SUAKOKO DISTRICT, BONG COUNTY
CHIEF CLARR AND CHIEF NAMO CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE FORMER SUAKOKO LEPROSY REHABILITATION CENTER
A brief overview of the Establishment of the
Suakoko Leprosy Rehabilitation Center as explained by
Our late father and grandfather Joseph Sumo and Chief Namo
in Suakoko District, Bong County, Liberia, West Africa
Raymond Nalone Sumo, BS., M.S., M.S., M.S., Ph.D.
Grandson of Chief Clarr
Disclaimer: As I put this article together, there are several pieces of notes or information I wrote in my notebooks, and several papers with information concerning this topic over the years. I misplaced some of my notes during the civil wars as well. As I find them, I will continue to update the information for the reading public. My initial written record occurred on January 14, 1979, when my grandfather Chief Namo provided Oral History of our tribal land the establishment of the rehabilitation center. The second update happened in 1980. I am a member of the St. Luke Lutheran Church of Liberia at Phebe Hospital.
Done June 14, 1980
The content of this article was compiled over the years by the assistance of our late father Mr. Joseph Sumo, our mother, Ma-Yamah Sumo through oral history, Chief Namo, (POINDEXTER, 1949), and the late Dr. & Mrs. Heisey. Dr. Lowell Heisey came to Liberia with his wife as a Fulbright Chemistry Professor at Cuttington University College (CUC) in 1986. During her leisure time, Mrs. Heisey participated in Art Classes at CUC, and she learned to tie-die t-shirts and other African Fabrics and she was a bird watcher. I remembered when she used to feed the birds on the front yard of the Fulbright House on campus. I lived with the Hiesey’s on Cuttington Campus in their Fulbright House basement from 1986-1987 until they returned to the United States. During their stay in Liberia, I traveled with them to several Liberian Villages and Towns. The Heiseys (deceased) used to love nature and they were always happy to meet villagers and take pictures of birds, monkeys, vegetations and flowers, and other Liberian animals. On one of those visits, I took the Heiseys to visit the Leprosy Colony and on our way back to Cuttington University, we stopped at my parent house in Thomas’ Farm. Mrs. Heisey interviewed my parent about Leprosy Colony, Clarta Village, and Phebe Hospital in March 1986. I served as an interpreter for my parent and the Heisey’s. The Heiseys returned to the states at the end of 1987. When the Heiseys retired, they sold their home and moved in a group home community where they remained until their death. However, they gave some papers and other documents they had acquired and written while in Liberia. Their daughter, Maylee Samuels gave me these documents. While going through them, I came across this interview which the Heiseys had with my parent in Liberia. I did not modify the content of the interview questions and responses. I have posted it according to the questions and responses on Sumofarmers.com.
A partial conversation with my grandfather in Kpelle in June 1978 about Clarrta Village
In 1978 my grandfather, Chief Namo came to Voinjama, Lofa County to receive medical treatment. His daughter, Nay-Gomah was married to Mr. Joseph Korvah who was a Physician Assistant at Tellewoyan Hospital in Voinjama, Lofa County. Together, they had six girls and a boy. Mr. Joseph Korvah comes from Fessawallasue, Lofa County. My grandfather had sent me to live with my Aunty Gomah and Mr. Korvah to attend school in 1975. One day, when I came from school, he called me in his bedroom and told me to sit by him on his bed. He was lying down. I sat down on his bed, and he got up and sat up and asked me to give him his traveling bag. I took the bag and gave it to him. As he opened his bag, he asked me this question, Nalone what grade are you in? I told him I was in the 5th Grade. He counted his fingers and as he got to 5, he said this is “many book”. Then he said to me don’t go too far but if you can stop in 8th grade that will be enough book for you protect the tribal land in Clarrta for the family. I said yes, Namo, but I want to be a medical doctor. Then he said doctor? I said yes and he said go for it so no one will take advantage of you and the family tomorrow, and perhaps you can build a clinic in Clarrta. My grandfather opened his bag and gave me a large plastic bag that he had tied with ropes, and I asked him what was inside the bag? He said this is our land documents for Clarrta