Killings and Liberian Politics
The latter half of the 20th century may be divided into four periods with
respect to the focus of this essay. Each period carries its secrets, its ritual
killings, and the abuse of power that gradually became associated with this
originally purely tribal practice. The four periods are:
- The Administration of
President Wiliam V.S. Tubman (1944-1971)
- The Administration of
President William R. Tolbert, Jr. (1971-1980)
- The military and civil regime of
Chairman/President Samuel K. Doe (1980-1990)
- The civil war (1990 – 2003) including
President Charles G. Taylor’s
The complete story of ritual killings during the 27-year reign of President
Tubman has never been told – and may be never told - though many individual
references to the occurrence of these practices during his Administration exist
(see below). The same may be said of President Tolbert’s presidency.
Similarly, little is known of the 1980-1990 period - maybe even less than in the
preceding periods. The reason for it certainly is related to the suppression of
the freedom of the press during the ten years that Samuel Doe ruled the country.
Finally, it will never be known what exactly happened during the civil war with
respect to ritual murders, cannibalism etc. Numerous reports mention the
cruelties which were committed during the 14-year war including rape, summary
executions, murders and cannibalism for ritual purposes whereas some of these
reports mention alleged involvement of people close to Charles Taylor and even
the President himself, see e.g. 'The Mask of Anarchy' (Stephen Ellis), 'Blue
Clay People' (by William D. Powers) and Douglas Farah's 'Blood from Stones'.
What once was a purely tribal affair increasingly became an instrument in
politics. Traditionally, the practices of ritual murders and related ritual
ceremonies were exclusively meant to safeguard collective interests of the
tribal communities. However, during the second half of the 20th century a number
of politicians and candidates for public offices were found to have been
involved – or accused of involvement – in these practices in search for
power, or more power, and for individual purposes only. It is absolutely
astonishing that among the persons who were convicted for responsibility for and
involvement in these crimes were some leading Americo-Liberian citizens.
The most notorious of these cases were the Maryland Murders and the Sinoe ritualistic killing. They occurred during the second half of the Administration
of President William Tolbert. The trial of the Maryland murderers eventually led
to the conviction of eight people among whom the President's personal
representative in Maryland County, the county’s Superintendent, of a
representative of Maryland County in the House of Representatives, and of six
more people, and the subsequent hanging of seven of them (see below).
The involvement of politicians and candidate politicians meant involvement of
the True Whig Party (TWP), the only political party allowed by the ruling
Americo-Liberian class since the Administration of President William Tubman –
who himself hailed from Maryland County. The latter is not an insignificant
fact, as will be shown in the Maryland Murder case.
William Tolbert and Ritual Killings