THE DEAD WILL GUIDE US
Teachings from Liberia's Civil War
'The Dead Will Guide Us: teachings from Liberia’s civil war', is the story of how the dead and nature, particularly elephants, have brought the human and natural communities together for peacemaking and reconciliation. In 2003, I dreamed that the dead from Liberia’s 15-year civil war were asking to be properly honored and mourned. I didn’t know it at the time, but dreamers in Voinjama, NW Liberia (and perhaps elsewhere in Liberia) were also dreaming that the dead were demanding that the living come together and reconcile. Voinjama, once considered the breadbasket of Liberia, was hard hit during the war. Mandingos and Lormas, the two main tribal groups in the area, who had once lived together as family, found themselves fighting bitterly. It was well known, even by UN peacekeepers, that, “If there is peace in Voinjama, there will be peace in Lofa county, and if there is peace in Lofa county, there will be peace in Liberia.”
In November, 2004, everyday gandhis supported Voinjama’s first post-war traditional Mourning Feast. Over 5,000 people peacefully attended. A cow and several chickens were sacrificed, providing food for the entire town. During a traditional Mourning Feast, the community comes together to settle their differences and, with drumming and dancing, conflicts are sent ‘across the river’ with the dead to their final rest. By eating from the common bowl, people pledge to live in peace. After that first Mourning Feast, ceremonies of reconciliation followed to purify the water and the land. Additional Mourning Feasts were held to honor the youth, the women and the traditional shamans and healers who had also perished in the war. Elders came forward to share stories of the way people had lived in peace before the war and of their deep connection to each other and to the land. Ex-combatants, particularly child soldiers, turned to peacemaking. Traditional shamans, diviners and elders told us repeatedly that elephants were considered a sign that peace was coming.
About one year after the first mourning feast and ceremonies of reconciliation with nature, elephants unexpectedly came to the town of Voinjama. Many villages reported that after the elephants came, poisonous snakes and insects no longer troubled their village. Others said that although the elephants appeared hungry and had eaten a few crops, overall they were gentle and caused no damage or harm. Several people began dreaming of elephants and later reported that live elephants visited their villages. Former fighters informed us that prior to the ceasefire and the coming of UN peacekeepers, elephants had appeared and were understood as harbingers of peace, causing tens of thousands of fighters to lay down their guns. Sacred birds appeared out of season, and other animals, including snakes and chimpanzees, have continued to visit towns and villages peacefully. Many people, including local government leaders, concluded that elephants and other animals were deliberately seeking contact with the human community in order to live together in peace. As a result of the astonishing experiences and events documented here, traditional wisdom is increasingly recognized by civic leaders, peacebuilders, government officials, and NGO’s for its rightful role as a rich and reliable source of wisdom, supporting communities seeking to reconcile with each other and with the natural world.
These events show us a new and innovative, yet ancient, way of working for and achieving lasting peace. We invite you to join us in this remarkable journey. See for yourselves how the adventure unfolded. Let it stir up the memories encoded in each of us, the experiences that lead to the rich and nourishing questions that will take us into a viable future for all beings.
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FILMS PRESENTS “THE DEAD WILL GUIDE US”
PRINCIPAL CINEMATOGRAPHY BY ULLI BONNEKAMP EDITED BY VINCENT STENERSON
WITH STILL PHOTOGRAPHY BY ANDRE LAMBERTSON, CYNTHIA TRAVIS & COL.RAZA MALIK,
UN PAKISTAN BATALLIAN II, FEATURING RAZA MALIK
ORIGINAL MUSIC BY JAMI KOWAH FARBALEE, OLDMAN GOE, BOI SENIE & AKOI KUBBEH
DIRECTED, PRODUCED & WRITTEN BY CYNTHIA TRAVIS
CO-WRITER WILLIAM SAA