Liberian Accessories for War: Purses, Wigs, and Ak-47s

| August 13, 2003

As foreign peacekeeping troops land in Liberia they will be met with a truly unusual site: The streets are being roamed by doped-up soldiers wielding AK-47s and wearing wigs, dresses, and feather boas. Why are soldiers cross-dressing to go into battle? Evidently the military tactic lies in a belief that soldiers can bewilder the bullets of the enemy by assuming a second identity. According to a traditional West African ceremony, when boys change into men and cross through a sort of indistinct gender there is an assertion that the fighter is in a dangerous and volatile place in his life. The practice started when Charles Taylor's cross-dressing militia -- the National Patriotic Front of Liberia -- attacked Monrovia on Christmas Eve in 1989, sparking a civil war that lasted through 1997 and resulted in 150,000 people murdered, countless mutilated, and an estimated 25,000 women and girls raped. Fourteen years later, Taylor himself is barricaded in Monrovia with a different group of dress-wearing rebels shelling the city.
--Joel Stonington

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