Photo Credit: LARRY DOWNING
Happy Independence Day: 8 Interesting Facts About Liberia
On this day, July 26, the African nation of Liberia celebrates its Independence Day. To mark this special and celebratory occasion, we are highlighting 8 interesting facts about the country. Let’s get started.
1. The geography of Liberia
Liberia is located on the West African coast and has a population of five million. It is bordered by three countries; Guinea to the north, Sierra Leone to the northwest and Ivory Coast to the east. The capital is Monrovia and the official language is English, although multiple other languages are spoken.
2. It is a Free Black state
In the early 19th century, before it was recognized as a sovereign state, Liberia was home to a settlement founded by the American Colonization Society. This was a community of African-Americans who migrated to Africa in the belief that they would enjoy freedom and a better quality of life than in the United States.
Between 1822 and 1861 when the American Civil War broke out, over 15,000 African-American and over 3,000 Afro-Caribbean people migrated to Liberia where they settled. Over time, an American-Liberian identity was forged among the population, and the Liberian flag was modelled on the US flag. Liberia declared its independence on the 26th of July 1847. Next year will mark the 175th anniversary.
3. Who was the first President?
Liberia’s first president was an African-American man named Joseph Jenkins Roberts. He was a wealthy free man born in Virginia in 1809 who migrated to Liberia as a young man. His mother had been born into slavery, but was freed before Joseph was born.
Joseph and his family migrated to Liberia in 1828, though both his wife and child died within a year of arriving. He set up a successful trading business in Monrovia, the capital, exporting products to the United States.
Eventually, Joseph transitioned into a career in politics and in 1847 won the first presidential election, becoming the first president of Liberia. His birthday, March 15, is celebrated every year as a national holiday in Liberia.
4. Liberia's other firsts
Did you know that Liberia was the first African republic to proclaim its independence? It was one of the few African countries not to be colonized by a European colonial power during the scramble for Africa. It was a founding member of the League of Nations, the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity.
In 2005, Liberia made history again by electing Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who became the first female president on the continent of Africa.
5. The tradition of quilt-making
Quilt-making has a special significance in Liberian culture and history. It is a tradition that was introduced by the African-American settlers in Liberia who came in the 1820s. From the mid-1800s onwards, Liberia held National Fair contests where women would enter their quilts.
Liberia’s first diplomatic gift was a quilt that was presented to Queen Victoria at Windsor Castle in 1892. The United Kingdom was the first country to recognize Liberia as an independent state. The quilt was made by Martha Ann Erskine Ricks who had been born into slavery in Tennessee before relocating to Liberia as a free woman.
6. There is a Liberian town called ‘Smell No Taste’
In the county of Margibi on the Northern-central coast of Liberia, there is a town called Smell-No-Taste. The name reportedly dates back to World War II when Liberia became a landing site for Trans-Atlantic military flights, due to its relatively strategic location in connecting the Americas and Africa.
The U.S. military stationed several thousand military personnel to guard the runways, but their base was off-limits to the Liberian civilians. As a result, the Liberians could smell the American’s food from the base but were not allowed to eat any, hence the name “Smell-No-Taste”.
7. The country's “Flag of Convenience” isn't an actual flag
Due to Liberia’s comparatively relaxed maritime laws, the country has status as “a flag of convenience”, meaning that maritime vessels intended for international travel can be registered under the state of Liberia even if the ship’s owners are not Liberian.
Because of that fact, Liberia has the second-largest maritime registry in the world after Panama. Its registry comprises 3,500 vessels which accounts for 11% of ships in the world.
8. Black Freemasonry is big in Liberia
It may surprise you to know that Liberia has an established history of Freemasonry. The first American-Liberian settlers to arrive included some Freemasons, who eventually founded the Grand Lodge of the Republic of Liberia in 1867. It was based on the African-American lodges first founded in the United States by Prince Hall.
Although Freemasons were persecuted in the 1980s and Freemasonry was temporarily banned, it was reinstated in 1988. According to a 2015 report, there are 19 subordinate Lodges in Liberia with a membership of 1,750 people.