by Bai T. Moore
Caveat Emptor: After a year of trying, I was excited to see this novel available online. Amazon wanted $77 for it (ridiculous) but this Other Site was charging $17. I was excited because Murder in the Cassava Patch is required reading for all Liberian high school students and my chosen book for Liberia.
It is Out of Print in the US, or at least unavailable.
The novel is a mystery about a young man called Gortokai who’s accused of killing his wife Tene. He’s imprisoned, but a mystery shrouds the circumstances of her death. It’s set in a village in post-war Liberia.
Imagine my dismay when I kept reading “about” the novel, and not starting the novel. What was going on?
Then I saw a notation on the cover: High Quality Content by Wikipedia Articles. WHAT?!
What I had purchased was not the novel Murder in the Casava Patch. It was a collection of Wikipedia articles about the novel, which I could have read for free.
Furthermore, a bunch of the “book” consisted of articles on topics that would be highlighted on Wiki when reading about this novel, such as Incest, Cassava, and Paperback Books. What a rip-off!
So I still haven’t gotten to read the seminal work of Liberian literature. American publishing companies, you suck.
You may have heard that the Republic of Liberia is a country of former American slaves, sent back to Africa by do-gooders. It did declare its independence in 1847, but the U.S. did not recognize that until the end of our Civil War in 1862. Between 1822 and the 1862, more than 15,000 freed and free-born Black Americans from United States and 3,198 Afro-Caribbeans relocated to the settlement. Liberia maintained and kept its independence during the European colonial era.
There are 16 different indigenous groups in Liberia, and 31 separate ethnics languages, along with “Liberian English”. Indians from India, Lebanese, and other West Africans are also present.
Before the story of Murder in the Cassava Patch, the formerly peaceful Liberia was ripped apart by an asshole called Charles Taylor, who set tribe against tribe. Liberia has a new President, the first female President in all of Africa.
A Taste of the Novel
“Like dry-time thunder, Tene’s murder shocked every one in the area. The news spread throughout the countryside like wildfire. A few hours following the discovery, hundreds of horrified persons had arrived on the scene to get a glimpse of the corpse. Mothers made it a point to bring along adolescent daughters, cautioning them in these terms, “You see eh, when we old people tell you children to listen to your parents, you say this is a new age.”
“The person, who killed this child is a madman…A blood thirsty fiend seeking her vital organs to make sacrificial medicine, perhaps,” stricken onlookers remarked, as hundreds of them passed by the body of Tene lying under a palm tree in the center of the cassava patch.
“The twelve man jury appointed by the local
clan chief to examine the body reported that Tene was murdered with a sharp instrument, a razor or a cutlass. Her throat had been slashed, both wrists cut to the bone, and there was a gash above the eyes. From the appearance of the spot, Tene and her murderer must have fought for a good while before she was finally overpowered.
“After much palavering on the scene, the elders all agreed that because of the advanced state of decomposition of the body, it should be immediately interred. “According to tradition,” remarked one elder, “Tene cannot be buried in the town.” The chief ordered a grave hastily dug and Tene was thrown into it.
“My name is Gortokai. Kai, the last part of it is the Vai apellation for man. Gorto refers to the brown jugs in which Dutch gin was sold long ago. It is probable that on the day I was born, the village elders were feasting on a case of this delectable spirit, so that they were spared the trouble of inventing a name for me.
“I grew up as the son of old man Joma and his wife Sombo Karn, and with Tene and Kema, her older sister. One day, I was left alone with Tene. We were playing Mama and Papa, when suddenly Tene came up to me and asked me to hold her tight in the waist. I shivered and recoiled. “Gortokai, can’t you see that we are not brother and sister? It’s a secret Mama told me.”
“I didn’t know then, why this information had been withheld from me. Much later, I learned that my real father was once a slave. He had been one of the men recruited for the Island of Fernando Po as a contract laborer on Spanish coco plantations, and came back home disillusioned but still full of the spirit of adventure, as result of which he associated himself with an itinerant Mandingo cola trader.
It seems that at one time this gentleman was unlucky in one of his deals, and found it convenient to bargain my father off as part of the deal to a prosperous farmer in one of the St. Paul River settlements. Shifting from one village to another in later years, he ended up in the Dewoin country were he met my mother and married her. If there is anything I inherited from my father, it was his urge to roam about.
“The third harvest following the outbreak of the Hitler War was a momentous year for me. Something every young man in the Dewoin country looks forward to, happened to me. I was initiated into the Zowolo, the highest Poro degree offered by the Dewoin tribe…”