic. So the U.S. takes its independence in July. We take ours the same month. America takes their Thanksgiving in November and we take our Thanksgiving in November. We do elections at the same time of year America is doing elections. But it rains heavily here, so you have low voter turnout. So we as a people are questioning a lot more now. I think it’s a good thing and I think we should be thankful for that because in the process of questioning, we are able to reflect and hopefully effect change.

Vicky Hallett is a freelance writer who regularly contributes to NPR.

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