Leopard Society

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A Leopard Man, from Le Monde colonial illustré (1934)

The Leopard Society (not to be confused with Ekpe), was a secret society that originated in Sierra Leone.[1] It was believed that members of the society could transform into leopards through the use of witchcraft.[1] The earliest reference to the society in historical literature can be found in George Banbury's "Sierra Leone: or the white man's grave" (1888).[1] The society brought fear to many parts of the world.

History[edit]

The Leopard Society was a West African secret society active in the early to mid-20th century.[2] They were originally centred in Sierra Leone but spread to other countries such as Liberia, Côte d'Ivoire and Nigeria.

Among the Efik of Calabar, they were known as Mforoekpe and were dreaded.[3] Members would dress in leopard skins, waylaying travelers with sharp claw-like weapons in the form of leopards' claws and teeth. The victims' flesh would be cut from their bodies and distributed to members of the secret society. According to their beliefs, the ritual cannibalism would strengthen both members of the secret society as well as their entire tribe.

According to scholar Stephen Ellis:

These were exclusive groups of people who were believed to be liable to possession by the spirits of carnivorous animals such as leopards and crocodiles, and who carried out ritual killings while in a state of possession. During the course of the twentieth century, the Liberian government outlawed these societies, but some of them nevertheless continued to function clandestinely...[4]

Encounters with what is believed to be a survival of the Leopard Society into the post-colonial era are described by Donald MacIntosh[5] and Beryl Bellman.[6]

In fiction[edit]

Fictionalized versions of the Leopard Society feature in the Tarzan novel Tarzan and the Leopard Men, in Willard Price's African Adventure, in Hergé's Tintin au Congo and in Hugo Pratt's Le Etiopiche.

An alternate, more egalitarian version of the Leopard Society appears in the "Nsibidi Script"[7] series by Nnedi Okorafor.[8] Robert E. Howard also mentions them in his horror/detective short story "Black Talons".

A different take of the Leopard Men appears in The Legend of Tarzan. This version of the group are actually leopards that were magically uplifted by La.

A fictional incarnation also appears in the 2016 film The Legend of Tarzan. It is led by a chieftain named Mbonga (portrayed by the Beninois actor Djimon Honsou) whose son was killed by Tarzan. Léon Rom later cut a deal with Mbonga where he would draw Tarzan to him in exchange for the diamonds on his land. When Tarzan and Mbonga duel, the latter learns that his son was responsible for killing Kala. As the Mangani hold the rest of the Leopard Society at bay, Tarzan defeats Mbonga and spares his life as Mbonga weeps over the fact that he and Tarzan each lost someone they loved.

In art[edit]

A representation of leopard-men–the inspiration for Hergé's Tintin au Congo–is the sculpture group in one of the large exhibition halls of the Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren, commissioned by the Belgium Ministry of Colonies from artist Paul Wissaert and acquired by the museum in 1913.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Beatty, p.3
  2. ^ "The Leopard Society - Africa in the mid 1900s". Retrieved 3 April 2008.
  3. ^ Aye, p.80
  4. ^ Stephen Ellis (1999, 2006) The Mask of Anarchy: The Destruction of Liberia and the Religious Dimension of an African Civil War. New York University Press, p. 222
  5. ^ Travels in the White Man's Grave: Memoirs from West and Central Africa, by Donald MacIntosh, 1998
  6. ^ Beryl L. Bellman (1986). The Language of Secrecy: Symbols and Metaphors in Poro Ritual. Rutgers University Press, p. 47
  7. ^ "The Nsibidi Scripts".
  8. ^ @Nnedi (17 November 2018). "Yes, the Leopard Society is real. I didn't make it up in the Akata series. I didn't have to make up a lot of things…" (Tweet) – via Twitter.

Sources[edit]

  • The International Encyclopedia of Secret Societies & Fraternal Orders, Alan Axelrod, 1997, Checkmark Books
  • Pratten, David (2007). The Man-Leopard Murders: History and Society in Colonial Nigeria. Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-34956-9.
  • Poore Sheehan, Perley (2007). The Leopard Man and Other Stories. Pulpville Press. ISBN 978-1-936-72002-6.
  • Beatty, K.J. (1915). Human Leopards. London: Hugh Rees Ltd.
  • Aye, Efiong U. (1991). A learner's dictionary of the Efik Language, Volume 1. Ibadan: Evans Brothers Ltd. ISBN 9781675276.

External links[edit]