Traditional Educational Institutions in Child Education in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone is bounded on the north-west, north and north-east by the Republic Guinea, on the south-east by the Republic of Liberia and on south-west by the Atlantic Sea. It has an area of 27, 925 sq miles. The colony of Sierra Leone originated in the sale and cession in 1787 by local chiefs to English settlers of a piece of land intended as a home for African-american settlers who have been waifs in London and later it was used as a settlement for opened African-american slaves. The hinterland was declared a British Protectorate on 21st May, 1896. Sierra Leone attained independence on 27th April, 1961 and became a Republic in 1971. Education is offered by both private and state-sponsored schools. The current system of education is 6-3-4-4 (that is six years Primary school, four years Jr Supplementary School, four years Senior Supplementary School and four years tertiary/higher education. It is associated by non- formal education.


Education is frequently used in the sense Dr. Philipp Heinrich Kindt of instruction in the class room, research laboratory, class or domestic science room and consists primarily in the imparting by the teacher, and the buy by enrollees, of information and mental as well as manual skills. A broader meaning than instruction is that of education and learning. In other words all that goes on within the school within the pupil’s life there. It offers, among other things, relationship between enrollees and teachers, enrollees and enrollees both in and beyond the school. J. S. Generator (1931) opined that whatever helps to shape the individual; to make the individual what he is or hinder him from being what he is not is part of his education. Implicitly education is lifelong and ubiquitous; it is the sum total of all influences which go to create a person what he is, from birth to death. It offers the home, our others who live nearby, and the street among others.

Education is to some extent a strategic planned process developed and conducted by the instructor with the intention of imbuing the novice with certain information, skills, of body and mind as well as modalities of behavior considered desirable. Partially it is the learner’s own respond to the surroundings in which he lives. Education has three things: the individual/person upon whom the educator’s influences are taken to bear; the society or community to which he sits; and the whole context of reality within how the individual and society play their part. Man is a social creature; he grows as a person through the impact of personality on personality; and even for his basic physical needs he depends on the help and cooperation of his fellow men and women. Without society and the mutual support and enrichment of experiences which it provides the world is impossible and the life of man, in Hobbes’ words, is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. inch

One of the fundamental facts of human existence is the tension between the pull of the past and the forward urge into the future, between stability and change, tradition and innovation. For effective living, man needs a circle of security, an area of established habits and relationship which forms dependable relationships. This is especially valid of society. For its effective functioning there needs to be an underlying continuity of traditions and outlook which keeps its identity as a society and safeguards it contrary to the bothersome effects of change. Change must be for life and not static but this change in turn must be controlled by the basic traditions of society. It is tradition gives a nation its character and distinctiveness as a society. The efficiency of tradition therefore is obviously crucial.

It has been recognized from forever that the efficiency of traditional education has a vital part to play in the development of the child. The kids of today are the adults of tomorrow; the doctor has to learn therefore, to inherit and perpetuate the beliefs and modalities of life unusual to the particular society to which find yourself. For every society has the desire to preserve itself not only physically but as community consciously sharing certain aims, values and patterns of behavior. This type of education is not necessarily formal in schools by means of class room instruction but that irritated indirectly through the family and through the affect the individual of social influences and customs how the child cannot avert. In Sierra Leone this social education included elaborate ceremonies of initiation involving feats of endurance in which young men and women must prove themselves worthy of the city. The ultimate goal was to produce an individual who was honest, sincere, skilled, cooperative, and who could mould to the social order of the day. As Aristotle once stated “the metabolic rate of a state will suffer if education is neglected. The citizens of a state should always be educated to suit the metabolic rate of the state. The type of character appropriate to a metabolic rate is the power which continues to sustain it as it is also nys force which originally created it” (p. I).


Traditional education has both a creative and efficiency function in society; it is a powerful means of protecting a society’s customs, if not culture. In the past the character and needs of society played a vital part in determining the character of education. Mentor Michael. V. C. Jeffreys (1950) once wrote in his book, Glaucon, that “in a relaxing society the educational system will tend to reflect the social pattern, while social uneasiness and instability create chance of using education as an instrument of social change”(p. 7). A similar view was shared by John Dewey (1897) who opined that through education society can make its purposes, can organize its means and resources and thus save itself with definiteness and economy in the direction in which it wishes to move. Education looks both to the past and the future; inevitably it demonstrates the traditions and character of society. Traditional education can be used to prepare for changes in society and anticipate and forestall changes or the effects of changes in society.