Tribal Land. I want you to keep it because I am putting the land in your care. Manage and protect it for your siblings and the family. I opened the plastic bag and opened a big sheet of paper with three long lines that said Wok and Balam Rivers coming to a common meeting point. The third line was the boundary between Clarr Village and the Suakoko Rehabilitation Center. In the middle of the sheet was the word written in bold letters, Clarrta Village. I asked my grandfather to explain the lines to me on this paper. He confirmed to me that the first two lines represented the Wook, and Balam Rivers and the third line represented the boundary between the Rehabilitation Center and Clarrta’s Tribal Land. At this boundary, he planted a Plum Tree. Unfortunately, Chief Namo died in September 1978 in Tellewoyan Hospital in Voinjama. We brought his body back to Clarrta for burial, but we couldn’t cross the river during the rainy season. He was buried in my mother’s village in Galai since his sister lived there at the time. To keep the promise to my grandfather, I was admitted to the medical school at the University of Liberia in 1990 but the civil wars didn’t allow me to attend. The grave of Chief Namo will be transfer to Clarrta as soon as possible.
The purpose of this article is to dispel the lies and rumors about the former Suakoko Leprosy Rehabilitation Center in Suakoko District in Bong County. Some of the lies I have heard is that Phebe Hospital owns the Suakoko Leprosy Rehabilitation Center and its land, or some say that the inhabitants of the former rehabilitation center own the land. These assumptions are lies that are told my those who want to steal this land. In 1944, the Liberian Government requested the Paramount Chief in Gbatala and local chiefs from Suakoko District through the Department of Interior (now Ministry of Internal Affairs) to provide land where housing complex would be constructed to house those affected with Leprosy. The Chief in Gbatala summoned Chief in Suakoko and the village chiefs from Burtesue, Fayenutolie, Vanhei, and Clarrta Villages to a meeting in Gbatala. At that meeting, the chiefs were asked to donate land for the construction of the Leprosy Treatment Center. Chief Clarr as a respected elder, my grandfather, was appointed to head the land negotiation with the other chiefs. After several meetings with chiefs in Butesue, Fayenutolie, Suakoko, and Vanhei, the Chiefs met in Suakoko and made the land available to the government through the Department of Interior (now Ministry of Internal Affairs) with an agreement that all infected people would return to their villages and towns when healed from Leprosy. Most of the infected people who got healed from Leprosy returned to their various towns and villages but some of the people remained in the center as of today. Today, leprosy has been eradicated in Liberia but few of the residents and their children live in the center as of today. Secondly, most of the people that now live in the center never had leprosy but after the Liberian Civil Wars, some people moved in to live in the free government housing that are in the center. Some of these inhabitants have tried over the years to sell portions of the rehabilitation’s land to strangers, and they have gone as far as laying claim to Chief Clarr’s tribal land. These people must be stop and remove from the center housing. The Clarr Family is the custodian of the Leprosy Rehabilitation Center Land because our ancestor gave this land to the government for specific purpose. Any attempt by any individual, profit or non-profit to lay claim to this rehabilitation center land and our tribal land will lead to court action. Secondly, those who are using the Clarr’s Family land have been advised to stop or court action will be taken against them.
According to my late father, Mr. Joseph Sumo, Chief Clarr died in 1955, and his brother, Namo became the Chief of Clarrta Village. The construction of the Leprosy Center began in 1946 and by 1948-1949, the first group of Leprosy patients arrived in the treatment center. The Suakoko Leprosy Rehabilitation Center had an estimated population of 100 patients and was managed by the Liberia Mid Inlands Mission in collaboration with the Ministry of Health until Phebe Hospital was built in the early 1960’s. Management of the Leprosy Patients and facilities were transferred to Phebe Hospital in the early 1970’s. Phebe Hospital’s role was to provide medical treatment to the Leprosy Patients.
