Diamonds for Peace has been working in an artisanal diamond mining community named Weasua in Liberia since the end of 2018. In this article, you can learn about what Weasua is like.
WEASUA is a rural community in Liberia, located in the Gbarma District, Gbarpolu County in the west of Liberia. It is approximately 150 kilometers from the country’s capital Monrovia. The Weasua community consists of Weasua Town and 16 satellite villages. According to history, this town was established in the early 1950s by a veteran fisherman from the Gola ethnic tribe in Liberia. One day he came to this place where he saw many rivers situated in the same place and very close to each other. Being a fisherman, he was fascinated by the environment and found it an opportunity to live near rivers so that he wouldn’t need to travel as far for his fishing duties. He built his home (a camp) in the midst of the rivers and called the place ‘‘Weasua’’, which in the Gola dialect means ‘‘in the midst of waters’’. Weasua Town is situated on a peninsula that projects into many waters northward. On the west side, the community is bounded by the Lofa river (one of the six principal rivers in Liberia), which runs parallel with the river Wea-Gbenie from north and the two rivers joining southward of the community. Both the rivers Butulu and Wea-Gay run from east to west of the community. There are also other small rivers like the river Wea-Ma-Gun that runs from the north and joins with the river Butulu southward.
The fisherman and his family happily lived in this camp because they had discovered a very fruitful source for their livelihood in the abundance of the rivers. As others found that living in this place was good, they and thus moved as well and thus the community began to grow slowly. Other people later joined the community; they had different professions– some were miners and other were farmers. The miners soon discovered that the community wan not only a better place to live because of the rivers and supply of fish, but also for minerals (predominantly diamonds and some gold).
As they started to mine, the miners discovered that the community had deposits of diamonds and soon, the news of this discovery spread like wildfire; people from across Liberia’s 15 political subdivisions (counties) rushed in to get their share. As the mining continued, people recovered more diamonds and many of the people who came into the community decided they would not go back to their homes but rather make Weasua their permanent home. The community continued to expand both in size and in population and is currently the permanent home to over 5,000 people.
Who are the residents and where did they come from
The majority of the residents of Weasua Town are people who come from different communities across Liberia with diverse cultural backgrounds. Others are foreigners from Liberia’s neighboring countries of Guinea, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast; very few of them are from Ghana, Nigeria, Mali and Senegal. All of these people live in Weasua because of the diamond factor.
Liberia consists of 16 tribes within 15 counties, and Weasua has representation from all of these tribes. Although residents have spent most of their lives in Weasua and with no intention of returning to their home countries, they are still referred to by some of the Gola people, the original settlers of the land, as ‘‘Uniquel’’ (which means strangers). They are often trying to dispel this mindset of the Gola tribal group that they are no longer strangers because many of them were born and grew up in Weasua.
The literacy status of the people
Although the Weasua community has had an elementary and junior high school since the late 1950s, the majority residents are illiterate. This is not unique to Weasua though, as illiteracy is common in the majority of rural communities in Liberia. However, one can easily imagine the reason for the high illiteracy rate is because adult residents migrated to Weasua for diamond work, and due to civil wars later, schools were prevented from opening. This is now changing though, as the majority of the children are attending school and trying to break the cycle of illiteracy.
Religious background of the people
In Liberia there are two major religions – Christianity and Islam. These religions are spread all over the country. However, in some towns and villages, only one of these religions (mostly Christianity) is present. Weasua is an exception to this as half of the residents are Christian and the other half are Muslim. Peaceful coexistence is cardinal to the residents and they promote religious tolerance on a daily basis. It is a custom that whenever they come together for an activity or meeting, they pray to God before and after. In this case, they allow one of the religions to pray in the beginning and the other after finishing the activity or meeting to show tolerance and respect for each other. It is the same with the cooperative here as half of the members are Christian and the other half are Muslim.
The social and livelihood activities of the community residents
Fishery initially attracted the pioneers to settle on the land, but mining became the major source of livelihood as other people followed. Nowadays, as the volume of diamonds is decreasing in the community, some of the miners have looked to agriculture as an alternative means of livelihood; they grow rice (Liberia’s staple food) and vegetables. Others are running small businesses as a backup to support their mining activities. A very small part of the population continues to find their livelihoods through fishery.
