Volunteer Liberia

Life about Liberia


With 28 ethnic groups and languages, Liberia is one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world. For hundreds of years, the Mali and Songhai Empires claimed most of Liberia. Beginning in the 15th century, European traders began establishing outposts along the Liberian coast. Unlike its neighbors, however, Liberia did not fall under European colonial rule. In the early 19th century, the US began sending freed enslaved people and other people of color to Liberia to establish settlements. In 1847, these settlers declared independence from the US, writing their own constitution and establishing Africa’s first republic.

Liberia, the oldest independent republic in Africa, lies on the West African coast, just 300 miles north of the equator. Portuguese explorers established contacts with Liberia as early as 1461 and named the area the Grain Coast. In 1663, the British installed trading posts on the Grain Coast, but the Dutch destroyed these posts a year later. There were no further reports of settlements by foreigners until the arrival of freed slaves in the early 1800s.

Liberia, “land of the free,” was founded by African-Americans former slaves and freemen who arrived from the United States beginning in 1820. An initial group of 86 immigrants, who came to be called Americo-Liberians, established a settlement in Christopolis (now Monrovia, named after U.S. President James Monroe) on February 6, 1820.

Thousands of freed American slaves and free African-Americans arrived during the following years. The drive to resettle freed slaves in Africa was promoted by the American Colonization Society (ACS), an organization of white clergymen, abolitionists, and slave owners. Between 1821–67, the ACS resettled some 10,000 African-Americans and several thousand Africans from interdicted slave ships; ACS governed the Commonwealth of Liberia until it declared independence as the Republic of Liberia on July 26, 1847.

liberian kids

People and Culture

There are 17 ethnic groups that make up Liberia’s indigenous population. The Kpelle in central and western Liberia is the largest ethnic group. Americo-Liberians, descendants of freed slaves who arrived in Liberia early in 1821, make up an estimated 5 percent of the population.

There also are sizable numbers of Lebanese, Indians, and other West African nationals who comprise part of Liberia’s business community. The Liberian constitution restricts citizenship to only people of “Negro” descent, and land ownership is restricted to citizens.

Liberia was traditionally noted for its academic institutions, iron ore mining, logs, and rubber. Political upheavals beginning in the 1980s, and the 14-year civil war, largely destroyed Liberia’s economy and brought a steep decline in living standards.


Just 300 miles north of the equator, Liberia has a relatively long coastline of 350 miles. From the lagoons and mangrove swamps of the coastal plains, the land rises evenly along its length in belts parallel to the coast, from rolling hills, through a broader region of plateaus and low mountain ranges, and into the foothills of the Guinea Highlands. Just beyond these 4,500-foot peaks originate the headwaters of the Niger River. Half of the country is covered by tropical rain forest.

Liberia is directly in the path of seasonal winds. From May through November, the prevailing monsoon winds drop most of the nearly 200 inches of rain received annually in the capital city of Monrovia. From December through April, the red dust- laden harmattan winds originating over the Sahara Desert prevail. The transition periods between seasons are punctuated by violent thunderstorms and sudden torrential downpours. Monrovia is the wettest capital city in the world.

Temperatures average 81 degrees Fahrenheit, and humidity averages 82 percent, with little variation over the course of the year. Precautions must be taken against mildew and rust caused by the heat, constant humidity, and the corrosive salt air of the coast.

Liberian Dollars and US Dollars

5,506,280 (2023 est.)

Ethnic groups
Kpelle 20.2%, Bassa 13.6%, Grebo 9.9%, Gio 7.9%, Mano 7.2%, Kru 5.5%, Lorma 4.8%, Krahn 4.5%, Kissi, 4.3%, Mandingo 4.2%, Vai 3.8%, Gola 3.8%, Gbandi 2.9%, Mende 1.7%, Sapo 1%, Belle 0.7%, Dey 0.3%, other Liberian ethnic group 0.4%, other African 3%, non-African 0.2% (2022 est.)

English is the official state language, but most of Liberia speaks Liberian colloquial. Liberian colloquial is mixture of slangs and creole widely spoken in public places and school campuses. Liberians tend to merge words, for example, “I na know” is used instead of “I don’t know,” and most plurals are created by adding the word “them” to the key word for example, “‘children them,’ ‘people them’, ‘student them.’” A Liberian high school student can more effectively communicate through written English than oral communication.

Christian 84.9%, Muslim 12%, Traditional 0.5%, other 0.1%, none 2.6% (2022 est.) Liberia celebrates holidays like Easter, Christmas, Ramadan and Eid. Many rural dwellers are Africanists who believe in nature and superstitions.

