National Poetry Month: Celebrating Bai T. Moore, The Late Liberian Poet, Writer, Culturalist, and Statesman

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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

Women.”

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—–

His Works:

Echoes from the Valley: Being Odes and Other Poems (1947), Co-edited with Roland T. Dempster

In 1962, Moore was one of a team of Vai scholars who took part in a conference at the University of Liberia to standardise the Vai script for modern usage.[2]

Murder in the Cassava Patch (Novel)

Ebony Dust (Poems)

Money Dubler (Novel)

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8 Responses to “National Poetry Month: Celebrating Bai T. Moore, The Late Liberian Poet, Writer, Culturalist, and Statesman”

  1. Cheryl Spencer Says:

    Dear Partricia,
    Our school has their International day this coming Friday. My 3rd grade class is concentrating on Liberia and my historical personality is Bai T. Moore. I have to dress up as him and be him for the day. Can you tell me what a Vai shirt is? Is there anything else that would help me portray Bai T. Moore? Thank you for your help. Reed

    • poetryforpeace Says:

      Dear Cheryl,I found a link to African shirts that are Vai shirts. You should check this link: http://images.google.com/images?client=firefox-a&rls=org.mozilla%3Aen-US%3Aofficial&hl=en&q=African+shirts&btnG=Search+Images&gbv=2

      The shirts usually may have long sleeves, a sharp cut at the middle of the neck, and may or may not have African design print engraving at the cut. There are a few examples, but I cannot paste them. You may be near Africans who can borrow you a gown, but you can also go into a walmart, get a think material that looks like curtain material or fine print, cut a hole in the neck, and turn it into a shirt or a long African gown. You may not even need to sew it. You can also use a twin bed sheet, cut a hole in the middle for the head, make a sharp cut like an opening of a Vai neck shirt, and throw the long thing over your clothing. That should be great for the kids. I used to dress kids up in African clothing years ago. I wish you the best.

  2. Player Profiles Says:

    Best you could edit the blog title National Poetry Month: Celebrating Bai T. Moore, The Late Liberian Poet, Writer, Culturalist, and Statesman Patricia Jabbeh Wesley’s International Blog on Poetry for Peace to more catching for your webpage you make. I enjoyed the post yet.

    • poetryforpeace Says:

      What do you mean by edit? This was a blog post in its time and place, and since I have many things to focus on, I have no plans to edit it. Glad to have had the time to spotlight him.

  3. Aisha Oliff Says:

    Nice post. I used to be checking continuously this weblog and I am impressed! Extremely helpful info particularly the ultimate part 🙂 I handle such info a lot. I was seeking this particular information for a long time. Thank you and best of luck.

  4. Isaac S. Whuling, III Says:

    A beauty of our Culture will always be seen in his eyes. For a man that gives such a knowledge to all Liberians and those of whom around the world.
    Let not his legacy be forgotten because he lay down his knowledge for us.
    Oh! great Bai T. Moore we thank u!

    • Austin moore jr Says:

      A legend is Born not made,Bai T Moore vvas actually a Hero, vvhen it come to upholding our culture and tradition he vvas a soul of motivation for many literature pupil,Today he is no more but his legacy still remain.

  5. James s.BARNEY JR Says:

    A gr8 writer


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