5 African secret societies you might not know of


1. Abakuá

Abakuá, also sometimes known as Nañigo, is an Afro-Cuban men’s initiatory fraternity or secret society, which originated from fraternal associations in the Cross River region of southeastern Nigeria and southwestern Cameroon.Abakuá has been described as “an Afro-Cuban version of Freemasonry”.

I'm an Abakua" - Havana Times
Abakua ceremonial dress

Known generally as Ekpe, Egbo, Ngbe, or Ugbe among the multi-lingual groups in the region, it was believed that Ñáñigos, as the members are known, could be transformed into leopards to stalk their enemies. In contemporary Haiti, where secret societies have remained strong, an elite branch of the army that was set up to instill fear in the restless masses was named The Leopards. Among the less mystical Ñáñigo revenges was the ability to turn people over to slavers. In Africa they were notorious operators who had made regular deals for profit with slavers.The creolized Cuban term Abakuá is thought to refer to the Abakpa area in southeast Nigeria, where the society was active. The first such societies were established by Africans in the town of Regla, Havana, in 1836. This remains the main area of Abakuá implantation, especially the district of Guanabacoa in eastern Havana, and in Matanzas where Afro-Cuban culture is vibrant.

Cuba – Havana in Guanabacoa - News & views from emerging countries
Cuba – Havana in Guanabacoa

Members of this society came to be known as ñañigos, a word used to designate the street dancers of the society. The ñañigos, who were also called diablitos, were well known by the general population in Cuba through their participation in the Carnival on the Day of the Three Kings, when they danced through the streets wearing their ceremonial outfit, a multicolored checkerboard dress with a conical headpiece topped with tassels. The oaths of loyalty to the Abakuá society’s sacred objects, members, and secret knowledge taken by initiates are a lifelong pact which creates a sacred kinship among the members. The duties of an Abakuá member to his ritual brothers at times surpass even the responsibilities of friendship, and the phrase “Friendship is one thing, and the Abakuá another” is often heard. One of the oaths made during initiation is that one will not reveal the secrets of the Abakuá to non-members, which is why the Abakuá have remained hermetic for over 160 years.

2. Confraternities

Confraternities in Nigeria are secret-society like student groups within higher education that have recently been involved in illegal and violent activities. The exact death toll of confraternity activities is unclear. One estimate in 2002 was that 250 people had been killed in campus cult-related murders in the previous decade, while the Exam Ethics Project lobby group estimated that 11 5 students and teachers had been killed between 1993 and 2019.

A poster warning against confraternities in Nigeria. Note the depiction in the lower center of President Olusegun Obasanjo backed up by Jesus Christ.

In 1953, future-Nobel Prize winning author Wole Soyinka and a group of six friends formed the Pyrate Confraternity at the elite University College, Ibadan, then part of the University of London. According to the Pyrates, the “Magnificent Seven”(G7), as they called themselves, observed that the university was populated with wealthy students associated with the colonial powers and a few poorer students striving in manner and dress to be accepted by the more advantaged students, while social life was dictated by tribal affiliation.

Wole Soyinka - Books, Poems & Education - Biography
In 1953, future-Nobel Prize winning author Wole Soyinka and a group of six friends formed the Pyrate Confraternity at the elite University College, Ibadan, then part of the University of London.[

Soyinka would later note that the Pyrates wanted to differentiate themselves from “stodgy establishment and its pretentious products in a new educational institution different from a culture of hypocritical and affluent middleclass, different from alienated colonial aristocrats”. The organization adopted the motto “Against all conventions”, the skull and crossbones as their logo, while members adopted confraternity names such as “Cap’n Blood” and “Long John Silver”.

Top 7 Confraternities In Nigeria And Their History & Beliefs - Education -  Nigeria
The organization adopted the motto “Against all conventions”, the skull and crossbones as their logo, while members adopted confraternity names such as “Cap’n Blood” and “Long John Silver”.

When fellow students protested a proposal to build a railroad across the road leading to the university, fearing that easier transportation would make the university less exclusive, the Pyrates successfully ridiculed the argument as elitist. Roughly analogous to the fraternities and sororities of North America, the Pyrates Confraternity proved popular among students, even after the original members moved on. Membership was open to any promising male student, regardless of tribe or race, but selection was stringent and most applicants were denied. For almost 20 years, the Pyrates were the only confraternity on Nigerian campuses.

