Liberia's Secret Societies Part 1: Poro Society

There are two main secret societies for men and women in Liberia: the Poro, which is for men, and the Sande, for women.

The Poro can be found in many West African countries, including Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, and Guinea. The society was introduced by the Mende people and can sometimes be referred to as the hunting society. Only men are admitted to its rank.

Within the Poro there are sub-groups designed for certain strata of society: the chief (head) and the regular, ordinary initiate. The society serves as a kind of native governing body and it is governed by a code of laws. The society also has its own special rituals and language, tattooing, and symbols. Details of what happens within the society, however, are scarce due to an oath of secrecy.

Young boys are expected to join the society at puberty in a rite passage ceremony; infants are sometimes initiated temporarily. During initiation ceremonies, boys are taken into the bush and brought back out after some time. Information about things that happen within the bush is kept top secret, known only by members of the society.

The members of the Poro society meet during dry season—the months of October through May. These meetings take place at a secluded location in the bush, separated into apartments using mats and roofed by branches of trees, which serve as the clubhouse.

There are three grade levels of the society. The first is for the chiefs and top men, the second is for the fetish priests, and the third is for the crowd. The ceremony is presided over by the Poro devil, a man in fetish dress, who addresses the meeting through a long tube of wood. If a ceremony has women, children, and non-members taking part, the devil stays out. The Gbetoo, a female warrior, is the only "fetish dressed up with long tube of wood" that can be seen. The Poro devil is invisible even to most members.