Many consider the Gola to be earliest tribe to inhabit Liberia, but the Gola themselves claim they met the Dei ethnic group there when they arrived. The Dei ethnic group are a vanguard group of Bassa that settled Liberia in waves.
The ethnic groups of Liberia can be divided into five major groups:
Mel (Gola, Kissi)
Kwa (Dei, Bassa, Kru, Krahn, Grebo)
Mande-Fu (Kpelle, Gio, Mano, Loma)
Mande-Tan (Vai, Mende)
Repatriated (Americo-Liberians, Congo, Carribean)
The history of most of these ethnic groups spans over thousands of years.
The Bassa(Dei, Bassa, Kru, Krahn, Grebo) also referred to as the Kwa-Speakers can trace there historical origins to Mozambique in pre-dynastic times. Over time they migrated up through Ethiopia(Adbassa->Adbassania->Abyssinia) and established empires in conjunction with other ethnic groups in the area(Kush, Axum, Meroe).
The 25th dynasty leaders of Khemit(Egypt) Ta Harko, Xa Bako and Xe Biko were Bassa. Their fall from power in Khemit would cause a retreat toward central Africa toward the Lake Chad region led by Mbem son of Soye, where the empires of Rifum, Kororafa and Adbassa were established in succession. Adbassa would last three centuries along side the Bornu, Hausa, and Yoruba kingdoms.
The Fall of Adbassa would split the massive Bassa group into many groups sending some to the Kasai Congo (Bassa-la-Mpasu), Togo (Bassa'r), Senegal, Sierra-Leone, Guinea(Bassa-ri), Nigeria (Bassa-Nge), Cameroon(Bassa) and Liberia(Dei, Bassa, Kru, Krahn, Grebo).
The Liberian group was led by Hana-Mbak(Hanabo) son of Wenang. The Mano ethnic group of Liberia called the Bassa, Manidyu. Meaning the tribe that dries up rivers when they cross. This Bassa group would split into multiple seperate ethnic groups in Liberia and Cote d'Ivoire(Bete, Kru) when they arrived.
The Dei would settle first and would later be joined by the Gola ethinc group before any of the other Bassa groups arrived.
The Gola ethnic group originated somewhere in Central-Africa. During the Empire of Ancient Ghana they were heavily involved in the land-surveying and judicial aspects of the empire.
The other ethnic groups that fall under the Mande-Tan, Mande-Fu were also members of Ancient Ghana. Because of the their influence in the judicial aspects of the Ghana, the Gola's social structure dominated through the Poro. With the influx of Islam many groups adopted while others resisted.
The Golas fought three wars with pro-Islamic elements in a changing Ghana. These wars were known as the Kumba wars. The Golas lost the third of these wars and were forced to retreat toward, Sierra Leone. They were pursued by the Mende, Gbandi and Loma. Their battles with the Mende in Sierra Leone forced them to retreat yet again and settle finally in Liberia where they encountered the Dei.
The Kpelle, Gio, Mano and Vai groups migrated from the Empire of Mali for various reasons. Some escaping political intrigue others looking for a better life.
The Repatriates were resettled from the United States, Carribean and captured British slave ships coming from the Congo.
Dei (vanguard group of the Bassa)
Kumba tribes immigrating around ??6000 B.C.??:
Tribes immigrating from what is today C?d'Ivoire in the 1500s:
Muslim tribes immigrating from Sudan from the 1500s through 1600s:
Imigrants from the 1800s:
Americo-Liberians: Freed slaves and descendants of freed slaves from the US the Caribbean
Congo people from the Congo River Basin who were captured for the slave trade but sent to Liberia when slavery was abolished without ever being exposed to non-African cultures.