Westerman, Diedrich H.. The Kpelle: a negro tribe in Liberia

Table of Contents

Publication Information


I. The Country

Names Of Tribes And Languages In Western Liberia

Ii. Outward Appearance And General Character Traits Of The Kpelle

Iii. Components Of The Kpelle And Gola: Outside Influences

Iv. Economy.

A. Introduction.

A. Agriculture.

B. Livestock

C. Hunting And Fishing

D. Trade

E. Business

F. House-building.

B. Texts.

1. Tillage.

Field Work Of The Man And The Woman.

2. Harvesting And Cooking The Rice

3. House-building.

4. Fishing.

5. Making A Drum.

6. Women's Work.

7. The Oil Palm And Its Many Uses.

8. Preparing Raffia Palm Wine.

9. The Raffia Palm

10. Trees Of Economic Value And Their Use.

11. The Wala.

V. Family And Society.

A. Introduction.

A. Family, Clan And Taboo Association. (2)

Lineage (the Taboo Association)

B. Betrothal And Marriage; Divorce.



C. Married Life.

D. Upbringing.

E. Adult Games.

F. Art.

G. Division Of Labor.

H. Property Relationships.

Land Ownership

Moveable Property. Common Property And Private Property.

I. Inheritance

K. Social Organization Of The Population.

L. Political Organization Of The Country. Kingdoms And Villages. Village Fortifications. Village Life.

Village Life

M. State Institutions

1. The Nuclear Family As A Political Unit

2. The Clan As A Political Unit

3. The Village Chief

4. The Paramount Chief Or King.

5. Interstate Relationships.

N. Legal Systems And Their Applications.

The Procedure.

The Kpelle Conception Of Law.

O. Wars.

B. Texts

1. Courtship.

2. Polygamy And Divorce.

3. Marriage Customs.

4. Behavior Of Pregnant Women. Abortion.

5. Wives, A Source Of Wealth For The King.

6. Circumcision.

7. Tattooing The Human Body.

8. Game Of Chance

9. Legal Process.

10. Kingship I.

11. Kingship Ii.

12. Death Of The King.

13. Laws.

14. Duties Of Outside Settlers Towards The King.

15. War I.

16. War Ii.

17. Peace Negotiations.

18. Weapons Of War.

Vi. The Language.

1. Word Form.

2. Word Formation.

3. Foreign Words.

4. Word Combination.

5. Forming Concepts.

A) Determining Geographical Positions.

B) Telling Time

Days Of The Week

C) Names Of Months.

The Year

D. Time And Chronological Order In The Sentence.

A) Nouns.

B) Pronouns.

C) Verbs.

D) By Means Of The A-form Of The Pronoun.

E) Physical Feeling.

F) Mental Feeling; Mental Characteristics And Activities.

□ī Heart

Kō Belly.

˙nun Head.

Yē Hand.

Wō Voice; Opinion, View, Meaning.

Dā Name.

Mā□o˙n Trouble, Need, Misery, Wretchedness. (original Meaning Unknown; Undoubtedly A Compound.)

Ki□i Thinking, Reflecting, Remembering.

Nē To Be Sweet.


G. Request And Thanks.


H Greeting.

I) Place Names.

K) Personal Names.

Men's Names.

Women's Names.

6. Lack Of Abstract Concepts.

7. Counting.

8. Generic Terms.

9. Limited Grammatical Inflection.

10. Thinking Poorly Integrated.

Further Examples.


11. Sentence Structure.

Subordinate Clauses Of Time

Conditional Clauses.

Relative Clauses.

Sentences Expressing Method.

Casual Sentences.

Sentences Showing Intent Or Purpose.

Breaking Up Sentences.

Elevated Speech.

Vii. Conception Of The World.

A. Introduction.

Preliminary Remarks.

A. The Living And The Dead Human Being.

The “soul” Of The Living Human Being.

B) Evil Spirits.

1. Wu□u.

Catching The Wu□u.

2. Gofe Or Gofa.

3. Ńína˙n.

4. Ńámũa.

C) Burial. Sacrifices And Offerings.



Votive Offerings.

