How a West African elephant tusk connects a Baltimore family to its roots

Guests often miss the three-foot long carved elephant tusk that’s displayed on a side table in the living room of Marie Washington’s Locust Point home.

“They usually go right for the bedazzled turquoise bull’s head,” laughs Washington’s 42-year-old daughter, Jackie, who was given the tusk by her mother 10 years ago but keeps it at her mother’s home.

The tusk, which was hand-carved in a small village in the West African country of Liberia, originally belonged to a woman named Marion who befriended Marie Washington 30 years ago after fleeing the country during its civil war in the early 1990s.

“Her brothers who were part of the rebellion were killed,” says Washington, a community activist and developer. “It’s a very sad story.”

Washington hosted a series of sales of Marion’s things to help the Liberian woman raise money to support herself.

“Not that many people showed up,” she recalls. “I decided to purchase some pieces for myself.”

One of the pieces was the carved elephant tusk, which is adorned with a series of images that tell the story of a village in Liberia.

“I’ve been to Africa a number of times, and I’ve never seen anything like it,” she says, explaining that the level of detail and the type of carving are extremely rare.

“We as black people have a hard time connecting our roots,” Washington says. “This is a piece of history that’s in the family. It’s a connection to the African continent.”

Marion eventually moved to New York City. And the two lost touch. But Washington never forgot the woman and her story— every time that she looks at the tusk is a reminder.

john-john.williams@baltsun.com

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