The 16 Tribes of Liberia

16 Tribes of Liberia

Liberia is a multiethnic and multicultural country. Ethnologists and linguists have discovered all sorts of groups and subgroups, but the traditional number of Liberian tribes is 16. These 16 people groups can themselves be structured into 3 linguistic groups (these groups are notorious for having a multitude of different spellings and names).

  • Mel (consisting of the Gola and Kissi tribes)

Gola - They were the middlemen in the slave trade. They transported captured slaves from the inland groups to the Dei and the Vai tribes who in turn sold them to the Europeans.

Kissi - They are known to be excellent rice farmers. In past times, they were also famous for their iron working skills, as the country and its neighbors possess rich deposits of iron.

  • Kru (consisting of the Bassa, Bella, Dei, Grebo, Krahn, and Kru tribes)

Bassa - Once known as “people of the forest,” this tribe made a living by hunting animals for food and gathering fruits and vegetables.

Bella - An interior tribe in Africa. They make up 0.5% of the population.

Dei - One form of art that they are known for is their intricately carved wooden masks.

Grebo - Members of the group would often chip their teeth to sharp points to create a ferocious visage, as well as for aesthetic reasons.

Krahn - Many Krahn believe that objects have spirits or souls. Additionally, it is believed that powers associated with these beings include healing, fertility, and the ability to end conflict and create new villages.

Kru - This tribe lives along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean. They are considered the masters of sailing and fishing. Many of them work at the Port of Monrovia or for the Liberian Coast Guard.

  • Mande (consisting of the Bandi, Gio, Kpelle, Loma, Mandingo, Mano, Mende, and Vai tribes)

Bandi and Loma - The Bandi and Loma ethnic groups have occupied the northern part of the country for generations and long before the arrival of the freed slaves. Although two distinct groups, and with different languages, cultures, and traditions, they managed to live in peace and harmony, often referring to each other as cousins.

Gio - The basic unit of this culture is the family. Dan culture is patrilineal and polygamous, so this unit comprises a husband, one or more wives and their children.

Kpelle - The largest ethnic group in Liberia. They are organized under several paramount chiefs who serve as mediators for the public, preserve order and settle disputes.

Mandingo -They are Muslims who came to the area as traders several hundred years ago. The other tribes greatly respected their military and political strength.

Mano - In modern day Liberia, they occupy positions in national government, banking and engineering. They are among Liberia's best doctors and engineers.

Mende - The Mende believe that all humanistic and scientific power is passed down through the secret societies. The secret "Poro" society is for men and the "Sande" society is for women.

Vai - They were one of the first tribes to develop their own written script over 100 years ago.

These 16 tribes make up 95% of the total population of Liberia. If you’re interesting in learning more, you can find more information at:

Written by guest blogger Stephanie Labovitz!