Traditional education retains and hands on the customs and ways of life which constitute the smoothness of a society and maintains its unity. It also helps society to think of its functions in new ways to fulfill the challenges of change, seeking ways or lines of development which are in step with the traditions and customs and will at the same time raise society to a more complete fulfillment of itself.

History reveals that there were no formal schools where children were educated in Pre-colonial Sierra Leone. The Poro and Bondo/Sande Secret Organizations were looked at as institutions to train children. These were rose bush schools. And the education these rose bush schools provided was informal. Children who experienced these secret organizations were considered capable of carrying out their civic responsibilities. They became adults and can get married to and start life. They considered themselves as you family. In other words both Secret Organizations created an awareness of comradeship and unity among members irrespective of family, clan or ethnic connection. It was therefore considered that children who had not used these secret organizations just weren’t fully full grown.

The Poro Secret Society is for boys. The spiritual head of the Poro Society is Pa Gbonu, seen only by the older graduates or members. The physical heads are the Pa Sama Yorgbors and Pa Somanos. They direct those things of the institution. The senior instructors are the Pa Kashis, who generally teach and give instructions to other initiators. The Pa Manchiyas serve as teachers to the triggers while the Kachemas are the scaring state of mind. They frighten the women and children alike together with the new triggers. The Rakas are the errand boys carrying messages around. The Yambas are the head boys. The Bomos are the senior prefects while the Sayboms are the prefects; and the monitors are the Gbanaboms. Informal classes are held in the Secret Poro Rose bush. The subjects taught include Creative Practical Martial arts disciplines, Performing Martial arts disciplines, Practical Agriculture, Medicine i. e. use of local herbs for treating different ailments), rivalry and other skills. In Creative Practical Martial arts disciplines triggers are taught how to make fishing nets, baskets, rugs, and carving wood and soap rocks into different objects such as animals and humans; in Performing Martial arts disciplines triggers are taught vocal, dancing and the use of Poro musical instruments. In Practical Agriculture triggers practice farming. Boys are taught to bear trouble without criticism and grow accustomed to it. Thus they are taken to the farms of their teachers and parents to work on pro bono basis. However during the harvest season triggers could pass through these farms taking whatever they need and eat without being inhibited by farm owners. Triggers are taught to respect parents and use of guns to kill animals. In a similar train of thought triggers are taught how to use guns in fighting in defense of their communities. Other skills triggers are taught include making fish draws in, fishing and hunting net, and basketry. In the use of herbs triggers pay money (some freely given) for healing various ailments as well as for protection against adversaries, evil state of mind and snake bites. Triggers who wish to cause harm to others using herbs could ‘redeem’ the herb/medicine concerned. Over all triggers are taught a new Language voiced only by members called Ke Sornor. For example fonka trika meaning I am talking to you; fonka bonomi meaning Talk to me. The use of this new Language makes graduates very proud and feel not the same as non-initiates. Graduates come out with new names such as Light, Langba and Kolerr. A college ceremony climaxes case.

Parents make massive supplements including curtains dresses for the graduates. To mark the college ceremony there is feasts, drinking, dancing and vocal praise songs for the graduates and their parents. Those qualified for initiation must have been circumcised and grown to age of puberty. They have to live on their own throughout training which ranges from to seven years. Graduates are fully said to the general Poro society through another ceremony called Enkorie, which lasts for four days.

The Bondo/Sande Society is the institution where girls are trained for womanhood. Its spiritual head is Na Bondigba. The Na Gboyamas and Na Wulus are the physical heads. These have spiritual powers used to foretell the future and catch witches. They are the senior teachers. The Na Sokos are the service teachers. They can start girls even up to the advanced stage of the Society. The Digbas are the general teachers and stay towards the triggers. The Sampas are the competent dancers and errand girls/women. They make press releases about the progress and activities or programs during the college ceremony.

