Kiiton Press

Mah History & Language


October 12, 2013

Music provided by Matu Saye.  Thank you Matu

The Mah People

 Where do they come from, where are they now,
and what Language do they Speak?

Nya Kwiawon Taryor, Sr.


  The Mah people live, basically, in Liberia and Guinea, West Africa.  
Liberia, they live in Nimba County.  Nimba County is located
in the North Central Horn of Liberia. In Liberia alone, it is
estimated that there are about 312,000 but that is a conservitive
estimate.  In reality, they may be about 375,000 Mah people
Living in Liberia alone. This includes those living in the county
as well as those living in Monrovia.  The Mah people are
bordered by the Dan people on the east of the horn, the Bassa
people on the south and the Kpelle people on the south west.
On the northwest are the other Mah people who make up the
Mah population in the Republic of Guinea from the cities of
Yomou, Nzérékoré, Lola, Beyla and Macenta, the regions that
were taken away from Liberia by the French in 1892 and added
to the French Colony known at the time as French Guinea. 

 It is also estimated that in Guinea, the population of the
Mah people is 87, 000 people. If you combine the more
realistic population estimate of about 375,000 Mah people in
Liberia, excluding those living in foreign countries like the
USA, Europe and other parts of the world, and add the
87,000 to the 375,000, you get a total of 462,000
Mah people.  This number does not include those living in other
countries as exile, students, green card holders, and just foreigners
in foreign countries.  The 462,000 could be even more than that
if we knew how many Mah people there are in foreign countries.


    Many years ago, and even to contemporary times in 2013, some
people still refer to the Mah people as "Mano people" and to
the Dan people as "Gio people."  Those are misnomer.  We
wish everyone 
will refer to the Mah people as Mah people instead of
referring to them as "Mano people." There is no such thing
as Mano people.  This misnomer was introduced in Liberia's early
history when Kpelle people were working in the Mah country as
surveyors and other government officials. This was not an intentional
misnaming or a preconceived idea to rename the Mah people.
The Kpelle  officials were simply calling the Mah people in
their own language. In the Kpelle language, the word for
"person or people" is "nũ."  They always referred to the Mah people
as Mah nũ, which meant, Mah people.  But after many years, the
Mah nũ changed into Mahno and then, it later became Mano.

We also wish people will refer to the Dan people as Dan people
instead of "Gio" people because there is no such  a thing as
"Gio people."  Mah people do not call themselves "Mano people"
and the Dan people do not refer to themselves as "Gio people"
when speaking their two languages.  Those are historical erros
that must be rectified or corrected.  The misnomer is still replete
on national and regional maps, and major documents and in history
and geography books of Liberia.  We hope these changes

will be made soon.

In Guinea, the Mah people are located in: Lola, Beyla,
Nzérékoré, Yomou and Macenta.
 These are regions that were
taken away from Liberia by the French colonialists when Liberia
was a young nation around 1892. 
 Read my brief history of Liberia. 
As indicated earlier, a significant number of Mah people also
reside in the neighboring Republic of Guinea and the Ivory Coast.
The reason why the Mah people are found in these two countries
is due to the impact of colonialism. Colonial powers divided Africa
amongst themselves disregarding ethnic boundries and ethnic
languages.  They drew their artificial international boundries wherever
they deemed necessary.  Families and ethnic peoples were
divided between nations; some Mah people were assigned to live in
Liberia and other Mah people were forced to be separated from
their families that were forced to live in Guinea across the 
artificial international colonial boundries.

The areas in the green, above, in Liberia and in Guinea are
the areas 
the Mah people occupy in both Liberia and Guinea.

On this map below, right by the horn of Liberia in Northwest of 
Nimba, Liberia, you will see Yomou, Nzérekore, Lola,
Beyla and Macenta. That is the Mah region in Guinea that
the Guineans refer to as la région de forȇt, meaning, forest region. There are many Mah people who have relatives, family members
and friends across the borders.  Some of my family members
were caught in the colonial divide such that some of my uncles, 
nieces and nephews live in Guinea and I live in Liberia. This
arbritary divide did not only impact families alone, it also affected
the geograpy and the physical landscape of the area.  For 
example, as a result of that colonial demarcation, A significant
portion of Mount Nimba was taken by the French.  The mountain
is rich in Iron Ore. 