D. Magic.

E. Oaths.

F. Totemism.

G. The Leopard As Totem.

H. Bananas And Other Plant Totems.

I. The Big Snake.

K. Sacred Fishes.

1. Water-people.

M. Hill People.

N. Forest Devil.

O. Secret Societies.

P. The Poro Society.




The Management Of The Society. The Grand Master

The Poro School Session.

The Place Of The Poro School.

Entering The Poro School.

Admission Rites.

Physical Care For The Pupils.

Instruction In The Poro School.

Participation Of The Inhabitants.

Discharge From The Poro School.

Influence Of The Poro Society.

Q. The Sande Society. Earlier Reports About The Poro Society.



The Leaders.

Place And Time Of The Sande School.


The Rites Of Admission.

Body Cover.


Life And Activity In The School.

Discharge From The Sande-school.

Washing The Sande Girls.

Older Data About The Poro (and Sande) Society.

R. The Leopard Society.

S. The Snake Society.

T. The Deer Horn Society.

U. The Gbo-magic Society.

V. Sand-beating.

W. Ordeals.

X. Dreams.

Y. God And The World.

B. Texts.

1. The Two Hearts Of A Human Being I.

2. The Two Hearts Of A Human Being Ii.

3. Trees As Dwellings Of The Spirits.

4. Transmigration Of Souls.

5. Death Of A Child.

6. Instructions About Medicine In A Vision.

7. Burying The Dead.

8. Exorcism On Behalf Of A Child.

9. Capturing A Human's Shadow.

10. Witches (evil Spirits).

11. Treating The Sick, And The Death Of A Sorcerer.

12. A Legal Proceeding Against Sorcery.

13. Cofe, A Spirit.

14. Offerings I.

15. Offerings Ii.

16. The Sā□a Girl.

17. Human Sacrifice.

18. How An Unpopular King's Son Is Removed.

19. Magic To Protect The Field.

20. Custom Before Field Work.

21. Magic Medicine For Hunters.

22. A Custom During Pregnancy.

23. The Kpa˙ngba-medicine And Its Antidote.

24. Treatment And Use Of A Magic.

25. Feeding A Magic And About Fortune-telling.

26. Totemism I.

27. Totemism Ii.

28. Totem Regulations.

29. The Totem Banana I.

30. The Totem Banana Ii.

31. A Person Possessed By His Totem Animal.

32. The Totem Snake.

33. The Water People.

34. A Ward Of The Water People.

35. About God I.

36. About God Ii.

37. Statements About God.

38. The Ordeal Of The Rod I.

39. The Ordeal Of The Rod Ii.

40. The Palm-oil Ordeal I.

41. The Palm-oil Ordeal Ii.

42. Ordeal, Swearing By The King's Magic.

43. About The Poro Grand Master.

44. The Snake Society.

45. The Waterbuck-horn Society.

46. Report Of The Missionary H. Rohde About The Capture Of An Evil Spirit By Members Of A Secret Society.

47. Gbo-sa□e, A Magic Medicine.

48. Sand-beating.

49. Birth And Special Status Of Twins.

50. Sexual Intercourse Of The Woman After The Birth Of A Child.

51. Omens.

52. Dreams And Their Meaning.

53. Blessing A Child.

Viii. Fiction.

Preliminary Remarks.

A. Introduction.

A. Nature And Form Of Fairy Tales.

B. The Chief Figures In Fairy Tales.

C. Content And Structure Of Fairy Tales.

Fairy Tale Motifs.

D. Fairytale Motifs Of The Kpelle, Gola, A And Mende.

The Deeds Of Child-magicians.

Child-magicians As Rescuers (tales Of Rescue).

Child-magicians As Avengers (tales Of Retribution).

Animals, Trees, And Rocks As Benefactors Of Humans. “help Him Who Helps You”.

1. Animals. Positive, The Helpful Animals.

B. Negative, The Ungrateful Human Being.

The Magic Horn Of Plenty.

Fairy Tales About Spiders.