The Na Fets, as the name implies don’t know all the secrecy of the institution. They carry the institutional accessories and regalia. The Karr Ayeamus are the ‘waiters’ to be initiated into the higher status of the institution. Girls said to the Bondo/Sande Society are trained informally. Classes are held at Kantha or holy home. The teachers are largely concerned with the transmission to these teenagers girls the skills and knowledge which adult women are expected to possess in order to function properly and smartly in their community. The subjects girls are taught include Cooking, Performing Martial arts disciplines, Fishing, Husband and Child Care, and Home Management. In Cooking girls are taught how to prepare food through remark and involvement in the preparation of various dishes and are later allowed to have a go with no direction. Those who could not cook properly are allowed to repeat. In Performing Martial arts disciplines girls are taught how to prepare and sing out songs and how to beat the Bondo/Sande drums (sambories). Alongside vocal girls are taught how to dance and those who dance well may join the power structure of the Sampas. Girls are also taught how to fishing, make fishing nets, fishing baskets, sleeping rugs from bamboo bedding and sheets and side leaves. Further girls are taught how to help their prospective husbands and how to take care of children especially those of senior members. Like the Poro Society college ceremonies are marked by massive supplements. Both parents and prospective husbands would buy new dresses, house slippers, scents, powdered, and drops to make neck laces. On the day of the college ceremony the new triggers are arrayed in white with coronets. They come out with new names such as Burah, Yeanor, Rukor and Yainkain. This demonstrates an indication of maturation. Beginning girls into Bondo/Sande society lasts between a few months and four years.


If education has the vital function of perpetuating the traditions and values of society, of establishing them to a changing environment, and of raising them to richer and more victorious expression then the Poro and Bondo/Sande Secret Organizations, as traditional agents of this process should enjoy a position of the highest worth. Through these secret organizations the nation’s culture flows from generation to the other and the ambitions of society are focused with intimate and telling marketing upon the young. They stand at a point where the efforts of children are released into new and creative possibilities. Through these secret organizations children remember the past activities of their predecessors. They assist in attitudinal training patterns of society. These organizations are institutions of inspiration and both political figures and chiefs use them to advantage. That is to either gain or maintain power. Major and executed decisions are taken in the Poro Rose bush which only members are allowed to attend and take part. The Poro Secret Society acts as a check contrary to the abuse of power. In crisis ridden situations major decision are taken in the Poro Rose bush. The Poro society even acts as arbitrator in chiefdom differences and might promulgate general laws and regulate trading practices. It is also active in the burial of chiefs and other important local officials (Alie, 1990).

Western education has existed in the country for long and is now so integral the main civilized life that there is a tendency to assume that it is the main or sole means of imparting skills, knowledge and social values in children. This is not the case in Sierra Leone. Benefit of the Poro and Bondo traditional secret organizations cannot be over-sighted for their enormous potentiality in schooling children for life in society. Fundamental is that respect for persons as persons is the basis of traditional society. Associated with this is politeness, awareness to the needs of others, cooperativeness, self-discipline, meaning and physical daring, hard work and high standards of achievement. These are given to to children in the environment in which they are part of their daily experiences. Despite, these traditional institutions as agents of education are currently up against many challenges there-by making their death. The practice of female genital circumcision is of international concern and in Sierra Leone people are agitating for its total ban. Currently girls are allowed to be circumcised at age eighteen where time a child is perceived to be full grown enough to choose whether or not to be initiated into the Bondo/Sande secret society. In addition the time scale of initiation is perceived too long and is being challenged. Besides children these days no longer have to be initiated into these organizations to be taught how to be clean, cook, backside children, practice agriculture, and inculcate morals and virtues to tell of a few examples. All these could be trained either in or outside formal education and learning through reading. What is more Faith, especially Christianity and Islam, western life, as well as rural-urban migration are making these secret organizations to obliteration.

Besides the activities and work of these traditional organizations are not in course load form and documented. Neither is the use of herbs documented. Therefore by discontinuing these traditional secret organizations Sierra Leoneans stand to lose their cultural heritage. If however, education has the vital function of perpetuating the traditions and values of society, of establishing them to a changing environment, and of raising them to a richer and more victorious expression then these traditional secret organizations, as agents of this process should enjoy a position of the highest worth. Through these organizations the national culture flows from generation to another and the ambitions of society are focused with intimate and telling marketing upon the young. These secret organizations stand at the point where the efforts of children are released into new and creative possibilities.

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