With two devastating civil wars casting a shadow over its modern image, it’s often forgotten that Liberia was the first African republic to proclaim its independence—a feat it accomplished back in 1847. Even more impressive is the fact that this tiny nation, founded by an upstart group that encouraged free African Americans to migrate to Africa, was able to maintain its sovereignty in the face of intense European colonization, which by the time it was over, left nearly 90 percent of the continent’s total landmass in the hands of foreign powers.
These are points of pride for Liberians today—and they are on full display at the Liberian National Museum. The institution is housed in an old executive mansion in downtown Monrovia that was damaged and looted during both civil wars but has been subsequently upgraded and repaired with the assistance of UNESCO.
While much of the museum’s collection was carried off by rebels and locals exploiting the chaos of the Second Liberian Civil War, several key artifacts remain, including a 250-year-old dining table that Queen Victoria gave to Joseph Jenkins Roberts, Liberia’s first president.
Today, the museum’s ground floor has an impressive collection of musical instruments, masks, and other crafts that provide a strong introduction to the country’s indigenous tribes and traditions, while the second and third floors chronicle the country’s founding, challenges, and successes, including the recent Ebola epidemic.
Know Before You Go
The museum is open from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. daily except for Sunday, when it is typically closed. Guided tours are available.