REMEMBERING BAI T. MOORE- POET, WRITER, NOVELIST, PROMOTER OF LIBERIAN CULTURE & STATESMAN–
An Elder’s Prayer
By Bai T. Moore
Oh great Spirit of the forest,
I have nothing in my hand
But a chicken and some rice
It’s the gift of all our land
Bring us sunshine with the rain
So the harvest moon may blow
Save my people from all pains;
When the harvest time is done
We will make a feast to you.
The late Bai T. Moore was born on October 12, 1910 in the town of Dimeh, a Gola village between Monrovia and Tubmanburg in Liberia, and died in Monrovia on Jan. 10, 1988. He studied at Virginia Union University and returned to Liberia in 1941, where he served the Liberian government in various posts while writing, promoting the Gola, Dey culture and the general cultures of Liberia. Bai T. Moore became Minister of Cultural Affairs and Tourism under the government of Samuel K. Doe, a post that he served in diligently until he died in 1988 at the age of 79.
Bai T. was a father, a great husband, and family man, but he was the mentor of many young Liberians who were seeking a place for Liberian literature in the world, especially, during those several years before his death. I visited both his home and his office a few times to chat with Bai T. Moore during those last years. Despite his fame and place in Liberia then, he was always willing to listen to us young people, and was quick to offer his words of wisdom whenever you found yourself in his presence. He was a very calm and wise man who reminded many of us younger writers of his place as father and elder in our quest to define Liberian literature and to help Liberian literature find its place in the world of African literature.
During the few times I visited him at his home where his devoted wife played host to some of us who wanted to hear Bai T. talk about the significance of culture, of a place for the celebration of our heritage as indigenous Liberians, a celebration of what makes us Africans, he was both charming and serious about the literature he was seeking to bring to the forefront.
During one particular visit with Bai T. Moore at the Ministry, I met with him. and was blessed by his wisdom, his calm excitement about what we needed to do to continue to write and promote Liberian Literature and how we could as a nation appreciate our great cultural heritage. Bai T. Moore may not have been recognized as a great African writer, but many Liberians celebrated him as a man of culture, a father for the quest to define ourselves in a country where many Liberians, including decades of Liberian leadership frowned on the African culture and did not promote or value what made us African. You have only to read him to know how well he understood Liberian culture. During my years in college and in my early days as college instructor, before his passing, I never saw Bai T. Moore wearing anything other than his Vai shirts or suits even when many of those we knew to be prominent Liberians were embarrassed to wear their own African clothing. Entering his home was like entering a museum.
I was one of the hundreds who attended his funeral and his repass, and afterwards, I recall visiting his home with other writer friends to see his wife who had lost her best friend and husband.
As a student in high school, I read Bai T. Moore’s work, and as a college professor over the years, I have taught and revisited Bai T. Moore’s work over and over, teaching him to my college students. My favorite of his poems is “Monrovia Market Women.”
I cannot say whether or not Mr. Moore directly influenced my own writing, but I know that my love of portraying Monrovia in my own works, of celebrating Monrovia as a melting pot of many cultures must have been partly from reading Bai T. Moore’s celebration of ordinary Monrovia people in his works, and particularly, in his poem of the very intriguing Monrovia market women who rise at dawn to catch the early morning trucks from out of town in Moore’s “Monrovia Market
Bai T. Moore’s novels were not as successful as his book of poems, Ebony Dust, but those who read his novels knew that he had made a contribution to Liberian literature.
Ebony Dust was written in free verse at a time when many writers were still imitating European rhyme schemes and beat. But what is most meaningful about Bai T. Moore as a writer is his ability to celebrate, explore and write about the cultures of Liberia, bringing ordinary Liberians to life in ways many did not understand or appreciate at the time. This was because when Moore began to write, Liberian writing consisted of Americo-Liberianism that celebrated a country that was simply an illegitimate child of the United States, where the works written before and during Moore’s time celebrated the Americo-Liberian pioneers that supposedly “founded” the nation while leaving out the indigenous Liberians or their cultures.
Moore was like other Liberian writers after him in his use of vivid images of Liberian social life as well as political issues that hindered the growth of our nation even while speaking to the social issues of African countries seeking to free themselves from European Colonialism as well as issues around Apartheid in South Africa.
As we celebrate National Poetry Month in the United States, many of us in the Liberian and African Diaspora want to remember some of our own literary heroes both dead and alive. Bai T. Moore, who wrote some of his work in both English and Vai remains a pillar of Liberian culture and memory.
This year, 2008, marks twenty years since Bai T. Moore, literary and cultural father moved on to be among the celebrated Statesmen who continue to live on even though we now refer to them as dead. Bai T. Moore may have become one of Africa’s greatest poets had he not been drawn in by his official capacity as a government official. Maybe this is why he is so well remembered- his place as Minister of Culture and Tourism, his love of literature, and his place as mentor. Bai T. Moore continues to inspire many long after his departure.
May His Soul Rest in Peace—–
Echoes from the Valley: Being Odes and Other Poems (1947), Co-edited with Roland T. Dempster
Murder in the Cassava Patch (Novel)
Ebony Dust (Poems)
Money Dubler (Novel)