Kpelle - Orientation

Identification. The Kpelle are the largest ethnic group in the West African nation of Liberia and a significant group in neighboring Guinea. Whereas the Kpelle of Guinea (called "French Kpelle" by Liberians) are poorly described, the Liberian Kpelle have been more thoroughly studied. They are arguably the most rural and conservative of the major Liberian peoples.

Location. Most Kpelle inhabit Bong County and adjacent areas in central Liberia. The terrain is primarily rain forest crisscrossed by hills, with swamps and rivers in lowland areas. Annual rainfall varies from 180 to 300 centimeters, the bulk falling from May through October, the Kpelle rainy season. There is often a brief period of diminished rainfall, however, usually in July, called in Liberia the "mid-dries." The average low temperature in a typical year in the Kpelle area is 19° C, the average high 36° C.

Demography. There are over 300,000 Kpelle in Liberia and approximately 100,000 in Guinea. In Liberia they constitute about 20 percent of the total population; about 15 percent of Liberian Kpelle can be classified as urban dwellers, whereas the rest are rural. Population density ranges from 10 to 40 per square kilometer in Kpelleland, with greatest concentrations along the main roads; average density is 14 per square kilometer. Life expectancy at birth is under 40 years; between 16 percent and 55 percent of all children born do not reach adulthood.

Linguistic Affiliation. The language, also called Kpelle, is monosyllabic and tonal; it is classified in the Mande Family of the Niger-Congo Stock.

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