Poro (secret society)

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The term Poro ( Purrah , Purroh ) describes a secret society widespread in Sierra Leone and Liberia . West Africa's indigenous population uses these “secret societies”, which also include the “Neegee Society” and the “Leopard Society”, to preserve traditional knowledge and the social structures of society.


While membership in Poro is reserved for men only, the two similar secret societies Yassi and Sande (or Bundu ) are also open to women - sometimes under certain conditions. All female members of the Yassi must also be members of the Bundu, which in turn is exclusively reserved for women.

Joining a federal government is voluntary, but often takes place under social pressure. In the secret societies, membership is not a kept secret, but rather the knowledge acquired. The acquisition of knowledge is again only possible in phases that are separated in time, usually tests or rituals are prescribed for each new phase. There is no provision for leaving a secret society in order not to lose control over secret knowledge. Within the secret societies there is a hierarchical structure that will not be congruent with the existing social and political structure.

Of the three frets, Poro is the most important. The entire local population is under his jurisdiction. It essentially represents a kind of Masonic lodge or mutual insurance association, the main aspects of which extend to both the religious ( initiation of adolescents) and civil life. This is where laws are made and war and peace are decided.

The Poro has an extensive repertoire of rituals , terms, tattoos and symbols , the details of which are unknown to outsiders because the sworn secrecy is inviolable. People gather in the rainforest in the dry season, between October and May. A fenced-in area with matted apartments covered by overhanging trees serves as a meeting room.

The hierarchy comprises three grades: the first for the chiefs and prominent men, the second for the “fetish” priests and the third for the community. The ceremonies of the Sierra Leonean Purrah are led by the Poro devil, a man in a fetish dress, who addresses the community through a long wooden pipe.

In Liberia, the Poro devil does not appear in the presence of women, children or non-members. The Gbetoo is the only "fetish that is clad with a long wooden pipe" and is visible as such a cover. This Poro devil is invisible even to most of the members.

Poro can set his taboo on anything or everything; and since no local would risk tampering with his power, it led to serious supply problems when the grain was tabooed. In 1897, the British or local government issued an ordinance generally prohibiting the imposition of taboos on all local food products.

Of the affiliated frets, Yassi seems to be a medicine fraternity. People who consider their illness to be caused by fetishism expect to be cured by paying certain fees. The Bundu of women is in many ways a counterpart to the Poro of men, but without being able to touch their political power. In Liberia, the female union corresponding to the Poro is the sands .

Meaning in the present

During the Liberian Civil War , countless crimes were committed against the civilian population by all parties to the conflict, motivated by ancient rites and traditions. Rites associated with the Poro were used to turn unsuspecting children into unpredictable child soldiers . It is therefore a particular problem in the legal assessment of these events to assess personal motives for action and guilt against the background of these deeply rooted cultural traditions. An equally big problem is how to help the surviving victims of these crimes.

Web links

Commons : Poro society  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files


  • Frederick William Butt-Thomson: West African secret societies: their organization, officials and teaching. (Reprint) . In: Trubner's African series . Trubner & Co, London 2003, ISBN 1-84453-034-5 .
  • TJ Alldridge: The Sherbro and its hinterland . Macmillan, London 1901.
  • Stephen Ellis : The Mask of Anarchy: The Destruction of Liberia and the Religious Dimension of an African Civil War . Hurst, London 2001, ISBN 1-85065-401-8 .
  • Heinrich Loth (ed.): Old African healing art. European travelogues from the 16th to 19th centuries. (=  Reclams Universal Library . Volume 1062 ). Philipp Reclam jun., Leipzig 1986.
  • Judith Miller, Philip Keith, Jim Haas: Tribal Art . Dorling Kindersley, London 2006, ISBN 3-8310-1025-0 , Liberia and Ivory Coast, pp. 26-33 .

Individual evidence

  1. Ute Röschenthaler: The Africa Lexicon . Ed .: Jacob E. Mabe. Peter Hammer Verlag, Wuppertal 2001, ISBN 3-87294-885-7 , Bünde, p. 109-110 .
  2. Stephen Ellis: Young Soldiers and the Significance of Initiation: Some Notes from Liberia . Ed .: African Studies Center. 2003, lecture script, p. 12 ( full text [PDF; 107 kB ]).