The West African country of Liberia was inhabited 200 years ago by colored people from the United States. Brenda Brewer Moore can trace the history of her family from both sides to former slaves who have become some of the most famous people in their newly adopted country – researchers, surveyors, ambassadors. These settlers, known as American Liberians, brought with them cultural traditions across the Atlantic, including Thanksgiving.

Over the centuries, the two countries’ observations of the holiday have diverged. Liberian Thanksgiving falls on the first Thursday of November, not the fourth. There is no traditional food, says Moore, whose two children, ages 12 and 14, usually end up eating pizza and popcorn. In Liberia, those who celebrate tend to view it as a religious event, she explains. For those who don’t, it’s a day whose origins in the U.S. are often controversial.

Moore has many names. She is a published children’s book author, human rights activist, human resources specialist, snail breeder, senior researcher at the Aspen Institute and founder of the Children’s Educational Project, which she launched during the Ebola crisis to connect students to academic resources. We asked her to take on additional work: to explain to Americans Thanksgiving in Liberia.

How exactly do Liberians celebrate Thanksgiving?

It depends on who you are talking to. As I grew up, I remember my mother, who was very religious, insisting that we go to church. And so we spent almost the whole day, because it became a long, protracted task to thank God for life, to thank God for health. And if you know anything about blacks, a one-hour service can very easily be stretched to 3 hours. One person gets up to testify and then continues to interrupt “Hallelujah!” and “Glory to the Lord.”

Some other families at home have a barbecue and grill. I don’t like to cook, so for my family we see it as a pleasant holiday and watching movies. I very deliberately didn’t do some of the things my mom insisted on, like staying 5 or 6 hours in church. When you get a day off from school and work, relax.

I’m 42, but if you ask someone 20 years younger than me, they’ll most likely say they spend the whole Thanksgiving on the beach hanging out with friends. Some people see Thanksgiving as an imposed holiday for U.S. settlers Why should we celebrate a holiday that has been imported?

Is there a local holiday more like American Thanksgiving?

So other than Independence Day, the holiday I saw people celebrated no matter which way [Thanksgiving] separate them, this is the birthday of the former president: William Tubman. November 29 .. And not about him. Just a holiday taken for the beginning of summer. This is the beginning of our dry season, our summer season. This is probably the third largest holiday after Christmas and Independence Day. You have November 29, and then everything really stops. People cook a lot and gather together on the beach.

So I guess November isn’t the harvest season – it’s the end of the rainy season. What is it?

If it’s raining here, it’s raining! Raindrops are almost like a massage. We are experiencing six months of heavy rainfall, and then people are looking forward to the end of November when the rain stops. I think this day people are more connected to the word “Thanksgiving” because it is so festive.

You are a snail farmer. Is this traditional Liberian food?

Snails are not Liberia’s traditional food, but it is a very favorite delicacy. West Africans love snails seasoned with lots of chili and peppers – we love very spicy food.

What dishes are usually served on big holidays?

If you consider the food that Liberians love, and we definitely have at family events, then this is the rice loaf. No comparison to the Ghanaian and Nigerian jolofs. Just ours in another plane. If you now order Ghanaian Jolof, Nigerian Jolof and Liberian Jolof, you will only be told the presentation because we cook ours with vegetables and different kinds of meat. We have shrimp as well as pieces of chicken, meat, pork. The Messengers and Nigerians will just have chicken. This is not a joke. We have, if you cook food in Liberia and cook only one meat, we believe it is food for the poor. You have a hard time. If you only have one meat, people will say it was bad.

What are Liberians grateful for?

It evolves over time. Fifteen years ago, people thanked for peace. We just came out of the civil war, so it was, “Thank God for peace, thank God for security, thank God for stability.” There was a time when a country was divided in the sense that you could not move freely to another part of the country because of conflicts and you could not access certain resources.

We are now grateful that we do not have floods like our neighbors in Sierra Leone. We are grateful that we have a peaceful transition in government, because usually our elections take place at this time of year. So there are a lot of prayers around peaceful elections.

What are you personally grateful for?

I am grateful that we opened our 25th library two months ago. Our organization goes and creates libraries in rural areas. When I started this in 2014, if someone said, “This is where you will be nationally, in terms of impact on the lives of thousands of children and participation in the education sector,” I would say, “Ha ha, me? ” So I’m just grateful for the resources that Liberians have entrusted to us, for the reception from the communities we belong to. And I am grateful for my family. My family has been very supportive of me because for what I do, I very often separate from them.

And I am grateful for the peace. Because I survived the civil war – on different spectra, running, hiding. I am grateful that my children do not need to go through what I had to go through. This morning, on my way to work, I tried giving them chewable multivitamins. And they refused. Take care of them every morning. And so I told them, “Let me tell you why I’m always adamant that you take multivitamins.” I told them that during the war many of us became short. We didn’t grow up the way we should have because we didn’t have access to the kind of food that growing children should have access to. And now I don’t want you to be 42 and 5 feet 1 ″ like me. I want you to grow to the fullest possible genetic height. And that’s why I want you to grow and eat your own vegetables. What we now take for granted are things that used to be a luxury for us.

What should Americans know about Liberia on Thanksgiving?

Over the years, Liberia has had a very strong connection to the United States, and I think that as we move forward as we develop as a nation, people are beginning to question that relationship and how much American culture affects our culture in terms of as we dress as we talk. Or just how much this relationship with the father has really benefited our country in a way to be sustainable after almost 200 years. The younger generation has access to more information. There are many more people who are interested in social justice issues and are not afraid to ask questions like our parents and ancestors.

A little too much of our identity was tied to the US, and some of it was unrealistic. Thus, the United States gains its independence in July. We take ours in the same month. America hosts Thanksgiving in November, and we host Thanksgiving in November. We are holding elections at the same time of year as America is holding elections. But it is raining hard here, so you have a low voter turnout. So we as humans are now asking a lot more questions. I think this is good, and I think we should be grateful for that, because during the interrogation we are able to reflect and hopefully influence change.

Vicki Hallett is a freelance writer who regularly contributes to NPR.

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