Academic journal article The Journal of Negro History

The Pacification of the Liberian Hinterland

Academic journal article The Journal of Negro History

The Pacification of the Liberian Hinterland

Article excerpt

The opening up of the Liberian hinterland was a gradual process in which the Liberian militia and, later, the Frontier Force, played a major role. Most of the Liberian settlements were situated on the coast and their only links with the interior were, for many years, military and commercial. With the exception of suppressing the resistance of indigenous Liberians, the government of the republic paid little attention to the hinterland. Some interest was aroused in that quarter during the administration of President James Spriggs Payne in 1888, after Benjamin Anderson's account of his journey to Musardu had been published.

Nevertheless, it was President James Coleman who, in 1898, first made purposeful efforts to open up and develop the hinterland. He considered the indigenous population of this section of the republic an integral part of the Liberian nation. In his inaugural address he declared:

The time has fully come, in my opinion, when stronger and more determined efforts should be put forth by the government to teach our aboriginal brethren our fraternal relations to them and to explain to the natives the good feelings which should exist between us at all times. There are obvious advantages showing how necessary and desirable it is that we should take a more direct and active part in the work of enlightening our native population [to] the deep sense of duty and the advantages of speedly training and incorporating them among us. There are political, religious and moral reasons why we should work to this end.(1)

Coleman's greatest contribution to the progress of Liberia was his pragmatic interior administrative policy. The hinterland had always remained a separate entity linked to the coastal settlements of the Americo-Liberians by commercial nexus. Coleman felt that it was time to assert the rights of the republic over its hinterland by taking strong measures to occupy it. Initially, he adopted a peaceful and conciliatory policy; but unable to achieve any success, he resorted to force. Neither of his policies received support from the Americo-Liberians. The indigenous Liberians also opposed Coleman's new policy for reasons that were as varied as the multiplicity of people in the interior.

James Coleman's interior policy was intended to put all the different groups under proper administrative control and supervision. It was bitterly opposed by the Americo-Liberians who thought the Africans should be left alone and unmolested as long as they allowed trade between the coastal areas, where the Americo-Liberians lived, and the hinterland. They were afraid of being swarmed by a group of people they described as uncivilized and demoralized. Many African groups could also understand what was in store for them and equally opposed Coleman's interior policy. Benjamin Anderson, the Liberian traveler and surveyor, noted that nothing was more dreaded by the Poporu Mandingo than the penetration of the interior by the Americo-Liberians.(2)

As a result of caustic and scurrilous attacks, President Coleman was forced to resign his office on December 11, 1900.(3) But before his resignation, he had already begun to implement his policy: his troops had advanced over sixty miles into the interior, demanding "peace and loyalty" on highways. As they moved inland, they garrisoned each town such as Bopolu, Gbarnga, Belle Yalla and Tappita. The penetration of the interior had it salutary impact; it paved the way for missionaries, doctors, traders, and other agents to modernization.(4) The resignation of President Coleman could no longer dam the tide of progress already set in motion in the hinterland. His foresightedness was vindicated by the willingness of his successors to carry on his interior policy.

Why then did Liberia decide to occupy the hinterland? One of the major reasons was the European scramble for African territories. Liberia was entirely encircled by such European colonies as the Ivory Coast, Guinea, and Sierra Leone; and the cutthroat competition among the rival European powers was threatening the security of the Liberian hinterland. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.