Ethnic Origin

The Kru

The largest language family in Liberia is that of the Kru, which includes six groups — the Kru proper, Bassa, Grebo, Krahn, Dey and Belle. The Kru proper, Bassa and Grebo offer the main bulk,occupying the coastal lowlands between Monrovia and Cape Palmas.

The Coastal Krus are seafarers and quite fearless. They are typical Negro stock, sturdy and good-natured, intelligent and industrious.

They were never sold into slavery; they resisted European slavers with such persistent ferocity that the Europeans learned it was just not worthwhile trying to enslave them. Instead, the foreign shipmasters made treaties with the Krus, who became middle men and raided weak or hostile peoples inland to barter slaves for European cloth, guns and rum.

Kru men were distinguished by a blue line running down the center of their foreheads, representing a ship’s mast, and few European slavers would dare to seize a man who bore this mark.

Shards of pottery and iron devices found on Liberian hilltops suggest that an aboriginal race of hill men may have lived in this country half a thousand years ago when many of Liberia’s contemporary peoples arrived. This aboriginal race appears to be extinct, and it is possible that slave raids by the Krus encouraged their disappearance.

Jacob Nma, a Kru-man whose unpublished writings cover an intensive study of his people, reveals that legends claim the Grebo and Kru proper migrated south to the coast from a point somewhere north of Mount Druyle.

On the other hand Bai Moore, who devoted many years to study of the coastal groups, suggests the Kru peoples may have come from the vicinity of Timbuktu by following the Niger River down to the Nigerian coast, and traveling west. He points out that the Krus are essentially a water-loving people and are largely dependent on rivers and the sea for their living; their fishing methods and traps are of advanced design and bear an interesting resemblance to some of those found along the Niger today.

Bai Moore points out that the Kru tongue has nothing in common with the language of any other group on the Guinea coast, and, since it is unlikely that the Kru are an aboriginal race, considers this proof that they must have come from some inland point.

A people so devoted to water would obviously have lived near a large body of water, and various factors point to the upper regions of the Niger, possibly near Timbuktu, as being the point of origin in question. In migration they would have been reluctant to leave the water and move by land, and the seaward-flowing Niger would have provided and obvious temptation and an admirable means of transport for a thousand miles.

However this hypothetical river-sea movement is not mentioned in any available Kru legend, and an equally plausible theory seems to be that they moved up the river, southwest and towards the source of precious salt.

By scaling Liberia’s northern mountains, which are part of the Niger’s source, they would have been able to reach the sea by the Cavalla, St. John, and Cestos rivers which run through their present territory.

The Kru were originally known as the Kedae. Prior to the establishment of the Republic of Liberia they had no chief in the strict sense of the word; they were governed by a council of elders, and the leader of the council was called the Kedakudu. When the masters of foreign ships made treaties with the group and hired Kedae men as seamen, such recruits were called Kedakudu’s men.

This name was inevitably abbreviated, and became Kudu. The Portuguese corrupted it to Kru, and doubtless this served the English and Americans very well, as Kru men or crew men would be a facile and familiar term.