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A name used throughout Sierra Leone for the men's society that is responsible for organising the initiation that prepares boys and young men for adult life. In the past it was described by Europeans as akin to freemasonry and credited with country-wide organisation and political power to impose respect for its laws and decisions, even against the will and over the heads of the chiefs, the traditional rulers. As with the Bondo/Sande society, it has had to modify its practices to meet the demands of contemporary Sierra Leone society, but it remains a potent force in most country areas and its prohibitions are strictly observed. Near most villages there is a Poro 'bush', a clearing in an area of virgin forest, where Poro members meet to discuss society business and which is closed to non-members. The highest ranking member of Poro is called Taso in Mende and Kashi in Temne. He wears an openwork headdress of wood and cane exhibiting human skulls and thighbones said to be those of former Tasos/Kashis, the whole being crowned by a spreading crest of feathers. To become a Taso/Kashi requires the payment of a fee, a period of apprenticeship or training in the use of special medicines, and a formal initiation by someone who already holds that rank. The initiation of boys and young men, as with that of girls, takes the form of a period of seclusion at a camp in the forest where they receive instruction and moral education through Poro songs and stories that emphasise the values of co-operation and solidarity and respect for the elders. If they have not already been circumcised, they are circumcised at the start of their time in the forest and given a Poro name. Towards the end of the initiation they are put through a series of trials and ordeals to test their manhood. In the past they also received the Poro sign in the form of a series of cicatrization marks around the back and shoulders. The antiquity of the Poro in Sierra Leone is testified to both by descriptions of Poro officials such as Taso/Kashi by European observers from the mid-18th century onwards and by references to the society and its activities that go back to the start of the 17th century.

  • [For the earliest references to Poro in the historical literature see: W.A.Hart, 'The lawyer of Poro?', RES, 1993, 23, 83-95]
  • T.J.Alldridge, The Sherbro and its Hinterland (London 1901), Ch.13.
  • N.W.Thomas, Anthropological Report on Sierra Leone (London 1916), 143-146.
  • V.R.Dorjahn, 'The initiation of Temne Poro officials', Man, 1962, 36-40.
  • A.J.Gittins, Mende Religion (Nettetal 1987), 147-152.