The Basenji Club of America African Stock Project

Project Library


by Marie and Leon Standifer

  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.
  Soon 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.
  Following 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 cents.
  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 of DuSide.
  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.
  A 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 registered.
  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.
  In selecting 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.
  In 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.
  While 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.

1 Margaret Miller was a Lutheran missionary who had been interested in Basenjis for many years. She lived in an isolated bush station at Wozi, and would watch for good types as she traveled out to native villages. She was definitely a resident expert, and we learned much from her about the dogs and the native attitudes toward them. Elizabeth Ryder, others from the US, and interested people on the plantation, had obtained back country specimens from her. We do not know when she left Liberia, but understand that she now lives in Princeton, NJ (see an interview given by Mrs. Miller).

2 All of our females, and those we knew of in Liberia, came into heat twice a year. Upon reaching this country, we learned that American bred females only come into heat once a year.

3 In disposition, they were both very calm and gentle. Neither Goby, Kiki, or Miliku chewed or destroyed things when left alone. We did not have to deal with this negative trait until we raised Kruba - the 3rd generation from the bush.

Editors Note:
*1 Miliku should not be confused with an earlier Black and White brought out of Liberia to Rhodesia having the same name (see the other Miliku).
*2 The first AKC registered Black and Whites which were descended from a Liberian Basenji (Miliku) where imported into the U.S. in 1968 by Gwendolyn Stanich.

Copyright © 2001 Marie and Leon Standifer, All Rights Reserved
Used with permission

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