A Brief Overview of the Suakoko Leprosy Rehabilitation Center
Welcome to Clarrta Village located behind the former Suakoko Leprosy Rehabilitation Center in Bong County. The Clarr Family and grandchildren are the custodian of the Suakoko Leprosy Rehabilitation Center Land donated to the Liberian Government in 1945 by our ancestors. In the early 1940s, Leprosy was discovered in Liberia. Many infected Liberians were discriminated against because the disease was contagious, and many Liberians did not want to be infected with leprosy. So, there was a need for treatment centers where those infected Liberians could live and receive medical treatments. It was like Liberians who were infected with the EBOLA Virus in 2014.
As a result, the Liberian Government, with the assistance of the US and various religious NGOs institutions constructed dispensaries where those with Leprosy went and got treatments and returned home to their families and relatives. One of those dispensaries was in Ganta, Nimba County and managed by the Methodist Mission Board. However, this treatment method was not effective because the disease continued to spread among the population. The Liberian Government decided to find suitable locations to build treatment centers for the infected Liberians to be treated and live until they were healed from the disease before returning to their villages or towns. Six treatment centers were built around the country and one of those centers was the Suakoko Leprosy Rehabilitation Center in Suakoko District. This center was known as the Mid. Central Province and managed by the Mid Inlands Mission. This center opened its door to Leprosy Patients in 1948-49. During this period, Bong, Lofa, and Nimba Counties were part of the Central Provinces until 1964 when they were created as counties. Phebe Hospital was not built until the early 1960’s and opened her door in 1965. The Suakoko Leprosy Rehabilitation Center was managed by the Mid Inlands Mission from 1949-1974. Management of the rehab center was transferred to Phebe Hospital after this time, but the Ministry of Health still had government doctors and nurses providing healthcare services for the patients at the center. Cuttington University College used the Leprosy Center Hospital as a teaching hospital for her Nursing Students until Phebe Hospital was built and opened in 1965. The management responsibilities of the Rehab Center given to Phebe Hospital were limited to patients, food, and medical treatments.
Not a day that Dr. Walter Gwenigale as Medical Director of Phebe Hospital lay claim to the Center’s land and Clarrta’s Village. However, since the civil wars, I have heard lies that the Leprosy Center land belongs to Phebe Hospital. Those who are making the claim are not from Bong County and don’t have the history on their side but have false land document acquired during the Liberian Civil Wars. I have communicated this information to Phebe Hospital but what I heard is that the current Administrator, one Saykor says he has tribal certificate for Phebe Hospital. A non-profit institution has tribal certificate in Liberia is a sign of a criminal behavior and a plot to steal land. This is the beginning of court actions we intend to take against anyone on behalf of our tribal land and the rehab’s land. The Suakoko Leprosy Rehabilitation Center was built in the 1940’s and opened its door in 1948-49. So, those who are hiding behind Phebe Hospital’s excellent name to steal land will only be harming Phebe Hospital excellent reputations as a Christian Institution that provides healthcare services to Liberians only if Phebe Hospital and the Lutheran Church of Liberia have decided to be part of this criminal coalition. Our family intend to challenge any organization or any other individual(s) who attempt to steal this land that was donated to the Government of Liberia.
THE HEISEYS INTERVIEWED OUR PARENT ABOUT SUAKOKO LEPROSY REHABILITATION CENTER, CLARRTA VILLAGE, AND RESPONSES PROVIDED BY OUR PARENTS ON FEBRUARY 12, 1986. I SERVED AS AN INTERPRETOR FOR THIS INTERVIEW.
Below are questions and introduction by Dr. and Mrs. Heisey:
Hello, my name is Mrs. Hazel Heisey, and my husband is Dr. Lowell Heisey. My husband is a Professor of Chemistry at Cuttington, and I stay home, clean up, cook and feed the birds. Raymond also helped with cooking Liberian food and yard work. Then, I introduced my parents to the Heisey, and we began the interview.
