Introduction

Liberia took a long road to finally earn its name. This beautiful gem of a country in West Africa shares borders with Sierra Leone, Cote d'Ivoire, and Guinea. It is best known for its spices, particularly its peppers, and was once called the Malaguetta (Pepper) Coast. This spice was once referred to as the 'grains of paradise'.

Liberia has always been known for the warm hospitality of its people, a trait that attracts visitors to this day. It is also well known for the high quality of its crafts, particularly in quilting, textiles, and needle arts. The country is so proud of its quilts that they have become the official gift for visiting dignitaries. Visitors also come for some of the best cocoa and coffee in the region.

'Liberia' is derived from the word 'liberty' because of its history as a haven for freed slaves.

People

Liberians consist of 16 ethnic groups. The Kpelles are the largest ethnic group, descended from liberated slaves who came to Liberia in 1821. The other significant ethnic groups include the Bassas, the Gios, and the Krus. The rest of the population make up the remaining 12 ethnic groups that live in the country, and about 5% of the inhabitants are Americo-Liberians.

Indigenous groups are patriarchal, with customs and practices focused on upholding male dominance among members.

There are about 3.5 million people living in Liberia and the majority of them work in the agriculture sector, while others are involved in industry and services.

Geography

Liberia's climate is equatorial, so it is characterized by hot weather most of the year. The months between May and December are usually wet, when the region experiences heavy rainfall. But the rains are a blessing, providing water for the rivers, moving from the forests in the plateaus and out to the Atlantic Ocean. From November until March, winds push dust inland, promoting dry weather.

Liberia is a generally flat land, with rolling plains in the coastal areas that feature swamps and mangroves. The northeast region is slightly elevated, featuring low mountains and plateaus. There are tropical rainforests in the hilly regions making up 40% of the rainforests in West Africa.

History

Liberia's indigenous people first made contact with the Europeans in 1461, when Portuguese explorers came to buy the region's famous Malegueta pepper seeds. The British established trading posts 200 years later, but the Dutch destroyed them. Liberia was later settled by freed African-American slaves in the 1800s. The immigrants, later called Americo-Liberians, established a settlement in what is now known as Monrovia, the nation's capital. More freed slaves from America came, allowing the country to declare itself a nation, and on July 26, 1847, it finally became known as the Republic of Liberia.

Political turmoil marked the early years of Liberia and conflict spilled well into the new millennium. However, with the election of a new (and the first female) president in 2005, the conditions in the country have gradually stabilized. Reforms have been initiated to make way for economic recovery and improved political relations.

Famous Attractions

Liberia's capital, Monrovia, faces the Atlantic Coast, so a visit to a few of the area's beaches is recommended. Good ones to try are Marshall Beach, Kendeja Beach, and Ellen's Beach. At any of these beaches you can enjoy a list of such water sports as swimming, surfing, scuba diving, and snorkeling. Nature lovers enjoy the picturesque islands, shallow lagoons, rivers, lakes, and mangrove swamps.

Points of interest in the urban areas include the National Hall, where presidential swearing-in ceremonies are held; the Firestone Rubber Plantation, once the largest plantation and now a stunning landscape; and the local museums, where works of local artists are exhibited;

Liberia is also known for its arts and crafts, especially quilting, pottery, music, and wood carving. Local shops and markets are the best places to hunt down a good bargain. The carved wooden masks make excellent souvenirs, since these are often an important element in initiation rituals and many national celebrations.

Nightlife

Liberia's capital, Monrovia, is the center of nightlife. Most of the country's top bars, nightclubs, and restaurants are found here. For live performances featuring traditional dance and music, be sure to visit the Providence Island amphitheater. Other bars serve up a variety of music including jazz, dance, and hip-hop.

Nightlife in Liberia is also characterized by shopping, and the malls stay open until the late hours when some of the best bargains are available. That is good for vendors and visitors, because the hot and dry daytime weather can make any discerning tourist miss a bargain. But at night when the air is cooler and the environment more captivating, it's a different story altogether.

Culture

In the past, Liberia considered itself a Christian nation, but today about 40% of the population are Christians and 20% to 30% are Muslims. Up to 40% practice traditional indigenous beliefs, including animism and ancestor worship. Many of those practicing other belief systems are members of religious secret societies, and they combine certain elements from different religious systems.

The official language is English, although a majority of the inhabitants also speak at least one other language indigenous to the region. A Creole tongue called Liberian English is also widely used. People who live in proximity to Guinea or Cote d'Ivoire also speak conversational French.

Cuisine

Liberian cuisine relies on such agricultural products as rice, yams, cocoyams, sweet potatoes, and livestock. Local dishes also frequently feature bananas, pineapples, and mangoes. Most desserts are made with different types of nuts and fruits. The famous Liberian spices are also found in most dishes. The most popular of these are cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, cloves, and mint. Liberians also use plenty of peppers, which are found in virtually all colors.

Liberians frequently dine on freshly caught fish from the coast, along with meat from cattle and goats, and pork is served in various recipes. Liberian cuisine is also savored after dark when the famous coffee is showcased in its best mixes at its cafes, many of which are open 24 hours. Some of the best entrees and desserts are served here after dark.

For visitors, a must-try is the Monrovian collards, a dish made from bacon, collard greens, onions, and peppers. For bread lovers, a good one to try is the pineapple nut bread, made from dried pineapples and chopped roasted walnuts or peanuts. Meals are usually served with water or ginger beer.