|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.
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
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
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.
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.
lived in New York city since he escaped the human slaughter in Liberia an
also in Sierra Leone in the 1980s to the 1990s.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
of this story?
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
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.
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.
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.
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
May 20, 2004