Liberia is the oldest independent African nation. The country’s independence was declared and gained on July 26, 1847. The people of Liberia are from many parts of African including free Black slaves from the United States of America. There are officially 16 ethnic groups that make up Liberia’s indigenous African population, making up huge percentage of the total: Kpelle, the largest group; Bassa, Gio, Kru, often fishermen; Grebo, Mandingo, often in trade and transport: Mano, Krahn, Gola, Gbandi, Loma, Kissi, Vai, Belleh, Mende and Dey.
There are also more or less nomadic groups like the Fula, who engage mostly in trade, and the Fanti, who are often fishermen or traders of fish, usually from Ghana, living seasonally and more and more often permanently in Liberia. Then there are Americo-Liberians, who are descendants of free-born and formerly enslaved African Americans who arrived in Liberia from 1822 onward and Congo People (descendants of immigrants from the Caribbean), making up an estimated 5% of the population.
Liberia constitution of 1847 was patterned on the American constitution and provided for a separation of powers among the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The legislature is bicameral with an upper house based on equal representation of the fifteen counties. This structure was retained in the revised constitution of 1986, which was intended to prevent the abuses of one-party rule that had characterized most of the nation’s history. Liberia is now a multiparty democracy. At the local level, each county is administered by a superintendent appointed by the president and further divided into districts, chiefdoms, and clans. The system of “native” administration retains much of the older system of indirect rule in which local chiefs are empowered by the central government.
Despite many images and news portraying Liberian in a darker light due to its past civil War history and the Ebola epidemic, Liberia remains a strong and resilient country in the West African Sub-region and are among some of African warm and welcoming population.
The People of Liberia are selfless, respectful, engaging, brilliant, religious, kind, funny, love nature and are chronic beach goers, especially the population in the south. Liberians enjoy the beauty and fresh ocean breeze of their 580 kilometers of some of the most beautiful beaches in Africa.
Rice, this carbohydrate forms the nucleus of the Liberian meal, and delicious sauces provide flavor. Meat or fish is used as a garnish or ingredient in the sauce rather than being the center of the meal. Depending on the time of year and the work schedule, the main meal may be served at midday or in the evening. Snacks of mangoes, bananas, sugarcane, soursop, Cashew, Guava, Pineapple Rambutan, coconut, fried plantain or cassava, and many kinds of citrus fruits may be consumed throughout the day.
Liberia has its own ancient music and instruments. While Liberian music is part of wider West African music heritage, it is also distinct from its neighbors. There are several different types of drums used in traditional music. Drums are one of the most widely used instruments in many ceremonies both official and nonofficial, weddings, christenings, naming ceremonies, holidays, graduations, etc. Next to drums, beaded gourd rattles called Saasaa are also used in mainstream music by many Liberian singers, musicians, and ensembles across the country.
Songs are sung in both English and all indigenous languages. Other instruments similar to the xylophone include Yomo Gor. Music is a main highlight of Liberian culture not only used as entertainment but to educate society on issues ranging from culture, politics, history to human rights.
Religious music is also popular. Christian music is heavily influenced by its counterpart in United States regardless of region. Islamic nasheeds popular in many countries with Muslim communities are almost unheard of in Liberia. Instead, music for Liberian Muslims are based on Quranic citations, adhan and music related to everyday life called suku. Aside from religious and traditional music, rap and Hipco are widely popular especially with younger Liberians and American music aficionados. Both can be heard in discothèques, parties, clubs and on radios throughout the country. Liberian modern music industry is growing steadily with new and young musicians bringing fun and entertainment to the youthful generation of Liberia. Jazz, funk, soul, rap and a new music style or Liberian rap called Hipco combining rap, R&B, traditional rhymes, and joint Liberian and American influences are part of the wider Music of Liberia.
Liberia is renowned for its detailed decorative and ornate masks, large and miniature wood carvings of realistic human faces, famous people, scenes of everyday life and accessories particularly combs, spoons and forks which are often enlarged sculptures. Sculptures are produced in both the countryside and cities. Liberian wood curved sculptures are heavily influenced by ancient history predating modern Liberia, folklore, proverbs, spirituality, rural life and show the artist’s strong observations for grand detail and their connections to the people and objects sculpted. Liberian artists both in the country and diaspora have also gained recognition for various styles of paintings in abstract, perspective and graphic art. Due to its strong relationship with the United States, Liberia has also produced its own American-influenced quilts. The free and former US slaves who emigrated to Liberia brought with them their sewing and quilting skills and was originally done by Americo-Liberians beginning in the 19th century. Queen Victoria invited Martha Ann Ricks, on behalf of Liberian Ambassador Edward Wilmot Blyden, to Windsor Castle on 16 July 1892.
Ms. Ricks, a former slave from Tennessee, had saved for more than fifty years, to afford the voyage from Liberia to England to personally thank the Queen for the British navy’s actions against the slave trade. Ricks shook hands with the Queen and presented her with a Coffee Tree quilt, which Victoria later sent to the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition for display. A mystery remains as to where the quilt is today.
In modern times, Liberian presidents would present quilts as official government gifts, and when current Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf moved into the Executive Mansion, she reportedly had a Liberian-made quilt installed in her presidential office.
Liberia literary tradition has existed for over a century. Liberia had no written tradition until the 19th century. Numerous Liberian authors throughout the years have contributed to the writings of various genres. Their written stories brought to life folk art, ancient proverbs, everyday life in countryside, city life, religion and observation of their own lives. Culture, tradition, identity, society, taboo subjects, human rights, equality and diversity within Liberia, multiculturalism, Pan Africanism, colonialism and its reverberating consequences today, post-colonial African countries and future of the country have been featured in novels, books, magazines and novelettes since the 19th century.
Poetry is a prominent standard of Liberian literature. Many authors have presented their pose in all poetic styles. Often adding their own unique perspectives, writing styles and observation of the material and spiritual worlds into their books. Liberia’s prominent writers also share a variety of genres that cross several decades.
During the 20th century and currently in first decade of the 21st century, other authors have taken a less political but prominent role in Liberian literature. Several authors are renowned for their starling, detailed and deep observation of Liberian life both in the country and abroad in Diaspora in Europe or United States. Authors Bai T. Moore, E.G. Bailey, Roland T. Dempster, Wilton G. S. Sankawulo, have all reflected on culture, tradition, modernization and pain of exile, loneliness, lost and remembrance in fiction, and non fiction works.
Bai T. Moore’s novelette Murder in the Cassava Patch, is often required reading for many Liberian high school students. Published in 1968, the novelette is based on true story of a murder that discusses the most taboo subjects in mid-20th century Liberia as the story reveals the lives of the main characters and their hometown. E.G. Bailey is a spoken word artist, theatre and radio producer.
Politician and author Wilton G. S. Sankawulo published many collections of poems and stories which later became praised anthologies on Liberian folklore and wider African literary tradition entitled, More Modern African stories. His most celebrated book is Sundown at Dawn: A Liberian Odyssey. According to the book’s publisher, Dusty Spark Publishing, it is regarded as “one of the literary achievements of postwar Liberia and contemporary Africa.”