B. Texts. Fairy Tales Based On Religious Imagery.

1. The Man Pursued By His Dead Comrade.

2. The Woman Pursued By Her Dead Husband. (3)

3. The Girl Killed By Her Murdered Sister.

4. The Hornbill And The Parrot.

5. The Invincible Boy-magician.

6. You Must Not Kill A Totem Fish.

7. The Child And The Totem Monkey.

8. A Woman Gives Her Grandchildren To The Eagle As A Sacrifice.

9. The Man And His Totem-pig.

10. The Boy And The Ten Forest-devils.

11. The Boy And The Forest-devil.

12. The Boy Saves His Sister From The Hands Of The Forest-devil.

13. The Corpse-devouring Forest-devil.

14. The Forest-devil And The Child On The Rock.

15. The Man And The Forest-devil.

16. The Forest-devil And The Suitor.

17. The Hunter And The Rice Cooker.

18. To Whom Does The Town Belong?

19. The Child Fetches Fire From The Forest-devil.

20. The Spider, The Child, And The Forest-devil.

21. The Spider And The Forest-devils.

22. The Spider And The Forest-devil.

23. The Gratitude Of The Animals.

24. What Causes War.

Fairy Tales And Stories From Other Areas Of Life

24a. A Marital Quarrel And How It Was Settled.

25. Who Rules, Husband Or Wife?

26. Stories About Unfaithful Wives.

27. The Jealous King.

28. The Daughter Of The Good Woman And The One Of The Jealous Woman.

29. The Child Of The Good Woman And That Of The Jealous Woman.

30. The Jealous Woman And Her Stepson.

31. Story Of A Man And His Gambling Debt.

32. Disobedience Punished.

33. The Hunter And The Weaver.

34. The Weaver And The Trapper.

35. The Ten Thieves.

36. The Two Master Thieves.

37. The Talking Fish And The Disobedient Boy.

38. How An Orphan Becomes Rich.

39. The Two Sleepers.

40. How The Animals Helped The Boy.

41. The Grateful Animals.

42. Ingratitude Punished.

43. How A Poor Man Became Rich And Poor Again.

44. The Spider And His Wife.

45. The Clever Spider.

46. The Spider And The Bat.

47. The Spider And The Banana.

48. Elephant And Goat.

49. Cat And Rat.

50. The Unsuccessful Exchange Of Children.

51. A Yarn About The Chimpanzee And The Leopard.

52. Boa And Chimpanzee.

Tales Borrowed From The Occident.

53. About The Goat That Muddied The Water For The Leopard.

54. How Tiger Cat [cheetah], Chicken, And Rice Were Ferried Across The River.

55. A Wordplay.

Ix. Fairytales Of The Mende.

( Ii. ) The Fate Of The Man Who Abandoned Wife And Child.

( Iii. ) The Man Who Cleared The Bush Against Orders.

( Iv. ) The Forest-devil Marries A Human Woman.

( V. ) The Twins And Their Brother.

( Vi. ) The Boy Who Fell Into A Pit.

( Vii. ) The Forest-devil Steals A Boy.

(viii.) The Woman Who Did Not Want To Marry Off Her Daughter.

(x.) The Spider And The Bush-goat.

(xi.) The Okra Tree.

(xv.) The Magic Garment.

(xvi.) The Child Raised From The Dead.

(xvii.) The Dream.

X. The Story Of William Kwei Pedersen's Life.

( As Told By Himself. ) (1)

Supplement Two. Kpelle Contributions By H. Rohde.

1. A Report On The Po□o˙n Meni (the Poro -thing).

2. The Activities Of The ˙namũ In The Village.

3. The Meaning Of Gbān.

4. When Somebody Dies.

5. Sane Meni, The Women's Secret Society. (2)

6. The Stars.

7. Thunder And Lightning.

8. The Sun.

9. The Moon.

10. The Mandingo In Sanetā.

11. The Eagle And The Woman.

12. The Monkeys On Mount Coffee (1)

13. The Monkey And The Razor.

14. The Monkey And The Walnuts.

15. The Monkeys And The Crocodiles.

16. The Cheated Monkey.

17. The Dead One Chases The Living One.

18. Suagba□i˙n, The Elephant Hunter.

19. The Two Friends.

20. The Crocodile As Wife Kidnapper.

21. About Three Boys Who Went Into The Forest To Hunt.

22. Two Thieves. (1)

23. Clever Sise (1)

24. Worship Of The Banana.

25. What Is Said About The Dying.

26. How To Speak To The Dead

27. When God Dwelt On Earth

28. Why Heaven Is Far Away.

29. The Living Woman And The Dead Woman.

30. About People Who Go To Heaven.

31. The Burial Of Gbundo.

32. The Woman Found Out.

33. How To Buy Wisdom.

34. Why Old People Are Like God.

36. 1 The Two Marksmen.

