Libmonster ID: IN-1355
Author(s) of the publication: T. S. DENISOVA
Educational Institution \ Organization: Institute of Africa, Russian Academy of Sciences

Keywords: civil wars, africa, liberia, poro, sande, religious rituals

At the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries, Liberia experienced two civil wars that were directly related to each other and were characterized by a high level of violence. About 150 thousand people were killed in clashes between armed groups, as well as between them and government forces, and more than 1 million were refugees.

The first civil war (1989-1997) began on Christmas night in 1989, when a group of fighters from the National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) led by Charles Taylor invaded the territory of the Liberian county* A halo from neighboring Ivory Coast. By the end of 1990. Taylor controlled more than 90% of the country's territory, but was unable to capture the capital Monrovia, which was joined by the splinter Independent National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) led by Prince Johnson, who killed Liberian President Samuel Doe (1980-1990) in September 1990. To resolve the conflict in August 1990, the Economic Community of West African Countries (ECOWAS) sent a military contingent of this organization, ECOMOG, which mainly consisted of Nigerian soldiers and officers, to Liberia. The search for reconciliation began. In the summer of 1992, there were several clashes between the APFL and a new armed faction ,the United Liberation Movement of Liberia for Democracy (ULIMO). In October 1992. Taylor tried to capture Monrovia, but with the combined efforts of ECOMOG, ULIMO and the Liberian army, his offensive was repulsed.

The first civil war, despite the signing of several cease-fire agreements, actually lasted until 1997, when elections were held, as a result of which Ch. Taylor, the initiator of the war, became president.

The existence of numerous military and political groups in the country and the accumulation of firearms against the background of economic decline and political instability led to the outbreak of the second Liberian war (1999-2003). Under the auspices of ECOWAS, negotiations between the parties to the conflict and the transfer of UN peacekeeping troops from Sierra Leone to Monrovia began in May 2002. As a result, Taylor was forced to leave the post of head of state, transferring power to the vice president. By October 2004, more than 100,000 militants had been disarmed.

In April 2012, Taylor was found guilty by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

EXOTIC OR ANCESTRAL SPIRITS?

Western journalists traveling to Liberia to cover the hot spot were surprised to see the militants posing-especially in the early months of the war-in costumes that might otherwise have been considered carnival costumes. Many male fighters wore women's wigs and dresses, decorated themselves with human bones, and hung themselves with amulets1. As a result, Liberia, which was already little known to Europeans and Americans, began to be perceived as something located at the junction of primitive savagery with Hollywood "horror movies". "Welcome to Liberia, the site of one of the most bizarre and violent African wars, "the Washington Post wrote. "It's a war where stoned soldiers paint their nails bright red-


* Similar to the United States administrative system, where states are divided into counties, the territory of Liberia is divided into 15 counties.

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red color before going into battle... This is the only war that involves a unit of soldiers completely undressing before a battle... This is a war in which child soldiers carry a plastic doll in one hand and an AK-47 in the other and paint their faces with makeup or clay, thinking that this will protect them from bullets. " 2

Of course, such reports should not be ignored, but it is necessary to carefully understand the essence of phenomena that only at first glance seem to go beyond common sense. It should be borne in mind that some of the violence and particularly violent behavior of the militants who participated in the Liberian wars relate to traditional rituals and spiritual symbols of the past.

Many participants in the war quite sincerely believed that it was the gods and spirits who controlled them in their actions. And this was not their personal perverse view of reality, but a consequence of the adoption of the concept that religion, faith - the main tools for the formation of socio-political order. It is known that the majority of believers, whether Christians, Muslims or adherents of traditional beliefs, sincerely believe in the importance of religious rituals.

Religious ideas were so important to shaping Liberians ' views of the events they witnessed that many of them actually believed that they were being controlled by an otherworldly will. "Hallelujah! Prince Johnson shouted to a group of terrified residents of Monrovia after his assassination of President S. Doe. "I destroyed Dou by the power of God! I've killed a lot of people... Thank God! " 3.

People often rely on the help of a God or gods when they go to war. Many African tribes in the past believed that killing for power and wealth was perfectly acceptable in certain circumstances. However, this did not mean that for the most part they were ready to justify anyone who committed a murder "at the direction of God." The spiritual world of the people who inhabited the modern territory of Liberia was in the past governed by rules and procedures that provided for certain restrictions on the actions of such initiators or participants in violence as Ch. Taylor, P. Johnson, S. Doe, and others.

