Liberia has a completely unique history, entirely unlike any other country's in the world. Founded by freed American slaves in 1821, it was to be a land where former U.S. slaves could go to be free, to live a life of "greater freedom and equality." These slave colonists became an elite group within Liberia, founding the Republic of Liberia in 1847, with a government which was modeled after the United States government. They named the place Liberia, which in Latin means Land of the Free. The capital city of Monrovia was named after the fifth American president, James Munroe, who was one of the country's main supporters. It was thought at the time that freed slaves would never be accepted by the prejudiced whites of the U.S., therefore it was best for them to leave the American continent entirely and go back to their African roots.
Interestingly, although the former slave colonists thought of Africa as a promised land, they didn't integrate into African society well at all and insisted on calling themselves, and behaving, like Americans. Local Africans and British colonists in neighboring Sierra Leone also regarded them as Americans. The social customs, religion and culture of the 'Americo-Liberians' all had their roots in the American South, and these ideals affected the way they perceived the indigenous Africans. Hostility and mutual mistrust between these new Americans on the coast and the local population in the interior would become a major theme of history of Liberia. The Americo-Liberians, who were a minority, strove to dominate the indigenous people, who they thought of, ironically, as savages.
Liberia has just come out of twenty years of civil war, peace finally at the doorstep. Africa's very first female president is heading the country, and although peace is still fragile, Liberians are throwing themselves into the rebuilding of the country with gusto.
If the Liberia stabilizes, which many think it will soon, adventurous travelers will get a sneak peak into what used to be a friendly welcoming country with a fascinating eclectic culture. Its artistic traditions include dance, carved masks and storytelling to rival anything in Africa. Especially in the interior is traditional culture powerfully strong with its secret initiation rites into adulthood. However, most visitors never get to see this as it hasn't been safe to venture to the interior. Most visitors stay in Monrovia.
Liberia has some of West Africa's most extensive rainforests, all lush, deep and dense and populated with screeching, howling and chirping of thousands of tropical birds, pygmy hippos and forest elephants. As for the country's coast, remote sandy beaches are intermixed with river deltas and tidal lagoons. Inland, plateaus rise up to fertile hills bordering Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire.
For a fascinating glimpse into Liberia and its history, read "The House at Sugar Beach: In Search of a Lost African Childhood" by Helene Cooper.
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