Liberia, Africa’s oldest republic, was founded in 1822 by a settlement of freed slaves from the United States. In 1847, Liberia was made a republic by the Americo-Liberians, who only made up 5% of the population, the rest being indigenous Africans. Until 1980 Liberia was a relatively calm nation, with President William Tubman promoting foreign investment to bridge the gap between the different groups of people living here. Samuel Doe, however, led a military coup in 1980 and took over for a decade. Under his authoritarian rule Liberia suffered continued instability and in 1989 Charles Taylor and his National Patriotic Front of Liberia launched a rebellion against Doe’s regime. In 1990 Doe was executed and under Taylor’s rule conflict intensified as rebel groups divided and fought against one another, in a series of civil wars. In 2003, Taylor was forced to step down and went into exile after being accused of supporting rebels in Sierra Leone.
The conflict that occurred in Liberia killed and displaced millions of people and left the country in economic ruin - it is now the location of one of the UN’s most expensive peacekeeping missions. In 2006 Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Africa’s first female president, was elected and peace and stability have begun to seem more likely. The population here consists of 16 ethnic groups and a few foreign minorities. Although the ethnic groups make up about 95% of the population, the Americo-Liberians still make up about 2.5% of the population. There are also Lebanese, Indians and other West Africans living here as part of the country’s business community. Although there are 31 different indigenous languages spoken, English is the official language.
Culturally, the Americo-Liberians brought some of their traditional customs from the American South such as wearing top hats and tails and modeling their houses on those of slave owners. Artistically, Liberia rivals other countries from the continent in terms of traditional carved masks, dance and storytelling. The textile arts and quilting also hold a unique place here, which hosts various fairs for the needle arts. There is also an abundance of literature in Liberia. Some of the most prominent authors for the country are Ahmadou Kourouma, Mark Huband, Kim McLaren, Brian Knightley, Edward Wilmot Blyden, Bai T. Moore, Roland T. Dempster and Wilton G. S. Sankawulo.