SIERRA LEONE (Kuranko, Mende, Poro) 





IndexAfricaSierra Leone

“In West Africa, initiation of girls into a secret society of women centers on circumcision, and preparations may take months. Planning is handled exclusively by women within the family because it is considered inappropriate to discuss the subject with men, Several families may have their children initiated together to reduce costs and for solidarity and comfort. The girls usually leave home to stay in a hut, called a Bundubush in Sierra Leone, with other girls their age for months--and sometimes years--while they receive instructions and training in wifely and motherly duties that have been prescribed by the community and handed down to generations of women before them. The most important decision for a mother is the choice of a circumciser--called a sowe in Sierra Leone--usually an old, experienced "professional" who has studied under a superior for years”[1].


Girls are circumcised in what is called the Bondo Society, the traditional women’s secret society[2]. A 1985 study of girl circumcision was offered by Koso-Thomas (1987)[3]. A good overview was recently provided by Berggren (2004:p24-39)[4].


“The terms adolescence and youth refer mostly to boys in Sierra Leone. This is in large part because girls are considered children until they are married, when they become women. This is especially true in rural areas where the usual age for marriage is between 12 and 15, although they do not necessarily accrue the same respect as older women. The passage from child to woman also occurs when girls are initiated into a traditional women’s secret society, the Bondo (Sandii in Mende) society, which often takes place between the ages of seven and 14. The process involves a girl undergoing a ritual, including female genital mutilation. It is estimated that between 80 and 90 percent of girls in Sierra Leone participate in these initiations. Despite criticism lodged by adolescent respondents, entry into secret societies has traditionally clearly marked their passage into adulthood, making girls ready for marriage and respected as adult women by other women. Non-members of the secret societies are considered to be children, and are often not accepted as adults by society”[5].


“Female genital mutilation (FGM), which is condemned by international health experts as damaging to both physical and psychological health, is widely practiced on young women and girls, especially in traditional ethnic groups and among the less-educated. While UNICEF estimates the percentage of females who have undergone this procedure may be as high as 90 percent, local groups believe this figure is overstated [in 1997]”[6]. “A crudely performed operation to remove the clitoris from adolescent girls forms a key part of the initiation ceremonies held by powerful, women-only secret societies that prepare young girls for adult life, marriage and motherhood in the West African country. […] The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) estimates that 90 percent of all women in Sierra Leone have undergone circumcision, which is practiced by all ethnic groups in the interior. Only the Krio people, the detribalised descendents of freed slaves who settled in and around Freetown, shun the ritual”[7]. The institution is routinely opposed[8].





§         Sexual Mutilations. Case studies presented at the workshop: African women speak on female circumcision, Khartoum (October 21-25, 1984), Babiker Badri - Scientific Association for Women Studies, p62 []

§         Razor’s Edge - The Controversy of Female Genital Mutilation - IRIN Web Special, March 2005, p21-3 []




Kuranko, Mende, Poro






Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. Volume I. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: May 2005


[1] Sillah, Memuna M.. (1996) Bundu trap. (cover story), Natural History 105,8;42 et seq.

[2] Lansana Fofana,  Female Circumcision Used As a Weapon of Political Campaign ,Inter Press Service, April 19, 2005, as accessed April 19, 2005

[3] Koso-Thomas, O. (1987) The Circumcision of Women: A Strategy for Eradication. London: Dotesios Ltd.

[4] Berggren, Tilde (Fall 2004) The Implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child Regarding Female Genital Cutting in Sierra Leone. Master thesis, Faculty of Law, University of Lund$File/exam.pdf?OpenElement as accessed April 19, 2005

[5] Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children (2002) Precious Resources. Participatory Research Study with Adolescents and Youth in Sierra Leone. April – July 2002,, as accessed April 19, 2005

[6]U.S. Department of State (1998) Sierra Leone Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1997. Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998, as accessed April 19, 2005

[7] Female circumcision is a vote winner, March 17, 2005 – IRIN, as accessed April 19, 2005

[8] Ban The Bondo Society, August 6, 2002 - Sierra Leone Live, as accessed April 19, 2005