Many Liberians believed and continue to believe that everything that happens around them and their own actions are a reflection of the turbulence of the invisible world, which manifests itself in phenomena, signs and symbols. President S. Doe, for example, believed that his destiny was controlled by some force that he considered divine. Just like Jeanne d did in her time.'Ark and other heroes of the past, he also heard "voices", for example, who promptly warned him about the upcoming coup in November 1985. Dow's entourage believed that the head of state was immune to bullets and had the ability to disappear in case of danger, even a plane crash. He cultivated contacts with sorcerers, medicine men, fortune tellers, and priests of religious cults throughout Africa. In order to strengthen his power, he was allegedly able, according to people close to him, to drink the blood of an enemy or eat a fetus cut out of the womb of a pregnant woman. 4

The commander of the special forces of the NPFL, and then the leader of the NNPFL P. Johnson was also constantly preoccupied with "spiritual issues," and forced to relinquish his presidential bid in 1993, he began attending a theological college in Nigeria and later declared himself the new Jesus Christ.5

Apart from the importance of tradition, including the extent of adherence to traditional religious beliefs in this West African country, the behavior of many Liberians during armed clashes may seem inadequate. This is how it was described by many Western journalists and, surprisingly, even researchers. Indeed, visually, the armed clashes between the Liberian militia units, as well as between them and the regular army, presented a sharp contrast to the Gulf War that began around the same time - in August 1990 - during which the warring parties had the latest weapons and equipment.

Events in Africa in the 1990s (the wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Sudan, the genocide in Rwanda, and others) seemed to convince the "civilized world" that Africa had sunk into anarchy tinged with savagery and superstition.

All Liberian armed factions have adapted various symbols of military might, fearlessness, and invulnerability. The most popular among them were ropes, bundles of herbs, dog tails and the heads of roosters, preferably black. In the absence of such items, which were used by priests during magical activities, even regular army soldiers, who were somewhat estranged from traditional life, but did not lose faith in talismans and amulets, supplemented their military uniforms with wigs, gas masks and headphones that were not attached to anything. 6

PORO AND SANDE

In rural areas of the north-west of the country, religious societies such as Poro (for men) and Sande (for women) continued to play an important role in socio-political life, including during the war, and practiced a certain model of initiation.

Leaders of armed groups, especially the leader of the National Patriotic Front of Liberia, Charles Taylor, tried to "take care" of the "spiritual support" of their movements by otherworldly forces throughout the conflict. Training of new recruits began with a quick ritual that resembled an initiation ceremony, during which the militants were tattooed or small cuts on the skin, so that they received "immunity" from enemy bullets. During the initiation, they were shot with a gun loaded (secretly, if it could be kept) with blanks to prove the effectiveness of the ritual. For users-

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Either "specialists" were invited to participate in the action, or it was charged with the duties of field commanders. The ceremony was often performed by priests of Poro, who were able to convince young soldiers of their invulnerability.7

Liberians - adherents of traditional beliefs-believe that they live in a space populated and controlled by invisible, personalized spiritual beings who interact with people in different ways. Spirits could be made visible by using masks used in many religious rituals.

Although traditional beliefs have changed significantly in recent decades, masks are still popular in provincial areas of Liberia, especially in the north and west of the country. In the central regions, masks are directly involved in the control of spiritual forces over local communities.8

Poro and Sande, which use masks extensively, are controlled by local councils of elders in the Liberian outback. The rituals they perform are usually hidden from the eyes of outsiders. Some members of the Poro are also members of other societies, often associated with certain skills and abilities, such as the ability to heal from snake bites.

Different aspects of the organization of Poro and Sande rituals have led researchers to identify them as secret societies, although this is not entirely legitimate, since in many communities all adult men and women are members of them and do not hide this. "Secrecy" is more about the ways in which information - historical, ritual - related, witchcraft-related, etc. - is transmitted from the teacher to selected students, rather than an attempt to exclude fellow students from participating. Within the Poro society, there are higher priestly levels, which can only be reached gradually, moving from step 9 to step 9.

