Liberia, negro republic of West Africa, would benefit greatly by American intervention, according to Dr. Richard P. Strong of the Harvard Medical School, who headed the Harvard African Expedition of 1926-27.
In his account of the social conditions of the country, recently published by the University Press, Dr. Strong compares Liberia with Sierra Leone, which like Liberia was settled with the idea of founding a home for freed slaves.
He declares that although the populations of the two countries are almost the same, Sierra Leone has over four times the amount of trade and revenue, and only one sixth the public debt of Liberia.
Sierra Leone is a British Colony, while Liberia is nominally a free republic under United States protection.
Conditions closely akin to slavery are existent; but do not present a serious problem. Captives of war are kept in slavery until they are redeemed by ransom, but they are given good treatment and are not imprisoned. Women are considered by some tribes as chattels and like furniture or jewelry may be put in pawn.
The account of the expedition, which has been edited by Dr. Strong in two large volumes, covers geography, climate, the inhabitants and conditions under which they live, tribal customs, languages, slavery, zoology, herpetology, ornithology, and a careful study of medical and pathological conditions of the natives. The personnel of the expedition was G. M. Allen, T. C. Bequart, H. T. Coolidge ’96, D. H. Linder ’21, G. C. Shattuck ’01, Max Theller, and Loring Whitman ’25.
Sanitation is totally unknown, and the only hospital in Monrovia, the capitol, contained just two patients at the time of the expedition’s visit. The practicing physicians in the entire country may be counted on the fingers of one hand and of the country’s total expenditures only $18,000 is for the improvement of the people. The bulk is devoted to schools.
Dr. Strong also refers to the excellent conditions in the Philippines and declares that while they are under American control, they are in many ways freer than U. S. citizens themselves. The Filipinos great advancement in recent years indicates that Liberia might also benefit immensely from outside supervision.
Harvey S. Fire stone, head of the Fire stone Rubber Co., has leased a million acres of land for ninety-nine years to be used for the production of rubber. Fire stone hopes not only to furnish America with a source for this valuable material but eventually to develop Liberia into a market for American goods. As means of transportation in the country are few, the company is building roads between its various posts. The industry in general is of greatest economic value as it provides employment for many of the inhabitants at a wage which, although small, is greater than they could otherwise command. The employees live in company huts, and plans are being made for the construction of model, sanitary towns where the natives for the first time will have hospitals, clean water supply, and sanitary means of sewage disposal. Native customs are being studied with a view to organizing practical trade schools.
Liberia was founded in 1819 by the American Colonization Society, which hoped to populate it with freed slaves from America’s Southern States. It had little effect on slave conditions in America, however, as slaves were born faster than they could be transported. It is estimated that about 18,858 settled in Liberia due to the efforts of the Colonization Society before the Civil War. At the present time, however, opportunities for negroes are so superior in the United States to those in Liberia that emigration is negligible.
The expedition crossed Africa from the west coast to the east coast making studies particularly in Liberia and the Belgian Congo. Special chapters are devoted to reptiles and the coast and mountain gorillas. Numbers of new animals were catalogued and necropsies were performed on elephants. Pygmies were encountered in the regions west of Lake Kion. Photographs were taken in profusion, and the book concerning the expedition contains 475 illustrations.
Medical aspects of the various tribes were studied carefully. In some sections patients were found who were starving to death because lack of teeth prevented their eating the coarse native foods. Most of the disease was due to terribly unsanitary conditions. That the diseases may be prevented in the future is testified by the facts that although members of the expedition were continually exposed to the diseases, none of them fell sick, since average precautions were observed. – The Harvard Crimson