Gbagba: A Lesson in Ethics, Values and Rules

Wayétu Moore

Wayétu Moore is the founder and publisher of One Moore Book.

One Moore Book publishes and distributes culturally sensitive literature for children from countries with low literacy rates and underrepresented cultures. We publish in series and since launching in 2011, we have published 3 full series and one feature for the children of Liberia, Haiti and Guinea.

We believe that for introductory readers from developing countries, literature with food, places, people and narratives that they recognize can improve their comprehension. This was especially evident during a trip this year to Liberia. Each child in a classroom at one Johnsonville Elementary School was given a culturally-relative book.  They read the title and all initially giggled, as if even reading such a thought on the face of a children’s book was so different to them that it was absurd. As we read together through the book, verbally navigating the foods that they were raised to eat, I was inspired to see that when cultural idiosyncrasies arose in the text, they looked up at me and smiled. 

The review below was written by Shirley H. Cox, M.Ed. The review is of Gbagba, a book included in our Liberia Signature series. None of the books we’ve published before Gbagba explored any particular socio-political issue. We’d published alphabet, counting and storybooks until Gbagba, so it’s been an insightful treat to see how it has been received and implemented in Liberian classrooms. The story follows a brother and sister who encounter a number of situations in Liberia’s capital city that explore and expose corruption within the culture. Earlier this year, the author of Gbagba, Robtel Pailey, received a grant from the Open Society Initiative of West Africa to pilot the book in classrooms in select Liberian public schools. One Moore Book plans to implement the book and accompanying curriculum in more than 20 schools in Monrovia. We are currently awaiting resolution of the Ebola crisis so that we can finish the project and assess whether the content will affect students' perception of corruption within Liberian culture.

Gbagba: A Lesson in Ethics, Values and Rules
By Shirley H. Cox

Written by Robtel Neajai Pailey, illustrated by Chase Walker and published in 2013 by One Moore Book, LLC, Gbagba is the story of a set of twins, Sundaymah and Sundaygar, who travel from Buchanan to Monrovia, the capital of Liberia in West Africa, for a short visit with relatives.  Along the way they encounter a series of events which cause them to reflect on their family values. The values they learn in Buchanan seem to be at odds with the values of the individual adults they encounter in the big city. Their wide-eyed naiveté makes them ask their aunt how she can justify such behavior. Her response is telling.

Pailey takes us on a journey with the twins that may seem incredulous to those more accustomed to the well organized social order which appears to exist in developed countries, but for the characters in this narrative, the ‘gbagba’ or ‘trickery’ described, seems to fit. While for adults who have lived or visited any part of Africa, some of the events in the book may resonate. What isn’t clear, however, is how old the twins are and whether or not they could possibly understand the machinations of the adult world they inhabit.

According to child development experts, it is likely that children as young as six or seven want to and can understand the importance of following the rules of games and understand when those rules are broken. While ‘trickery’ exists at various levels in most societies around the world, and the events the twins experience may appear small to adult eyes, to the twins, however, they appear quite ‘big,’ and cause them to wonder out loud about their own family values. But children’s sense of justice and fair play is quite strong. So, if we follow the premise that Sundaymah and Sundaygar are about eight years old, then Pailey does an admirable job of making us experience what the twins are feeling as they encounter event after event, causing us to empathize with them.    

In the West African tradition of storytelling, there is always a moral or lesson to every story. Gbagba is no different. Through the eyes of twin children, Gbagba offers us the chance to reflect on our personal and social values. Gbagba is a lesson in values clarification. Through the voices of Sundaymah and Sundaygar, Pailey provides us with questions to guide discussions on the exploration of values. For example, each event the twins experience could be used as a springboard for a classroom discussion about society and its values. Parents and classroom teachers are presented with an excellent opportunity to weave the events described in this narrative into teachable moments for their students and loved ones.

While the classroom is a good place to explore this discussion, the conversation can begin anywhere. Just as Aesop’s Fables and the spider stories gave and continue to give us valuable moral lessons in what is socially appropriate behavior, so too does Gbagba provide us with the stepping stones towards beginning some dialogue about ethics, values, rules and the important role they play in guiding human behavior in society. 

Shirley H. Cox, M.Ed. is the Executive Director of Faces of Hope Child Development Center, Inc. located in Washington, D.C. She is a graduate of Howard University’s School of Education. Pictured above.

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