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February 25, 2009
Rumors circulate in Liberia that water will turn to blood

Rumor and superstition surrounds water in Liberia.

Liberia’s water supply was crippled during the country’s civil war when the main water treatment plant was destroyed. A 2006 report found that the majority of Liberian rely on untreated wells, rivers, ponds, creeks and swamps for drinking water.

But the water supply, already crippled by war, has been further harmed by widespread superstition and rumors.

Myles Estey is a journalist based in Monrovia, Liberia. He writes at “Esteyonage” about a recent scare there, when people became worried that the water would turn into blood.

Blood water

Last night, two things startled me. The first was Nigerian-manned tanks rolling past my house as I stayed up late typing – tanks are rarely a sign of a good thing. The second came waking at 3:45, only to see the bridge outside my house full of with people, and people filing under my balcony.

The bridge, most people say, should not be crossed by foot anytime after 11, and certainly not past midnight. A little surprising then that a line of people streamed across the bridge, under some of the only streetlamps in the country, and that many seemed to be women and children, not typical Also strange that most of them carried the 5-gallon water jugs that people collect their water from local wells in (running water remains rare). I struggled to come up with a reason for any of this, before drifting back to sleep, listening to the wind and a light rain that started.

This hazy memory remained lay buried until speaking with some reporters. It became clear that a ‘crisis’ gripped the city yesterday. A ‘report’ circulated, claiming that all the city’s water supplies would turn to blood by morning, though other variations claimed the water would become bitter, or perhaps dry up. People acted quickly, with reports of long lines all night at wells becoming especially feisty as dawn approached.

Origins of the report seem mixed. Truth FM definitely aired the first story about it during the day, but they were responding to already widespread knowledge, and callers comments. It spread ‘virally’, in 2.0 terminology, though without any more technology than word of mouth/cell phone. Brothers called sisters called cousins called friends called coworkers all through the night, with virtually everyone aware of the problem by dawn. Many residents stocked up with water.

“People here just believe anything,” a local journalist said of the situation. “They believe in powers and forces that don’t actually exist, just because someone told them so.”

To read more, see the original post.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr user MikeBlyth under a Creative Commons license.

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It is a pitty that this type of spirit is still hunting many Liberians. They are afraid of nature because the much blood spilled during the civil war is more than the water in Liberia, so it could turn to red sea any moment. Charles Tailor, see what you have done to your country.


Superstition is an interesting phenomenon. Pre-historic people’s first expressions of religion was nature worship and there were many superstitions about nature and life. For example, they didn’t understand thunder and lightning and turned to superstitions to explain the frighting event of thunder storms. I would suspect that Liberian society has been badly affected by warring clans and environmental degradation to the extent that the citizens feel some supernatural event (like the water turning to blood) could happen as some retribution by supernatural forces. I am a fairly educated guy and sometimes I feel the same way.

Neil in Atlanta

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