Liberia’s Most Secretive Tribe

The Grebo/Glebo, also referred to as the Krou, are a Liberian ethnic group occupying the Eastern region of Liberia and the bordering forestland. They can be found mainly in Maryland and other counties, including River Gee and Grand Kru. They are known as one of West Africa's most dangerous and secretive tribes. Not much is known about their culture, ceremonies, and intergroup dynamics or social order.

Originally, they were not called the Grebo/Glebo. The name was given to them after their migration to Cape Palmas from the same interior area that the Krahn also inhabited. The Grebo/Glebo were forced to leave their land in 1699 by locals and strangers who were tapping their palm wine trees. In 1700, the Grebo migrated southeast to the Atlantic coast at Grand-Béréby, into present-day Ivory Coast, joining the people there known as the “Muniwe.” They were originally welcomed but later became tired of being under Muniwe domination. They wanted to have land of their own, a decision that led them to go in search of a homeland. 

Stealing the Muniwes' canoes, the Grebo set out the journey. However, not everyone who started the journey made it to their destination—some were capsized while others were discouraged and turned back. The ones who survived eventually arrived at Cape Palmas. On June 4, 1701, they renamed themselves the “Grebo/Glebo” because they had “climbed the wave” as the “gre/gle” (monkey) climbs trees.

Some major activities of the Grebo/Glebo are producing palm oil, palm kernels, and palm wine for export. Unlike many other tribes in Liberia, they are not structured by the Poro society. Instead, they are ruled by “bodio,” a chief who assumes the function of grand priest and lives in almost total isolation.

The Grebo are known for their carved wooden masks. These masks are worn by dancers during ceremonies to mediate or appease the spirits. During the ceremonies, white clay is applied to participants and dancers to denote the ku or spirit. In the past, Grebo/Glebo kings and chiefs wore heavy, brass ankle rings that were put on by a blacksmith. They were worn throughout their life until death. These rings were regularly fed human blood because they were considered animated.