The Uncontrollable Force: A Brief History of the Liberian Frontier Force, 1908-1944*

By Nevin, Timothy D. | The International Journal of African Historical Studies, May 1, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Uncontrollable Force: A Brief History of the Liberian Frontier Force, 1908-1944*


Nevin, Timothy D., The International Journal of African Historical Studies


Introduction

About ten miles northeast of Monrovia, the capital city of Liberia, next to the deserted Hotel Africa, stands the monolithic Unity Conference Center. This huge venue, built by President Tolbert to house the 1979 conference of the OAU, like the former luxury hotel adjacent, is now vacant.1 Yet, the discerning visitor can still make out, above the entrance to the grand auditorium, a gigantic mural depicting relevant scenes from Liberian History.2 This huge painting literally frames the events and personages that shaped the history of the republic as official discourse. William R. Tolbert (1971-1980), the president who commissioned the mural, is depicted standing proudly in the lower left comer and is just one of the several influential Liberian presidents who figure prominently. Centrally located in the painting, situated next to the face of President Daniel Howard (1912-1920), are the enlisted men of the Liberian Frontier Force (LFF). These soldiers, dressed in their khaki uniforms, sport red tarbush style hats, and bedrolls strapped to their backs. The scene shows them on a mission engaged in a firefight. They lie on their stomachs on the ground firing their rifles over a hillock at an invisible adversary. The central placement of the LFF within the mural is important for several reasons. First, it serves as an official tribute to the indigenous men who formed the bulk of the Frontier Force during the "pacification of the hinterland"; a process largely completed by the end of the Howard presidency in 1920. Second, it tacitly acknowledges that without the formation of the Frontier Force in 1908 much more of Liberia's claimed territory might have been seized by neighboring colonial powers England and France. The Frontier Force not only brought territories and chiefdoms into the political custodianship of the Liberian government, but also acted as a bulwark against European encroachment and a defender of the Liberian state. The centrality of this scene within this official depiction of the Liberian state's past recognizes and validates the Frontier Force's dual role.3 However, one must also recognize that this official history represents a self-congratulatory narrative, one that depicts the linear progress of the Liberian nation-state as a unique experiment of black self-rule in Africa. Liberia, the continents' first independent republic, was established as a type of "Black Zion" for settlers from the African diaspora of the Americas (overwhelmingly from the United States and to a lesser extent from the Caribbean).4 This narrative omits how the indigenous African practices of warfare diverged and transformed the Liberian Army (the LFF) from its theoretical American model.

Central Contention

Rather than being simple undisciplined and incurable rabble-rousers, the African troops incorporated into the LFF instead applied time honored indigenous methods of warfare.5 They operated under a set of assumptions unfamiliar to the officers under whom they served. From its inception, two seemingly competing but actually compatible cultural ideologies and modes of warfare were at work in the Force. The officer corps, which included the Americo-Liberian officers along with their American advisors, operated under military codes influenced by the practices of European colonial forces operating in tropical Africa. The goal of the LFF was to establish authority and collect taxes; to brutally impose a "Pax Liberica" on the "savage" and unruly hinterlands. The enlisted troops waged warfare based upon African codes and traditions of the first indigenous groups to be inducted: the Lorma (Lorna), Mende, and Mano (Mah), among others. These groups generally conceptualized warfare as a raiding system that aimed to collect booty, to exact revenge, or to liberate pawns from servitude.

At first blush these indigenous practices and understandings contradicted the official ideology of the "civilized" Liberian government whose goal was to bring the hinterland population under the sovereign and political jurisdiction of Monrovia and open it to internal trade. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Uncontrollable Force: A Brief History of the Liberian Frontier Force, 1908-1944*
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    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.