Sunday, June 1, 2014

Sad News about my friend Siaka David Kpaka

Siaka David Kpaka - on Mt. Bintumani - March 1969
© by Chad Finer

Siaka David Kpaka, Sr.

It is very sad news that I report today - the death of Siaka David Kpaka (on May 30, 2014 in New York). I first met Siaka in March 1969 while on a hiking trek to the remote mountain known as Bintumani in the northeastern section of Sierra Leone. At that time he was working for the Forest Industries as a staff entomologist. I remember it being late in the day - we were setting up camp for the night, and he and a colleague of his were heading down the mountain. A very friendly person, Siaka introduced himself, asked about who we were and what we were doing, and in conversation learned that I was stationed in Kenema where he also lived. Siaka was later to make contact with me in Kenema and was to begin a friendship of guidance that included introducing me to his friends (Bancole Porter comes to mind) and to his family (I met his wife Catherine and his daughter Jeneba), and from time to time Siaka helped me understand Mende ways and traditions. Siaka was very proud of his Mende heritage and of his upbringing in Pujehun in the Southern Province of Sierra Leone. Well-educated and ambitious - he was gregarious and well liked by everyone he came in contact with. In July of 1970 I returned to the States, and in 1972 I received a phone call from Siaka ("Hello Chad, Do you know who this is?") informing me that somehow he had managed to come to the United States, and at that time was living in quite marginal quarters somewhere in New York City. We marveled at how, with minimal money, he had managed to come to the States. And somehow, while working as a night-watchman for a local company (he told me that many nights he sheltered in a wooden crate while at work) and during the day went to CUNY to further his education. I think there was one visit to us in Vermont (where we had settled).  Our lives were to part ways while he worked hard to make it in New York (eventually an airconditioning engineer for the Hotel Pennsylvania) and I went on with my education and with raising a family.  Many times we thought of his success and his resilience. Of how, while coming with limited means, he had made a life in America. He was later to see to it that his wife Catherine, and that his family came over to be with him. He settled in Brooklyn, New York. With the wonders of the Internet I was able to reconnect, first with his wife who worked at that time (2006) for the City of New York, and eventually with him. My disappointment is that I had been such a marginal host to my Sierra Leone friend. Here he had been in the States since 1972, had become a US Citizen in the 1980's, and now had made a successful life for him and for his family. I had not been a supportive friend, mainly since I was busy with my own life remote from New York. However, when my own daughter had chosen to move and work in New York, I did seek him out and we had a moving, although brief visit together. My daughter met the man I had talked about often.
Siaka David Kpaka was a brave, proud, gregarious, friendly man. He came from humble origins in Pujehun to make a life for himself and for his family in Brooklyn, New York. He became a United States citizen yet never forgot or gave up on his roots. He once told me that he visited "home' almost yearly, and that he maintained an agricultural plantation near Kenema and also other properties there. I have wonderful memories of him - may he now rest in peace.

"Ngewo i mu yi panda"

Siaka David Kpaka returns home in a traditional Mende ceremony
Pay Wahun's video

1 comment:

sl 68-70 said...

Siaka Kpaka returns home in traditional Mende ceremony