- Mrs. Heisey: What is your village name and where is it located?
- Mr. Joseph Sumo: Our village was named after my father, Chief Clarr. The village name is Clarrta located behind the Leprosy Center.
- When was the Leprosy Colony built?
- Mr. Joseph Sumo: Our family donated the land the Leprosy Colony was built on during President Tubman Administration. The land was donated in 1945 by our Chiefs including Chief Clarr and the Lepers came to the colony in 1948-1949.
- Mrs. Heisey: Was any of your family member affected with Leprosy?
- Mr. Joseph Sumo: No, we were living in our village long time before the lepers came. We were advised not to interact with them because of the disease.
- Mr. Heisey: So, how was the relationship between the villagers and the Leprosy patients since they were close to your villages? Were you scared that you might be infected with the disease?
- Ma-Yamah: Initially, we were told that we must not shake theirs hands, drink or eat with them. We greeted them from far distances because we were afraid that we could get Leprosy if we were too close to them. Secondly, the lepers were told not to go outside the colony until they were fully healed from Leprosy.
- Mrs. Heisey: Who took care of the lepers?
- Mr. Joseph Sumo: Some white people and Liberian doctors used to come and gave them medicine at the hospital on the hill. The Mid Inlands Mission was taking care of the lepers until Phebe Hospital was built and open in 1965. But they also had one doctor they called Matt Desheil who lived in SKT. Phebe Hospital took management of the Leprosy colony in the early 1970’s.
- Mr. Heisey: So why Phebe Hospital was not in charge of the Leprosy Colony?
- Mr. Joseph Sumo: When the Leprosy Colony was opened in 1948-1949, Phebe Hospital was not built yet.
Ma-Yama Sumo: When I was a young girl coming to Clarrta Village, that was the time we saw people brushing the current site where Phebe Hospital is, and when my late father asked the workers, the workers said some White People will build a new hospital here, and that was early 1960’s.
- Mr. Heisey: If we want to assist the lepers in the colony, who can we talk to?
- Mr. Joseph Sumo: Well, almost all the lepers are healed and most of them have returned to their towns and villages, but we still have some people who decided to stay. Right now, the colony is managed by Phebe Hospital. So, any help for the Leprosy Colony, Dr. Gwanigale in Phebe is the person to talk to.
- Mr. Heisey: When was Clarrta Village established?
- Mr. Joseph Sumo: I was born in Clarrta Village in 1930 and my older brothers were also born in Clarrta Village too. I am the youngest of the three boys from our parent. We were in Clarrta Village before Firestone Rubber came to Liberia. So, I can say in the early 1900’s.
- Mrs. Heisey: Do you have sisters?
- Mr. Joseph Sumo, no, we were three boys from our parent, but we have some women in the family.
- Mrs. Heisey: Mayamah, when did you meet Joseph Sumo?
- Mayamah, smiled after I interpreted. I didn’t meet him initially but his uncle, Chief Namo came and made the arrangement with my parent in our village in 1956. Joseph Sumo used to come to our village and make farm for my parent and go back to Clarrta Village. Sometimes, I used to go to Clarrta Village and spent time too. But this was after the death of Chief Clarr in 1955. I moved with Joseph Sumo in Clarrta Village in 1957 and his uncle Chief Namo became the new chief for Clarrta Village.
This ends the interview and the Heiseys thanked my parent.
Joseph and Ma-Yamah Sumo thank you for the interview. We have learned a lot about the colony and your village.
- Poindexter, H. A. A laboratory epidemiological study of certain infectious diseases in Liberia. American J. Trop. Med. 29 (1949) 435-442.
- Heisey, Lowell (Interview questions, 1986)
- Heisey, Hazel (Interview questions, 1986)
- Sumo, Joseph (Oral History, 1986)
- Sumo, Ma-Yamah (Oral History, 1986)
- Chief Namo (Oral History, 1978)