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Ganta: A Mission in Liberia

The African continent is a complex landscape of peoples, cultures, languages, and history. For centuries various European colonial powers vied with one another on the continent to obtain slaves, wealth, and influence. This resulted in the imposition of political boundaries on African territory without regard for indigenous social polities.

Liberia is located along the northwest coast of Africa and is situated between Sierra Leone and the Ivory Coast. The country of Liberia was founded in 1820, primarily as a home for repatriated African-American slaves. Lott Cary, a Christian missionary and early leader of Liberia, was a former slave from Charles City County, Virginia.

The Christian founders of Liberia modeled the new government's constitution on that of the United States and established their capital at Monrovia. For more than a century Liberia was the only republic in Africa. The Christian settlers clashed with the indigenous populations and actively sought to eradicate many of the traditional cultural and religious practices, including those associated with secret societies and sacred masks. The establishment of missions in the Liberian hinterland was encouraged by the Monrovia government as part of their pacification of the region.

During World War II the extraction and production of rubber, under the direction of the Firestone Company, brought prosperity as well as capitalist hegemony to Liberia. By the late twentieth century tensions in local and global forces led to the eruption of a civil war, which succeeded in destroying much of the infrastructure and wealth of the country.

The Ganta Mission was founded by the Harleys early in 1926 in an area inhabited by the Mano people. The mission was located along one of the only roads connecting northeastern Liberia with adjacent French colonies. This road functioned as an important crossroads for West Africa, enabling the Harleys to interact with dominant peoples in the region.