Why the name: Liberia?


What comes to mind when you hear the name of the country Liberia? … Liberty, freedom?

Exactly, the colony of Liberia was started by the American Colonization Society (ACS) in 1820 which repatriated free slaves from the United States to Liberia.  Why exactly was that territory chosen versus any other is a mystery.  I suspect that it was just a replica of what the British were doing, as they had started repatriating free slaves from Nova Scotia (Canada) to Sierra Leone as early as 1792.  It is therefore no surprise that Liberia is a neighboring country to Sierra Leone.  On July 26, 1847, the free slave settlers issued a Declaration of independence (modeled after that of the US), and created the Republic of Liberia, with its capital Monrovia named after the American president James Monroe, one of the supporters of the ACS.

Flag of Liberia
Flag of Liberia

However, before the arrival of the 500+ free slaves from America, modern-day Liberia was located in an area known as the Pepper Coast or Grain Coast (La côte des graines) or Melegueta Coast in honor of the grains of paradise or melegueta pepper, a very common in West African cuisines.  The Portuguese actually named it Costa da Pimenta, meaning Pepper Coast, in the 1500s.  The area was inhabited by Mende people, Dei, Bassa (not to be confused with the Bassa people of Cameroon), Kru, Gola, and Kissi people.  The Pepper Coast has been inhabited at least as far back as the 12th century and perhaps earlier.

Mme President
President of Liberia: Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

There was actually a clash between the free African Americans who came to identify themselves as Americo-Liberian, and the local indigenous people.  The Americo-Liberians developed a culture based around American notions of superiority and racial supremacy: they felt superior to the indigenous people.  This was probably at the root of the Liberian civil wars which lasted several years.  As Liberia struggles to heal the wounds of war, it is making big steps toward democracy, peace, and freedom.  It was also the first country in Africa to elect a woman president: Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Today, as you enjoy the video below on Liberia, I would like to ask a question: with all the wars and political instabilities seen in Liberia, has the country’s name affected its history or destiny? Has its name been a curse or a blessing?

One thought on “Why the name: Liberia?

  1. Good write up. I actually knew about the origin of Monrovia’s name since I was a child and I heard about the population consisting of freed slaves in addition to the indigenous people there. I didn’t know the organization was called the American Colonization Society which has so many unfortunate implications to the name alone. Even the Liberian flag looks like the American flag with one big star instead of 50 small ones. It’s sad hearing about the civil war that happened.


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