Collections: Ruth Stone - The EVIA Digital Archive Project

Kpelle Music Events in Monrovia and Sanoyea Liberia (1988-1989)

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Feme Neni-Kole, lead female soloist in the St. Peter's Lutheran Church Kpelle choir, which performed at the James Y. Gbarbea funeral, Monrovia, Liberia, 1988. Image from video © Verlon L. and Ruth M. Stone.

This collection includes musical events from performances by Kpelle and other musicians in Liberia, West Africa, beginning in late December 1988 and continuing to early 1989. The extended funeral ritual for James Y. Gbarbea, a former minister in the government of Liberia, living in exile at the time of his death in the United States, is the focus of this collection.

Mr. Gbarbea's wake, funeral, and burial served as major sites for political protest against the rule of the dictator Samuel Doe shortly before the outbreak of the lengthy civil war in late 1989. Within the context of this lifecycle event, the Kpelle choir sang phrases like "Doe will go," implying that this dictator's rule was eventually going to end. Bishop Ronald Diggs, in the funeral sermon, exhorted people to work for freedom and justice. Veiled communication permeated the expressive forms that people deployed as they honored James Y. Gbarbea and commemorated his life.

The video recording began in Monrovia (Montserrado County) where the wake and the funeral service took place and then continued in Sanoyea (Bong County) Liberia some 90 miles interior where Mr. Gbarbea was buried. Some of the musicians performed during the evening wake, funeral the next day, and finally at the burial. They moved with the casket from the capitol to Sanoyea as the event site shifted.

The events were researched by Ruth M. Stone and recorded by Ruth M. and Verlon L. Stone. This footage is about one-quarter of the total footage recorded during two field trips that took place in Liberia during 1988-89 and that was supported by a Fulbright Research Fellowship.

Additional background materials for the collection include original language song texts, translations, field notes, and still photos.

This collection is currently in production and is not yet available to the public.

Image © The EVIA Digital Archive Project

Ruth Stone is Laura Boulton Professor of Folklore and Ethnomusicology at Indiana University in Bloomington Indiana. She is also Associate Vice Provost for Research and Director of the Digital Arts and Humanities Institute. She has conducted fieldwork in Liberia, beginning in 1970 and continuing in 1975-76, 1982-83, and 1988-89 and 2007. Drawing upon that work, she has published several books about her work on Kpelle expressive performance, including Let the Inside Be Sweet (1982), Dried Millet Breaking (1988), and Music in West Africa: Experiencing Music, Expressing Culture (2004). The work is also reflected in a CD-ROM: Five Windows Into Africa (2001) of which she is a co-author. She has lectured on this work throughout the United States, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. She is currently researching music in the post conflict period of Liberia, revisiting sites of work in the late 1980s.

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