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Spotlight on Culture

People that call this area Home

New Americans

Immigrants from other areas of the world

The Liberian people

Cultural Profile of their country of origin- Liberia




Culture

Traditional Beliefs and Practices in Liberia

According To the 2008 National Census, 85.5% of Liberia's population practices Christianity, and Muslims comprise 12.2% of the population, largely coming from the Mandingo and Vai ethnic groups.


Despite their adherence to the major world religions, a large percentage of Liberians practice their traditional rituals and customs. Regardless of public statements of identification with Christianity, they believe in a supernatural world of ancestral and bush spirits that impact daily life. Ethnic groups in all regions of Liberia participate in the traditional religious practices of the Poro and Sande secret societies, with the exception of the Krahn ethnic group, who have their own secret society. These work to support the religious, social, and cultural needs of the country’s population, and are gender-based. The Sande society works to empower women's social and political interests and promotes their solidarity. The Poro society does the same, but functions as a complementary secret society for men. The Poro society is found among the Bassa, Gola, Kissi, Kpelle, Loma and Vai of Liberia.


Liberian religious culture is characterized by a predisposition towards secrecy (the concept of ifa mo- "do not speak it") and an ingrained belief in the intervention of mysterious forces in human affairs, and they usually attribute events to the activities of these secret powers and forces. These beliefs include the notion that there are deep and hidden things about an individual that only diviners, priests, and other qualified individuals can bring out. This shows their idea that whatever exists or happens in the physical realm has foundations in the spirit world. Indigenous customs such as polygamy (which is not legal) , belief in witchcraft, and trial by ordeal are still observed by some. Many individuals combine elements from all three of their major religious systems.


Funerals are very important in all religions and are as elaborate as a family can afford, often going on for days or weeks.


Polygamy and gender inequality in Liberia


About one third of married Liberian women between the ages of 15 to 49, are in polygamous marriages. These polygamous unions are unlawful under the Liberian civil code, but they are recognized under Liberia's customary law. These laws allow men to have up to 4 wives, but they also restrict the rights of married women to inherit property from their spouse. When widowed, women are at the mercy of these laws, that are not subject to the civil courts.


The extent of gender inequalities varies throughout Liberia in regard to status, region, rural/urban areas, and traditional cultures. In general, women in Liberia have less access to education, health care, property, and justice when compared to men. In Liberia, men and women have clear divisions of labor. The women typically clean, cook, and take care of children, but their contributions to the family are rarely recognized as work. Men are seen as the head of the households and the breadwinners, and not expected to help the women in these household chores. As a result, women are held back in society by biases in education, health care, land ownership, and credit, along with cultural practices like pre-arranged marriages and female genital mutilation. These factors are severe obstacles for women, and most times prevent them from entering the workforce.


After the UN signed the peace treaty with Liberia in 2003, the gender roles that restricted women from achieving equality began to change. After the wars ended, at first there was little to no women in positions of power, working in organizations or involved in government. Now, there are over 100 women's organizations according to the Women's NGO Secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL). These organizations serve to provide funds to local, powerful women leaders. In comparison to other countries affected by wars, women in Liberia have been successful in making their voices heard in politics despite male resistance.

In terms of women in politics, Liberia elected their first female president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2006, a step toward progress in a developing country. In recent years, the National Institute for Public Opinion (NIPO) has raised awareness of women's empowerment and equality efforts, through organizing the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence. Through this month long campaign, it brought awareness to the legalities women were entitled to both nationally and internationally as well as female participation in politics and policy making.


On an international scale and with assistance from Sweden, a number of UN women have reached out to men, asking them to join the fight against gender-based violence. As part of that campaign, twelve men were nominated to become ambassadors that would bring awareness and encourage other men to take a stand against violence towards women.


There has been some progress, but in order to fulfill the goal of promoting gender equality and empowering women in Liberian culture there are still some areas to improve on, such as addressing the gender discrimination in law, the unequal job and education opportunities and the resulting wage gaps, as well as the lack of equal women's participation in decision making in general.

Locally, WIN Liberia works to empower women, both in the Fargo/Moorhead area and Liberia, to educate themselves and have a better life for themselves and their families.




For more information on the country and its people,

you can visit this YouTube channel: Focus on Liberia





Stay tuned for more information on the Liberians and their culture, and more places and their people in future posts. Our area is blessed to be called home by many people of many cultures, and they deserve to be acknowledged.