History of the Gio/Dan People
Liberia’s Fierce Tribe
The Gio, also known as the Dan, can mostly be found in northeastern Liberia. There are approximately 151,600 Gios living in Nimba County, Liberia, as well as Ivory Coast.
Centuries ago, the Gio migrated from present-day Guinea and Mali into Liberia and Ivory Coast. For several years after moving into their new homes, the Gio fought their neighbors. They were a proud people and today are still very proud of their fierce and war-like reputation. During the early cen, the Gio, along with their Mande-speaking neighbors, invaded the coastal region, pushing back the Kru and replacing some of Africa’s tribes along the Atlantic coast.
After gaining its independence in 1847, the Liberian government began to appease these martial people. Still during the 19th century, Liberia became a peaceful nation and administrative controls were established.
The Gio people are primarily farmers who clear the land each year to grow crops. These crops include staples such as rice, cassava, and sweet potatoes as well as cocoa, coffee, and rubbers. They raise livestock such as cattle, sheep, goats, chickens, and pigs. These animals are eaten only during special and ritual occasions involving much feasting.
The Gio women are given lands to grow crops for household or business purposes. However, the Gio men do most of the agricultural work as well as hunting and fishing; their women help with the harvesting and weeding.
Gio villages are divided into quarters, and each quarter hosts an extended family or lineage. They are headed by a “quarter chief,” chosen for either being the eldest male in the family or for being the most aggressive. While there is a village or town chief who oversees the whole village, the actual power can be found via a council of elders who assists the chief in all his decisions.
Back in the day, traditional Gio huts were small, single-rooms made of mud and thatch. Each husband’s wife had her own hut where her children lived until they were old enough to move out. However, that has changed; today, houses are large and rectangular with several rooms. Instead of living in separate homes, multiple wives live in different rooms within the same home as their husband.
Gio men have their own "secret society," a society that marks boys’ initiation into manhood and guides them throughout their lives. It is controlled by the elders and acts as a source of power for the community. The secret society prepares these young men for engagement with the mysteries of the spirit world and to learn the rules of adult Gio men. The Gio women, as well, have a similar society.
The Gio believe in a supreme god who created the universe and everything in it. They, however, do not worship this god. According to the Gio, this god cannot be reached by ordinary man. Instead, a spiritual power called Du, who they believe is located in each person, acts as mediator between the Gio people and the supreme god. The Gio believe in reincarnation, in which the Du of a person can pass into another person or even an animal after death.