When visiting his girlfriend’s family in Liberia, photographer Conor Beary “got hooked” on the West African country and its more mysterious customs. Along with the freemason organisation The Masonic Order of Liberia, the Dancing Devils of Liberia quickly caught Conor’s imagination. “They are masked performers who represent individual tribes demons and deities, the London-based photographer explained. “Before the freed slaves from America travelled to Liberia and brought Christianity, the worship of juju witchcraft and native almost pagan-type gods was a pretty big thing. It still is now, but God (white Jesus) is also a big pusher in the religion game these days!”
“The Dancing Devils represent gods and deities that are worshipped by people in the Poro (men) and Sande (women) community who worship and celebrate traditional beliefs and practices. It is a highly secretive community that is shrouded in mystery and takes an initiation process to become a member. You get taken into the bush for a period of time by the Bush Devil (the top juju boss) and things happen — juju things happen — you come out of the bush and are a member, and you don’t talk about anything to anyone who isn’t a member.”
“It’s not particularly easy integrating into the community, or at least the native rural community," Conor told us when he asked how he found into the trust of the group. "As you can probably tell with the civil war and then ebola, tourism isn’t a massive thing in Liberia. There are not many white people in Liberia either, and especially not ones setting off into the bush looking for devils! In a village in the middle of nowhere I stick out a little, and having the cameras doesn’t help.” Dodging some “pretty hairy situations” including a potential kidnapping, with the helping hands of his Liberian friends Darlington and Solo, Conor was able to capture the performers on camera, although the rituals themselves remain in the realm of mystery.
“I wouldn’t mind mentioning that despite juju being really quite odd, its not necessarily bad,” the photographer says of the context beneath the series. “Many of the devils are only called devils because of the demonisation of other religions from Christianity. Many devils can represent good rather than evil… I don’t know enough about juju to critique or analyse it. I’m not trying to make any particular social comment through the images, just to document what was in front of me. Similarly, the traditional community make up for a relatively small percent of the population and does not group the whole Liberia community within it.”
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