Sue Young Histories

Prince Massaquoi Momolu (1870-1938)

November 21, 2013

Prince Massaquoi Momolu
(1870-1938) Prince Massaquoi Momolu (1870-1938) ‘… Africa’s first indigenous diplomat serving for a decade in Hamburg, Germany… ’

Massaquoi was a friend of James John Garth Wilkinson, is listed in both James John Garth Wilkinson’s address books at Vai Territory, Grande Cape Mount, Manoh, Salijah, W. Africa, and at 2 Montague Street, Russell Square (dated 23.8.1894 in both address books (Swedenborg Archive Address Book of James John Garth Wilkinson dated 1895. See also Swedenborg Archive A183r Address Book of James John Garth Wilkinson ‘Where is it’ dated 1.10.1892).

On 15th September 1894, James John Garth Wilkinson wrote to Prince Momolu Massaquoi from 4 Finchley Road:

‘… *My Dear Prince Momolu Massaquoi, You told me on Thursday that it was believed among your countrymen in _Vai* that the gift of singing among them was suggested, & initiated from the songs & notes of birds. It may interest you to read the following rough translation from the Poem, de Rerum Natura [a 1st-century BC didactic poem] of Lucretius [a Roman poet and philosopher]... Imitating the liquid notes of birds by the mouth, came long before the time when men were able to chant their slender ditties as songs, & to please the ears. _

_Moreover, the sighs of the West wind, zephyrs, through the hollows of reeds, first taught those countrymen to blow their hemlock flutes. Then little by little they learnt the dulcet moans which the pipe pours forth to the play of the fingers of the singer: the pipe abundant throughout the pathless groves, and woods and forest slopes, solitary places & divine homes of the shepherds…’ Book V 1379-1387. _

_The earliest age, the pre Adamite, was not savage but in ‘the innocence of ignorance’. It had no bad inheritance in it to lame its nature. The men and women had freewill, & though designed for elevation to the celestial state called Adam, they could stop if they chose at an earlier state. Some did so stop: & are probably the cave men; now so called aborigines of many kinds. However, all were then of gifted human faculties, & learnt nothing from birds, or from zephyrs. In later stages indeed, a different creature, man has learnt from outward nature. In fact learns everything from there. _

_But in the beginning nature was a correspondential image & shadow of him, from his summit he saw through its veil, & to all living things:// Lucretius represents the savage and mistakes him for the primeval man. Many the best of your Race, the African, represent the remains of the Adamic Race; but not of the Adamic Church, which perished. The doctrine of successive Churches or Revelations is thus all important to the understanding of Swedenborg. These Churches are in a series one after another, and are ‘the Ways of God to Man’. They are what the Greek Testament calls Aions. When they are comprehended in the Order. Revelation can become Theology. Yours ever J J Garth Wilkinson… (_Swedenborg Archive K125 [5] Letter dated 15.9.1894 from Garth Wilkinson to Prince Momulu Massaquoi. See also Clement John Wilkinson, James John Garth Wilkinson; A Memoir of His Life, with a Selection of His Letters__, (Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co 1911). Page 225).

From See also Raymond J. Smyke,* The first African diplomat: Momolu Massaquoi (1870-1938), *(Xlibris, 20 Jan 2005). ‘… _Born of a warrior queen on a Liberian battlefield, Momolu Massaquoi was heir to two African royal families and served as the youngest-ever King of the Vai people. _

_In the 1920s Massaquoi became Africa’s first indigenous diplomat serving for a decade in Hamburg, Germany. Popular among Liberians, Massaquoi had the potential to become Liberia’s first tribal African president. Betrayed by his closest friend, he was barred from holding public office and his name expunged from official Liberian history. This exclusion from politics and public memory was part of the suppression of the Liberian indigenous majority by the repatriate minority, and it ultimately led to the 1980 implosion of modern Liberia. _

Set against this backdrop, The first African diplomat: Momolu Massaquoi (1870-1938) illustrates how Massaquoi bridged the wide gap between traditional African life and the Western-dominated industrialized world. This compelling work restores Momolu Massaquoi to his rightful place in African history. The Massaquoi story has never before been told. Based on research in three continents, the book also documents two hundred years of Massaquoi’s family history from his great, great, grandfather Siaka, a slaver on the West Coast of Africa during the 18th century, to his great-grandson, a Harvard trained physician with a Ph.D. in biotechnology. Covering seven generations, this genealogical depth is unusual for anywhere in the world and has rarely been done in Africa…

_… Massaquoi’s parents were traditional rulers of separate branches of the Vai ethnic group, conferring on their son a privileged status in society. Following a traditional upbringing and mission schooling in Liberia, Massaquoi studied in the United States during the closing years of the nineteenth century. Living in the segregated post-Civil War South, he was lionized in parts of the white man’s world. An unusual young man, at the age of 19 he addressed an audience of 5,000 at the 1891 convention of the National Education Association of the United States. He went on to play an important part in the 1892-1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Later he traveled extensively in Europe and visited England during Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. _

_Returning home, Massaquoi worked as a teacher before being crowned King of the Vai people at age 35. Introducing change and modernization to his realm proved unpopular, and he was ignominiously dethroned. This crushing blow diminished his consummate pride. The deposed king devoted himself to business, his many children, and to perfecting the Vai script. _

In 1912 Massaquoi was invited to join the national government of Liberia to improve the tense and often warlike relations between the indigenous and immigrant communities. Succeeding beyond expectation in his government post, he consolidated his social position through marriage into an elite family, thus fostering upward mobility in an otherwise closed society. Promotion to ministerial level and the inner circle of government in 1915 showed his considerable talent in both public service and national politics. Massaquoi became extremely popular among the disadvantaged majority, and for the first time, a tribal African had the potential to become president of the republic, but his popularity threatened the ruling elite.

Liberia enjoyed historic trading links with Germany until the of World War I (1914-1918). Postwar exports of forest products to Germany, however, were slow to recover. With Liberia on the brink of national bankruptcy, Massaquoi was appointed the first Minister Consul-General in Hamburg in an attempt to revive trade. From 1922 to 1929, an exciting period for both Germany and the extended Massaquoi family, he served as the first indigenous African diplomat in Europe, drawing a large number of visitors to him. These included W.E.B. DuBois, editor of the NAACP Crisis, and Marcus Garvey, founder of the erstwhile Back to Africa movement. The movement’s Potentate was Massaquoi’s father-in-law. Throughout the years in Germany, Massaquoi was an attentive father, mindful of his children’s education, instilling in them racial pride as they were buffeted in a sea of whiteness.

_He returned from diplomatic service in 1929, a critical time in the nation’s history, when it was accused of condoning slavery. Urged on by the United States and Great Britain, the League of Nations was moving to suspend Liberian sovereignty and place it under an international control commission. In the upcoming 1931 election campaign, the voters wanted regime change, and this meant Massaquoi — untainted by the slavery issue. As he publicly declared himself a presidential candidate, his closest friend Edwin Barclay, the only other candidate, felt threatened by Massaquoi’s popularity and tried to have him imprisoned by manipulating Liberia’s malleable judicial system. Although he failed to incarcerate him, he did succeed in preventing Massaquoi from contesting by bringing a series of lawsuits against him until his death in 1938. _

Barclay was elected president and remained in office until 1944. During his time in office, he had Massaquoi’s name expunged from official records and from the nation’s written history. For the masses who loved him, and for his family, Massaquoi’s life and deeds became enshrined in living memory and oral tradition. Several months before his death, Massaquoi wrote to a college classmate summarizing his life and accomplishments. Preserved by his daughter Fatima, the letter forms part of the closing chapter of the manuscript…’


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