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Purrah, Purroh

PURRAH, PURROH, or PORO, a secret society of Sierra Leone, West Africa. Only males are admitted to its ranks, but two other affiliated and secret associations exist, the Yassi and the Bundu, the first of which is nominally reserved for females, but members of the Purrah are admitted to certain ceremonies. All the female members of the Yassi must be also members of the Bundu, which is strictly reserved to women. Of the three, the Purrah is by far the most important. The entire native population is governed by its code of laws. It primarily represents a type of freemasonry, a "friendly " society to which even infants are temporarily admitted, the ceremony in their case consisting merely of carrying them into the Purrah " bush" and out again. But this side of the Purrah is merged in its larger objects as represented by its two great aspects, the religious and the civil. Under the former, boys join it at puberty, while under the latter it is practically the native governing body, making laws, deciding on war and peace, etc.

The Purrah has its special ritual and language, tattooing and symbols, but details are unknown, as the oath of secrecy is always kept. It meets usually in the dry season, between the months of October and May. The rendezvous is in " the bush," an enclosure, separated into apartments by mats and roofed only by the overhanging trees, serving as a club-house. There are three grades, the first for chiefs and " big men," the second for fetish-priests and the third for the crowd. The ceremonies of the Purrah are presided over by the Purrah " devil," a man in fetish dress, who addresses the meeting through a long tube of wood.

The Purrah can place its taboo on anything or anybody; and as no native would venture to defy its order, much trouble has been caused where the taboo has been laid upon crops. In 1897 the British or local government was compelled to pass a special ordinance absolutely forbidding the imposition of the taboo on all indigenous products. Of the affiliated societies the Yassi appears to some extent to be an association for providing men and women, who believe themselves ill through "fetish," with medical treatment, on payment of certain fees. The women's Bundu is in many ways a replica of the men's Purrah, though without political power.

See T. J. Alldridge, The Sherbro and its Hinterland (1901).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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