3.Nyau

Nyau (also: Nyao meaning mask or initiation) is a secret society of the Chewa, an ethnic group of the Bantu peoples from Central and Southern Africa. The Nyau society consists of initiated members of the Chewa and Nyanja people, forming the cosmology or indigenous religion of the people. Initiations are separate for men and for women, with different knowledge learned and with different ritual roles in the society according to gender and seniority. Only initiates are considered to be mature and members of the Nyau.

Nyau - Wikipedia
Nyau (also: Nyao meaning maskor initiation) is a secret society of the Chewa, an ethnic group of the Bantu peoples from Central and Southern Africa.

The word Nyau is not only used for the society itself, but also for the indigenous religious beliefs or cosmology of people who form this society, the ritual dance performances, and the masks used for the dances. Nyau societies operate at the village level, but are part of a wide network of Nyau across the central and part of the southern regions of Malawi, eastern Zambia, western Mozambique and areas where Malawians migrated in Zimbabwe.

The Chewa Speaking People

During performances with the masks women and children often rush into the houses when a Nyau performer threatens, as the masks are worn by only male members of the society and represent male knowledge. At that moment in the performance and rituals, Nyau masked dancers are understood to be spirits of the dead. As spirits the masquerades may act with impunity and there have been attacks and deaths during performances in the past. Increasing westernization has led to a decrease in Nyau.

Stranger than fiction: Going behind the Nyau masquerade | The Sunday Mail
During performances with the masks women and children often rush into the houses when a Nyau performer threatens, as the masks are worn by only male members of the society and represent male knowledge.

4. Odozi Obodo

Nwiboko Obodo hailed from Isieke, a village a few kilometers from Abakaliki. He had lived in different communities before returning to Isieke in 1953. In the village, he formed a group to curb criminal activities within the community. However, the group’s activities soon turned oppressive and deadly, as villagers began to believe the group was involved in the murder of community members. During this period, the incomes of the cult members showed improvement and they began to flaunt their wealth, attracting more members. The high priest, Obodo, would pay the taxes of adult residents in the village and then turn around and bill them fines; if the resident could not pay, their farm or property would be seized.

The Notorious Obodo cult – Know Nigeria

Criminal investigation into the activities of the cult arose after the disappearance of Obodo’s wife. After she was not seen publicly for a few months, her brother reported a missing persons case at the local police station. A subsequent undercover operation gathered incriminating evidence on the activities of the cult. Obodo’s house was searched and further evidence implicating him and six others in the murder of his wife was found. The investigation revealed that the cult was involved in various murders in the Eastern region, mostly of persons alleged to be involved in criminal activities or social vices and who were unable to pay the fines imposed by the society. The trial of members of the cult led to the sentencing of 59 persons to death.

5. Poro

The Poro, or Purrah or Purroh, is a men’s secret society in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Guinea, and the Ivory Coast, introduced by the Mande people. It is sometimes referred to as a hunting society and only males are admitted to its ranks. The female counterpart of the Poro society is the Sande society.

Poro - Wikipedia
Boys returning from their initiation in the Poro. Panguma, Sierra Leone (Photo: Sjoerd Hofstra, 1936)

The Poro society was part of the culture introduced by Mande people, migrants to the region as early as 1000 AD. Two affiliated and secret associations exist in Sierra Leone, the Yassi and the Bundu. The first is nominally reserved for females, but members of the Poro 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. In Liberia, the female equivalent of the Poro is the Sande society.

A “falui” masker, a one-armed warrior spirit. Panguma, Sierra Leone

Of the three, the Poro is by far the most important. The entire native population is governed by its code of laws. It primarily represents a type of fraternal society to which even infants are temporarily admitted. The ceremony for them consists of carrying them into the Poro bush and out again. There are also religious and civil aspects of the Poro. Under the former, boys join it at puberty in a rite of passage. Under its civil aspects, the society serves as a kind of native governing body, making laws, deciding on war and peace, etc.


Courtesy of Wikipedia.com

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