Here is a quotation from my book, Liberia Facing Mount Nimba (1991). pp. 16-17.
"Nimba County is named after one of its highest mountain  ranges, Mount Nimba. The Mah people call this mountain Nènɓàà ton, which means, "a slippery mountain on which beautiful young ladies slip and fall." The iron ore extracted from this mountain by LAMCO (Liberian-American-Swedish Minerals Company) has provided Liberia yearly with over 15.6% of its GDP (Gross Domestic Product), a considerable earning for the National Revenue. LAMCO had a reserve of over 400-500 million long tons of fine-grained Lake Superior-type hermatite-limonite ore containing 66% Fe with low phosphorus and silica content - high-grade iron ore. Production began in 1963 and ended in 1989." But it was reopened again after the Civil War in Liberia. Mount Nimba is located in the Mah regions of Liberia and Guinea. Liberia and Guinea share portions of the mountain. I understand that Guinea has the Lion's share of the mountain, therefore, Guinea stands to gain more from the mountain than Liberia gained.


The Mah People occupy three Chiefdoms in Nimba County, Liberia.

Sanniquellie-Mah Chiefdom 
Saclepea-Mah Chiefdom
Yarwein-Mehnsonoh Chiefdom

1. Sanniquellie-Mah includes the following Clans:
1. Bein Clan
2. Gaa Clan
3. Sei Clan 
Yamein Clan


2. Saclepea-Mah includes the following Clans:
1. Gbannah Clan 2. Gbei Clan 3. Lao Clan 4. Lissono Clan 5. Wei Clan 6. Zaan Clan ____________________________ 3. Yarwein-Mehnsonoh includes the following Clans: 1. Mesono Clan 2. Yarwein Clan 3. Zenla Clan _____________________________ Sanniquellie, Gompa (Ganta) and Saclepea are the major commercial towns in the Mah area. Sanniquellie is the County Government seat. The First 4 year High School, Senniquellie Central High and the First Junior College of the County are located in Sanniquellie, the Capital City of Nimba County. The second major city, Gompa City also known as Ganta, has at least two High Schools, Ganta United Methodist Mission High School and Sei Johnny Yini High School. __________________________________________
Mah and
Groups in
_______________________ The Mah people are a Mandɛ-fu stock. They speak one of the Mandɛ-fu group of languages. Diedrich Westermann, Sir Harry Johnston, Migeod, all agree on the classification of the languages spoken in Liberia. They have divided the languages into four groups: The Mandɛ-fu, Mandɛ-tan, West Atlantic, and the Kru or Klao. 1. The Mandɛ-fu group of languages includes the following 1. Loma 2. Gbundɛ 3. Gbandɛ 4. Mendɛ 5. Kpɛllɛ 6. Mãh 7. Dãn & Gɛ 2. The Mande-tan group of languages includes the following: 1. Vai 2. Malinkɛ 3. The West Atlantic group of languages includes the following: 1. Kisi 2. Gola (Considered most likely the original language group of West Africa). 4 The Kru or Klao group of languages includes the following: 1. Kru 2. Bassa 3. Grebo 4. 5. Gbɛ 6. Half-Grebo 7. Tiɛ 8. Sapã 9. Sikon 10. Krahn _____________________________ Niger-Congo Languages Mãhwè is a member of the family of languages usually referred to as the Niger-Congo languages. This family constitutes the world's largest language family. Some languages within this family include Yoruba, Igbo, Fula, Shona and Zulu. Among this family, the one that is most widely spoken by very many people is Swahili. In addition to the fact that Mãhwè belongs to the Niger-Congo languages, it is also classified as a Mandé language (Mande-fu). The Mandé languages ae spoken by several countries in West Africa.
  Western Africa (UN subregion)
  Maghreb, a separate region.
Countries that are colored in the dark green are the countries with the Mandé speaking people. The Mah ethnic group
is among those from West Africa that speak the Niger-Congo Language called Mãhwè. _________________________ What does Mãhwè Mean? __________ In the Mah Language, the word Mãhwè literarily means, "Mah speech" or "Mah talk" or Mah language. __________ Mãhwè = Mah speech Mãhwè gé mia = Mah speaking people Mãh mia = Mah people Mãh mi = Mah person Mah individual Mãh g