Socially, the people are friendly; they have established numerous small social groups in support of common interests of their group members.
The youth (boys and girls) are regularly engaged in sporting activities; mainly soccer for the boys and kick ball for the girls. Occasionally, the adults also play sports to remind themselves of their youthful days while also exercising their bodies.
As they engage in these social activities, they cement their social bond which contributes greatly to their peaceful coexistence.
Boys playing soccer in early evening
The governance structure of the community
Because the residents come from diverse cultural backgrounds, they have different beliefs and ways of life. However, they need to peacefully coexist regardless of their cultural difference as they now live together in the same community. Therefore, in order to promote a peaceful coexistence, the community has organized the governance structure in such a way that the different tribes are sub-governed by their own tribal chiefs. The tribal chiefs manage the issues within their tribal groups. If an issue is beyond the control of a tribal chief, s/he defers to the senior tribal chief who is the head of all the tribal chiefs in the town. If the senior tribal chief cannot resolve the issue, s/he defers to the town chief.
Weasua Town has a general town chief and there are also several town chiefs who manage the affairs of satellite villages. Then there is a general town chief function that supersedes the town chief for Weasua Town and all the town chiefs from the satellite villages. The various town chiefs govern the activities of their towns but they report to the general town chief, especially in matters that they cannot control.
Owing to their long stay, foreigners have been integrated into the community. They are also sub-governed by their own leaders. In furtherance of the governance structure, the community has also set in place general leadership to oversee the general governance of the community. There is a town chief, who is the head chief in the town and controls all the leaders of the sub-groups. The town chief is ably aided by co-leaders who are in charge of community governance at different levels according to gender and age. For example, there is a youth leader who oversees youth affairs, a dean of elders who oversees the affairs of the elders, and a chair-lady who oversees women’s affairs.
Once, a hunter killed a man in one of the satellite villages. Although the killing was believed to be accidental, it needed to be investigated and the appropriate penalties applied. A murder case is a state crime and therefore had to be handled by a state court within the county. However, the situation first needed to be put under control at the crime scene before being reported and forwarded to the requisite state court. To ensure the situation was brought under control, the satellite village chief arrested the alleged murderer and turned him over to the community general town chief. The general town chief in consultation with the clan chief reported the case and handed the man over to the circuit court in the county capital of Bopolu City to face trial. This is how the governance structure of the community operates; in the case one leader cannot handle a certain situation, s/he defers to the next higher authority.
Testimonies of some residents
Isaac (a cooperative member, Christian)
I moved here in 1999 as an employee of the Ministry of Mines and Energy (MME) to work as a senior patrolman. Ever since that time, I have continued to live in Weasua although I retired three years ago. It was never my intention to live here for this long, but when I came, I quickly integrated into the community as I found my wife. I think Weasua is a good place to live; the residents are good to each other, everyone is respected regardless of where s/he comes from, and we have freedom to live and work in whatever ways as long as we don’t break the community rules or violate the rights of others.
Now that I am retired, I have started mining diamonds, but it is not easy to find diamonds these days. Life is really tough here nowadays.
Aisha (a cooperative member, Muslim)
I was born and raised in Weasua. For me living in this community is a privilege because God provided multiple sources for livelihoods. For example, the rivers, the forest and the diamonds and gold. All these are factors that make Weasua a wonderful place to live. Although mining diamonds is the major source of livelihood here, people can also make their living from the forest by growing different crops for consumption and for commercial purposes because the soil here is rich. The rivers also provide a strong alternative for livelihood; some of the residents make their living from fishery.
On another note, this place is close to the capital city (Monrovia)*; this is an advantage for the residents, because they can easily bring things from there.
I enjoy the social affiliation with the community residents; the people are peaceful and supportive. I really like it here.
*It takes about six to seven hours by car from the capital city to Weasua on a dirt road. You may think it is not “close to the capital.” However, she says it is close because there are many rural communities in Liberia that you need more than one full day to reach.
Although Weasua is a rural community, its governance system is complex unlike many other rural communities in Liberia. Their local governance system continues to help them to peacefully coexist regardless of the religious and cultural differences.
With the abundance of rivers, the residents enjoy organic fish and the beautiful scenery of the rivers.
Front photo: A fisherman preparing for a fishing duty (c) Diamonds for Peace