A Great Man is Gone: A Dirge for Baccus
By Patricia Jabbeh Wesley
So the Town Crier is gone? So another gourd is broken? So another son is gone home? So the hero is gone? Now, let all the women gather before the great hut and wail. Our country has lost a great man. Let all the townswomen gather. Let all the elders gather. Let all the children gather. A great man has gone down. Baccus is gone down. A great voice is lost in the woods. Let the women come out with open hair,
and let the dirge singers sing the hero song. Bring the song writers out for a song. Let us lay out the lappas so giants can see what a giant Baccus was. Let no one go out to the farm today because the candle is out.
G. Baccus, as Mr. Matthews was affectionately called by his supporters, died on Sept. 7, 2007 at the St. Joseph Catholic Hospital in Monrovia, Liberia. He was fifty-nine years old. He was the founder of the pro-democracy, pro-reform political party, the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) in the 1970s. PAL as a political party was the first major political opposition party in the age-old True Wig Party country where it was almost illegal to form a second political party in Liberia. Mr. Matthews was a political prisoner over and over during the William R. Tolbert years. He served as Foreign Minister in the Samuel Doe government and during the interim years when the Liberian civil war raged. He was also a Presidential candidate during the election that brought Liberia’s current President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to power. What he will be most remembered for is his ability to never stop fighting, to keep on talking about the ills in our society, to sacrifice his life for what he believed and for the Liberian people even when he was misunderstood. This made him both the admired statesman that he was as well as the misunderstood politician that many would blame for Liberia’s problems. For some of us, he was a fighter, a great statesman and an eye-opener to the reality of our nation’s ills.
Gabriel Baccus Matthews– a Liberian hero and fighter has let out the great flame he carried almost single handedly over the decades. The candle has gone down with him finally. If there are horn blowers, let them blow them. If there are dirge singers, let them cry. Let the powerful talking drums now pound!
Let old and young women come out and wail. Liberia has lost a hero in the middle of the battle.
The dawn has come for the mourner to let out the cry of the mother whose son has gone down.
Let Liberia sigh and remember one of our greatest who has gone down when the crooked and the evil doers, the warriors who have killed our people, and all the angry war makers continue to live on.
If God had asked any of us who should go, would we have chosen Baccus, the one who came marching into our lives as Liberians, the one who opened up our eyes in a day when giants still slept while a few people misused our resources?
I first discovered Baccus, as he was known by all of us who knew what he stood for, that year in 1979 or probably before. But his sharp sounding cry to us Liberians to wake up and stand up for our rights, to stand up to the status quo, to rise up and stand up for what we believed touched me that year. I was a junior student in college, still naive about the corruption of our day or about the ugly history of the Americo-Liberian monarchy that ruled us for over a hundred and thirty years then, and was certain to continue ruling over us indigenous peoples had powerful voices like Baccus and Amos Sawyer and Tipoteh and all the others not come out to call on us to wake up.
And yet some will blame the civil war on these heroes, will blame all the evil we have seen on these great men and great voices, but I stand in awe at the willingness of giants like Baccus to stand up and teach some of us that we indeed had rights, that we were indeed entitled to what others were enjoying in our country, that we too, belonged.
And then we awoke and began to not only stand up for what we believed, but we woke to become enlightened, to go to school, knowing that one day we too, would lead our nation. Today, many of those in leadership are indirectly or directly the products of what Baccus Matthews stood for; they are indeed students of Baccus, of his vision, whether or not they admit it. We were influenced in many positive ways because Baccus stood up. And for decades, he stood up and stood up despite everything. He is a hero not because he was Foreign Minister or because he led a political party, but because his voice was the first voice many of us heard and woke up to the reality of Liberia. He is my hero because he fought and fought, and died fighting still being young. He fought and would not be happy with peanuts when he was given peanuts; he fought if all he could do at a given time was to fight.
Yes, Liberia will mourn. We must celebrate the greatest among us even when we are too far away to join in the mourning song. Baccus, may your soul rest in peace.