The old ways persist in Liberia

Posted on July 23, 2011 by Global Mission Support

Brian and Christine Palmer are ELCA missionaries in Liberia. To support the Palmers, or another of the ELCA’s nearly 250 missionaries, go to

Liberia it is said to be a predominantly Christian nation. Yet the longer we live here the more we are discovering how blended Christianity is with the traditional African religion. The cords of the ancestors are tightly roped around the lives of most Liberians. Is Christ the true Savior for Liberians or do the traditional witch doctors have additional messages?

There are those who practice “Juju,” a form of witchcraft that is similar to voodoo. It’s pretty predominant. A person is targeted and cursed by magic from the witch doctor to make the victim very sick or miscarry, even die.

The children at around the age of puberty go off to traditional schools for a period of time. This is where they learn basic skills of how to live in the bush. The boys learn to build huts, make palm-thatched roofs and hunt; girls learn to cook over a charcoal fire, weave baskets, and make fishing nets. And along with that learning comes the West African Juju as well as herbal knowledge — plants used for healing the body. It’s all very secretive; no one is allowed to tell others what they learned in the bush school. When they come back to their villages, the girls have deep, permanent scars etched in their skins along their waists, backs, and necks making designs like diamonds and linear motifs, like tattoos except, instead of ink, they use scarring to make designs. The bush school is the place where female circumcision happens. It’s where they get initiated into the culture and learn the ancestors’ ways.

Child sacrifices (and adults ones, too) are still amongst us here, the organs used to appease the devil. We are told sacrifices increase particularly during election years from those in high government positions (like this year). Children just disappear. We had two children taken on Christmas Day while people were watching a football (soccer) game right here in Totota, where we live. Men near the man taking the children followed him into the bush and saved the children before there was any harm done to them.

I know the Christian church still has its transforming work to do in the lives of the Liberian people, even though there’s been a long history of effort done here in the name of Jesus over the last hundred years or so.