Publication Information

Paragraph Subjects (OCM)

Publication Information The main body of the Publication Information page contains all the metadata that HRAF holds for that document.

Author: Author's name as listed in Library of Congress records

Title: The Kpelle: a negro tribe in Liberia

Published By: Original publisher Gö ttingen ; Leipsig: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht ; J. C. Hinrichs'sche Buchhandlung. 1921. HRAF ms: 13, 626, 4 l. [Original: 16, 552 p.]

By line: Author's name as appearing in the actual publication Diedrich H. Westerman

HRAF Publication Information: New Haven, Conn.: Human Relations Area Files, 2009. Computer File

Culture: Culture name from the Outline of World Cultures (OWC) with the alphanumberic OWC identifier in parenthesis. Kpelle (FD06)

Subjects: Document-level OCM identifiers given by the anthropology subject indexers at HRAF Tillage (241); Cereal agriculture (243); Dwellings (342); Division of labor by gender (462); Food preparation (252); Eating (264); Magic (789); Ethnobotany (824); Weights and measures (804); Government regulation (656); Districts (634); Household (592); Polygamy (595); Arranging a marriage (584); Judicial authority (692); Sanctions (681); Slavery (567); Vocabulary (192); Grammar (193);

Abstract: Brief abstract written by HRAF anthropologists who have done the subject indexing for the document Although based on only four month's field work in Liberia -- Sept. 26, 1914 to January 1915 (p. i) - this document presents a sufficient amount of well-rounded ethnographic information on the Liberian Kpelle, primarily along the St. Paul River, to make it one of the primary documents in this file. Data for this study were obtained not only from the author's own observations, but also from information provided by a number of native informants (see pp. 1-3). These data were further supplemented by other secondary source materials on the Kpelle. The first three sections of this source provide background information on the Kpelle - geography, physical appearance, general characteristics and outside influences on the culture - followed by major sections dealing with the economy, family and society, language, native concepts of the world (including much information on religion and the various secret societies), and a large section on folktales, of both Kpelle and Mende origin (the latter subheaded to appear in the FC07 Mende collection). In the final sections of the source a brief biographical sketch is presented of one of the author's key informants - William Kwei Pedersen - a Mende by birth, but Kpelle by assimilation, followed by some brief ethnographic contributions (mostly in terms of folktales) by the missionary H. Rohde. The Gola texts of folktales presented in the original German have not been translated.

Document Number: HRAF's in-house numbering system derived from the processing order of documents 7

Document ID: HRAF's unique document identifier. The first part is the OWC identifier and the second part is the document number in three digits. fd06-007

Document Type: May include journal articles, essays, collections of essays, monographs or chapters/parts of monographs. Monograph

Language: Language that the document is written in English translation from German

Note: Translation of: [Die Kpelle; ein Negerstamm in Liberia dargestellt auf der Grundlage von Eingeborenen-Berichte] Includes bibliographical references (p. 622-626) Translated for the HRAF files by Frieda Sch ü tze

Field Date: The date the researcher conducted the fieldwork or archival research that produced the document 1914-1915 (4 months)

Evaluation: In this alphanumeric code, the first part designates the type of person writing the document, e.g. Ethnographer, Missionary, Archaeologist, Folklorist, Linguist, Indigene, and so on. The second part is a ranking done by HRAF anthropologists based on the strength of the source material on a scale of 1 to 5, as follows: 1 - poor; 2 - fair; 3 - good, useful data, but not uniformly excellent; 4 - excellent secondary data; 5 - excellent primary data Ethnologist-4,5

Analyst: The HRAF anthropologist who subject indexed the document and prepared other materials for the eHRAF culture/tradition collection. John Beierle ; 1986

Coverage Date: The date or dates that the information in the document pertains to (often not the same as the field date). 1900-1915

Coverage Place: Location of the research culture or tradition (often a smaller unit such as a band, community, or archaeological site) Liberia

LCSH: Library of Congress Subject Headings Kpelle (African people)


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