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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



Liberian Cultural Scene- The Arts

Music and Dance

Liberia has its own ancient music and instruments. While their music is part of West African music heritage which makes it similar to the music in neighboring countries, it is also distinct in many ways. Music is very important in the Liberian culture, because it is not only used as entertainment but also to educate society on certain topics of interest such as culture, politics, their history, and even human rights.


Drums are one of the most used instruments in their music. They can be heard in many ceremonies, both official and nonofficial, including weddings, christenings, naming ceremonies, holidays and graduations. Next to drums, beaded gourd rattles called Saasaa are also utilized for mainstream music by many Liberian singers, musicians, and ensembles across the country. There are several different types of drums used in traditional music as well. Other instruments similar to the xylophone are used, including something called Yomo Gor.

Songs are both in English and all their indigenous languages. They use many tribal beats and often one of the native dialects, or vernacular. Liberian music includes traditional Gbema music, as well as other modern popular genres, particularly Hipco. Traditional Liberian music makes particular use of vocal harmony, repetition and a call-and-response song structure, and typical West African elements such as ululation and the polyrhythms that are also typical in Sub-Saharan Africa.


Religious music is just as popular as secular. Their Christian music is very similar to the examples here in the United States regardless of region, as they are heavily influenced by it. Christian music was introduced by American missionaries and mix American harmonies with West African languages, rhythm and the call-and-response format. On the other hand, Islamic nasheeds that are usually popular in many countries with Muslim communities are almost unheard of in Liberia. Instead, the music that Liberian Muslims listen to is based on Quranic citations, adhan, and a type of music related to everyday life called suku.


Aside from religious and traditional music, rap and HiLife are very popular, especially with the younger generations. Both can be heard in discothèques (places people go to dance), parties, clubs and on radios all over the country. Jazz, funk, soul, rap and a new music style, a Liberian rap called Hipco that combines rap, R&B, traditional rhymes, and joint Liberian and American influences, are all part of the cultural scene of Music of Liberia.







Sculptures

Liberia is renowned for its detailed decorative and ornate masks, large and miniature wood carvings of realistic human faces, famous people, scenes of everyday life and accessories- particularly combs, spoons and forks, which are often enlarged sculptures. These sculptures are produced in both the countryside and cities.

Masks are the most important art form of the Dan people of Liberia. These people refer to these masks as Gle or Ge, terms that refer both to the physical aspect of the masks and the individual spirits the masks are believed to embody. Gle are invisible, supernatural spirit forces that live in the forest but want to enter the civilized world of the village and the only way they can do this, the Dan believe, is during masquerade performances.


However, for a Gle to be embodied during a masquerade, first an initiated member of a Dan men's society must have a dream that reveals its exact nature, its intended function, and the masquerade through which the Gle would manifest. The council of elders, once they are told of the dream, then decides whether the masquerade ensemble should be created or not for that man to wear and perform.


The wooden Gle is accompanied by a full-body costume made with raffia, feathers and fur. The Dan believe that each Gle has its own personality, preferences, dance and speech patterns, and is given a personal name. The wearer of the mask takes on all of these qualities during the masquerade. Also, since these spirits come from the dark, mysterious realm of the forest, They are to be unpredictable. Because of that, an attendant always accompanies the Gle masquerader, to control it and interpret its speech.


Gle can be divided into many categories, most notably Dean Gle (a gentle, peaceful gle without a gender, but with qualities thought of as feminine; they represent an idealized version of Dan beauty and have narrow eyes, an oval shape, a smooth forehead, and a mouth slightly open with teeth. Dean Gle's intentions are to teach, entertain and nurture) and Bu Gle (war Gle, named after the sound of a gunshot, their qualities are thought of as masculine; these are designed to frighten, their eyes are protruding tubes and the surface of the face has strong, projecting angles. The most powerful masks are decorated with animal and human materials, such as bones and fur.). There's many sub-categories that derive from these two, depending on what spirit is supposed to be depicted with that particular mask.


They also make small, personal masks called Ma Go. Similar to Gle masks, but at a smaller scale, these miniature masks are carved to embody tutelary (or protective) spirits, and their main function is the protection of their owner from harm. These masks are also sometimes used in divination and as sacred objects upon which to swear an oath. Ma Go are treated like other sacred objects and are fed with ritual offerings and kept hidden from public display. Sometimes the owner of a full-sized mask carries a miniature version of the large mask to serve as a Ma go.



Liberian wood curved sculptures are heavily influenced by ancient history predating modern Liberia, folklore, proverbs, spirituality, and rural life. They show the artists' strong observations for details, and their connections to the people and objects sculpted. Liberian artists both in the country and diaspora have also gained recognition for various styles of paintings in abstract, perspective and graphic art.


Fiber Arts and Quilts

Due to its strong relationship with the United States, Liberia has also produced its own American-influenced quilts. The free and former US enslaved people who emigrated brought with them sewing and quilting skills they had learned in their lives in the Americas. Originally, they were only done by Americo-Liberians with examples beginning to appear in the 19th century. To see an exhibition of beautiful quilts, go here.


Traditional Liberian Clothing

The country cloth is a hand sown clothing textile made by Liberian country cloth makers. Liberia, like every other African country, has its indigenous country clothes sown with needles by men and women. They are worn by elders, paramount chiefs and public figures in the country, as a way of reconnecting to their roots as Africans. They are embroidered by craftsmen in different ways and styles.


These country gowns are made both in the rural areas and in the metropolis, and sold into the local markets. They are symbolic, and represent a unique heritage and status in their society. They are usually also exported to their diaspora communities all over the world.


The Liberians have a long tradition of gowning people who attain certain status in their society. These gowns are also gifted to diplomats, to show recognition of their contributions towards Liberia. Public figures are also given gowns, as a way of petitioning them to apply for political offices in the country. All these clothes are done using the Liberian country cloth. The gowning process is done by elders and the people who wish to make the individual run for positions.


This traditional textile cloth stand out as one of their most popular expressions of identity and heritage, and is cherished by all. It is traditionally hand-spun, hand-dyed, hand-woven, and often painted white but sometimes also colored by natural dyes like indigo and kola, which are used to make stripes on the cloth as well. They are sold at a higher price compared to other fabrics and used at traditional functions like weddings, elders' meetings, town hall meetings, to churches and other functions, as it reflects the true way of life of the Liberian society and it makes the people feel a mutual understanding and identity as Africans. The country clothes made are mostly worn with country sandals, cap and staff for men and head tie for women. All these are pure African regalia and are widely worn and adorned in countries all across Africa.


Generally, in urban areas, Liberians are more likely to dress in typical Western-style (for example, jeans and t-shirts), while in more rural areas some wear more traditional West African clothes. Traditionally, the men wear short or long pants with a loose round-neck shirt. The Women traditionally wear a long wrap skirt called Lappa, and a loose top called Bubba. They sometimes also wear a head wrap. West African clothes are famous for their beautifully, and brightly, colored patterned fabrics.


Special events such as weddings and dance festivals are honored by wearing both Liberian grass skirts and long elegant gowns popular in the West.




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