Monrovia — January 17, 2022, marks yet another birthdate of the late Rev. Jonathan Emmanuel Zekpehgee Bowier, former Minister of Information and a “Historian” or a Storyteller as he used to call himself. His loved ones have been memorializing him.
Many knew Rev. Bowier for the wealth of historical accounts that he knew about Liberia and the rest of the world. Until his death, he appeared on local radio programs in Monrovia, narrating “accurate” historical accounts of Liberia. Many Liberians, especially the younger generation, knew him as a historian, which he rebuffed on many occasions. During those radio appearances and or at workshops and or symposiums, he said some famous quotations, which I have endeavored to piece together in his memory as the nation posthumously remembers him on his 72n birthday, this Monday, January 17. Some of what this write up contains are the last interview I conducted with him on his 71st birthday before he went home to be with his Maker.
Starting with his name and giving a brief history he said, “My first name before I was born was Emmanuel, meaning “God is with us.” This name was given to him by Elizabeth Wilson of the Church of the Lord Alladurah. I was born on a plantain leaf behind a house in Abrahima Kabba’s Compound, in a village in Grand Gedeh County. My father had settled with his seven wives there for fear of other men molesting his wives. My father believed his wives would have been safe among the Muslim people. My maternal grandmother named me Jedehnee, meaning in Grebo “You see now?” because when my mother was pregnant, the other wives said she was faking it and said it was “dirty water” she had in her stomach. My maternal grandmother went to deliver the message to my father, because the other wives were all fighting to have this child of prophesy. So when I was born, my father said my name was Jonathan, meaning “God has given” because God through the church promised him a child and had given the child. Zehkpehgee means “Leopard”. My grandmother gave me the name Jedehnee. She said people will accuse me falsely but, in the end, I will always say, “Ehn you see now?”
According to him, all throughout his 70 plus years, he lived according to the meanings of his names, especially the one his maternal grandmother gave him. He said in the end, he had always told people, who doubted or resisted a piece of advice from him: “Ehn you see now?”
“During the 1990, when I was Information Minister, some people accused me of being a rebel sympathizer and they went and told [President Samuel] Doe that I was fooling him. If President Doe had listened to me, he would have been alive today. But I can only say to them, ‘Ehn you see now’. If Doe had listened to me and resigned, he would have been alive today.
Some of his famous sayings
According to Rev. Bowier, nothing is new under the sun. “Everything you see happening around here today, happened in the past. You have to sit on the old mat to plait the new mat. Meaning, the young people have to sit with the old people like us, to learn how things worked before, in order to help them solve today’s problems.”
I asked him why he was not working in the government with all the knowledge he had about governance, he said, “In the fullness of time. One of my friends told me that during one of President [George] Weah’s appointment meeting, someone recommended my name to be Information Minister, and then another person stood up and said if you appoint that big mouth old man, he will put sand in our gari. I told my friend in that case, let them keep their gari, and let me keep my bag of sand yah. So, if I will work in government which I have not refused to do, it will happen in the fullness of time.”
He had told me that he was willing to help the government free of charge to train their people in public relations adding: “The Minister of Information is supposed read every newspaper and brief the President of the major happenings in the country. Tell the President the good, the bad and the ugly. If I were to speak to Weah, I would tell him the truth, because I am not here to make any baby feels good, as the theory in Liberia, you are not supposed to make the President feels bad.” Unfortunately, he was never called to work for the government up to his death.
Rev. Bowier had set up to write a book on most of the things he knew about Liberia. He had titled his first book, “Liberia’s Palava Is Too Hard to Talk.” It’s sad he never got around to publish the book before he passed. However, his widow, Mrs. Ruth Bowier, has promised to work with some of his friends in publishing his manuscripts into books and open a library in his memory.
Tributes from wife
“My husband Reverend Bowier was a good man, and my best friend. He always wanted peace for Liberia. We will miss him for his teachings. You played a major role in this country; you will always be remembered for your great work. I love you, but God loves you best. Rest on my husband,” from your darling wife, Ruth Soe Bowier.
Tributes from his children
“It’s been 204 days since your passing, and it still doesn’t seem real. Your passing was so abrupt and came with no warning. We all miss you sorely and we are grieving in our own way, but we will continue to make you proud day by day.
“Mama Liberia, you’ve lost a great man! He loved you. The love was so deep; it was buried in the depths of his soul. Even while living abroad, he always yearned to come back to you. As children, we didn’t understand it, but now we do.
“My people, at times you felt our father’s quick tongue and harsh criticisms, but he felt the necessary truth was needed to get things done. Help us carry on his legacy by keeping God first, continuing to learn about your history of our beloved country Liberia, and being the change, you want to see. Thank you, God and Mama Liberia, for keeping our dad going for as long as you could,” from your loving children.