Just because a certain religious practice qualifies as traditional does not mean that it does not change. Rather, its use indicates the way of thinking of indigenous Liberians (i.e., those living in the deep, forested areas, rather than the American-Liberian settlers who arrived in what is now Liberia in the 19th century) and their understanding of ideas inherited from previous generations, as opposed to introduced.

Some traditional institutions have been significantly transformed in a generation in response to changes in public life, but Poro societies still play an important religious and political role in rural areas, although they are weaker than they were in the past.

FOREST DEVIL

All religious organizations have their own ideas about the nature of power in human society. According to the priests of Poro, it is carried out by invisible spirits inhabiting the world, primarily the spirits of animals and ancestors, who easily penetrate the shells of living people. A person who is possessed by the spirit loses his own soul for a time. The spirit of the forest is known in modern Liberian English as the Forest Devil. By the early Christian missionaries who introduced this designation, it was definitely used with a negative connotation, since in Christianity the devil is the personification of evil. Meanwhile, if the forest spirit is intimidating and dangerous for members of the Poro society, it does not correspond in any way to the Devil in the Christian sense. Rather, it symbolizes the power that can be used to punish-in the interests of the community-a criminal or apostate. Thus, the forest spirit acts as a guarantor of order.

Many literary and scientific descriptions of religious rituals are somewhat vague. This also applies to human sacrifice, which for indigenous Liberians was a form of contact between the human and otherworldly worlds.

The practice of sacrificing a person and eating human flesh, considered by Western and American-Liberian researchers as cannibalism, caused a strong antipathy of "civilized" people to this phenomenon. However, this practice has different meanings for different - for example, African and European-human societies. To understand the reasons for its spread among Liberian militants in the 1980s and 2000s, it is necessary to trace the history of this practice in the current territory of the country.

Some anthropologists believe that the rumors about "eating human flesh" have no real basis or concern only the most powerful and powerful representatives of traditional societies.10 At the same time, the question arises whether this process is really part of a religious ritual, or whether it is just a metaphor, a verbal form.

Other researchers do not doubt the truth of the rumors of cannibalism, pointing out that among certain groups of forest dwellers in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia who shared common religious beliefs, eating flesh was sanctioned at least occasionally by the chieftains.11

Stories of human sacrifice in Liberia were mostly associated with secret societies. There were groups of people who believed that from time to time they were possessed by the spirits of predatory animals and that in this state they could perform ritual murder. At the beginning of the 20th century, the country's authorities declared these societies illegal, but some of them continued to exist secretly. However, the conditions in which religious rituals, including sacrifices, were performed and the people responsible for them gradually transformed , to the point that ceremonies were held - for example, during the Liberian civil wars of the 1990s and 2000s - outside the control of the religious hierarchy and without the approval of the community.

Religious institutions are still called "forest schools"by modern Liberians with a sufficient degree of correctness. Among the kpelle, mano, loma and some other tribal

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Poro is an organization that continues to provide initiation services for young people in north-western Liberia and adjacent areas of Sierra Leone and Guinea, as well as in some regions of Côte d'Ivoire.

Through Poro, adolescents integrate into adult society and learn to think and act like men. Initiation takes place in a cleared area of the jungle, which is forbidden to outsiders, where the boys are "absorbed" by the spirit of the forest, or the Forest Devil. Young initiates of Poro receive scars on their bodies in the form of patterns, which are considered traces of the teeth of the spirit. In the forest, teenagers live in special camps (similar to militant military bases), where they are introduced to the rituals practiced by the community. They are taught discipline, courage, and certain behaviors, and at the end of the training, which in the past may have lasted 3 years or more, and by the beginning of the civil war in 1989 generally took about two months, the teenager returned home in the status of "reborn". Their former essence was "eaten" by the forest spirit 12.

Although today not all Liberians living in the Poro area of influence have been initiated, especially if they have a Christian missionary background, initiation is still common for Crelle, Loma, and some other tribal entities, even if they have also converted to Christianity. As adults, they can spend additional time in the bush, for example, in connection with the initiation ceremony of the next age group, and thus gain a higher rank in the secret society.

