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Bai T. Moore Papers, 1919-2004

Biographical Note

Bai Tamiah Moore was born in the village of Dimeh, 20 miles from Monrovia, and given the name Tamiah. Though the exact date of Moore’s birth was not recorded, it has been approximated as either sometime in 1916 or in October, 1920. The village in which he grew up was ruled by the Dei ethnic group, but was also inhabited by the Gola, Vai, Mandingo, and Bassa peoples. Moore’s parentage was both Vai and Gola, but he identified himself as Vai, using the criteria of patrilineal descent, language, and name. He spoke the indigenous languages of Gola, Vai, Vassa, and Dei. His maternal grandmother was a great and respected storyteller in her home village of Janney. Both his ethnic background and the importance of storytelling in his family were great influences in his life.

Moore was the sixth of seven children, with two older brothers, three older sisters, and one younger brother. Moore's father died while he was a young child, forcing his mother and his older siblings to support the family. Because two of his older sisters were attending an indigenous school for women in nearby Sande, his mother chose to remain in Dimeh after her husband’s death, rather than return to her home village of Janney. While he was still a young boy, Moore's oldest cousin convinced his mother to allow Moore to visit their relatives in Janney. This trip was supposed to last only “a few moons,” but it stretched into a few years. Moore's stay in Janney proved to be very influential in his life because he was immersed and nurtured in the rich culture of the Gola ethnic group while living with his mother’s family. Also as a result of his move to Janney, Moore had his first taste of western culture. After learning his distant cousin attended a mission school in nearby Bendoo, Moore obtained permission to visit the school and to stay with the missionaries who ran it. Soon after his arrival, he was enrolled as a student. There was a large ethnic mix present at the school–Vai, Gola, Mandingo, Kpessi, Basso, Kru and Americo-Liberian students attended. Moore learned English at Bendoo, and there his name was changed to Johnson Moore—Johnson after Reverend R. O. Johnson, and Moore after the Baptist Church in Richmond, Virginia that supported the mission. Mommie Bouey, one of the missionaries who ran the school, was so impressed by Moore that she decided he should be given the opportunity to travel to America.

After Moore's mother and grandmother died, he returned to Janney uncertain about whether he wanted to continue his schooling at Bendoo. During this period, he was initiated into the Poro, the male society that educates adolescent boys in the culture of the Gola and officially declares them to have reached manhood. It was at the ceremony signifying his acceptance into the Poro that Moore was given the name Bai/Bye, to be placed before his birth name Tamiah. Henceforth, he would be known as Bai T. Moore . After entering the Poro, he traveled extensively through Gola Country, a journey that would forever flavor his writings.

On August 3, 1929, Mommie Bouey’s promise of sending him to America was finally fulfilled and he departed from Monrovia with Bouey’s husband, Reverend Bouey. Mrs. Bouey and the reverend’s brother, John Bouey, met them when their ship, the S. S. West Ke-Bar, docked in Philadelphia on September 4. From Philadelphia, the Boueys took Moore to Richmond, Virginia, where Moore attended the public high school.

After graduating from high school in 1934, he went on to Virginia Union University where he received a B.A. in biology in 1938. Though he considered going on to medical school, he was unable to do so for lack of scholarship and personal funds. Moore instead began working in Washington, D. C. , while taking graduate courses at Howard University. Moore had a number of interesting jobs during the twelve years he remained in the U.S., including working as newspaper boy, busboy, dishwasher , bellhop and chauffeur.

Moore's aptitude for writing was evident early in his education, particularly when he began contributing to his high school’s publications. Moore's first attempts at writing poetry imitated the voices and styles of American and European poets. When he began to draw from his experiences in Liberia, it was clear that they would be a major source of inspiration and material for his work in the future. He wrote primarily in English, though he did occasionally write in the Vai language, as well.

After returning to Liberia in 1941, Bai T. Moore decided to explore his ethnic heritage extensively. He traveled all over Liberia collecting Vai folktales, and those of other ethnic groups, as well. Moore then settled down to life as a writer, and in time, he accepted a post as a government official. He first took on the position of Chief of the Bureau of Agriculture in the Liberian Department of the Interior, and in 1980, that of Deputy Minister of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism. Upon retiring in 1986, he became a senior advisor and mentor for the Liberian Association of Writers/Society of Liberian Authors, where he worked until his death of a heart attack on Sunday, January 10, 1988.