By: R. C. Geeplay
Peter Ballah who passed away recently in Margibi County is no doubt one of Liberia’s most recognizable voices and faces of his time. What he brought to the theater and comedy in Liberia can be referred to as a pioneering feat that has perhaps no equal. Ballah, popularly referred to as Flomo was 67 when he died at the Duside Hospital in Firestone on Sunday night, December 30, 2012 at 11pm.
One of his 1990s commercials promoting the Long Life batteries that were heavily used in radios, torch lights and other wares, because electricity was in short supply given that the civil war had destroyed the power grid went something like this: “It cheap oooh, but it get quality!” Pidgin English for him came natural, so did his act. But too, the commercial can said to be a reflection of who he was, not that he was cheap, no, but he was never the fancy guy you met down the streets in a three piece suit. He wore traditional garments and enthused himself with Liberian culture. The quality in his life so to speak was in his actions primarily as a cultural artist, in sharp contrast to a society that places emphasis on social status and hollow handles and titles like “Honorable” and “Chief”.
In 1972 according to family sources, Ballah led the local Gbarnga Methodist High school cultural troupe, where he thought French and the Arts, to the National Independence day festivities in Sanniquelli, Nimba County. He impressed President William R. Tolbert, Jr. and was offered a position in the Bureau of Culture at the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism (MICAT). He would later win an appointment there in 1982 as director general of the Bureau of Culture and Tourism, because of his tireless efforts to promoting Liberian culture.
Reports say he trained as an architectural engineer in Italy, but his heart was more in the performing arts. He led Liberia trice to three major international cultural show pieces. “These were FESTAC, the World Festival of Negro Arts in Lagos, Nigeria, 1975; the Algiers African Arts Festival, Algeria; and the United States Bicentennial in 1976.” The Liberian cultural icon was recently seen in Yorel Francis’ adaptation of the Bai T. Moore memorable booklet “Murder in the Cassava Patch”[Ducor Publishing House, 1968].
Ballah was born in Vionjama, Lofa County on July 15, 1945. He accomplished his elementary school reading in neighboring West Africa’s French Guinea, subsequently going abroad for further studies. During his lifetime, he worked diligently to advance Liberian art. His many contributions to show business in the country can now said to be lost to another generation. Ballah was also the founder of the Flomo Theater.