By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
Just few days ago I wrote an article about rumor-mongering in the Liberian society, in the wake of many rumors as efforts are continuing to curtail the spread of the deadly Ebola virus in the country. I said at the time that rumoring in communication is considered one of the aspects of informal communication in the grapevine. In the Liberian society, it is generally believed in some quarters that “for some rumors, there are always truth in them.”
That article was captioned: “Rumor-Mongering: What Makes It More Difficult?” In that piece I stated how rumors spread with rapidity in the Liberian society, something that can be likened to bush fire, but what is more difficult is the tracing of the source of origin. Many times, we are faced with all kinds of rumor, but to get the origin source of such a rumor is something that remains a puzzle.
Because of the difficulty involved in tracing the origin of the rumor or the person who initially began to make such a claim that spread to many, I concluded by saying that we should never expect to know where they come from, but live with it, as it would always be, “they say,“ “someone told me, ‘ or “I heard it from someone or some people.”
Rumors and gossips, as I stated previously, are considered as one of those kinds of communication in the informal sector of communication, sometimes referred to as the grapevine. Allan J. Kimmel, a psychology professor at Fitchburg State College, who gave meaning to rumors and gossips, says, “Rumors are what people say among themselves to try to make sense out of what’s going on around them.”
Certainly, this means that as people continue to face a given situation like Ebola, one should also expect the spread of rumor, which one book defines rumor as, “general talk not based on definite knowledge; mere gossip; hearsay,” or “an unconfirmed report, story, or statement in general circulation.”
And so in the face of this Ebola and measures announced to curtail its spread, there is high possibility that rumor would find its way into the public discussions on the subject matter.
Today, with the existence of the Ebola virus, there have been all kinds of rumors. As stated before, one of which is that some individuals have been poisoning wells to add to the number of deaths. It is claimed that they confessed that there are more than 200 given such a task to increase the number of deaths during this time of Ebola. However, no one can say to whom those reportedly arrested in connection have confessed.
For this society, as I stated in my previous article that rumor-mongering during the time of crisis is not strange to the Liberian society. I even recounted that many years ago during the time of the civil conflict, it was rumored that there would be some rain and that if the rain touches anyone, misfortunate would befall the person. Also, it was rumored at some point that everyone should eat potato greens to prevent a calamity that was expected to happen to the nation at the time.
Likewise, it was at some point it was rumored that the wells in the city would go dry for three days, therefore, residents should fetch enough water those days to avoid facing water shortage. Particularly, as I even ruminate on it, saw Monrovians rising at dawn in their numbers fetching water. The scene at the time in the city can be likened to a stampede, as residents went helter-skelter to get water for the three days.
Interestingly, just a day after the end of a three-day fast and prayer organized by the Liberian Council of Churches and also buttressed by the Liberian government, whether this can be described as rumor or not, certain information was widely circulated that “there is a message” that Liberians, in their fight against the spread of Ebola, people should bathe with salty hot water before 6 a.m. on Saturday.
For me, the field of journalism teaches one to be skeptical. It is said in this profession that skepticism is one of the hallmarks of Good Journalism. Therefore, whenever I am told something, I at times received it with skepticism.
That Saturday morning, I was awakened by a text from one of my daughters, Benetta from New Kru Town. On her text to me, she said, “Good morning Dad; here is a blessed and spiritual message going around this morning from God. Tell somebody to boil water for you now and put salt in the first pot to drink and the second pot to bathe.”
Just as I was completing reading the text, my other daughter, Wleyonnoh, woke me up and gave similar message. Because she knows that I am always skeptical, she pleaded with me to take this one seriously. For this particular daughter, she always hears all kinds of rumors and shared them with me.
Knowing about the issue of rumor-mongering in this society, I was still skeptical of this and decided not to lend credence to it or take it seriously. But what convinced me, or really persuaded me, most was an early morning call from one of the senior staffers of THE INQUIRER Newspaper, which I head and Mr. Augustine Choloply, a third year student at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law at the University of Liberia told me similar message.
More important, while going home on Friday evening, Mr. Choloply told me that a security guard at a local clinic, wanted to publicize a message on Ebola to the Liberian people. With this, I advised him to get the information for today’s publication. And so when he called me and told me that this was the same message the security guard wanted to share with the Liberian people, I became convinced and hurriedly took my hot salty bath, as directed by the message which was widely circulated.
While it is true that many are aware of this latest situation, I decided to share it because as it is generally believed in the Liberian society that for some rumors, there are always truth in them,” especially at the end of a successful fast and prayer and the continual prayers and fasting by some of our mothers under the rain and sun at the Fish market, I accepted this and bathed.
When I came to work yesterday and shared this with the News Editor of THE INQUIRER, Timothy Seaklon, he amazingly shouted and said, “So you did it too. You are an intelligent and educated person; you should not have done that.”
Let me conclude by saying that if this is really a MESSAGE from God, I am happy that I was a part of that BLESSING; conversely, if it is mere Liberian rumor, then, it is saddened that I have fallen prey to this. But all in all, I feel the sense of relief.