Kpelle people

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The Kpelle
Kpelle girl, Kpaiyea, Liberia 1968
Total population
Regions with significant populations
 Ivory Coast30,000
Kpelle religion, Christianity, Islam
Related ethnic groups
Mende, Loma, Gbandi, Loko, Zialo, Gola, Vai

The Kpelle people (also known as the Guerze, Kpwesi, Kpessi, Sprd, Mpessi, Berlu, Gbelle, Bere, Gizima, or Buni)[1] are the largest ethnic group in Liberia. They are located primarily in an area of central Liberia extending into Guinea. They speak the Kpelle language,[2] which belongs to the Mande language family.

Despite their yearly heavy rainfalls and rough land, Kpelle survive mostly on their staple crop of rice. Traditionally organized under several paramount chiefs who serve as mediators for the public, preserve order and settle disputes, the Kpelle are arguably the most rural and conservative of the major ethnic groups in Liberia.[3]


The Kpelle are the largest ethnic group of the West African nation of Liberia and are also an important ethnic group also in southern Guinea (where they are also known as Guerze) and north western Ivory Coast. Most Kpelle inhabit Bong County, Bomi County, Gbarpolu County, and Lofa County.[3] They are major food suppliers of the capital cities.

The terrain in the area includes swamps, hills and, in lowland areas, rivers. May through October brings their rainy season with an annual rainfall from 180 to 300 centimeters. The Kpelle territory sees the lowest temperatures dropping to 19 degrees C with the average temp around 36 degree C.[2]


The Kpelle people eat rice as their primary staple. It is supplemented by cassava, vegetables, and fruits; cash crops include rice, peanuts, sugarcane, and kola nuts they also enjoy fufu and soup, sometimes the soup is spicy but it depends on the way they want it. Soup may be eaten as an appetizer or in conjunction to the main dish.[4]


Traditionally, the Kpelle have been farmers with rice as the main crop.[5] The word Kpelle is often used as an adjective to refer to someone as hard working and very humble people in Liberia and Guinea.

Traditionally, a Kpelle family consists of a man, his wives and his children. The household has been the usual farming unit, and all the family members participate in daily farming work. Young children learn how to farm and help the older family members with farm activities.

In their social structure, leadership was very crucial. Every Kpelle tribe used to have a chief who oversaw their own interests as well as the interests of the society. These chiefs were recognized by the national government. They used to act as mediators between the government and their own tribes. Each town also had its own chief. The chiefs act as liaisons for different groups in the society. Anthropologists such as Caroline Bledsoe have characterized Kpelle social organization as one premised on wealth in people.

Their flight was due to internal conflicts between the tribes from the crumbling Sudanic empire.

Kpelle wood made structure


The Kpelle or Guerze lived in the savanna area of the Western Sudan during the sixteenth century, before fleeing to what is now Liberia because of conflicts in West African Sudanic states.[6]

The Kpelle also used to trade with the Muslim Vai and Mandingo who live in small numbers in the country and reside nearby. The Kpelle trade with Lebanese merchants, U.S. missionaries and Peace Corps volunteers.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Fulton, Richard M. (1972). "The Political Structures and Functions of Poro in Kpelle Society". American Anthropologist. n.s. 74 (5): 1218–1233. doi:10.1525/aa.1972.74.5.02a00140.
  2. ^ a b
  3. ^ a b "Kpelle", UCLA, Anthropology.
  4. ^ "Encyclopædia Britannica Online Library Edition". Retrieved 31 January 2012.
  5. ^ Encyclopædia Britannica, 1982 edition, p. 907
  6. ^ Fiske, Alan. "Kpelle". Retrieved 14 June 2018.
  7. ^ Fiske, Alan. "Kpelle". Retrieved 14 June 2018.