Nope, Cannibalism is NOT an African Stereotype but was the Cult-like Reality of the Leopard Society!
Africa, being one of the oldest continents on the planet is home to a web of tales, cultures, and history that doesn’t pertain only to the positive.
Our pasts are intertwined with memories of grim groups such as the Leopard Society also referred to as the Leopard cult that terrorized Africans since the 1700s.
The practices of this cult swept a cloak of horror on past everyday man of the time that soon intergraded a supernatural angle to the cult on account of the group’s shadowy and stealthy manner of murder.
The Leopard cult was originally made up of warriors from the all-male warrior groups that existed in ancient Ivory Coast, Gabon, Nigeria, Liberia, and Sierra Leone to protect their local populations from late night attacks. According to an article by Elizabeth Ofosuah Johnson, the Leopard men took on the duty of killing westerners and slave traders of those days that hunted victims at night.
By the 1800s, the greatly feared and respected warriors started practising Cannibalism. The cult heavily associated itself with the Leopard because it was considered a powerful animal totem, and was the animal responsible for guiding the dead.
Instead of actually transforming into the assumed mythical beasts the Leopard Society wore leopard masks, draped themselves in leopard skins and set off into the night armed with claws made of sharpened steel, steel-toothed mouthpieces.
They sometimes wore footwear designed to leave leopard-like footprints.
Upon finding suitable victims who were usually travellers on their own at night, the Leopard men would attack like animals they portrayed with vicious biting, slashing and body dismemberment. Victims were butchered after their deaths, their organs and blood were harvested for the purpose of ritual cannibalism from which the cult supposedly attained their strength from.
A missionary doctor working in Liberia in the 1930s named Dr Werner Junge described these gruesome attacks as follows;
“There, on a mat in a house, I found the horribly mutilated body of a fifteen-year-old girl. The neck was torn to ribbons by the teeth and claws of the animal, the intestines were torn out, the pelvis shattered, and one thigh was missing. A part of the thigh gnawed to the bone… It seemed at first glance that only a beast of prey could have treated the girl’s body in this way, but closer investigation brought certain particularities to light which did not fit in with the picture. I observed, for example, that the skin at the edge of the undamaged part of the chest was torn by strangely regular gashes about an inch long. Also, the liver had been removed from the body with a clean cut no beast could make. I was struck, too, by a piece of intestine the ends of which appeared to have been smoothly cut off, and, lastly, there was the fracture of the thigh – a classic example of fracture by bending ” Dr. Werner Junge said.
During the early 20th century, Sir Harry Johnston documented the Leopard Society and reported numerous cases of ritual killings and cannibalism. In the 1920s the international scientific Harvard African Expedition visiting Liberia uncovered that the Leopard society’s activities had long existed not merely in Liberia, but in parts of Sierra Leone and of the Ivory Coast as well!
The cult was far from gender exclusive; while men were typical members of the cult, women were also known to be associated with the society.
A lot of our past as Africans is hinged on what our then colonial masters wanted us to know and most importantly not to know.
Regardless of the age-old stereotypes, these are the pure truths we ought to pursue. No matter how gruesome our past is, it helps us grow and understand our predecessors.