Monday, August 3, 2009

"They ate my dogs, 2005"

Benjamin McCroumada contracts for Robertsport Community Works, helping to improve our campsite and to build traditional structures when they are necessary. I met Benjamin because he is an avid surfer, one of Robertsport's best, and a close friend of Alfred Lomax, who tends to receive the bulk of media attention.

While Benjamin is already regarded as a capable fisherman (he is responsible for dispensing the enormous dragnet from the back of a dugout canoe that is paddled in a large semi circle around the wave called "Inner Cotton Trees"), most of his fellow watermen hold his forestry skills in high regard. People say that Benjamin knows the forest "too much" and that he is a skillful hunter. But that was before 2005.

When conflict came to Robertsport, six-year old Benjamin fled to his grandfather's village, out of site in the country's forested interior. There he learned how to farm rice, cassava, banana, potato and pineapple; mastered building with "so so bush materials" (like "rusting plum" and "wismu") and developed his skills as a hunter. This latter ability was cultivated in defense of his agricultural projects. He would only go hunting two or three times a year: on a mission to catch and destroy the animals menacing his family's crops.

At "Camp Four" (the oddly named village), Benjamin had four hunting dogs that he would encourage to hunt by dripping the water from a certain leaf onto their noses. He said it made them excited to hunt, that they would smell keenly and within thirty minutes almost always track down a bush squirrel, a monkey, small deer or other pests. Benjamin supported the dogs with a spear and cutlass.

He returned to Robertsport around the age of fifteen in 1999 and cultivated his skills and reputation as a hunter in a community of fisherpeople. He was in third grade. He loves the forest around Robertsport and is eager to show visitors "certain certain rocks and creeks in the valley" and "different different trees."

But Benjamin no longer hunts. Somtime in 2005, other residents of Robertsport ate his hunting dogs. After losing his dogs, Benjamin turned to the ocean, working his way up the hierarchy of fisherman. He also grew enthusiastic about surfing, to the point that his older brother crafted him a bodyboard out of cork--complete with homemade leash.

When Magnus (a well respected ecologist and aid worker in Liberia who initiated the process of setting up what is now the RCW campsite) saw Benjamin charging on a cork bodyboard back in 2006, he lent him a surfboard. Benjamin says, "I would pray that Magnus would come for the weekends" and was overjoyed when Magnus left behind a massive longboard before leaving the country.

Now, Benjamin's favorite thing in Roberstport is "spinning waves at Cotton Point," where he loves "some glass barrels." His boy is currently scared of the water; but Benjamin puts him beneath an umbrella on the beach "to watch me, so he may then be brave." He wants other surfers and potential visitors to know that local surfers are developing and may become professional; he feels that they deserve support in their efforts.

Surfers from donated a surfboard to Benjamin last May; and though it is a little bit the worse for ware, Benjamin can still be seen paddling into massive waves on any of the days when it is too rough to fish.

1 comment:

  1. That is pretty awesome. How much schooling does Benjamin have left? How do Liberians learn to swim?