The real control of the local Poro society remains in the hands of the priests known as Zou. Their position is usually inherited and preserved in a narrow circle of religious aristocracy, mostly descendants of local landowners. The religious significance of the land is expressed in the fact that the "born again" return from the bush painted with white clay (earth)- symbol of contact with the spiritual world 13.

Girls enter the adult age category through the Sande Society, which is run by female zoos. In the past, before the introduction of Christian education, a person who was not initiated (in the zones of influence of secret societies) could not be considered an adult and claim a position in the religious or political hierarchy.

OLD AND NEW

We should not underestimate the tendency for a symbiosis of old and new ideals and ideas that are characteristic of a particular tribe and spread to other groups as a result of social mobility. Christian and Muslim ideas have permeated the original religious practice to such an extent that even priests of Poro often become Christians and can serve in other churches.

With the same ease with which members of the Poro accept the existence of otherworldly forces, they believe in the reality of events described in the Bible. The combination of Poro beliefs and Christianity in the Liberian version shows that even the oldest tradition can change.

Although the Government and Christian missions have sought for many years to diminish the political role of Poro, the process has not been straightforward. By encouraging missionary work, the authorities simultaneously supported Poro and Sande, realizing that these traditional institutions instilled discipline and responsibility in young people. A side effect of this policy was the spread of Poro's influence over a large part of the country. The appearance of a new spirit known among the Gio tribe as nana, which neither Poro nor Sande had, was definitely influenced by these secret societies.

The spread of Poro influence predetermined a kind of" porification " of local religions. In southeastern Liberia, where the Poro never existed, other secret religious institutions such as Bodio and Kui, as well as various groups of medicine men and fortune tellers, have developed greatly.14

It is necessary to distinguish between Poro and Sande, on the one hand, and the really secret societies that existed in Liberia, the composition and rituals of which were forbidden to tell even to other members of the community within which they originated. Among them are the so-called snake societies, which specialized in treating reptile bites; societies that established control over thunder and lightning; societies of leopard people or crocodile people, which were possessed by the spirits of these animals. Secret societies of the latter type are still common in many parts of Liberia.

Some varieties of Poro may have appeared in the medieval state of Mali-on the territory of today's Guinea. The fall of this empire in the sixteenth century caused extensive migrations, during which the ancestors of some groups of modern Liberians arrived in the present territory of the country, where they settled among the forest tribes. Mano, mende, Loma, Kissi, kpelle and other subjects of the emperors of Mali had their own Poro societies, the structures and traditions of which were preserved by them during the migration. The secret societies of the original Liberians, the Kru, had a different origin15.

The immigrants combined their customs with local traditions. The fact that the rulers of medieval Mali were Muslims, and most of their subjects were not, influenced the perception of each other by forest and savanna tribes.

The Liberian Mandingos, for example, considered themselves descendants of the rulers of medieval Mali and therefore claimed a high social status, professed Islam and did not have Poro, although they remained carriers of certain esoteric knowledge. Their self-identification had important consequences during the civil war of 1989-1997, when an armed splinter group led by A. Kroma (ULIMO-K), which was dominated by Mandingos, tried to expel the priests of Poro and the memory of this society from the areas it had captured in Lofa County.

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Mandingos destroyed forest shrines, stole masks and other ritual objects, humiliated and destroyed the priests of Poro. This provoked such strong discontent on the part of the local Kpelle and Loma communities that some religious leaders found themselves in refugee camps in Guinea between 1993 and 1994. They sponsored the creation of their own militia - the Lofa Defense Forces (SOL).

Poro's association with the land, the forest, and the spirits of wild animals is certainly due to the sensitivity of forest tribes to nature, to their environment, in which they lived for many centuries and in which their thinking was formed. For traditional Liberians, the forest was home, although in a sense it was a dangerous environment, but also useful for life. People who believed that the spirit world was real and that spirits could possess people were deeply impressed by the "forest schools". It was in the forest camps that they first tasted human flesh. For this purpose, victims were needed, which were boys who broke the laws of Poro and were killed for it. They were sacrificed to the wood spirit, but the soul of the victim continued to exist, as part of it entered those who received its heart or other organs. As a result, some teenagers did not return from the forest, and families were told that they were devoured by the Forest Devil 16.

