IDOLS WITH TEARS    See review
MICHAEL F. KALLON
 
About the Book

 

“Idols With Tears,” is a book on the Kissi culture.  The Kissi are found in Sierra Leone, Liberia and in French-Guinea, on Africa’s west coast.  This book is on those found in Sierra Leone.  Yet, the Kissi of these three countries live in the same geographical location, but divided by colonial boundaries.  The book tells the life of a Chief Priest, in a normal Kissi village, and how these people are wonderful psychics, great farmers, mysterious reapers, with great knowledge in astronomy.  Reading about them only picture life in a traditional African village setting even to this day.

This work is also to teach the reader, how these ancient people with their deities, and psychics, can still influence, work with, and gain from the forces of nature, and thus helping them to play mysterious deeds in their local existence.  This indeed, is the life of the Kissi.

Although the activities and mysteries associated with this book are true, yet, some names of the characters are fictitious.

 

Michael F. Kallon

KallonB@aol.com

New York – USA

January 20th, 2004


 

About the Author

 

Michael F. Kallon was born in 1955 in Koindu, a prominent business center in the Kissi Chiefdom, in the Eastern Province of Sierra Leone, on the west coast of Africa. After attending the Roman Catholic Primary School in Koindu, Mr. .Kallon then continued his education at The Holy Trinity Secondary School in Kenema, Sierra Leone. He also attended the Kakata Teachers’ College in Liberia where he graduated in 1980, with an associate degree in Education.

While in the United States of America, Mr. Kallon also enrolled at the Detective Training Institute in California, where he graduated in Private Investigation. He has also pursued an exciting career in Freelance Writing with the Harcourt Higher Learning Company in Scranton, PA, USA.

Mr. Kallon has also pursued a degree in Creative Writing and Literature with Burlington College in Vermont, USA, and will graduated in 2003. He is hoping to do Journalism in graduate school soon.

He has lived in New York city since he escaped the human slaughter in Liberia an also in Sierra Leone in the 1980s to the 1990s.


 

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Introduction

 

Michael Kallon is a native of Sierra Leone, West Africa and has been in the United States on political asylum for nearly two decades.  This long separation from his homeland must certainly e difficult and painful, but in the pages of Idols With Tears it is evident that his memory and love of his country are strong, the passing years have not eroded his identification with Sierra Leone.

Nevertheless, Kallon’s primary identification is not with Sierra Leone, in particular, but with his people, the Kissi, one of the many ethnic groups in the region whose history stretches back long before the European colonial period. 
 

The fact that Idols With Tears is the first book to be written about the Kissi people, is at the heart of Kallon’s sense of its importance.  For Americans (and, no doubt, Europeans), the significance of this can be blurred by historical representations of Africa, and resulting media representations, which have and continue to depict Africa almost exclusively in terms of the nation states which grew out of colonial occupation. 
 

In commenting on the assertion that Liberia, a neighbor of Sierra Leone on the West coast of Africa, was founded by former liberated American slaves in the nineteenth century, Kallon has said to me, with due incredulity, that “Liberia was there long before the nineteenth century.
 

By fundamentally ignoring the much older ethnic nations, which had defined themselves, long before the arrival of Europeans as colonizers, these representations belie the complexity of African history and cannot, in consequence, but distort what Africa is.
 

In addition to its importance as the first book to be published about the Kissi, Idols With Tears, in its emergence from a Kissi (as opposed to a Sierra Leonese, West African, or African) perspective, important as a corrective antidote to many of the reductive and inaccurate perceptions of Sierra Leone and Africa in general, which plague American and European (mis)understanding.
 

Idols With Tears is a story Kallon oft heard repeated (and rumored to be true) as a child growing up.  The love affair between Kumba and Tamba takes place somewhere between 1910 and 1920.
 

What of this story?
 

From an ethnographic perspective, it is of considerable interest.  Funeral ceremonies, courtship and marriage customs, religious beliefs, gender roles, social structure, food resources: all are depicted here in meticulous, engaging, and vivid detail.  While the bulk of the story takes place before either Christianity or Islam had made substantial inroads into Kissi culture, the closing section provides a Kissi perspective on the Christian and Muslim’s first arrival, which is also of considerable ethnographic interest.
 

At the same time, I am generally a bit uncomfortable with foregrounding “ethnographic interest” to an extreme degree in this book, due to the long and detailed history in our academic/intellectual sphere of turning storytelling into scientific specimen.  Stories laid out on tables dissected and probed for “evidence” of theories which all too often have very little to do with the people who told—and continue to tell the stories. 
 

This story is not an ethnographic study, though Kallon’s choice to write a Kissi story rather than a “study” of the Kissi as the first book about his people, is itself of ethnographic significance.
 

Kallon himself takes on the role of storyteller with Idols With Tears, and in this role the Kissi oral tradition provides his core foundation.  The sympathetic reader will find a refreshing absence of the kinds of earmarks which characterize just a little too much of our (Western) self-consciously “creative” writing.  The narrative is direct, organized in clear dramatic blocks, as the characters are simultaneously painted in broad vivid strokes.  The narrative voice carries the resonance of the spoken word; that English is not Kallon’s first language is evident in the idiosyncratic nature of his wording, which heightens the implicit suggestion of orality: English being made a vehicle for Kissi storytelling.
 

Kallon did not create or invent this story: it is the narrative of events which occurred nearly ninety years ago, which subsequently entered Kissi oral tradition, the medium through which he came to know it in his childhood nearly three decades later.  In setting the story down in writing he is extending his role of storyteller by bringing the story of Tamba Kolloh and Kumba Mongor to a non-Kissi audience.  He is aware of his audience: American readers.  Hence the rich abundance of detail: much that would be assumed knowledge to native listeners, needs explanation and elaboration in order to be understood American readers who (like myself) are entering into a part of the Kissi world for the first time.
 

Idols With Tears is not without some difficulties for the reader who takes certain European and American narrative conventions for granted, namely the difficulty of some of the transition passages between major scenes in the story.  They are not always clearly linked by a linear chronology, though a chronology is clear in a progression of the scenes themselves.  Some scholars of African oral tradition note that the African conception of time is very different from the closely measured, clock based European conception of time.  I see this same difficulty in some of the transition passages in the versions of the Malinese Epic of Sonjara by Bamba Suso and Banna Kanute, in the versions translated by Gordon Innes.  It is pertinent to note that Sonjara is indigenous to the broad cultural region of which the Kissi are a part, and Kallon knows it as a part of his cultural heritage.  I might speculate that the difficulties in the presentation of chronology reflect what some scholars of African oral traditions suggests represents a conception of time which is manifested in emphasis in a series of clusters around important events, rather than an emphasis on measured chronological time.  This may take some readers getting used to, but the sympathetic reader will find perseverance rewarded.
 

Ultimately, what remains is the story, and the world Kallon so lovingly describes: the moving story of Tamba Kolloh and Kumba Mongor; the funeral ceremony for Kumba’s father Nyuma Mongor enlivened by their tricksterish humor of the Bolah; the scouring of the village of forces which threaten its internal integrity; the non-judgmental portrayal of the arrival of Islam and Christianity as unduly alien forces; and, enveloping all of this, the vividly detailed daily life of the Kissi.

 

Jamie Williamson, Professor

Burlington College

May 20, 2004