Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's tribal roots and Americo Liberian background  


 

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's father was the son of a Gola Chief named Jahmale and one of his wives, Jenneh, in Julejuah, Bomi County. He was sent to Monrovia where his name changed into Johnson because of his father's loyalty to President Hilary Johnson, Liberia's first Liberian-born president (1884 - 1892). Her father grew up in Monrovia where he was raised by an Americo-Liberian family, McGritty. Eventually he became the first native representative in the National Legislature.

Her mother hailed from Greenville, Sinoe County. She was the daughter of a German trader and Juah Sarwee, a marketeer and trader. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's mother was also sent to Monrovia where a member of a well-known Americo-liberian family, Cecilia Dunbar, adopted and raised her.

The two thus met in Monrovia and out of this union , Ellen Johnson was born in Monrovia, on October 29, 1938 (or 1939).

At the age of 17, Ellen Johnson married James Sirleaf whom she later divorced. Her ex-husband died a couple of years ago. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the mother of four sons and has six grandchildren.

The above background information on Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's tribal ancestors and her parents is based on a statement she delivered at the All Liberian National Conference, held in Columbia, Maryland, USA, on April 14, 2005.

Some excerpts from her speech:

(....) "My father, the son of the Gola Chief Jahmale and Jenneh, one of his many wives, was born in Julejuah, Bomi County. As a result of my grandfather's friendship and loyalty to President Hilary Richard Wright Johnson and on the advice of the President, my father was brought to Monrovia, his name changed to Johnson and he was given to the settler family, McCritty. He served in the usual manner and suffered the usual humiliation of a country boy under the ward system but he was able to get an education and become an apprentice which enabled him to become a successful lawyer. He eventually became the first native representative in the National Legislature and was included in several Liberian delegations to meetings abroad."

(....) "My mother had a similar experience. She was born in Greenville, Sinoe County, to a marketeer and farmer, Juah Sarwee and a German trader who was forced to leave the country when Liberia declared war on Germany during the first World War. My Grandmother was unable to take care of my mother so she sent her to Monrovia to live with a family where she suffered unimaginable indignities and humiliation until she was taken by the childless Cecelia Dunbar who adopted her and treated her like her very own. My mother enjoyed the best of available education and the full life of a settler family."

(....) "I don't know how my mother and father met for in those days, children who "had to be seen and not heard" did not ask such questions of their parents. But I do remember the good days we had with our foster Grandmother Cecelia and all of her settler friends. However, I am glad that neither my father nor my mother forgot their roots and so we spent a lot of time with my two illiterate grandmothers, Jenneh and Juah. We also spent all of vacation time in Julejuah my father's ancestral village where I learned most of all that there was to know about village life including the long walks from village to village, swimming and pulling canoe in the Kpo River, fishing with twine made from the palm tree, bird hunting etc. etc."

(....) "Today, I go back to Julejuah to start, once again, the effort started by me, my siblings and our children to bring some small measure of development to our village, to restore what was destroyed by the conflict. I roam the village and talk to the many cousins, old and young, many of whom have suffered in those difficult days past because of their relationship with me. I reflect with pain how that village has remained unchanged; in fact, changed only for the worse in terms of development."

Full text of her statement

 
 

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