Integration into the Poro group of priests required the sacrifice of a human being. Obtaining the status of the main zou involved sacrificing one's own son, and in his absence, another close relative.17 Although it is not known with what frequency human sacrifice occurred in twentieth-century Liberia, it was clearly associated with access to or a desire for power.

"LEOPARD MEN"

The practice of human sacrifice is also characteristic of the "leopard people" societies that still exist in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone. One of the first descriptions of them was made by British colonial officials who discovered secret societies of this type in Sierra Leone.18

Interestingly, the British considered the "leopard people" societies to be recent (for that time) entities created to counteract the colonial administration. The groups they studied consisted of mature people who met in secret and regularly performed human sacrifices. Then they ate the flesh of their victims in the hope of mastering their power. The main task was to extract human fat and blood, which smeared the cult object called borfim. Such "feeding" gave strength to him, and at the same time to the members of society. A German doctor who saw the iconic object of the "leopard men" society in the 1940s described it as a piece of black resin the size of a child's head wrapped in cloth or leopard skin. The doctor was told that the appearance of cracks in the resin is taken as a sign that the fetish was hungry 19.

The most powerful fetishes, including those that required "feeding" with human blood, were used during military campaigns that took place in what is now Liberia from time immemorial for the purpose of capturing slaves and plundering. Zou and other priests provided the warriors with fetishes and amulets, many of which were made from individual parts of the human body.

The control of life and death has transformed secret societies into pillars of socio-political order in rural communities. The American-Liberian rulers, who sought to change what they saw as Satanic, supernatural, and outdated by agreement with Christian missions, did not trust the religious societies that existed in the interior areas they intended to control.

However, President E. Berkeley (1930-1944), who persistently pursued a policy of destroying "leopard - man" societies and sent special agents to rural areas for this purpose, was faced with the fact that envoys often joined them themselves and even became cannibals.

In 1975, a missionary working among the poor in what is now Bong County wrote that Poro and Sande continued to perform important disciplinary functions, maintaining respect for traditional values and ensuring stability in a fragile and fragmented society.20 It was this area that became the base of the APFL during the First Liberian War.

The most influential American-Liberian families belonged to various Christian denominations, but gradually Christian communities spread in Liberia, assimilating different aspects of traditional African beliefs or rituals. In turn, many members of Poro, Sande, and other secret societies regularly attended Christian churches, and some Muslims practiced sacrifice. A large number of Liberians belonged to several faiths at the same time, seeking to benefit from this. For example, the Aladura Church, which was brought to Liberia from Nigeria, was famous for providing its parishioners with the opportunity to learn about the future, as well as exorcising the devil from them.

While in Christianity and Islam, good and bad are represented as absolute opposites, personified by God and Satan, in traditional Liberian religious thought, including Poro theology, the spirit of the forest, for example, is considered capable of both evil and good. Moreover, the sacrifice of children and relatives for the sake of preserving the established order of things can not be considered diabolical, because they are made with a noble purpose. However, the question arises who should decide which of the goals is noble and which is not.

Tsch. King was the first Liberian President (1920-1930) to be invited to the Poro initiation ceremony. After leaving office as head of state, he used occult powers to summon lightning, hoping to destroy the house of his successor on the day of the inauguration. According to rumors, he is at-

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he belonged to the "crocodile people". Many leaders of the ruling True Whig Party (IRP) joined secret societies, especially after President E. Berkeley joined one of them. President U. Tubman (1944-1971) was declared honorary head of all Poro societies, and his wife was initiated in Sanda. At the same time, Tubman was the head of a Masonic lodge and one of the leaders of the Methodist Church. In 1952, Tubman placed Poro and Sande under State control by a special act, and the Assistant Secretary of the Interior was to collect ethnographic information and monitor the affairs of secret societies. Tubman's successor, W. Tolbert (1971-1980), was both Zoe Poro and president of the Baptist World Alliance 2'.

At c. Dow (1980 - 1990) patronage of various religious groups has become even more widespread. When he became head of state in 1980, he not only joined the Poro society and proclaimed himself chairman of its supreme council, but also surrounded himself with numerous prophets and shamans, although he periodically imprisoned those whom he considered charlatans. After seizing power, Dow began to go to church regularly, and chose the Baptist church - the court church of President Tolbert, who was killed by him during the coup. The military leader of Liberia also attended the mosque 22.

