One of the two most widespread secret societies in West Africa, the Sande Society is a women’s society found along the Upper Guinea coast from Sierra Leone to Liberia. In earlier times, before Christian and Muslim missionaries gained influence in this area, most girls were initiated into the Sande Society as an essential part of their transition to womanhood, while boys became members of the similar Poro Society. See African secret societies; Poro Society.
To be initiated into the society, candidates undergo a series of ritual encounters with the Sande spirit, a female entity associated with rivers and fertility. Masked dancers wearing a distinctive wooden helmet mask represent the spirit, and pass on women’s mysteries to the new initiates. A council of Sande elders oversees these rites, and also traditionally wields a great deal of political and economic authority, which, however, is balanced by the influence of the men’s Poro Society. In some areas, in fact, Poro and Sande elders alternate in power, with Poro elders having the final word in one year and Sande elders holding authority the next.
Unlike the Poro Society, which faced significant legal repression during the colonial era, the Sande Society was largely neglected by colonial governments. It remains a living tradition across a sizeable area of West Africa today.
The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Societies : the ultimate a-z of ancient mysteries, lost civilizations and forgotten wisdom written by John Michael Greer – © John Michael Greer 2006