ɔ̃ = Mah man
Mãh lé = Mah woman ____________________________ Where does the Word MAH Come from? The Mythological Origin of the Mah People Dr. George Way Harley, in his book, Tribes of the Liberian Hinterland (1947) p. 13 has a section there with the title on the origins of the ethnic peoples of the Hinterland. The information Dr. Harley provides here is a mythical origin he has collected from Paramount Chief Toweh's singer in 1926. According to this Mythology: The first father of all peopole is Ye. There was a woman, too. She also was named Ye. They were twins. They had a son named Abi. He in turn, had a son named Zã. Zã had much power to bring good or evil upon people. He is petitioned by all...If one wants anything very much he makes this petition. Abi caught one of each animal of the town. If he had caught animals of the forest, they would have run away again. The town animals he caught were goat, dog, cow, sheep, cat, and chicken. Now he said, "I don't want my son to be without a wife." Then he took his medicine and blew some of it on each of the animals. This turned them into fine maidens. Abi watched them for some time after that. Then he said, "You, cat-woman, you are my son's wife, because you stay around the house all day. If I give him the dog-woman, she will follow other men continually. The cow-woman you will have to drive behind the others." The cat-woman was a peacemaker. She is the mother of peacemakers, because she remains quiet and peaceful around the house. The cat does not like palaver or quarrel in the house. That is why she carries out her kittens and hides them when there is trouble in the house. The cat that was turned to a woman bore Zã's two sons, Sera and Zuakpwa, twins. Sera was born first. To these [Abi's grandsons], Zã gave all the other animal-women. The cat-woman was his own. Her last son was Mãh. To him, Zã turned over all his household, because Mãh was a wise man. He was the father of the Mah mia & Dan mia. ______________________________ Source: George Schwab, edited by George Way Harley, Tribes of the Liberian Hinterland (1947) p. 13. [This narrative was told to Dr. George W. Harley and George Schwab by one of Paramount Chief Toweh's singers in 1926]. Click here to see the electronic copy of the book. Tribes of the Liberian Hinterland. _____________________________
This is where we got the word "Mãh," From this narrative above. Mah people got their name from their great ancestor who was called MãH, the son of Zã. _________________________
ANOTHER ORIGIN NARRATIVE According to one of many oral histories of the Mah and Dan they are descendants of two brothers of the same parents. Their original home was in faraway grassland. Their migration was caused by the commission of a crime by one of the brothers for which death was the penalty. To escape this punishment, the offender was told by their father to leave the community. He agreed and took with him his children, other members of the extended family and servants. To demonstrate brotherly love, the brother of the offender offered himself as a sacrificial lamb for the safe journey and peace and fraternity in their new home. He futher told all of his children to go along with their uncle and cousins. His last words were that their descendants should forever live in peace. There is no strong evidence to suggest that the Mahn and Dan were ever engaged in an all-out violent conflict. Such then explains in part the origin of the unique solidarity between the two groups." ____________________ Source: We find this narrative in the Souvenir Magazine published by the Sub-committee on Souvenir Magazine for the 163rd National Independence Anniversary Celebration held in Sanniquellie City, July 26, 2010. pp. 10-11. _______________________________________

