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The settlers and their descendants who dominated Liberian government and politics until 1980 found it convenient to label the culturally varied and politically fragmented peoples they encountered (see Black Settlers and Native Africans; Indirect Rule in the Hinterland, ch. 1). By the second half of the twentieth century, e.g., in the censuses of 1962 and 1974, the Liberian governnment had come to recognize 16 ethnic categories=`tribes" in local terminology. In 1974 these categories ranged from the nearly 300,000 Kpelle, who constituted almost 20 percent of the population, to the Dey, who, at slightly more than 6,000 persons, made up less than one?half of 1 percent of all Liberians (see table B).

Most of the rest of the Liberian population was formally categorized as having "no tribal affiliation." The core of this category?under 3 percent of the total??consisted of the descendants of the early settlers and others culturally and biologically integrated with them, a group of people commonly referred to as America?Liberians. The disuse of that term in official documents and public discourse after the mid?1950s reflected the disfavor into which it had fallen in the Tubman era (see National Unification, ch. 1).

In the course of categorizing the indigenous peoples, the America?Liberians overlooked or ignored cultural and linguistic differences on the one hand and existing political arrangements and indigenous loyalties and identities on the other. They lumped together groups that were not necessarily the same and put asunder communities that had been part of a single political grouping, whether or not culturally and linguistically similar. The ethnolinguistic categories thus generated by government action provided a condition for the formation of new sociopolitical groups based cm presumed ethnicity. In some instances the governmental creation of tribes, together with other developments such as urbanization, contributed to the emergence of new loyalties and identities. Nevertheless, it was still possible for analysts to write in the 1970s that many Liberians' primary loyalties and essential sense of identity were invested in units smaller than the tribe or even the chiefdom.

Among those indigenous Liberians who did identify with a recognized tribe were urbanities who found it conventient, comfortable, or sometimes necessary to do so in order to make their way in a city, particularly one as large as Monrovia. Such identification was, in effect, encouraged by the establishment of tribal authorities in the capital city and in other towns. Nevertheless, ethnic groups in urban areas were marked by cleavages based on wealth, education, and mode of life. The depth of individual identifications with government?defined tribes varied considerably.

Other indigenous Liberians, comparatively well educated and in many instances associated as students or faculty with institutions of higher education, saw themselves as members of a class of Africans vis-a-vis the Americo-Liberians. They had come to reject the continued political and social hegemony of the Americo?Liberians and their own dependence upon them for access to political and economic opportunities. In the last decade of the first republic, these indigenous Liberians identified themselves with opposition to the pre-1980 sociopolitical order. Some had played a role in the postcoup government and in formulating the new Constitution.

The 1980 coup's effect on interethnic relations was still not clearly understood four years later. Memories of ancient strife existed, but conflict and competition phrased in tribal terms had not been a salient feature of Liberian social and political life in the precoup era and did not seem to be so in 1984. Some observers have suggested, however, that the ousting of Americo-Liberians from power might eventually lead to the development of competition and conflict based on tribal loyalties.

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