first inhabitants of the region which is now known as Liberia may have
been Pygmies, or people of small size, referred to in Liberia as
‘Jinna’. No recorded history can prove their existence, but they
still play an important role in the oral history and the religious life
of some of Liberia’s tribes. When the Golas, who are supposed to be
the oldest of the Liberian tribes, travelled from the interior of
Central Africa to this West African region they reportedly met these
small-sized peoples,who were bushmen and who ‘dwelt in caves and the
hollows of large trees, and lived on fruits and roots of wild trees,’
according to Liberian historian Abayomi Karnga.
second group of peoples is reported to have arrived in the region about
6,000 B.C. Though their origin is not very clear they most likely came
from the Western Sudan. These newly arrived people defeated the Golas
and other tribes such as the Kissi, and established an empire under the
leadership of King Kumba, after whom they were called. The Kumbas
comprised distinct groups which developed into different tribes after
the death of their leader: the Kpelle, the Loma, the Gbande, the Mende,
and the Mano, all belonging to the same linguistic group. They were
chiefly agriculturalists but also developed arts such as pottery,
weaving, and basket making. Their blacksmiths were able to make spears,
arrow-heads, hoes, knives, rings and iron rods. These iron rods were
used as a medium of exchange.
third group of peoples who arrived and settled in the region which is
now known as Liberia migrated to this part of West Africa quite
recently. They were the Kru, Bassa, Dei, Mamba, and Grebo tribes. They
came from what is now the Republic of Ivory Coast. Population pressure
– due to the mass-emigration of tribes from the Western Sudan where
the mediaeval empires had declined after their conquest by the Moroccan
army – had resulted in tribal wars. The Kru arrived in the early
sixteenth century. They came by sea, as did – later – a part of the
Grebo. These Grebo who took the sea-route were later called ‘seaside
Greboes’ in order to distinguish them from their kinsmen who decided
to travel by land, the safer way. Those who braved the dangerous waves
still feel superior to these so-called ‘bush’-Greboes. All the
peoples of this group belong to the same linguistic group.
last group of tribes to arrive from ‘over land’ was the
Mandingo-group, comprising the Vai and the Mandingo tribes. The Vai also
migrated to the West African central region in the sixteenth century and
had probably the same motivation as the tribes of the third group. They
crossed the western part of the actual republic of Liberia, clashed with
the Gola whom they subsequently defeated, and – later – moved to the
coast where they settled. The Vai form the first tribe of this region
which was moslem, unlike the tribes previously mentioned which were all
animists. It was one of the few tribes of Black Africa who developed its
the seventeenth century the Mandingos began to arrive in Liberia. They
were moslems too. They too originated from the Western Sudan. They left
this region after the Empire of Mali – of which they formed a part –
was considerably reduced by the Emperor of Gao, Askia Mohammed, in the
In the beginning of the 19th century, groups of freed slaves and mulattoes from the United States of America emigrated to the west coast of Africa. The colonists proudly called themselves ‘Americo-Liberians’. In reality, however, they did not form a homogeneous group. Generally, the colonists/immigrants can be divided into three groups. Firstly, there were the freed slaves and/or their descendents from the U.S.A.. Secondly, there also was a group of freed slaves and/or their descendents from the Caribbean Islands (West Indies). Thirdly, there was the group of recaptured Africans intercepted from slave vessels by the U.S. Navy after the abolishment of the slave trade (1806) . The Americans landed them, first, in their colony of Liberia, later, after 1847, in the Republic of Liberia (like the British did in Freetown, established in 1787, and the French in Libreville, founded in 1849).
people belonging to this third group especially became known in Liberia
as ‘Congo-people’ as many originated from Central Africa,
particularly the Congo River Basin. These immigrants were, contrary to
those from the New World, not culturally uprooted. They had been torn
away from their natural and social environment but had never been
exposed to non-African cultures before arriving in Liberia.
From: ‘The Open Door Policy of Liberia – An Economic History of Modern Liberia’ by Fred van der Kraaij (Bremen, 1983, 2 volumes); pp.1-2 and p.15.
The spelling of the names of the approximately 26 Liberian tribes frequently differ.
Some of the alternatives used: Bandi or Gbande (Gbandi), Dan (Gio), De
or Dey (Dei), Gbopo, Gedebo or Gruvo (Grebo), Gissi or Kisi (Kissi),
Kpesso or Kpwesi (Kpelle), Krou or Kruman (Kru), Maa, Ma or Mah (Mano),
Malinke (Mandingo), and Medi (Mende). 29 languages have been listed as living languages.
29 languages have been listed as living languages.