Cover image for The mask of anarchy : the destruction of Liberia and the religious dimension of an African civil war
The mask of anarchy : the destruction of Liberia and the religious dimension of an African civil war
Ellis, Stephen, 1953-2015.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : New York University Press, [1999]

Physical Description:
xix, 350 pages, 6 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations, maps ; 23 cm
Corporate Subject:

Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
DT636.5 .E45 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



For the last decade Liberia has been one of Africa's most violent trouble spots. In 1990, when thousands of teenage fighters, including young men wearing women's clothing and bizarre objects of decoration, laid siege to the capital, the world took notice. Since then Liberia has been through devastating civil upheaval and the most feared warlord, Charles Taylor, is now president. What began as a civil conflict, has spread to other West African nations.

Western correspondents saw in the Liberian war a primeval, savage Africa-a "heart of darkness." They focused on sensational "primitive" aspects of the conflict, such as the prevalence of traditional healers and soothsayers, and shocked the international community with tales of cannibalism, especially the eating of the body parts of defeated opponents, which was widespread.

Eschewing popular stereotypes and simple explanations, Stephen Ellis traces the history of the civil war that has blighted Liberia in recent years and looks at its political, ethnic and cultural roots. He focuses on the role religion and ritual have played in shaping and intensifying this brutal war.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

Ellis's important and profoundly disturbing book contains a detailed narrative of the Liberian civil war, together with a theoretically provocative analysis of the underlying causes of the vicious bloodletting that destroyed the mental as well as the physical terrain of the tiny country. The book opens with a journalistic account of President Samuel Doe's mutilation and killing by Prince Johnson, followed by a compelling record of the entire course of the civil war. Ellis sketches the role of child soldiers and explores their psychology. He also examines the failures and ultimate successes of the Nigerian-led West African peace enforcement effort, as well as Charles Taylor's final awareness that he could rule Liberia only after coming to an understanding with Nigeria's generals. But Ellis stops short of discussing the election that turned Taylor from a dangerous warlord into a dangerous president. Ellis is much more concerned with the realm of messianic religion and that of the imagination--with the eschatology of hopelessness and renewal that permeated the consciousness of Liberians at the end of the 20th century. One of Ellis's many contributions to this study of intrastate warfare is his attention to nonrational factors. Upper-division undergraduates and above. R. I. Rotberg; Harvard University