We spent the years 1959-1961 in Liberia, West Africa, where
Leon worked in the Botanical Research Section of the Firestone
Plantations Company at Harbel. Along with the other people who worked
at “Research”, we lived in a cluster of Firestone
homes that surrounded the Research compound. We were a small community
unto ourselves, because it was several miles to central area of Harbel
or the Hospital - the other 2 populous areas.
after our arrival in August of 1959, we visited our neighbor Al Wheeler
and saw a litter of R/W Basenji puppies whelped by DuBarry, his R/W
female. Al liked to keep pets and had been instrumental in getting the
Firestone Hospital to stock the rabies vaccine and give shots to the
pets of staff members. In recent years, he had become interested in the
native Liberian Country Dog and had gotten some Basenjis from back
country via Margaret Miller.1 He had been
selectively breeding them for some time. That meant that he kept
females and watched around the labor camps on the plantation for a good
male to breed with them.
Months earlier at a dog
show in Wisconsin, we had seen an African hunting dog, but we didn't
know much about them. We just knew we wanted a dog, and Al highly
recommended Basenjis. We also knew we wanted a female, so we took the
only one in the litter. In form, she was a good Basenji-type, but had
more white in her coat than would be acceptable.
We brought her home on September 21st, when she
was about 6 weeks old. With the aid of our house boy, we named her Goa
Gbe Pu, which meant, “leopard dog with white,” in
one of the tribal dialects. Our pronunciation was, "Go-Bay-Poo," and we
shortened it to Goby for a calling name. We found her very easy to
obedience train (using a book we had brought with us) and were
impressed with her pleasant disposition and easy manner. She rapidly
stole our hearts and became a cherished member of our household.
Very soon we met Margaret Miller and other Basenji owners
and learned more about the breed. We began to notice that some of the
dogs around the labor camps were black and white instead of red and
white. When we asked about them, we were told that that color
wasn’t completely accepted by The Breed, and that the
Americans on the Plantation didn’t like them. The B/Ws were
quite common backcountry, but there were none in the U.S. We probably
learned the latter from Margaret, but neither of us can remember
exactly. To our eyes, the B/Ws were beautiful, and we thought it was
unfair that they were being excluded from the breed, so to speak. The
next year, when it was close to the time to breed Goby2,
we decided to look for a B/W male.
Al’s advice, Leon located a nice-looking one that was owned
by a laborer in the DuSide area. (The Du was a river that ran through
the plantation.) The laborer did not speak English, and it certainly
was not the local custom to arrange to breed any camp dog, but we felt
that we should make some arrangements ahead of time and offer to pay
him. The day we drove over to the labor camp, it was raining, so we sat
in the car with him and his interpreter (a young woman who could not
keep herself from giggling, throughout, at the ridiculous ideas
Americans had). After a little negotiation, the stud fee was set at 50
We are not completely sure about the
lineage of this camp dog. Al thought it was one that he had given to
one of the Liberians. On the strength of that, we have tied his lineage
into Wheeler’s line as it appears in Kiki’s
pedigree. In addition, we had neglected to learn his name, so in the
pedigree he is listed him under the rather generic name of Black Hunter
The mating at DuSide was successful,
and so, during that fall, both Goby and Marie were expecting. Leon felt
a bit excluded - every other member of the household was pregnant! We
were excited about both events; sometimes more so about the first child
and other times about the first litter.
of three (2 B/W and 1 R/W) was whelped on November 22, 1960, at our
house, Bungalow 164, in the Botanical Research Area of the Firestone
Plantation. We named them Brown Brother (Brownie), Black Brother
(Blackie), and Kiki (the word for dog in one of the dialects). Kiki,
who was to become Kiki of Cryon, was B/W and the only female. Besides
having a sweet disposition, she had a proud carriage and a quick,
little step, almost like the prance of a Tennessee Walking Horse. Her
confirmation seemed good - at least to our inexperienced eyes - and we
decided to keep her.
The two other puppies were
sold as pets to people in Monrovia. Brownie went to a USAID family, and
was hit by a car within the next few months. Blackie went to the De la
Hayes, a missionary family with radio station ELWA. (Later, Shirley
Chambers was instrumental in bringing him to the U.S. when the family
came on leave. Still later, she found a home for him when they could no
longer keep him and named him Mai Kyau of Cryon.)
By 1961, our contract with Firestone was drawing to a close, and Leon
had taken a position at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, LA.
We had decided to bring a dog back with us, but knew we could afford to
only ship one. We loved both our dogs and deciding between them gave us
many sleepless nights. Both were very obedient and even-tempered.3
Kiki was sweet and pretty, but Goby was our first love. With many
misgivings, we finally chose Kiki. We rationalized that we had found a
good home for Goby with a family on the Plantation, and with Kiki, we
could at least make an attempt to register her and thus the B/Ws.
We were, of course, very naive about any of the procedures
required for registration. It seemed quite logical to us that if we
could just show Kiki, she would certainly win a championship, and the
AKC would have to accept and register her! We quickly learned otherwise
from the Baton Rouge Kennel Club. Registration, if ever attained, was
going to be a difficult job.