Geography – note
facing the Atlantic Ocean, the coastline is characterized by lagoons, mangrove swamps, and river-deposited sandbars; the inland grassy plateau supports limited agriculture


Family Life

Th e Liberian household consists of members of the immediate and extended family. Th e number of people living in a typical household varies according to the family’s income. Th ere is an average of four to five children per family and in some rural areas, where it is common for men to take on more than one wife, there will be significantly more. Children live with their parents until they are financially independent and move out when they get married. In rural areas, it is common for women to marry as young as 14 or 15, in urban areas it is illegal before the age of 18.
Family roles are quite traditional in Liberia. Men are expected to be the main financial providers and maintain primary authority over the household and family. Women are expected to handle all childcare and household duties. Th e kitchen is solely the domain of the women. In urban areas, it is becoming more common to have a woman work outside of the home. Rural women are often encouraged to engage in farming and become a housewife early on in life.
The community in Liberia is seen as an extension of family. It is considered normal for children to be disciplined by people from outside of the family group. Corporal punishment is an acceptable and common form of punishment. Elders are highly regarded and well respected in Liberian communities. Younger people are not allowed to off er a hand shake to their elders, rather they bow their head and slightly bend their knees as a sign of respect


Liberian has a rich and diverse cuisine. It is centered on the consumption of rice, cassava, plantain, yam, tropical fruits, and vegetables (potatoes, greens, cassava leaf, okra, cabbage), as well as fish, meat, and more. A typical Liberian dinner consists of dumboy or fufu served with palm butter and palava sauce, meat stew, country chop (a mixture of meats, fish, and greens cooked in palm oil), jollof rice, and beef internal soup. Rice bread and sweet potato pone are served for dessert. Liberian food are often spicy and rice is the staple food. A typical Liberian is adapted to one meal per day, specifically around the afternoon period (12-3pm). Most parents will provide a snack of bread for their children before the regular meal.

Formal state education begins at age four to five. Generally, students graduate at age 18, but in post war Liberia it has been extended to age 25. In rural areas, boys are likely to attend a more informal ‘poro society’ school that teaches essential community skills such as typical farming methods and local remedies. Similarly, many young women attend ‘Sande Society’ schools where they will be taught basic childcare, cooking and household duties. In many cases, knowledge is passed on informally by parents to their children. Th ere are six universities in Liberia and several vocational training institutes. Candidates are required to pass the West African Examination Council Exam for secondary school and sit entrance exams for college admissions.
Liberia has a typically tropical climate. It’s hot year-round, with temperatures remaining pretty steady, and has it two seasons: hot and wet, and hot, dry and dusty. Daytime temperatures can range from 23°C to 32°C by the coast; inland can be a little warmer.
Alcohol consumption per capita
total: 3.12 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)
beer: 0.38 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)
wine: 0.44 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)
spirits: 2.28 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)
other alcohols: 0.02 liters of pure alcohol (2019 est.)
Tobacco use
total: 8.2% (2020 est.)
male: 14.3% (2020 est.)
female: 2% (2020 est.)

Life expectancy at birth
total population: 61.3 years (2023 est.)
male: 59.7 years
female: 63 years

1. ‘Liberia’ is actually Latin and translates to ‘Land of the Free’. The country was created for freed slaves by the American Colonization Society in 1821. The capital city of Monrovia was named after the former US President James Monroe who was a supporter of freed slaves returning to Africa. The country later declared independence in 1847 and became the first African Republic to do so.
2. The flag of Liberia is similar to that of the United States. The main difference is that the Liberian flag has one large white star instead of 50 small ones, and instead of 13 stripes like the American flag the Liberian flag also has 11 stripes.
3. Liberia is a heaven for surfers. The beaches here have built a name as one of the best surf sights in Africa. Some beaches have golden untouched sands, clear waters and perfectly formed waves.
4. Liberia is the first country in Africa which had a female president. Known as Africa’s Iron Lady, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took office as Liberia’s 24th president in 2006. She also won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. In 2018, George Weah emerged the president of Liberia. What has made him popular is the fact that he used to play football for Monaco, PSG, AC Milan, Chelsea, Manchester City and Marseilles.
5. Liberia is home to the rare and endangered Pygmy Hippopotamus. These cute and adorable hippos are in a threat due to loss of habitat as fewer than 3000 Pygmy hippos remain in the wild. The country is also a bird-haven. Liberia has 700 bird species which include a bird that is a slightly larger than a honey bee. Many of the birds are there all year around whilst some travel to find more favourable weather conditions.
6. Even though Liberia is an underdeveloped nation, it has the second largest commercial fleet of ships on the planet. This is due to the lax maritime laws in the country. About 12 percent of the world’s ships fly the flag of Liberia.
7. Liberia is an ethnically diverse nation. There are sixteen ethnic groups (tribes) that make up Liberia’s indigenous population. These groups include the Kpelle, Bassa, Gio, Kru, Grebo, Mandingo, Mano, Krahn, Gola, Gbandi, Loma Kissi, Vai, Belleh, Mende, and Dey people.
8. In 1960 Liberia became the first black African country to be elected to the Security Council of the United Nations.
9. There is a town in Liberia called “Smell No Taste”. This funny name has a little dark origin. During the Second World War, the United States positioned thousands of soldiers to guard the military flights and rubber plantations. The smell of the soldiers’ food cooking would often drift into the town, but the citizens weren’t allowed to enter the soldiers’ base so they could only smell the food and never taste it. And that’s how the town was named.
10. According to the country’s constitution, you must have dark skin to be a Liberian citizen. The main reason for this is the Liberian people’s traumatic history of enslavement. The country is afraid of being dominated by foreigners, so they currently only allow people with dark skin to become citizens.
11. Liberians have a fun handshake known as the Liberian finger snap. To do a Liberian finger snap, two people touch hands as if doing a regular handshake and then mutually snap their fingers when they release to make a snapping sound. The handshake was created by freed slaves in reference to the practice of slave owners breaking workers’ fingers. Again a dark origin!
12. The medical resources are very limited in the country. Recent statistics show that there is only 1 doctor for every 15,000 patients in Liberia, a total of 298 doctors overall.

