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Liberian Food and Rural Lifestyle

In the following interview, Mr. Ikuo Shibuya, who stayed in Liberia for eight months (August 2011) talks about Liberian food and lifestyle.

Mr. Shibuya was a resident in Rivercess County, a six-hour drive east of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. From personal experience, he describes, in detail, the local way of life in Rivercess which is very different from that in Monrovia.

Note: This page contains descriptions and photos that some viewers may find disturbing.

A map of Liberia: Rivercess County enclosed by the blue line
A map of Liberia: Rivercess County enclosed by the blue line

Editor: What did you do in Liberia?

Mr. Shibuya: I belonged to a joint venture between Japan and Liberia. I was engaged in building a workplace for mining after my company decided to start a mining business in Rivercess County. A village along a road where I lived had a population of about 300 and no infrastructures such as electricity, gas and water supplies. I was able to buy the bare necessities of life at some small shops in the village.

Editor: How did you communicate with the local staffs?

Mr. Shibuya: Liberians use English as an official language, but people in local areas speak their own languages. In Rivercess County, where I stayed, the locals use a language called “Bassa”. Of course, I could not speak it, so I communicated with them in English or with gestures.

Bush Meat

Editor: We hear that the local people like to eat meat from wild animals. What kind of meat do they eat?

Mr. Shibuya: Basically, they seem to eat any animal they can catch in the forest such as monkeys, deer, mice, squirrels, anteaters, porcupines, bats, snakes, frogs and lizards. They also eat livestock like chickens, goats, sheep, and pigs. They call these kinds of meat “bush meat”.

A squirrel caught by a local
A squirrel caught by a local

The government sent a message “Eating wild animals should be avoided” due to the widespread Ebola virus disease in Liberia. However, whether the locals accept the advice is questionable because “bush meat” is essential as food as well as a source of income in their daily life.

A pangolin caught by a local
A pangolin caught by a local

Editor: How do they capture these wild animals?

Mr. Shibuya: They catch the animals by setting traps in the forest a few days earlier or go hunting with rifles. Some people specialize in hunting and they sometimes came to my office to sell the hunted animals.

Insects are also precious food and called “Bokobou” by the local people.
Insects are also precious food and called “Bokobou” by the local people.

Editor: How much does it cost to buy the hunted animals?

Mr. Shibuya: I bought a monkey and it cost about USD 7. In Liberia monkeys are regarded as precious food. Actually, I shared the monkey with 10 Liberian coworkers and saw them eat all of it from the brain to the bones.

How to Cook

Editor: How do the local people cook wild animals including monkeys?

Mr. Shibuya: Basically, they barbecue the animals. They roast and smoke the creatures after preparing and cleaning them. When they barbecue the animals without dressing them completely like removing their organs, the filth inside the animal bodies sometimes gets splattered after the bodies are ruptured by being filled with gas during the time of cooking. Even though they cook the creatures thoroughly, there remains a concern about their health and hygiene.

Bush meat being barbecued.
Bush meat being barbecued.

Editor: How did the monkey taste?

Mr. Shibuya: It is so difficult to explain, but the monkey had the strangest taste I had ever eaten; very similar to a smoked animal.

Other Food

Editor: What do they eat in addition to wild animals?

Mr. Shibuya: They usually eat foods such as “Potato Green”, rice with leaves of sweet potatoes or “Cassava Rice”, cassavas seasoned with palm oil, “Fufu”, cassavas pounded like rice-cakes and “Palm Butter”, rice with fish sauce and meat boiled in palm oil. While the Japanese eat “sweet potatoes” not their leaves, to my surprise, the Liberian prefer the “leaves”. When I grew sweet potatoes in a field, I was puzzled that my Liberian coworkers had harvested the leaves before the potatoes grew bigger.

A man chopping up the leaves of sweet potatoes.
A man chopping up the leaves of sweet potatoes.
Potato Green: rice with leaves of sweet potatoes seasoned with palm oil
Potato Green: rice with leaves of sweet potatoes seasoned with palm oil
Palm Butter
Palm Butter: rice with fish sauce and meat boiled in palm oil
Soup being cooked in a pot
Soup being cooked in a pot

The locals also like to have “Farina” for breakfast which is grated and dried cassavas mixed with sugar and milk.

The village is situated along a river so they often eat soup made with fish, shrimps and crabs after catching them with a fishing pole or a trap in the river. When I stayed there, I was able to have a meal (mainly rice and soup) for about USD 1.40.

Editor: How many meals a day do they have?

Mr. Shibuya: I think many of them have two meals a day. It takes 2 to 3 hours to prepare a meal; that is to say, they spend one-third of a day for meal preparation.

A field of sweet potatoes grown by Mr. Shibuya
A field of sweet potatoes grown by Mr. Shibuya

A few days after he took this photo, their leaves were harvested and placed on dishes.

Rural Lifestyle

Editor: Could you tell us anything else about their lifestyle?

Mr. Shibuya: There was a school near my office which probably had about 100 students and 5 or 6 teachers. I understand that every morning students have to bring their own chairs to the school because the chairs typically are stolen if they are left at school.

A school near his office
A school near his office

Editor: Could you tell us about the local medical institutions?

Mr. Shibuya: Malaria is a common disease in the area. Usually the locals, even when they suffer from infection diseases, do not go to the hospital but rather buy medicines from drug sellers in the village or take folk medicines. Sadly, some over-the-counter drugs are ineffective.

Editor: Why don’t they go to the medical institutions?

Mr. Shibuya: Because they cannot often get drugs in the hospital due to the stock shortage. They also seem to have a distrust of health workers’ skills.

Editor: Thank you for sharing your valuable story today.

Mr. Shibuya answering questions.
Mr. Shibuya answering questions.

(This interview was conducted by DFP editors, Chie Murakami and Hanae Aida in Yokohama City, Japan in September 2014)

Photo Credit: TRY International Inc.