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Liberian artifacts and art

Two decades of strife in Liberia has destroyed tons of Liberian art and artifacts.

The enormity of the problem is startling.

Years worth of priceless culture and artifacts which recount Liberian history have been lost by years of senseless conflict.Two decades of strife in Liberia has destroyed tons of Liberian art and artifacts.

Our children have lost a great deal from not only the loss of innocent lives, the maiming of civilians, and the resulting chaos in Liberia.

They have lost more, a part of our identity. That part that makes us Liberian, our culture...

Groups like the "Liberian Collections Project" are working hard to keep some of Liberia's priceless artifacts intact - [see Liberian cultural treasure-trove stored at IU].

Liberian Dance

Liberian Music

Won-Ldy Paye, the multitalented entertainer from northeastern Liberia, and a member of the Tlo Ker Mehn, said it well, when he said, "Liberian art, music, dance and storytelling are a life style. They are sociological and cultural studies of Liberian people."

As one journeys through the different counties in Liberia, it is fascinating to notice the different ranges of indigenous dance movements that have endured through the years.

The dance steps often vary according to the different tribes ranging from kru dances, Vai dances, the Kpelle dances, Bassa dances, etc. Liberian dances often retell indigenous traditions and culture. Liberian dances, as with most other African dance forms tend to go beyond the physical.

Masks are usually a symbol used in most Liberian dances. It serves as a symbolic connection of the living with the ancestral spirits and ancient deities. Some dances are shrouded in mystery and secrecy. The secrets of some of these dances are held and shared only with "secret societies", like the poro, sande, etc.

Liberian dances can often become very engaging due to the amazing energy and passion displayed by the dancers as Liberian dance master, Jallah Kromah put it "The best dancer is the one who can make the grass skirts fly to see what's underneath with great velocity!

Secret Societies

Traditionally, Liberian tribes have long subsisted on agriculture, even though hunting is still a wide-spread method of meat procurement. Life revolves mainly around the village and tribal community, and village elders or chiefs have the last say in important decisions or in quelling disputes. As a largely agrarian society, animist beliefs13 continue to hold strong in Liberia, and secret societies such as the Poro (for men) and Sande (for women) are prevalent. Current estimates contend that up to half of Liberia’s population is a member of one secret society or another, including past presidents such as William Tolbert.

The groups, which date back at least to the 18th century, are credited with retaining some semblance of order in times of social upheaval, wielding more power than even the tribal chief. These societies are so secretive that they may well be one of the reasons Liberia was able to resist colonization attempts. The punishment for revealing society secrets to any outsider reportedly ranges from banishment to death.

When the youngsters in a tribe reach adolescence, they are indoctrinated into "bush schools". These are run by the secret societies in order to initiate the teens into
adulthood and to teach tribal values and traditions, as well as other skills they will need as adults. Depending upon the ethnic group, this indoctrination may take
anywhere from a few months to three years. Upon graduation, the young adults often enter the outside world covered in white body paint that is thought to make them invisible to evil spirits.

There are no detailed accounts of the curriculum of the bush school. The three or four years that youngsters spend are organized by town elders who are leaders in the secret societies that control a variety of esoteric information.

This material cannot, on pain of death, be communicated to outsiders. However, youngsters learn to farm, construct houses, track animals, shoot birds, and carry out a variety of adult economic activities (children live apart from their home villages in something like a scouting cap during their time in bush school).

They are also interested in the important lore of the group. This lore is communicated not only in a variety of ceremonies, but in stories, myths, and riddles.

Early Social Structure

Tribes in early Liberia developed no strong central political structures; power was centered on an agnatic family group with the male sibling usually an elderly male emerging as the “Chief”. Selection was dictated by tradition.

The compound or household group was the only political unit that enjoyed anything approximating political power and a great deal of the powers enjoyed by the household/compound chief was more domestic than political. Though he commanded enormous respect and authority, and administered and dispensed law and justice, the chief could not expropriate his authority to autocratic ends because his authority and decisions were balanced by acquiescence—the council of elders, composed of powerful “poro” and “sande” “zoes” and “bodeos” or “high priests”, who presided over the “rights-of-passage” matters and protocols served as advisors in reaching major decisions concerning the clan and chieftaincy.

There were consultations, participation and collaboration, essential elements of good governance in the traditional decision making processes, characterized the decision making process.


Mask from Liberia

Liberian Art

Children watching a masquerade dance

Liberian drummer

Liberian art troupe

The Dan Mask

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