David Kwewon was born in Zuole, Gio County, Liberia. He possessed an amazing knowledge of the forest and was a major contributor to both Kunkels 'The Trees of Liberia' and Voorhoeves 'Liberian High Forest Trees'.
For many years David worked for the University of Liberia as keeper of the arboretum. He accompanied many botanists on field trips as recently as 2009. Many students were familiarized with the trees of the Liberian forests by David.
A Short Interview with Mr Kwewon
Interview by David Mulbah on the 9th February 2011
Question: When and where were you born?
“I was born on September 15th, 1931, in Nimba County, Liberia.”
Question: How did you learn your incredible knowledge of the trees in Liberia?
“The knowledge came mainly from my late father, who was a great hunter and farmer. As a hunter, he knew the local names of so many plants. He used trees and other plants to find his way in and out of the forest. While hunting, he would follow animal footprints deep into the forest and could not easily find his way back. In these situations, he would find his way back by remembering the trees that he had passed. I usually accompanied him in the forest, during which time he showed me the local names of the trees he knew. He also taught me the names of trees during the farming periods, especially when we were brushing and cutting down trees. I became interested. Later on, in 1954, a team of German botanist came to Liberia to start forestry. This work began in Nimba forest. The team taught us how to cut blocks and to use a compass. During this time, I learned the names of many trees. In the early 1960s I assisted Dr. Voorhoeve on his botanical expeditions. I taught him the local names of many Liberian tree species and in return, I learned some of their scientific names. I helped him produce his first book on the Liberian tree species 'The Liberian High Forest Trees'. I assisted Dr. Jongkind when he came to Liberia for his first botanical expedition. I am also an assistant to Professor Blyden, with whom I have worked on almost all of her botanical fieldwork. I also learned many things from her. I was placed in charge of the Arboretum and the Harry Harberium, before they were destroyed in the civil war. Initially, I learnt my tree knowledge through practical field experience, starting with my father. I did not go to school because I didn’t have the time - I always found myself in the fields.”
Question: What other work have you done in the past?
“Well, as a botanist, I also worked in agriculture and agroforestry, like my father. I advised farmers on the practice of intercropping and established and managed a tree nursery. I also used to have a taxi that I ran at times. Additionally, I served as one of the elders for my village. As elders, we were charged with the responsibility of settling disputes in our communities.”
Question: Is it true that you were/are a member of a snake society? If true, what did that mean for you? what role did you play?
“(laugh) As a local botanist, I know some traditional medicines, especially for snakebite. There was a group of us using traditional herbal techniques to save the lives of people who had been bitten by snakes. For me it was a good thing as we saved lives in the absence of a hospital. Our medicines really worked. Many people’s lives were saved and I am happy for that.”
Question: What work have you done in the past and what work are you currently doing, for the University of Liberia?
“Previously I worked as a field assistance to botanists. I became the caretaker of the herbarium. I also worked as the University’s local tree specialist. Today, I still work in a similar capacity, but, as you can see, I am less strong than used to be - I can’t walk long distances in the field anymore. I am currently working as Professor Blyden’s assistant. I have assisted her in identifying plants and in wood biology. I have learned how to use a hands lens, microscope and other modern equipment in the identification of plants. I assist her with some of her classes too.”
Question: What special memories do you have in your long career as a tree-expert?
“Well, I love trees and all memories of trees are special to me. I consider the forest as my life. I have enjoyed all the time that I have spent in the forest, starting with the times I was with my late father. In 2004 Carel Jongkind took me to Sapo National Park. During that expedition we discovered six plant species that proved to be new recordings. He promised that one of the species would be named after me and that promise was fulfilled. That made me happy and I consider that as a special memory.”