At the end of 1996, the leader of the NPFL Ch. was also initiated in the Poro. Taylor. This became publicly known on the day of his wedding (to his second wife) at St. John's Methodist Church. John in Gbarnya on January 28, 1997. As one of his names, he listed Dahkpanah , a title used by Zou Poro. For politicians, a special initiation ceremony was approved, which took one day and did not require an extensive tattoo - just a couple of razor cuts under the arm. From the very beginning of the war, Taylor showed his respect for the priests of Poro, who later supported him during the 1997 presidential election.

During the years of the True Whig Party (1969-1980), rumors of ritual killings spread throughout the country. Mostly they were carried out by traditional priests, but there were also so-called hartmen-hired killers who supplied politicians and businessmen who were striving for success with body parts, especially the hearts of those killed by order. The Hartmans were not members of secret societies, but rather free hitmen who specialized in the supply of human organs. Prior to 1980, there were more rumors about ritual murders committed at the behest of high-ranking government officials than there were official confirmations. This is not surprising, since suspicions that the leaders of the state were influenced by forces that a devout Christian would consider diabolical undermined the ideological base of the ruling party. According to people close to him, Dow believed that human sacrifice was a means of gaining spiritual power. Even the construction of the monument to the Unknown Soldier in 1981 in honor of the 1980 coup (destroyed during the first Civil War) was accompanied by human sacrifices. In 1985, soldiers in front of Monrovians ate the body parts of Thomas Kwiwonkpa (commander-in-Chief of the Liberian army), who organized a coup against Doe, which failed. 23 Secretary of Defense Gray Ellison was charged with human sacrifice in August 1989, and although the charge was clearly politically motivated, there was no doubt about his guilt.24 Usually, high-ranking politicians and businessmen did not sacrifice their relatives, but paid for hired killers, i.e. human sacrifice became the subject of purchase and sale.

WAR AND RITUALS

Of course, religious practices influenced the behavior of militants during the war. GIO youth from rural Nimba County were initiated through quasi-traditional rituals. Some smeared their faces with white clay. The militants ' use of women's clothing - transvestism-symbolized military strength, the ability to exist in different guises. Gol's tender ambiguity was common to many living things, objects, and spirits. Transvestites, real or imaginary, appear in a number of their traditional rituals, and tender transformation and bisexuality in gol are characteristic of spirits of wild animals and natural phenomena. In addition, changing clothes symbolize the transformation of a boy into a man, so the use of women's clothing by child soldiers who have transformed into an adult warrior should not surprise Liberians.

The combination of female and male elements in clothing and jewelry has protective functions, and the assignment of military names by militants indicates a change in status, a transformation into another person, usually a well-known warrior. The parts of the human body that rebels adorn themselves with are the most powerful of all possible talismans.

At the beginning of the war, the NPFL sought to gain the support of religious leaders by conducting rituals and attracting healers, fortune tellers, etc. However, they did not have to be Liberians. Despite the fact that there were many zous around, priests were invited from Ivory Coast and other West African countries. This was due to the fact that the young fighters of the NPFL doubted the abilities of the local zou, whom they knew from childhood, but for whom they did not have much respect. Although almost all soldiers believed in rituals and wards, that is, that they would become invulnerable, they were at the same time skeptical of the persons who were supposed to provide this. Since human "sacrifice" in recent decades has been mostly carried out by Hartmen - hired killers, rather than priests-young people have stopped believing that traditional secret societies remain as strong as before.