        The Mah     Language:       Mãhwè

         The New Testament                Translated
     Into the Mah Language

        The  New "Agreement"
           The New Promise
      The New Vow
 The New Testament


    The first non-Biblical
        Mah Primers 1 & 2


              The first Primer 
            Mãhwè 101
    If you are interested in getting a
copy of any of the two primers
contact us.  Click here.  Contact
Information. These are very good
textbooks that will help you learn
the Mah language.


          The second Primer 
                  Mãhwè 201

Mãhwè, What Matters to the people ___________ Mãhwè is a fully developed language, and it has its own grammatical rules, and possesses sufficient words to express adequately what one wishes to say or express. Mãhwè allows one to express concrete, tangible ideas. In some cases, what seems to be the weakness is the expression of intangible and abstract ideas which are not very easy to do. Under those kinds of circumstances, it is advisable to use parables, Proverbs, tell a story, or put it in some figurative concrete form. Lets take for example, if one wishes to describe a range of colors, but finds it difficult, it is because there are words for only five colors, red, black, white green and yellow, or if it is the time of the day one wants to know, the issue of exact time is irrelevant because precision of time - minutes, second and hours are of little interest to the people. Matters of specific accuracy in telling the time of the day, or the month of the year are of less value because accuracy in these matters has never been essential in the people's lives.
Mãhwè, an Agglutinative Language ________________________
Mãhwè is an agglutinative language, and has a strong tendency toward monosyllabic words composed of an initial consonant and a vowel or dipthong. A typical example is the names we give our children. Most of our names are one syllable words: Male Saye Nya Paye Wuo Zawolo Fong Saye Péélɛ ______________ Female Kau Yah Yei Nohn Koo Fannia Kau Péélɛ _______________________ house = ka cloth = woman = rice = ɓu water = yíí pot = gbɔ sickness = animal = wi ____________________________________ THE DIALECTS WITHIN MÃHWÈ ______________ The Mah language is not a monolithic language. Meaning, Mãhwè has different dialects and many idiomatic expressions from one Mah community to the next. There are many variations in pronunciations of some words depending on where in the Mãh community you are. The Mãhwè spoken in Gompa may not be the same as the Mãhwè
spoken in Saclepea. In the Gompa area, the Mah people say "gbao" for "no" and the Mah people in Saclepea say "heiyo" for "no." There are the upper Nimba Mah people, there are the lower Nimba Mah people and the middle Nimba Mah people. In each location, the Mãhwè of that location has many expressions that are particular only to that locality. We call this , dialect. Furthermore, those Mah people in Lola, Yomu, Nzérékoré, or Beyla, Guinea, speak a different dialect of the Mãhwè. People
in Zenla Clan, Liberia do not speak the same and identical Mãhwè as the people in Gaa Clan, Liberia. These are all recognizeable vernaculars or dialects within the Mah localities. ____________________________________
In writing a history of any of the indigenous ethnic peoples of Liberia, the writer must be aware of some hurdles and challenges. 1. The first hurdle is the fact that our societies were preliterate societies where the people did not write down their activities and events because they did not know how to read and write. They had no written history. They did not keep any records of their movements from place to place. There are no birth records and there are no records of any kind narrating who their leaders and rulers were during their many years of migration and settlement. It is all oral history. Oral history, or transmission of information from person to person by word of mouth. Such method is not a very reliable way of keeping information because the information changes quickly as it is narrated by one person to another. Secondly, when a community historian dies, much of the information dies with him or her. Succeeding generations may not remember the complex detail. _____________________ 2. Secondly, our people's concept of time does not go too far into the past and not too far into the future. Time is not of any acedemic discourse. Time is categorized into 3 componets- a. Events that have taken place already. b. Events that are taking place now. c. Events that will soon take place. Everything else is no time or potential time. ___________ Our people's concept of the past and the future generations are close to the present. Time does not extend beyond two or three decades. _____________ 3. There are no dates such as 1926, 1975, or 2013, or 2055; citing exact year, past or future. Because we do not have these kinds of chronological dates associatiated with years and numbers, it is difficult to remember people's birth dates. This is why we do not celebrate birthdays because the Mah people and other ethnic peoples of Liberia did not measure time as Westerners do. Westerners have lineal time and we have spiral time. Past dates were measured by specific events that took place such as the particular year the Poro or Sande were in session. For example, to remember the years of the late 1920's the landmark would be the Poro session that was remembered as "Saye Kiayi" or the Poro that went in session in the late 1940's would be remembered as "Sugar Bun." In another calculation, about someone's age, the parents would say, "When Saye was born, that year we farmed in such and such place. From there we went and farmed in the swamp beyond the river. How many farms have we cultivated since our first son was born? The year my uncle died; the year my daughter or son got married. These were the ways the Mah people determined past dates. Those dates were associated with very crucial events in the lives of the family, or individual or community. __________________ 4. Given the scenario above, the researcher must rely on outside sources, in part, to reconstruct the history of the people using information from outside sources that reflect on the particular eras under discussion. For example, It is a given fact that the Mah people along with the Kpelle, Mende, Bandi, Loma and Dan people, more than likely, arrived in the area of the Grain Coast by the 1550's after the Vai arrived early in 1500's. It is said that the Mah as well as others that arrived during the 16th century, have come from the Savannah grassland located in the north. Portuguese explorers have documented the trading activities on the West Coast of Africa and have even named the particular activities in the entire region. They have written that there were the Gold Coast, the Ivory Coast, the Grain Coast, and the Slave Coast. The Portuguese were not the first to reach the West Coast of Africa; a Carthaginian explorer by the name of Hanno II of Carthage and also known as Hanno the Navigator had visited the West African Coast lines. Our approach then is to look at some of these early documents that were produced by the Arab slave traders, the Portuguese, the British, the French and the Americo-Liberians and try to reconstruct the History of the Mah people. (COME BACK TO SEE US) of Africa far earlier than the Portuguese. He visited the West Coast around 500 BC. His account of his expedition give us some insight about how life was in the Region.

Matu Saye, thank you for this very
beautiful Mah Music of Praise.
Matu is from Gban, Nimba County.
She is one of Liberia's rising stars
in the field of music.

  This is a Traditional Mah Chicken Coop

We call it Tɔɔ Kúlù
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