Ethnic Customs & Customary Law

Before the arrival of the Americo-Liberians from the US, there were numerous ethnic groups living and conducting their affairs within the territory now known as Liberia. Although they may not have had statute books or other written law, disputes were resolved in the traditional or customary manner. In many parts of Africa today, law is a mixture of formal, written law, and the customary law of the various ethnic groups within the particular country. This section will provide selected references on Liberian ethinic groups and customs, including customary law, and on customary law in general.

The indigenous Africans account for about 95 percent of Liberia's population. They are divided into 16 ethnic groups, each of which has its own language, customs, history, and territory. The largest groups are the Kpelle, who live in central Liberia, and the Bassa, who live along the coast. The 16 officially recognized groups are the Golas, Kissis, Vais, Belles, Grebos, Krus, Bassas, Krahns, Mendes, Deys, Lormas, Gbandis, Mandingoes, Gios, Manos and Kpelles.

Three of the four great languages families (excluding Indo-European languages) are present in West Africa: Nilo-Saharan, Afro-Asiatic and Niger-Congo. The indigenous groups speak languages predominately from the Niger-Congo family. has a list of those languages spoken in Liberia, along with a language map of the country ( References to publications on Liberian languages are also provided.

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