While this was
disappointing, the kennel club did help us locate a R/W male Basenji,
Gunn's Ramses, owned by Mr. and Mrs. R. J. Brown in Vicksburg, MS,
about 150 miles away. We bred Kiki to him in the spring of 1962. This
required considerable effort on Leon's part, because it was a drive of
4 hours one way on 2-lane highways. He wasn’t sure the mating
took the first time, so he made the long drive, again, the next Sunday.
Then, after just a few hours of sleep, he had to get up about midnight
and take me to the hospital for the birth of our daughter Beth!
The long drives were certainly worth it. Miliku*1 (Black Diamond of Cryon) - the
only puppy and a B/W female - was whelped on June 14, 1962, at our home
at 707 Du Bois Dr., Baton Rouge, LA. She was also very even tempered,
and became a lovable, second, family pet. We have some very domestic,
backyard pictures of Kiki, puppy Miliku, and our 2 children, taken
against the backdrop of a clothesline full of diapers.
Now with 2 B/Ws, we began a concerted effort to visit local
dog shows and seek out the advice of other Basenji owners. Many admired
the B/Ws, but lost interest as soon as they learned that the dogs were
not registered. Eventually, we made contacts with Sandy Beaudoin
(Voodoo Basenjis in Houston, TX), Ouida McGahee (Ouimac Basenjis in
Valdosta, GA), and Shirley Chambers (Khajah Basenjis, then in Altoona,
PA). These women were not only encouraging; they wanted to do something
to help. Each of them took a B/W female to show and to try to get
Sandy agreed to breed her Chuckaluck
(Ch. Chuckaluck of Curli Tail, C.D.) to Miliku, and that produced a
litter in 1963 (again the ratio of 2 B/Ws; 1 R/W). The 2 B/Ws were
females; Kpelle Princess went to Sandy as stud fee, and Sanoquelle went
to Ouida. Both of these were treated as family pets. The R/W was a
male, and we decided to keep him, naming him Kruba of Cryon.
Word of our B/Ws spread to Shirley in far off Pennsylvania
and instantly caught her attention. Not long before, she had been
surprised when a B/W male appeared in the litter of her new,
registered, R/W female with recent African bloodlines. Early in 1964,
she called us to ask if we would consider selling a B/W female to mate
with her registered male, Challenge (Khajah's Black Fula Challenge).
The goal would be to produce B/W offspring that could be registered
through the British Kennel Club.
We were, again,
faced with the very difficult decision of giving up one of our dogs,
but we also recognized that it could be a major step toward our
original goal. Miliku was the obvious choice; half of her bloodline was
already registered, she had good conformation, and she was younger than
Kiki. After much soul searching, we decided to sell Miliku to Shirley.
Sandy, Ouida, and Shirley encouraged us to write articles
for the dog magazines. Besides being of interest to other owners, they
thought that it would help to publicize the B/Ws, make known how common
they were in Liberia, and perhaps help to get them more accepted here.
Altogether, Leon wrote four articles for journals, there were a few
items in our local press, and we had 2 local television appearances.
Several years went by, and we busied ourselves more with
raising our own family than with our dogs. In 1964, we had one other
litter, Kruba x Kiki (2 B/Ws, 1 R/W, named Salala, Fissabu, and
Peppercorn), before we gave Kruba to old Firestone friends, the
Scanlons, in Tennessee. These puppies were sold locally as family pets.
We don’t have much information about them, but we do know
that all of them had died by 1971.
names for our dogs, we tended to follow the Liberian custom of using
the names of places. For example, Leon's lab boy named his dog,
“Research," because it was born at the Research Area.
Sanoquelle, Salala, and Fissabu are all towns in Liberia. Kpelle and
Kru are tribes, Miliku is "black and white" in one of the dialects, and
Kruba means "Kru dog" in another. Peppercorn was the common name for
the seeds of the pepper plant. When it was time to give a name to our
“kennel”, we chose Cryon, the name of a sacred
mountain near our bungalow on the Plantation.
1967, we signed a 2 year contract to go to Malaysia with the LSU-Ford
Foundation Project. Because of the traumatic time Kiki had had in
shipment from Liberia (see accompanying article), we did not wish to
put her through air transport, again. Instead, we opted to leave her in
Baton Rouge with very good friends, the Harrisons, who had taken her
R/W puppy Peppercorn. When we returned to Baton Rouge in 1969, it
seemed best to leave Kiki with the Harrison family rather than again
require her to switch loyalties and readjust. As difficult as this was
for us, we knew she was happy, well cared for, and close by where we
could visit her. Her health problems increased with old age, and she
was put to sleep in 1974 at the age of 14.
we were in Malaysia, Shirley shipped 2 of the B/W, Miliku x Challenge
puppies to England for registration. By the time we returned, she had
gotten the registered progeny back. I can't tell you how elated we
were. The B/W Liberian line finally had made it - thanks to Shirley*2. She had accomplished our goal for
us and really did what would have been impossible for us to do. We will
always be grateful to her.
Our children had been
brave about giving up Kiki, and we had promised them that we would
locate a good Kiki-substitute. Late in 1969, we contacted Shirley about
the possibility of getting one of her B/Ws. She sent us another Black
Diamond, only this time it was Khajah's Black Diamond - a registered
B/W and Kiki's granddaughter 4 times removed. We called her Lagi (Malay
for another). With her arrival, we had a wonderful feeling of closure -
the circle, started so long ago, was unbroken.