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The Guardians of Liberia’s ‘Largest’ Waterfall

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Top: Elijah Kolleh (left) and Yarkpawolo Kollie are guardians of the Whorn Waterfall in Kokoyah District, Bong County. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue


By James Harding Giahyue


SEEGAR TOWN, Bong County – The two elderly men take my colleague Derick Snyder and me on a tour of an enormous yet largely unknown waterfall.  

Yarkpawolo Kollie and Elijah Kolleh are not just some random tour guides. They are guardians of Whorn Waterfall on the St. John River in the Kokoyah District Bong County.

Kollie and Kolleh spend a good portion of their time regulating access to the fall. Skilled basket weavers and fishermen, the men protect it and a Sande shrine nearby from unauthorized access and desecration.  

“That area is a traditional area, the [largest] waterfall in the Republic of Liberia,” Morris Dukuly, a former chief of Seegar Town. The DayLight could not independently verify Dukuly’s claim but drone pictures show it is larger than the Kpatawee Waterfall. Whorn is about a 20-minute walk from Seegar Town through farms and a swathe of rocky, hilly forest.

“We can’t just permit anybody to just enter,” adds Dukuly, a descendant of the family that founded Seegar Town.    

It was Dukuly and the rest of the town’s leadership who appointed Kollie and Kolleh. It is part of a tradition that has lasted since the early 1900s, Dukuly tells us.

The elderly men are not the fall’s only guardians. Other townsmen play that role, too. They belong to a legion of villagers who spend a lifetime protecting their land and custom.

The Whorn Waterfall is the largest in Liberia, according to local people. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Last month, Quikon Clan, where the waterfall is located, asked an NGO to assist it to get a customary deed. The clan wants to preserve that and benefit from their resources, following years of government neglect.

Under the Land Rights Act, Quikon owns the land, water and forest in Seegar and 23 other towns, covering more than 2,000 hectares. However, it must meet certain legal requirements to get a deed from the government.

Gbarnga-based NGO Parley Liberia is now guiding Quikon in its quest. The clan is one of 37 communities across eight counties benefiting from a US$3.54 million project, funded by the International Land and Forest Tenure Facility of Sweden.  

“Once we have a deed, we get the power to say anything to any investor that will come… to use that waterfall,” says Junior Tarr, the Paramount Chief of Kokoyah.

Kollie and Kolleh are aware of the new quest but are focused on their jobs.

They spend the rainy season at the waterfall, fishing and smoldering their catch. We are not allowed to go to where they fish—because of the shrine—but we can see a few rattan baskets.   

One basket hangs not far from the doorway of a hut a few feet from the rocky riverbanks next to the fall. Two others are outside the hut and two more are in different locations.

“When the dry season comes, we go back in the town,” explains Kolleh 60-something, the younger of the two men. A lot of people come to see the fall at that time, he adds.

The waterfall makes a forest spectacle. Its brownish water pours down a rocky, steep hill, making a loud noise. Droplets form a cloud and reduce the green shading of the forest on both sides of the river. Big rocks line up the riverbanks, creating a stage for us to stand and behold nature at its best.

After nearly two hours here, it is time for us to go. Kollie and Kolleh gave us some worm fish from a drier to eat. We say goodbye and start our journey back to Gbarnga.

Waterfall Clan Seeks Customary Land Deed

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created by dji camera

Top: The Whorn Waterfall is arguably Quikon’s most famous natural resource. The DayLight/Derick Snyder


By Esau J. Farr


KOKOYAH DISTRICT, Bong County – A clan with a waterfall larger than Kpatawee has consented to a project seeking to assist it get an ancestral land deed.

Located on the boundary between Grand Bassa and Bong County, Quikon Clan hosts the Whorn Waterfall on the St. John River.

For decades, villagers in the clan have protected the fall, the forest around it and the land. They know that acquiring a deed to their clan would formalize their ownership of the land—and everything on it.

With Liberia having passed the Land Rights Act in 2018, the villagers cannot wait to end generations of longing.  

“We’ve been bringing people to see [the waterfall] but we don’t have the deed for the land,” said Junior Tarr, the Paramount Chief for Kokoyah District in which Quikon is located. “Once we have a deed, we get the power to say anything to any investor that will come in the district to use that waterfall.”  

The Land Rights Act guarantees rural communities ownership of their land, based on customs, norms and oral tradition, for at least five decades. However, communities must go through a legal procedure to get deeds for their land, the technical knowledge they lack.

And that is where civil society organizations come in.  

At an event in Rock Crusher, Quikon’s busiest town, the clan officially asked a civil society organization to help it.

“We the citizens and residents of Quikon Clan…  hereby declare our free, prior and informed consent (FPIC) for customary community land formalization addressed to Parley Liberia,” locals said in a declaration recently.

A view of Rock Crusher in the Quikon Clan of Kokoyah District, Bong County. The DayLight/Derick Snyder

That FPIC request to Parley Liberia, a Bong-based organization, recognizes the rights of the clan as an indigenous community, said Josephus Blim, Parley Liberia’s program officer. FPIC aligns with Liberia’s land law and other laws, Blim added. It is a United Nations-backed principle whose roots can be traced to the universal right to self-determination.

Parley Liberia—with other organizations—is assisting 39 communities in eight counties to get their customary deeds. The International Land and Forest Tenure Facility, a Sweden-based charity, provided US$3.54 million for the project over a three-year period.    

“The success of this work depends on the community, yourselves, the partnership with government, including the District Commissioner, Paramount Chief, Clan Chief and the Liberia Land Authority,” said Gregory Kitt, executive director of Parley Liberia.

Bendu Cheeks, a women’s rights leader in Quikon Clan, signs a consent declaration for assistance to get its customary land deed. The DayLight/James Harding Giahyue

Isaac Freeman, the Acting Superintendent of Kokoyah Statutory District, said the deed would end illegal sales of land there. He said local authorities regularly resolve land disputes.

“We will work with you people so that this thing can be realized,” Freeman told an event marking the signing of the consent declaration. “We have been wishing for someone to come and help our people.”

Isaac Davies, another resident, said people were trading huge plots of land for less valuable materials. Home to some 6,000 people, Quikon is a farming community, covering an estimated 25,000 hectares.

“As a result, we the citizens and youths are beginning to suffer because we are vulnerable,” Davies said. Other townspeople we interviewed echoed his comments.

What Next for Quikon

Quikon must declare itself as a landowning community, communally map the land it claims and cut the boundaries with its neighbors and develop bylaws.

Thereafter, the Land Rights Act requires it to establish a governance body, known as the community land development and management committee (CLDMC).

Then the Land Authority will conduct a survey and give it a customary deed, according to the law.

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