There are several histories out there concerning the Bassa people of Liberia. Some claim they descend from the Abyssinian people and from this their name was derived (i.e. “A-bassa-nia”) others claim differently. Dr. Syrulwah Soma has written a book on the history of the Bassa (Nyanyan Gohn Manan: History, Migration and Government of the Bassa) in which he proposes that there were actually Bassa on the throne of Egypt as Pharaohs and that at one point in their history the Bassa traded with Hano of Carthage and led armies in conquest of ancient India. One thing is certain and that is that there is a common oral tradition among the Bassa as to how they got their name.
Today I will share this theory with you on how they got their name “Bassa.” I received this first from Dr. Abba Karnga, a man who has done much to try and preserve the ancient tales, proverbs and customs of the Bassa people. The following tale is a common oral tradition among the Bassa concerning how they came to be called “Bassa”.
|Dr. Abba Karnga and Heath Vogel in Buchanan, Liberia in 2011|
The areas of modern day Liberia in which the Bassa are concentrated (roughly Grand Bassa and parts of Margibi & River Cess Counties) was at one time called the “Gboo” territory. They were named after Chief Gboo, who was an ancient and mighty chief of the people that would later be called Bassa. These people who were ruled by Gboo were called “Gboo Nyohn Bey” which simply means “Gboo’s people.” The name of this ancient tribe changed from Gboo Nyohn Bey to Bassa during the arrival of the Europeans. Here is how that happened…
|An Old Map of Liberia showing "BASSA COVE" near Pennsylvania Colony which was settled by Black Quakers from Pennsylvania during the ACS/Back to Africa Movement|
When the Europeans arrived on the Liberian coast to trade in iron, pepper and slaves they met with the Gboo Nyohn Bey on the coast (possibly around modern day Buchanan which was first called Basa Cove by the Europeans). At that time the chief in that area was a man who called himself Mr. Rock (or Father Stone as some say). Now the Bassa word for ‘rock or stone’ is ‘Saw’ and the Bassa word for ‘master or father’ is ‘Bah’ and so Chief “Bah Saw” became the man with whom the Europeans did their business. Mr. Rock’s servants who interacted with the Europeans called themselves the “Bah Saw Nyohn Bey” or “Mr. Rock’s People”. Chief BahSaw and the “Bah Saw Nyon Bey” therefore became a representative of the Gboo Nyohn Bey to the European traders. As it was difficult for the Europeans to call them “Bah Saw Nyohn Bey” they shortened it to “Bah Saw” or simply “Basa” as some of the old European maps show. And so that is how the name Bassa was placed upon Chief Gboo’s people.