First Moslems in Liberia


The Vai are a Mande ethnic group who live mostly in Liberia, in the County of Grand Cape Mount and Bomi, with a small minority living in southeastern Sierra Leone. There are approximately 180,000 Vai living in Liberia.

The Vai people speak the Vai language, which is of the Mande languages. The Sierra Leonean Vai are predominantly found in Pujehun District (around the Liberian border) where they make up 10% of the population. The Vai are predominantly Muslim, with about 90 percent practicing Islam. Five percent are Christian while the other 5 percent practice traditional beliefs.

In many aspects, the Vai are a unique African ethnicity. Many believe that the region inhabited by the Vai is the original home of the Poro, a male secret society known throughout West Africa.

The Vai have three types of schooling. The first and most important is the bush school, where the children learn traditional Vai socialization skills, important survival skills, and other traits of village life for four to five years. Second is the English school; some Vai children attend English schools to learn the English language. Finally, there are the Quranic schools, where Vai children are taught the Arabic language under the guidance of the local Muslim religious leader.

These monotheistic religions, however, coexist with traditional beliefs in the supernatural. Shamanistic practices are common as people consider themselves to be surrounded by spirits that can change into living creatures or objects. These spirits are believed to have the power to do evil to individuals or to the whole tribe. The Vai perform ceremonies for the dead in which they leave articles of clothing and food near the graves of the deceased.

The Liberian Vai are known as skilled carpenters, weavers, farmers, and tailors. This is evidenced by the Egyptian and Arabic cultures from which they came. Although they are crafters of valuable handmade items, imported goods are now beginning to take their place. The Vai are also quite musical—they play many instruments and perform dances on special occasions.

As you can see, the Vai are incredible people. Although they were one of the last tribes to arrive in Liberia, they have managed to catch up with the other tribes in history and culture. 


Anna Sherman-KartoComment