African News

Liberia: Rampant Ritual Killings or Gboyo

8 August 2007 at 11:31 | 2444 views

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong discusses Liberia’s dilemma with human sacrifice and cannibalistic practices in its development process, drawing examples from Ghana and other Africa states.

As Africans debate about tackling its inhibiting cultural practices in its development process gather steam nowhere is this seen more than in Liberia, Africa’s oldest Republic and expected to be a key source of light for progress.

The headlines over the past months look scary, more of Hollywood-type movies, as if Liberia is plunged into mass culture of human sacrifice, otherwise called “ritual killings.” But though not really plunged in mass human sacrifice, Liberia has a big challenge with human sacrifices that spring from its culture, like most African states, in its development process.

Samples of headlines over the past months from prominent Liberian newspapers such as the “Analyst” and the “Liberian Observer” include “Ritual Killings in Maryland Defy President Sirleaf,” “Woman Detained for Ritual Killings,” “Quiwonkpa, Killed, dismembered body Consumed,” “Ritual Killings Increase in Nimba County,” and “Bryant Warns Presidential Candidates Against Ritual Killings.”

Locally called “Gboyo” - the practice of killing people so that their body parts can be extracted and offered as sacrifices to bring power, wealth and success - it is an ancient practice in Liberia that Liberian elites have not worked to deal with as part of its development process, making it grow to such an extent that in 29 June 2005 prior to Liberia’s current democratic dispensation, its interim leader, Gyude Bryant(photo), “warned any aspiring presidential candidates tempted to boost their chances by carrying out human sacrifices that they will be executed if caught.
...If you think you can take somebody’s life in order to be president, or the speaker (of parliament) or a senator, without anything being done to you, then you are fooling yourself."

The highlight of Liberia’s human sacrifice was supremely seen during the 14-year vicious civil war (1989-2003), where a mixture of the negative aspects of Liberia’s traditional cultural values and the criminal behaviour of its mindless “Big Men,” who have the cultural belief, like most Africa societies, that it is culturally right to sacrifice their victims for their various ambitions. More graphically, in this atmosphere, child soldiers were eating their victims’ hearts and other body parts for spiritual powers.

The question is how does a country that is the oldest “Republic in Africa,” got independence in 1847, and supposed to be a shining light of Africa, be so challenged by such negative cultural practices that it threatens to undo any gains overtime in its development process? That the growth in human sacrifice appears not go away 150 years after independence shows that Liberia is yet to have holistic grasp of its cultural values (positive or negative) that drive the foundations of its development process. The growth of human sacrifice reveals that such features are not factored in when developing policies, bureaucratizing, and consulting on national development issues.

One senses this by prominent Liberian scholars, thinkers, writers and journalists that contributed to a “Special Issue on Liberia” on its 150th independence published by the UK-based Pambazuka News (, 2007-07-26). There is nothing from these prominent Liberians indicating that the cultural values and traditions of the country are factored in when midwifing the country. That menas in making policies, bureaucratizing, and consulting about the progress of Liberia, its very cultural values that sustain it are not considered. What this indicates is that there is no conscious attemps to tackle any inhibitions with the Liberian culture for refinement for progress. Even Anthony Morgan, Jr’s catching title, “Principle of Duality: Psychoanalysing Liberia,” didn’t reveal how Liberian elites are attempting to tackle not only their cultural inhibitions but also appropriating the good aspects for policy-making, consulting, and bureaucratizing.

Over the years Liberia elites have overlooked certain aspects of their traditional values hindering their progress despite the fact that various Presidents, from William Tolbert to Gyude Bryant, “have signed the death warrant of several government officials, accused of procuring human body parts for Gboyo rituals.” It is not only Liberian “Big Men” who engage in human sacrifices, ordinary Liberians do it, and unlike most African states, Liberian women too are prominent in these ritualistic practices. And it’s Liberian-wide. Samples: The “Liberian Observer” (04 October, 2006) with headline “Woman Detained for Ritual Killing” reported that the Magisterial Court in Buchanan “charged and detained a woman identified as Ruth Redd with the crime of “negligence homicide” in connection with the mysterious death of a two-year old Victoria Wee in Gbegbah Town, in Harlandsville Township, Grand Bassa County.” In another instance, the “Analyst” (March 10, 2006) reported that barely three hours after incumbent President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf delivered a speech of gratitude to the people of Maryland County and told those involved in ritualistic killings to stop and not to tempt her because she is a woman, a three years old boy was ritualistically murdered. The “Analyst” (March 9, 2006) reported that “The relief arm of the Assemblies of God Church, the Faith Charities Consortium (CFC) has reported that there is increase in the practice of ritualistic activities in Nimba County...Children are disappearing on a daily basis with their bodies mostly discovered by community dwellers in the bushes along highways and bearing marks of certain body parts removed.”

The growth of human sacrifice in Liberia confirms America’s Florence Bernault, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, thesis “that Public rumors depict human sacrifice and other related sorceries “as the most common way to achieve personal success, wealth, and prestige in times of economic shortage and declining social opportunities. Political leaders are widely believed to perform ritual murder to ensure electoral success and power, and many skillfully use these perceptions to build visibility and deference.” This is, as Liberia indicates, despite elites oftentimes ignoring classical political and historical studies, as the “Special Issue on Liberia” published by Pambazuka News indicates. As the flux of Liberia’s culture and progress show, the impact of the inhibiting aspects of Liberia’s culture on its progress, as Bernault analyses, “is not a marginal, but a central dimension of the nature of public authority, leadership, and popular identities.” Dirk Kohnert, of Germany’s Institute of African Affairs, argues that the belief in African native occultism are still "deeply rooted in many African societies, regardless of education, religion, and social class of the people concerned" and this has “implications for democratization and poverty-alleviating aid in Africa.”

Either because of the extremely long-running colonial rule, which pretty much suppressed African values for developmental transformation or post-independence African elites’ weak grasp of Africa’s values in its progress, as Liberian elites exemplify, certain parts of Africa’s values such as the growing human sacrifice in Liberia have not seen conscious attempts to refine them from within African values for progress by its elites.