In 1999, my first year teaching ESL at the high school level, I had 2 sisters from Liberia who had moved to the US as asylum seekers, escaping the war in their country. They told the class about how Liberia had been formed as a colony of freed slaves from the US. The sisters talked about the terrible war that was being fought in their country, and how their parents had been killed. In the end they said that they wanted people to know their country for more than the awful war that was raging at that time. I remember wiping away tears after hearing of their escape from their town and their excitement about coming to the US.
I had forgotten about these sisters until the recent ebola outbreak pushed Liberia into the spotlight again. Too often the media focuses on disease and war when highlighting countries in Africa. Too little is known about the geography, the land, the cultures, and the people that live on this vast continent. Here is a mini-introduction to Liberia, the small West African nation of 4.2 million people that has been thrust into the news. This is dedicated to my 2 ESL students from Liberia.
This post contains affiliate links. Thank you for your support!
Liberia Facts and Profile
Capital: Monrovia (named after US president James Monroe; see history below)
Language: English; Liberian Kreyol; 20+ local languages
Independence Day: 26 July 1847 (from control by the private American Colonization Society)
Popular Holidays: New Years (Jan 1), Pioneer’s Day (Jan 7), Armed Forces Day (Feb 11), Decoration Day (tribute in the cemeteries, 2nd Wed of March), J.J. Roberts’ birthday (1st president, Mar 15), Fast and Prayer Day (2nd Friday of April), National Unification Day (May 14), Independence Day (Jul 26), Flag Day (Aug 24), Thanksgiving (1st Thurs of November), William Tubman’s birthday (longest serving president in Liberia, Nov 29), Christmas (Dec 25).
Physical Location and Geography: Liberia is in an area known as West Africa. Bordered by Guinea to the north, Côte d’Ivoire to the east, Sierra Leone to the northwest, the coastline along the south and west is the Atlantic Ocean. Liberia is just slightly north of the equator, and has an equatorial climate that is hot year-round. The wet season is May to October; dry and dusty winds from the Sahara called “Harmattan” blow in from November to March.
The Liberian begins in the coastal plains to the southwest, which are filled with mangroves and swamps on the flat coast. Moving inland, the land rises from rolling hills covered with tropical rainforests, to a rolling plateau and finally low mountains in the northeast that contain deciduous forests.
Oral tradition tells that the land that is now Liberia was originally inhabited by Pygmies. There were many different tribes living in the area when the Portuguese arrived in 1461. They loved the melegueta pepper from Liberia, and called the pepper the “grain of paradise,” later referring to Liberia as “The Grain Coast.” Spanish, Dutch, English, and French traders also visited the area.
The American Colonization Society (established in 1816) returned freed American slaves to the West African coast in 1820. The original 86 immigrants built settlements in Christopolis. Thousands of slaves eventually were sent and immigrated to live in a colony where Liberia is now; in fact Liberia means “land of the free.”
In 1847 Liberia declared its independence as a republic under a constitution modeled after the U.S. Unfortunately, only the returning African-Americans were allowed to vote and fully participate, limiting the natives’ rights in the area.
There were several periods of war in the 80s and 90s within the country and with its neighbors. In 2003 the new government—under the leadership of Africa’s first elected female president in 2005, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf—works to rebuild the nation. In 2011 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize!
Read Liberian Folktales
Mrs. Chicken and the Hungry Crocodile is a Liberian folktale by Won-Ldy Paye (of the Dan people in northeastern Liberia) and Margaret H. Lippert. When chicken was admiring her reflection in the water, a crocodile snaps her up and brings her home for dinner. Your kids will love the clever chicken who outsmarts the crocodile!
Won-Ldy Paye and Margaret H. Lippert also teamed up to write Head, Body, Legs: A Story from Liberia. In this silly creation story, all of the parts of the body learn that they must work together in order to be successful. This would be such a fun book on a felt board!
Play a Liberian Game
Click on the pictures below for instructions on how to make and play your own game!
Try a Liberian Recipe
Global Table Adventure shares this green bean and smoked ham jollof rice, that I’m sure my kids will love!
If you’d like to try a simple dessert, check out their sweet mango with cloves- yum!
I hope that this has given you a small introduction to- and a wider perspective about- Liberia, a country that has been in the news lately because of the devastating ebola outbreak. Please visit the Doctors without Borders page to support the victims of the current health crisis.