Only the most prominent zos were considered oblada-

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bodies of great spiritual power. Among them is Singbi, who lived before the war near Mount Gibi in Margibi County, which has a reputation as a spiritual center. Singby may have suffered from polio, but in any case, he had an unusual figure, and stories about his spiritual power - he tied people up at a distance, he was not taken by bullets, etc. - spread throughout the country. NPFL commanders who arrived in the area in 1990 viewed the mountain with caution, but some young skeptical fighters went to the mountains and did not return, as expected, because of the discontent of Singby, who, moreover, formed a local militia to oppose the NPFL. Taylor tried unsuccessfully to win Singby over, offered him the rank of general of the APFL, and even gave him a truck that significantly increased the mobility of the great zou. However, it seems that at some point the spiritual forces left Singbi-in 1992, he was killed in a battle with the ULIMO 25 detachments. Soldiers of all armed factions that participated in the Liberian wars of the 1990s and 2000s needed the support of spiritual forces. They were brought up in a society where power, invisible by nature, was associated with the ritual of absorbing human organs, and they used to believe that "eating" human hearts and blood can give strength, since the soul of the "donor"hero takes possession of the body of the "recipient". That is, the fact that the militants consumed human flesh during the war was not the result of physical starvation, but of humiliating the enemy and gaining his strength-an idea inspired by the rituals of sacrifice. Some fighters were encouraged to do this by priests, while others improvised in the hope that they would become more powerful. The heart was associated with mechanics, the motor.

In April 1996, during the" Battle of Monrovia " between NPFL units and armed factions supported by ECOMOG, a Liberian newspaper reported that members of both sides were involved in cannibalism and witchcraft rituals.26

Manipulation of spiritual forces, including through cannibalism, is one of the symbols of growing up. Teenage soldiers saw war as a gateway to the adult world and believed that performing religious rituals, or part of them, was a component of this process.

But it wasn't just teenagers who thought they would gain power by eating human hearts. People close to Taylor during the war claimed that human sacrifices were carried out at the home of the leader of the APFL - the future president of Liberia - under the direction of his uncle, Jensen Taylor.27 What can we say about boys raised in the Liberian hinterland, if well-known politicians and military barons who were educated in the United States, such as Ch. Taylor and P. Johnson, apparently, sincerely believed in the power of religious rituals?

However, following traditions did not mean that armed clashes became a type of cult behavior. The main goals of the militants remained to enrich themselves by plundering, gain a higher social or military status, and take revenge on the enemies for the dead relatives and friends. To achieve them, the fighters needed strength and therefore resorted to traditional practices. Naturally, during the war, it became more widespread than in peacetime. Undoubtedly, there were militants who never took part in the rituals of sacrifice. One might assume that even if this practice took place during the war, it still remained marginal, but numerous testimonies suggest otherwise.

Not surprisingly, the militants who participated in the sacrifices often dreamed of their victims. Moreover, former soldiers perceived their dreams not as a purely subjective phenomenon, but as messages from the spiritual world.-

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a real and objective world. Some, tormented by dreams, turned to Christianity and announced their spiritual rebirth.

A similar transformation took place, in particular, with the well-known field commander of the Liberian Peace Council(LSM) Joshua Milton Blighey, known as the "Naked General" and who led a squad whose men fought completely naked, believing that this would protect them from bullets. During the" Battle of Monrovia " in April 1996, in which he played a prominent role, Blighi, in his words, "was reborn in Christ." Later, he visited Jerusalem and on his return created his own Christian sect in one of the capital's districts.

Blighi claimed to have first participated in a human sacrifice at the age of 11 and continued the practice every new moon for the next 14 years. He noted that killing was fun for him and that he regularly met and talked with Satan.28

Christian teaching was particularly attractive to militants who wanted to break with the past in which they brutally murdered women, the elderly, and children, perhaps because, according to this belief, the holy spirit is universal in nature, can penetrate the body and thus provide instant spiritual transformation. Many former soldiers claimed to have become new people in the Christian incarnation. This allowed them to view their actions during the war as the work of another being who disappeared the moment they became Christians. Some converts were shocked by their actions during the war - in their former lives.

People's perceptions of what is good and what is bad can vary from time to time and from place to place. Thus, many provincial Liberians in the recent past believed that waging war to satisfy the thirst for profit was quite a worthy occupation. In peacetime, violence was controlled by religious priests and traditional leaders, who directed it and did not allow it to go beyond the limits stipulated by a particular ritual. Thus, forms of violence, even human sacrifices sanctioned by members of a particular society, turned into "normal" phenomena for them. In other words, the spiritual world of the tribes that inhabited present-day Liberia was governed in the past by rules and procedures that limited the actions of violent actors.

Later, under the influence of various economic, political and psychological factors, religious beliefs of Liberians underwent certain transformations, and it was this symbiosis of traditional and modern moral norms that most influenced the behavior of participants in armed clashes during the years of the Liberian civil wars.

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