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Two affiliated and secret associations exist in Sierra Leone, the Yassi and the Bundu. The first is nominally reserved for females, but members of the Poro are admitted to certain ceremonies. All the female members of the Yassi must be also members of the Bundu, which is strictly reserved to women. In Liberia, the female equivalent of the Poro is the Sande society.
Of the three, the Poro is by far the most important. The entire native population is governed by its code of laws. It primarily represents a type of fraternal society to which even infants are temporarily admitted. The ceremony for them consists of carrying them into the Poro bush and out again.
But there are also religious and civil aspects of the Poro. Under the former, boys join it at puberty in a rite of passage. Under its civil aspects, the society serves as a kind of native governing body, making laws, deciding on war and peace, etc.
The Poro has its special ritual and language, tattooing and symbols, but details are scarce, due to an oath of secrecy. It meets usually in the dry season, between the months of October and May. The rendezvous is in the bush, at an enclosure, separated into apartments by mats and roofed only by the overhanging trees, serving as a club-house. There are three grades, the first for chiefs and big men, the second for fetish-priests and the third for the crowd. The ceremonies of the Purrah are presided over by the Poro devil, a man in fetish dress, who addresses the meeting through a long tube of wood.
The Poro can place its taboo on anything or anybody. As no native would venture to defy its order, much trouble has been caused where the taboo has been laid upon crops. In 1897 the British local government was compelled to pass a special ordinance forbidding the imposition of the taboo on all indigenous products.
"The ceremonies of the Purrah are presided over by the Poro devil, a man in fetish dress, who addresses the meeting through a long tube of wood, known as a bull-roarer (voice distorter which delivers a bloodcurdling stream of sounds, and is made from a tube with holes cut into it over which discs of membrane from the egg sags of a particular spider are spread over)." The Liberian Poro is little different when it comes to ceremonies.
If a ceremony has women, children and non-members taking part, the devil stays out. The Gbetoo is the only "fetish dressed up with long tube of wood" that can be seen. The poro devil is invisible even to most members.
In 2009, rock-throwing Poro members protested selection of Elizabeth Simbiwa Sogbo-Tortu as the first female chief of the Niminyama chiefdom in eastern Sierra Leone. They barred her from taking office.
Prominent members of the Poro
- King James Cleveland (1754?–1791)
- Christopher Fyfe, "Weighing the Probabilities", Review: Landlords and Strangers: Ecology, Society and Trade in Western Africa, 1000–1630, By George E. Brooks. Boulder: Westview Press, 1994. (ISBN 0-8133-1263-9)
- "Sierra Leone woman barred from becoming chief". BBC News. 15 December 2009. Retrieved 15 December 2009.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- T. J. Alldridge, The Sherbro and its Hinterland (1901)
- Tim Butcher, Chasing the Devil - The Search for Africa's Fighting Spirit (2010, Chatto & Windus)
- P. Jan Vandenhoute, G.W. Harley, Poro and Mask : A Few Comments on Masks as agents of social control in Northeast Liberia (Ghent, 1989, Working Papers in Ethnic Art, 4)