Back-to-Africa Heritage and Archaeology Group Seeks to Explore Liberia beyond 1822


Monrovia – An archaeological group, the Back-to-Africa Heritage and Archaeology (BAHA) is exploring Liberia beyond 1822 by discovering sites established by West Indians (Crozierville) and Black Americans (Providence Island and Edina).

The group is the first to archaeologically investigate the Back-to-Africa movement. The BAHA Research Project aims to investigate and promote the materials and political histories of the Back-to-Africa movement in Liberia through institutional and community-based collaboration. 

The research is being sponsored by the National Geographic Society. BAHA group was able to partner with some university students after they were trained for serious months.

Matt Reilly is the head of the project in Liberia. He started the BAHA project in 2018. The project lasted till 2019 and was closed down in 2020 due to the COVID-19. Three years later, he and his team are in Liberia to continue as they unearth Liberia’s past.

Providence Island and the Corzierville, Reilly says are very unique to Liberia’s history. However, as archeologists, they will be moving to other historical sites when the local need arises.

“I would say that we want to achieve a more inclusive version of Liberia’s heritage and identity. Bringing together multiple perspectives that go beyond 1822 settlements and the history of the settlers,” he said.

Reilly added: “I think, oftentimes, relations between settlers and indigenous people are very simple. What we are saying archaeologically is an example of conflict but also a good collaboration. The indigenous peoples learned from settlers and settlers learned from indigenous people.”

Providence Island

Speaking with FrontPage Africa, Reilly said when they started working in Liberia; they realized that the history of Liberia is tied to Providence Island.

The research, he says, has discovered that there were indigenous Liberians living in Providence before the coming of the settlers from America.

“What is unique for us is that this is a critical moment to think about Providence Island. It is the Bicentennial and our research has shown a real deep history of Providence Island,” he said.

The research, Reilly says, goes back to the time when the Europeans traded with the indigenous Liberians in the years leading up to 1822.

“So, we have begun to ask a lot more questions about the indigenous Liberian history and we are looking to explore more about Liberia beyond 1822. That is why we are particularly excited this year, finding a lot of materials associated with the indigenous Liberians and not just about settlers,” he said.

The Uniqueness of Crozierville

Reilly has worked and lived in Barbados. Besides working on Providence Island, he explained that the Township of Crozierville has a strong link with Barbados. Something that got him more interested in working in the Crozierville area.

“The first thing I have learned about Liberia is that a group of Barbadians who came here 1865 who settled in Crozierville. For most of my career, I worked in Barbados. It might be interesting to use archaeological methods to think about Liberia’s past,” Reilly said.

He added: “As far as I know; we are the first archaeologists to work in Liberia since the early 1970, which is about 50 years.”

“Crozierville is a very special place in Liberia’s history. There were far fewer Barbadians settlers than American settlers,” he said.

He further said that the research in Crozierville has shown that there were different ideas of how society should be run. He added that the BAHA project has shown things that the people from Barbados learned and the people from America didn’t learn.

“So, many people in Crozierville went on to become prestigious members of the Librarians’ society. Two Presidents came from the Barbados Community in Croziervlle,” he said.

Reilly added: “So far we have not found any archaeological evidence as to who lived in that area before the settlers arrived.”

The Artifact from the Research will Remain in Liberia

Reilly also disclosed that his team after conducting the research will turn over every artifact to the National Museum of Liberia.

“Everything that we are going to collect will be stored and kept at the National Museum of Liberia,” he said.

Reilly added: “Nothing will leave this country without the permission of the museum and the Liberian people. So, right now the museum is the safest place in Liberia to have these collections accessible to all Liberians who want to come and visit to see these materials.”

Training Liberians

Also, the BAHA group is working with a group of University of Liberia students on the project. Reilly added that more training needed to be done for Liberians to conduct further research and unearth more about Liberia’s history.

“We are interested in training Liberians to continue doing research and other projects in the country,” he said.

Reilly added: “We love working in Liberia but this is not something that should be left to the Americans to do or any foreigners. It should be done by and for Liberians. So, we hope to provide the necessary training for librarians to continue this work for the next generation.”

Chrislyn Laurore from the University of Pennsylvania is a member of the BAHA team. She expressed excitement about her first-time visiting Liberia, especially for an archaeological work.

“I have read about Liberia’s culture and history a lot and my visit to Providence Island, especially touching these artifacts, is so amazing,” Laurore said.

She added: “I have seen more than what I have read. I read that Liberia was founded in 1822 but still have to do a lot of research to know more about this country.”

Another member of BAHA is Abraham F.J. Foekoe, a graduate of the University of Liberia. He studied biology and has a plan to attend medical school and specialize in cardiothoracic surgery.

Despite his background in biology, Foekoe was trained for four months. Foekoe says working on the BAHA project is eye-catching for him.

“The experience of doing archaeological research has been great. I especially liked using technology like the drone camera,” Foekoe said.

According to him, the research will redefine the history of Liberia. “After the research, the facts will come out about Liberia’s history. Many of our history were passed down to us orally but this archaeology work will have fact,” he said.

Foekoe is also calling on universities and other institutions of learning in the country to join the research by partnering with the BAHA group to seek further information about Liberia.