Travel Diary

Through the Lens: Liberia

@conmanslim

"Monrovia is right on the coast and the beaches are stunning. In the evenings they are flooded with people playing football and socialising as the fishermen come with their catch."

Photographer, Conor Beary, recounts his favourite parts of Liberia; a lush, green land where nature is reclaiming itself with its outstanding beauty and liveliness. Beary also has had the privilege of photographing the Liberian Dancing Devils: a group who assume the role of bush devils, spirits that originate from the spiritual world of the ‘Poro’ - meaning ‘bush’ - but are not considered as evil presences. Their existence has long been a part of the culture of important ethnic groups that have shaped the country into what it is today. We speak to him about his experiences visiting the country and how he came to know of the Devils.

How would you describe Liberia and its people to someone who’s never been?

It’s a beautiful place. The colours of the city are as vibrant as the people. Monrovia is right on the coast and the beaches are stunning. In the evenings they are flooded with people playing football and socialising as the fishermen come with their catch. It doesn’t have a massive amount of tourism I think due to its issues in the past but it’s picking up. The people are friendly and warm, resourceful and sharing.

What are some of your favourite memories and experiences of Liberia?

Well, my wife’s family are Liberian and live out there, so that’s how I was first introduced to Liberia. It’s given me the chance to see real Liberian culture and delve straight into the heart of it, rather than just travel as a photographer and tourist. Christmas is a special time there. Many people who have grown up abroad travel back there for Christmas, so there are some mad parties around that time. Aside from that I started a project out there teaching kids about cameras and how to use them to tell their own stories. That was a great experience; it’s something I’m hoping to publish soon as part of a wider project. The photos they took are really cool.

How would you describe the atmosphere of Monrovia? Is it a reflection of the other parts of Liberia you’ve been to?

Monrovia to me seems at a lot of a higher pace than the other places I’ve visited. Definitely a lot busier. The atmosphere is electric, constant bustling around, always someone doing something. The interior seems like it’s at a slower pace and a lot quieter. But again I’m a foreigner and don’t have the best knowledge of the place so I’m sure there are some other very energetic places I haven’t travelled to yet.

Are there any local customs, dishes or phrases that someone dreaming of visiting Liberia should know?

I’m not sure if they are exclusive to Liberia; I think the Western coast share a lot of dishes, but: Cassava Leaf and Rice, Tobahgee, Fish gravy with Cassava, Edo and/or plantains. Fufu and soup is a favourite of mine. And Palava sauce!

In terms of sayings - I'm definitely the wrong person to ask. I’m just an English boy so it would kind of be like asking a Liberian boy about Cockney rhyming slang and my wife’s family are sure to rip the piss out of me for mocking and sayings.

One that I like though is “where is my Christmas?”, which is used when people are asking if they are going to get tipped for something around Christmas time. At first I didn’t understand and was constantly telling people “well it’s on the 25th mate!”

Tell us about the Dancing Devils. How did you come about photographing them?

I saw my first Devil at a football match. I’m not really a fan of football but I heard a witch doctor would be there so I was keen to meet him. Lovely guy. For a nominal fee he will bless the team you support to win. Anyway, it was after a few beers in and all of a sudden a Dancing Devil on stilts showed up. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and fell in love straight away. My mate that was with me there knew a lot about the Dancing Devils and after that completely changed my idea of what I wanted to photograph. We spent the rest of my trip driving round looking for devils, when I wasn’t at family gatherings or the parties.

Honestly, the place is amazing. I constantly miss it when I’m not there - it has this infectious draw to it. If you ever get the chance to go I would highly recommend it.

All photography by: Conor Beary

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