The Poro and the Sande (and violence?)

Both males and females are circumcised in traditional Liberian culture, during the Poro and the Sande initiation rites. Basically these schools (referred to as “bush schools) are the traditional way of educating youth on everything from cooking to participating in local governance. The Poro is for the boys and the Sande is for the girls, and they have different curriculum based on gender roles and norms. Mostly, the Sande teaches girls how to take care of the home and their husband, how to address men, and what the hierarchy among women is. After graduation, these groups are decision making bodies, establishing cultural norms along the way. Everyone is a member in the community. Except that today, some are not willing to go, which means they forgo this part of their culture.

Children and young adults are taken from ages 11 – 20. Ideally they go during puberty so that when they return they will be welcomed home as an adult. If you’ve seen or read Roots, they show a similar initiation into adulthood there. Only a little watered down.

Because, like all initiations, even in the west, there is an element of violence. The Zoe, or leader, can do what they want and there is no accountability. Absolute power, as they say.

I find this element of Liberian culture (not practiced everywhere) particularly interesting because it’s so foreign, and because of the female circumcision.


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