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Liberia, independent republic on the west coast of Africa, with a land area slightly larger than the state of Ohio. It has a coastline of over 300 mi (483 km) on the Atlantic Ocean. Liberia is the oldest republic in Africa. It originated from the efforts of American philanthropists who in 1822 organized the first settlement of freed American black slaves near the place where the capital, Monrovia, now stands. In 1847 Liberia became an independent republic modeled on the United States.

Land and climate

The terrain varies from a sandy coastal plain cut by lagoons to densely forested mountains in the north. The central part consists mainly of plateau, a rolling plain broken by many hills that are encircled by swamps. Edged in places by steep escarpments above the coastal plain, the plateau ranges in height from 600 ft (183 m) to 1,500 ft (457 m) above sea level. The Nimba Mountains in the northeast rise to 4,528 ft (1,380 m). Several rivers flow from the mountains and plateau into the Atlantic, the most important being the St. Paul, with Monrovia at its mouth.

Liberia is hot and humid, with an average temperature of 80°F (26°C). The rainy season lasts from Apr. to Oct., when the region receives about 150 in (381 cm) of rain, and inland areas about 100 in (254 cm). The harmattan, a hot, dry wind from the Sahara, often blows during the dry season. About half the land is covered by dense tropical rain forests. Wildlife includes chimpanzees, monkeys, zebras, antelopes, the rare pygmy hippopotamus, and birds and reptiles. Among Liberia's mineral resources are rich deposits of iron ore, some gold, and diamonds.


Over 90% of the people are indigenous Africans belonging to more than 26 tribal groups. The leading citizens are the descendants of freed American slaves, known as Americo-Liberians. There are some Lebanese traders, and Europeans who manage the industries. Most of the tribal peoples are subsistence farmers. The Mandingos practice Islam, but most other tribal groups are christians or animists. The Americo-Liberians, who dominate the government, education, and the professions, are mainly Christians and live in the urban coastal areas.

Although English is the official language, most of the people speak one of many African languages or dialects. The education system includes public, mission, and tribal schools, but about 60% of the population is illiterate. Liberia has one university. There are few urban areas, except along the coast. The capital, largest city, and chief port is Monrovia. Eight smaller ports include Marshall, Robertsport, Buchanan, Greenville, and Harper.


The Liberian economy is underdeveloped. Its main industries are rubber plantations, established in the 1920s, and the mining of iron ore, dating from the 1950s; both have been run and maintained by U.S. firms. Liberia also exports several crops, including coffee, sugarcane, bananas, and cocoa. Foreign exchange is earned by registering foreign ships under lax rules.


The first repatriated slaves arrived from the United States in 1822 under the sponsorship of the American Colonization Society. The settlement was named Monrovia in honor of U.S. President James Monroe. In 1847 the settlers declared their independence. Liberia gradually extended its territory by signing treaties with local chiefs, or by buying or claiming land. Inequities in the wealth and political power have caused antagonisms between Americo-Liberians and Indigenous Africans, and resulted in the outbreak of a civil war in 1989. The war, in which about 150,000 people were killed, ended when a peace agreement was signed in Ajuba (1996).


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21st Century Webster's Family Encyclopedia21st Century Webster's Family Encyclopedia - Lange, Dorothea to Lilac