The National Museum of Liberia

Established by the 18th president of the Republic of Liberia, Dr William V.S. Tubman in 1958 and now housed in the Old Supreme Court building since 1987, the National Museum of Liberia is the place to understand the unique history of the oldest republic in West Africa. 

Liberia came into being as a place for the resettlement of former enslaved Africans. This is a narrative that Liberia shares with Sierra Leone. But there are marked differences. Liberia was created as project by Americans that saw the settlement chiefly of African Americans before the American Civil War and achieved independence in 1847. Sierra Leone on the other hand was established by efforts through the United Kingdom to settle free people of African origin from Britain, Canada (chiefly Nova Scotia) and the Caribbean and was a British colony until independence in 1961. I had long wanted to visit Liberia partly due to my interest in returnee African communities around the continent and was happy to receive a chance to do so.

The lower floor of the museum is concerned with the story of Liberia as an independent African country, and one of two African founder members of the League of Nations in 1919 and one of five African states who were founding members of the United Nations in 1945.

Of course, before the resettlement of free Africans, Africa was home to many different African ethnic groups, some of which were enslaved and some of who were complicit in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. It is their descendants that returned as free people to Liberia. The upper floor of the museum is dedicated to the speakers of over twenty West African languages, including the larger Kpelle, Bassa, Grebo ethnic groups. These peoples form the overall majority of Liberia’s population and their inclusion in the museum is important, not just for the sake of equal representation, but also to understand the nature of Liberia’s founding and its present-day social and political landscape. The museum suffered the loss of around 5000 artefacts during the fourteen years of war and is still rebuilding its collection. But amazingly, one of the remaining artifacts are the table presented by Queen Victoria to Liberia’s first president over two hundred and fifty years ago.

PHOTOGRAPH BY Clifford Pereira

The top floor is a temporary exhibition and gallery space, which featured a changing programme, from art works and photography to future development schemes. Some very tragic photographs from the two civil wars (1898-1997 and 1999-2003) were exhibited, highlighting the use of child soldiers.

Around the museum grounds are several vehicles including limousines of President Tubman and President Doe’s.

The two guides speak excellent English and pointed out some panels that highlighted the Back to Africa Heritage & Archaeology (BAHA Liberia) Project which has been actively excavating various sites of returnee settlement. Some of the finds are in the museum, and I am certain more will come to light. Perhaps there will also be some archaeology into the period before European colonisation, that other regional museums have been exploring and displaying. This project marks the initiation of a new Liberia.

Back to Africa Heritage & Archaeology Liberia Project
PHOTOGRAPH BY Clifford Pereira

Museum Information: Tel +316 1105 1102.

Location: Broad Street, Monrovia, Liberia.

Admission: 5USD.

Opening Hours: 09:00-17:00 Monday to Friday. 09:00-12:00 Saturday. Closed Sunday.

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Clifford Pereira FRGS

Hailing from Mombasa, Kenya. Cliff's research interests began in 1982 when he first travelled Asia following the routes of the epic voyages of the Fifteenth century Chinese admiral Zheng He. He later graduated with a BA(Hons) in Geography with Asian Studies (Ulster University). After a career in tourism Cliff became a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG). He returned to historical research in 2001 on a variety of themes leading to an exhibition at the Royal Geographical Society on the Bombay Africans (2007) and is regarded as the world specialist on the subject. Cliff was Honorary Research Assistant to Royal Holloway's Geography Department (2011-2014) and Visiting Research Assistant to Dalian Maritime University, China (2011-2015). Cliff was researcher-curator on the Bait-Jelmood Museum, Qatar (2013-2016) and research-curator for the National Museum of Qatar, specialising in the Portuguese presence in the Indian Ocean (2016-2018). Cliff was Visiting Research Assistant at the University of Hong Kong (2016-2023). He completed a MA(Res) on the History of Africa and the African Diaspora (University of Chichester) with distinction in 2021. He is presently distance-working on the African collection of the Museum of Anthropology (MOA) at UBC Vancouver, Canada and continues to research and consult for a number of UK heritage institutions. He describes himself as a historical geographer and has been a speaker on various subjects in China, Malaysia, Canada, USA, South Africa, Italy, the UK and on the cruise liners Silversea and Swan Hellenic. He has numerous papers and chapters in publications around the world.