In 1980 when Samuel Doe seized the presidency of Liberia in a coup, Joshua Milton Blahyi, best known as “General Butt Naked”, became his spiritual adviser, performing Black magic to even help Doe win a second term. Then in December 1989, Charles Taylor, a former Liberian government official, toppled the Doe regime, plunging Liberia into civil war. Following a ceasefire in 1996, Taylor was elected the next year but in just two years, another rebel group invaded the country from Guinea, resulting in another conflict.
Indeed, rival militias controlled most of Liberia in the 1990s. There were gun battles in the streets of the capital, Monrovia while there was another conflict in the bush over the control of gold mines and diamond fields. There were so many rebel commanders who reported to their militia leaders as the war unfolded. And Blahyi was one of these rebel commanders.
Becoming one of the most feared and violent figures of the country’s bloody civil wars, Blahyi led several soldiers under the Naked Base Commandos, who killed or mutilated thousands of people, mostly in Monrovia. Blahyi often fought in the nude and ate human flesh. His soldiers, many of whom were children, did the same, fighting with only shoes and magic charms that Blahyi claimed made them immune to bullets.
On April 6, 1996, Taylor’s soldiers moved to arrest the leader of the militia which Blahyi reported to. Blahyi and other rebel commanders clashed with Taylor’s soldiers in Monrovia, resulting in what is remembered today as one of the bloodiest battles of the First Liberian Civil War. Blahyi was seen during battle atop a truck with a machine gun in one hand and a man’s severed genitals in the other.
At the end of the day, some two hundred thousand people were killed in the Liberian civil war. By 2003 when Taylor was ousted and the war ended, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission was formed to investigate the crimes that were committed during the war. In 2006 when the Commission started work, proceedings were broadcast live across the country, on TV and radio. Blahyi, who then claimed to be a repentant preacher, was the first former warlord to testify.
“I want to say sorry,” he said during his testimony in 2008. “Everything I was doing was devilish, was wrong, was inhuman.”
Blahyi admitted to killing 20,000 people, saying that he used human sacrifice and cannibalism to gain magical powers. “I needed to make human sacrifices to appease the said deities, or the gods,” he said. “Every town I entered . . . they would give me the chance to do my human sacrifices, which included innocent children.”
He then narrated how he converted to Christianity, which he said occurred moments after the April 6 battle. He had at the time killed a child and was ready to eat the boy’s heart when a vision of God appeared before him.
“I had a vision where Jesus met me and told me to repent and live or refuse and die, with the bloodstains of the child still in my hands,” he said. “That day, I did not fight, I could not fight that day.”
Blahyi’s testimony in 2008 shot him to fame. He hit headlines in Liberia while journalists from all over the world came to Liberia to interview him. One documentary called “The Vice Guide to Liberia” has been viewed more than ten million times on YouTube.
The year prior to his testimony, Blahyi founded his Journeys Against Violence NGO to rehabilitate former child soldiers in Monrovia, engaging them in activities such as farming and bricklaying. He claims to date that he is a changed person, but not everyone in Liberia is convinced.
Born on September 30, 1971, in Monrovia, Liberia, Blahyi has relatives in Sinoe County in southern Liberia. According to his memoir, “The Redemption of an African Warlord,” he was seven years old when his father took him to Krahn elders in Sinoe County and left him there. He was anointed high priest of a secret society there, a post that required him to perform monthly human sacrifices, he said.
“As priest, I said the invocation,” said Blahyi. “The child is killed. His body has different, different parts taken off.” And that was how Blahyi started performing Black magic for Doe, who was also a member of the Krahn ethnicity. During the first Liberian civil war, Blahyi was a well-respected priest. Many of his child soldiers, some as young as nine, who were mostly forcibly conscripted, often kneeled as he recites recantations.
Some accounts state that Blahyi mashed cocaine into the food of the children and made them watch Jean-Claude Van Damme movies to show them that “war was just an act.” He said he fed them human remains. “Any time we captured a town, I had to make a human sacrifice,” he said. “They bring to me a living child that I slaughter and take the heart out to eat it.”
He said he would divide the heart up among his soldiers to consume.
After his conversion in 1996, Blahyi first worked as a bodyguard for a bank official in Monrovia before selling cassettes of his sermons on the street, according to The New Yorker. Fearing for his life, he fled to Ghana, where he lived for the next 10 years in a refugee camp. He came back to Monrovia to testify in 2008 when the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings started. He was then recommended for amnesty.
Now a preacher, the former warlord continues to beg for forgiveness. “The people of Liberia, their forgiveness is relative — some of them have forgiven me, some of them have still not forgiven me, but I know God has forgiven me because God said it,” he said.