SECRET societies are widespread throughout West Africa and cut across tribal, cultural, and linguistic lines. These organizations regulate the social, educational, and political activities of their members. Their primary role, however, is religious. Two of the largest secret societies are the Poro (for men) and the Sande (for women).* The Poro society, for example, strives “to control the spirits and ensure that their intervention in the affairs of men is beneficial.”—Initiation, 1986.
New members of the Poro are taught spiritual secrets and powers of witchcraft, and ritual scars are carved on their bodies. New members of the Sande also learn spiritistic rituals and typically undergo female genital mutilation, although this practice is being discontinued in some areas.
Other secret societies regulate sexual behavior and use spiritistic remedies to try to cure madness or other ailments. During Sierra Leone’s civil war, one secret society claimed that its members were immune to bullets. They were not.
Members are forbidden to reveal the group’s knowledge and rituals to outsiders. A person who flouts the laws and protocols of a secret society risks death.
In some areas, Sande is known as Bondo.