Ritual 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:

  1. The Administration of 
    President Wiliam V.S. Tubman
  2. The Administration of 
    President William R. Tolbert, Jr.
  3. The military and civil regime of 
    Chairman/President Samuel K. Doe
  4. The civil war (1990 – 2003) including 
    President Charles G. Taylor’s
    Administration (1997-2003)

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.

Next: President William Tolbert and Ritual Killings 




























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