1. Always greet people from right to left, always with your right hand. Remember that your palms are always properly aligned for greeting people when going right-to-left. Always follow this order, regardless of the age or gender or status of the people you are greeting. This will seem very awkward when you enter a room where everyone is lined up on the left wall because you will have to walk past everyone to start greeting from the furthest person.

2. The West African handshake is used in Liberia, where the middle finger snaps the middle finger of the person you are shaking. The louder the snap, the better, and it is acceptable to try the snap a second time if you miss it. (Note to our Italian friends: È possibile riconoscere questa stretta di mano come un grave insulto. Tuttavia, questo è un messaggio di saluto standard in Liberia e nessun reato dovrebbero essere prese.)

3. Always use your right hand to give and receive items, and to eat. In this culture, your left hand is considered your ‘toilet hand’. It is a common practice to give money with your right hand while at the same time receiving your purchase into the same hand.

4. Always greet people first when you enter an area. Otherwise, you may wonder why people are just looking at you when you enter a room. They are waiting for you to offer a greeting, which will be received with a big smile and a warm reply.

5. Never make derogatory remarks about any religious, political or ethnic group or behavior. Liberia is tolerant and respectful of all its diverse tribes, religions and customs.

6. Always be respectful, especially to elders. The older the person, the more respect. But always greet in the correct order, right-to-left, regardless of age or gender. (see #1 above)

7. Remember to share. People in Africa do not live the independent lives of Western cultures. Sharing food and sharing stories are two of the best ways to join this culture of interdependence. It is acceptable to give small amounts of money ($2 maximum) to children or the disabled, but usually not to beggars.

8. You should not be wasteful. Africa is a land where every little thing has value. Volunteer Liberia employees will never ask you for anything, but throwing away just a piece of paper that has a blank side would be a painful sight for us to see. (Notice how small the rubbish cans are in homes and hotels.) Feel free to offer anything that has no value to you to any person anywhere.

9. Direct, “let’s get to business” conversation is considered rude. Always exchange pleasantries and inquire about family before beginning to transact any business. Even if you are just purchasing an orange.

10.Keep your demeanor and dress proper. For men, lightweight trousers are more proper than shorts during the weekday. Shirts with a collar are also the
preferred dress during the weekday. Non-native men should not go shirtless except at the beach or poolside. Shorts and T-shirts are fine after the workday hours or on weekends, when it is casual time. For women, modesty is preferred. Always try to keep your shoes clean of dirt and dust.

11.Realize that starting times for events are not exact. An event will usually not begin until at least one hour after the noted starting time. We call it “Africa time”, and if you arrive at the posted starting time, people will jokingly say you are following “European or American time”.

12.When in rural areas and small villages and visit a local chief, remove your hat, keep your hands out of your pockets and do not cross your legs. When invited to greet the chief, approach just short of where they are seated and bow slightly. Do not offer your hand unless the chief invites you for a handshake. Always be sure to bring a small gift. Usually a bottle of schnapps is perfect.

13.Knowing just a couple words of the local language makes a huge impact. Ask your Volunteer Liberia employees to teach you

14.If you wish to know more, here are some good cultural resources:
a. “Into Africa: Intercultural Insights” by Yale Richmond and Phyllis Gestrin © 1998 Intercultural Press
b. “Foreign to Familiar” by Sarah A. Lanier © 2000 McDougal Publishing
c. “African Friends and Money Matters” by David Maranz © 2001 SIL International

All are available through Amazon

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