Few things exemplify the chaos of Liberia more than the sight of doped-up, AK-47-wielding 15-year-olds roaming the streets decked out in fright wigs and tattered wedding gowns. Indeed, some of the more fully accessorized soldiers in Charles Taylor's militia even tote dainty purses and don feather boas. Why did this practice begin and what is the logic behind it?
The cross-dressing combatants blipped onto the Western press's radar screen right around the time the Liberian Civil War started on Christmas Eve in 1989. During Taylor's rebel siege on Monrovia in the '90s, his band of dolled-up marauders—aka the National Patriotic Front of Liberia—put on one of the most disturbing horror shows the planet has ever seen. Between 1989 and 1997, 150,000 Liberians were murdered, countless others were mutilated, and 25,000 women and girls were raped. The NPFL's shock-and-awe antics were apparent from the very start of the conflict. In an essay in Liberian Studies Journal, an administrator at Cuttington University College tells a story of Taylor's forces storming the rural campus during the initial stages of the war in "wedding [dresses], wigs, commencement gowns from high schools and several forms of 'voodoo' regalia. … [They] believed they could not be killed in battle."
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