The Liberian culture speaks of the way Liberians should dress and act. Additionally, it teaches good morals and societal norms, varying from tribe to tribe. However, many Liberians in urban communities are gradually forgetting their cultural heritage and have substituted it with western cultural forms. This trend reaches even to the interior part of the country where the culture is observed and practiced to the fullest.
Now-a-days, more than ever, children born in urban communities may not often have opportunity to witness Liberian cultural activities. This lack of exposure leads to a gradual elimination of a nation’s heritage which, when experienced by the majority of the citizens, would set it apart from the rest of the world. In an effort to preserve Liberian culture, school authorities have instilled required activities which demonstrate and showcase the beautiful and meaningful culture of Liberia. Such cultural celebrations in primary schools are not required on special days, rather, schools can choose days suitable. Normally, school cultural activities come at the end of the academic year when students are finished with their exams.
Purpose for celebrating African Costume Day
Looking back on the Liberian culture, the celebration of the African Costume Day is intended to remind Liberians of the values attached to their deep cultural heritage.
Group of girls dressed in the Gbandi cultural attire and demonstrating their talents in a dance competition against the Bassa boys dressed without shirt and slippers with the Vai tribal chief in the midst.
African Costume Day is mostly characterized by the displaying of different African attires. The occasion brings back memories of a cultural value that dignifies Liberia among other nations. In this way children are reminded that their country has a long history of culture and which needs to be upheld. During the ceremony, awards are presented to the best dressed children; this aspect of the occasion challenges parents to go the extra mile in fully dressing their kids in a way that represents the tribes they belong to. Though the way school children dress during the African costume day defers from the regular dress styles of Liberians today, it allows Liberians to reflect on how their people lived decades ago.
The Liberian dress fashion
Now-a-days, many Liberians use western branded clothes and dress more like westerners. It is therefore very difficult to distinguish the difference between the Liberian dress fashion and the rest of the world. However, Liberians have a way to dress using fashion designed African clothes and clothes locally made with cotton that they themselves grow. Despite the adoption of western branded clothes, many Liberians regularly dress in their typical Liberian dress called the “country clothes” as well as beautifully made African dresses. This is why the occasion marking the celebration of African Costume Day is characterized holistically by the displaying of different beautiful African attires.
The celebrations come with great enthusiasm. School children are very eager for the day to arrive from the moment that school authorities announce the day. During the celebrations, school children dress in different traditional attires according to their own cultural background. They mark themselves with chalk polishing and decorate their faces and bodies so as to become too difficult to recognize them
from a distance. They dress in their different attires while holding various instruments signifying the common values and practices that must be upheld. The young boys carry cutlass, spare and climber (a well plaited rattan used to climb palm trees). These instruments symbolize that Liberians are people who rely on farming and this value must not, in any way, be over looked. It also symbolizes that society has assigned specific roles to men. The young girls, on the other hand, carry in their hands calabash and small knives, symbolizing their societally assigned roles.
The celebrations can be very colorful with different attires representing the different tribes in Liberia. The girls’ dress and attire covers their breasts and buttocks, parts which by interpretation, means the sensitive body parts of women that should be covered at all times. They go bare-footed to remember the early days when people walked without slippers.
Among the activities that mark the occasion is the dance competition. Children represent their various tribes in the competition displaying dance styles unique to their tribal group. Awards are presented to the best dancing tribe. Following the dance competition is the “country cook” activity where favorite foods of the different tribes are prepared. Children get the opportunity to make choices for the kind of food they like most.