Decoration Day: The Untold Stories
MONROVIA, March 17 (LINA) – It was legislated on October 24, 1916, and made constitutional that the Second Wednesday of March each year be observed as Decoration Day and a national holiday throughout the Republic to memorialize the dead.
Consequently, the Day became, and still is, one of Liberia’s many public holidays that seems to be keenly and popularly respected by the citizenry and often powered by a Presidential proclamation.
This means that on Decoration Day, general and communal cemeteries are flocked by relatives of the deceased— some carrying rolls of wreaths, cans of paint, bags of cement, ceramic tiles, and whatever they think can beautify the ‘final resting place’ of their relatives and loved ones who have expired.
But the Liberia News Agency (LINA) gathered there’s an untold side of – what appears to be – a creepy true crime story happening every day at gravesites throughout the country, especially in Monrovia and its suburbs on Decoration Day.
Many cemeteries were swarmed by people — mostly the youth — as some of them were seen drinking beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) as they made loud noise, singing and playing music on mobile PA systems. Social media was flooded with photos of jubilant and sad memorial moods.
Our staff reports had a glimpse of the variegated Decoration Day from different cemeteries with most of the sites being desecrated while many relatives found it hard to locate where they formerly laid their dead and other complexities at the graveyards.
Monrovia’s Palm Groove Cemetery Still Lies In Ruins
By Chiedi E. Nyenmoh
The historic Palm Grove Cemetery, which sandwiches Center Street in the middle of Monrovia, still lies in a dilapidated condition despite previous efforts by the municipal government to get it orderly, including erecting a gigantic fence to avoid intrusion.
Infamously known to be hideout and home to thugs and drug addicts, the cemetery continues to experience coffin-theft as unscrupulous persons would burst into ‘fresh’ graves, dump the bodies from the boxes shortly after burial, to resell the often costly caskets that are potentially recycled for pittance.
On this year’s Decoration Day, last Wednesday, dozens of families who visited the cemetery to pay homage to their dead and sort of renovate the graves were unable to locate spots where they thought their loved ones were laid because of the huge tampering with the graves.
Most graves at Palm Groove were vandalized. Relatives were seen in confused state, holding in their hands materials they had gone with to memorialize their dead.
There were skeletons, broken wooden pieces of caskets, and spread-out debris of graves from one corner to the other while the search for graves went on as a climate of random talking took over Palm Groove for the moment.
Our report says some thugs do not simply remove the caskets from the graves to get them back on the market; they set it on fire, and practically turn the graves into “bedrooms” where they have lived for years.
Hundreds of vulnerable persons have found their new homes in the Palm Groove Cemetery, as one of them told LINA he’s lived there for over two years “with my woman” like in the case of many others who are raided by the police from ghettoes and communities.
About 85 percent of the centrally-located cemetery has been ransacked, destroyed, thus weakening many other people from attending to the graves of their fallen relatives on the second Wednesday in March.
Zwedru Man Charged For Digging Out Human Skull On Decoration Day
By Paul G. Rancy
Police in Grand Gedeh County have charged a 33 year-old man with “desecration of a human corpse” after he allegedly exhumed a human skull and carried it home from a general cemetery in Dowayee Town, on the outskirts of the provincial capital, Zwedru.
The incident took place on Wednesday, proclaimed as “Decoration Day”, and observed nationwide as a day for people to remember the dead.
Suspect Clarence Clarke was reported to the police by a lady named Rita Garlo, who claimed the man displayed the skull before her three month-old son who “cannot sleep” since the incident, according to the police Crimes Services Department (CSD).
In the woman’s complaint, she alleged Clarke took her son to a neighbor’s home clandestinely and then pulled out the skull from his shirt and showed it to the baby “who began to cry.”
This drew the attention of the people nearby who sounded an alarm to get Rita to calm her son. This led to the arrest of the suspect.
Despite being charged, police are still investigating the potential circumstances that must have given ‘cause’ for the suspect to have dug up the corpse.
Alphonso Gboir of the police CSD said the alleged act contravenes Section 18.12 of the New Penal Law of Liberia.
“It is the prerogative of the Ministry of Health to instruct anybody to locate or remove a corpse from any grave for some important purpose. Not an unlawful act as done by Clarence.”
Meanwhile, the baby is said to be “traumatized” by the incident and has been referred to the Martha Tubman Hospital in Zwedru for medical treatment.
Commotion, As Families Fight Over Unmarked’ Grave At Du Port Road Cemetery
By Hawa Dolley & Amara Konneh
It was a chaotic scene when different families who had gone to the Du Port Road Cemetery in Paynesville to publicly pay respect to their fallen relatives were seen scrambling over certain graves that had no inscriptions on them to prove the identity of the person buried there.
One man who went to decorate his family member’s grave attributed such situation to some people “reluctantly” failing to mark the graves of their fallen relatives after burial, and the double selling of grave spots by cemetery ‘custodians’ or some dishonest persons.
Martin Weah said it became “very frustrating” and “heartbreaking” that his family was unable to identify where their relative was buried in order to lay a wreath on the grave in loving memory of the dead.
Meanwhile, residents of Du Port Road are worried about what they call the “deplorable” state of the cemetery, calling for the urgent attention of the municipal government of Paynesville.
One of them, Frank Luise, 40, recommended that authorities “properly regulate the cemetery because it is situated in the heart of Du Port Road. Some people have turned the place into a toilet and that open defecation can pollute the environment and cause health problems for those living in the community.”
‘Disadvantaged’ Youth Get Paid To Cry For The Dead At Soul Clinic Gravesite
By Fanta L. Keita
Many passersby were left to wonder over a commercialized act of pretense that saw tears rolling down the cheeks of some young men said to be homeless as a result of drug addiction at the Soul Clinic cemetery on Decoration Day.
The men were given an unspecified amount of money to profusely cry for the dead, who were of no relation to them, by relatives who had gone to the cemetery to pay respect to their departed loved ones, our reporter said.
Enouh Suah, one of those youngsters, said “we will cry for people who died when their family members come here and give us money. That’s the way we can hustle on Decoration Day.”
“You know there’s nothing doing and this is an opportunity for us, even though it’s hard, but you must have ‘dry-face’ (be shameless) to do that,” he added.
As the decoration at the cemetery faded out later in the day, decorators settled down with entertainment, ranging from playing loud music and dancing to drinking alcohol.
They believe that’s one way to mourn or remember the dead and move forward with life.
“We have paid our respects and eulogized the dead family members; and so life must go on knowing that one day we will join them,” said one reveler.
As the central news collection agent of the State, and the only media institution in Liberia with a national spread, LINA promotes a viable, united and cohesive nation by highlighting stories that engender national development, integration, reconciliation and peace. The Liberia News Agency (LINA) began operation in 1978 in earnest ahead of the 1979 Summit of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the forerunner of the African Union (AU), a continental body of African nations, convened in Virginia, outside the Liberian capital, Monrovia.