SQUIZ THE WORLD (1400 × 700px)

Squiz the World goes to… Liberia

Map of Africa with Liberia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liberia#/media/File:Liberia_(orthographic_projection).svg
Learn Kolokwa: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YqBmum_dXC4
Wildlife of Grebo-Kahn: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QtYUSk53p2Q&t=303s
More about bongos: https://www.awf.org/wildlife-conservation/bongo
Dumboy recipe: https://nationalfoods.org/recipe/national-dish-of-liberia-dumboy/


Each week, we give the world globe a spin, and see where we land. Then we take the kids of Australia on an audio excursion to visit that country and its people.

I’m Amanda Bower, and today on Squiz the World we’re visiting Liberia – an African country whose name means “Free”, and whose population is one of the world’s youngest.

Strap yourselves into the Squiz Kids Super Fast Supersonic Jetliner, and make yourselves comfortable. There are no direct flights from Australia, so this journey is going to take more than 24 hours, as we take off, and take a Squiz, at Liberia.

Picture the continent of Africa—I’ll put a link in your episode notes—and focus your attention on the big bulge of land on the northwest side (the top left) that sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean. Tucked on the bottom part of that curve is Liberia… with beaches at the coast, and rainforested mountains inland. In fact, Liberia contains more than 40% of the remaining rainforest in all of western Africa, and is home to many rare and endangered animal species. More on that later.

The word Liberia comes from the Latin “Liber”, which means “free.”

Liberia was founded in 1822, by the American government. At that time, slavery was still legal in America, but there were some freed slaves, as well as their children, who were born free. Slave owners were worried that these free black people would encourage their slaves to rebel… and didn’t really want them sticking around in America.
Then there were other white people who didn’t think that free black people would “fit in” to American society… and so together, they came up with a plan to encourage—many historians now say pressure—freed black people to go to Africa. It’s important to say here that people fighting against slavery did not support this plan.

But between 1821 and 1861, more than 15,000 black people made their way from America to Liberia. When those first settlers arrived, they must have been a bit shocked by the weather… it was hot, and it rained a LOT. There’s a Liberian saying: “By the rain or by the sweat, either way you will get wet”.

Of course, Liberia wasn’t an empty country when those people arrived from America, and there was some tension between the “Americo-Liberians”, as they were known, and the indigenous people. Until 1904, those indigenous people weren’t even allowed to be citizens of Liberia, the land they’d always lived on! And to this day, only black people are allowed to be Liberian citizens.

Liberia never had a democratic government in the capital, Monrovia, and there were two civil wars – wars in which Liberians fought Liberians – that resulted in one eighth of the country’s entire population dying. That’s one of the reasons Liberia has the world’s youngest populations – the average age is 17-and-a-half. Finally, in 2005, Liberia had its first ever democratic elections, and the first female president in Africa, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was elected. She even won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her efforts at bringing women into the peace-making process.

Okay, enough politics.

Whenever you travel, it’s important to learn a few words in that country’s language. It’s a great way to show respect. So, let’s….

The official language of Liberia is English—but only one fifth of the population can speak it fluently.
There are 20 indigenous languages, and there’s also something called Kolokwa, which is spoken by 70% of the population and is a combo of English and tribal languages.

I’ll put a video in your episode notes to a pretty funny conversation between a Kolokwa speaker and her friend… if you want to say “Come, Let’s Eat” you basically drop the last sound from each word… cah-leh-ee …

But then there are other words that are a bit trickier… ‘motorbike” is “pempem” and if someone calls you “biggish”, it’s not a compliment about your height. It means you’re arrogant, or stuck up!

Now that we can communicate a little bit, it’s….

Unfortunately, Liberia has one of the highest rates of kids NOT going to school in the world—between 15 and 20% of kids aged between 6 and 14.

That’s because of the terrible disruption caused by 14 years of civil war. Up until the peace agreement in 2003, almost all schools were closed, and more than half of all school buildings were terrribly damaged.

Here’s something super unusual about school in Liberia. When kids do measurement in maths, they are working in feet and inches; and ounces and pounds. Which, believe me, is way harder than metres and kilometres, grams and kilograms. How many metres in a kilometre? 1000! How many grams in a kilo? 1000! How may inches in foot? 12. How many ounces in a pound? 16. It doesn’t get any easier from there, believe me!

Liberia is one of only three countries in the WORLD not to use the metric system. The others are America, and Myanmar.

Okay, I promised we’d talk more about the Liberian rainforest… which contains some incredible creatures.

About five years ago, a new national park was set up in Liberia, to help protect 30% of Liberia’s forests from being chopped down.

I’ll put a link in your episode notes to a video that’s been called “a joy to all nature-lovers”. It’s made up of clips of footage taken from 500 different hidden cameras placed in the Grebo-Kahn national park for eight months. The seven minutes of highlights show 23 different animal species, many of them endangered, going about their business when there are no humans around.

As much as I loved seeing the western chimpanzees and monkeys, I was a little embarrassed to realise that there are animals on the video that I had never heard of before.

There’s the bongo, which is not a kind of drum, but a type of forest antelope. It’s a reddish brown animal that has between 10 and 15 white vertical stripes on its coat – experts believe the bongos use these stripes to identify each other.

Then there’s the African civet, which is often mistake for a cat, but is a different kind of nocturnal mammal. And get this… both male and female civets produce a substance from the glands near their bums that, when diluted, apparently smells amazing. I’m serious! It’s used in perfume all the time, and it costs more than $500 a kilo!!! There’s a whole industry made up of people who scrape secretions from live civets. Now there’s a job I never knew existed.

There are tons of other animals to see and learn about in Liberia – so make sure you watch that video when you have some spare time to search and learn more.

I’ve learned a ton about Liberia, and now I’m starving! I think it might be…

Before it was called Liberia, the area was known as The Pepper Coast… that’s peppers as in chillies, not the black stuff that goes with salt. Portugese explorers called this area the pepper coast because there were so many melegueta chillies growing there.

And, not surprisingly, people tend to eat what grows in their environment… So Liberians love spicy food!
It is said that parents put small pieces of chillies in their kids’ noses and mouths to help them build up a tolerance to spice! Yikes!

So the national dish of Libera is a spicy soup that is flavoured with fresh prawns and chunks of meat … and has a kind of dumpling in it made from cassava – a root vegetable that’s really common in west Africa. I’ve put a recipe link in your episode notes that gives you some alternatives, if you can’t find cassava at your local shops.

Now the name of this national dish made me laugh when I first saw it – it’s called dumboy! But it’s got nothing to do with a silly boy… the name comes from the Bassa language: “buoy” means cassava, and “dor” means mortar, the thing you grind the cassava in. But it could be fun to tell your friends you ate a dumboy.

This is the part of the podcast where you get to test how well you’ve been listening.

Question 1. What does the word “Liberia” mean?
Question 2. If you have a spare $500 and want to smell nice, you might buy the secretions of which animal?
Question 3. Which units do Australians use instead of ounces and pounds?