Human Leopards

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Name given to a criminal society whose members band together to commit murder to obtain human body parts, fat and blood for the creation of a medicine Borfima thought to imbue its possessors with supernatural powers guaranteeing success in their undertakings. It was alleged that the society members concealed themselves in leopard skins and used a special three pronged knife when killing their selected victims so that the deaths would be blamed on leopards. They were also said to practise cannibalism. There were repeated reports of human leopard activity in Sherbro and Mende chiefdoms in Bonthe district in the 1890s and 1900s, and the Colonial Government passed ordinances outlawing membership of this and similar societies (such as Human Alligator and Human Baboon societies) and set up special circuit courts to deal with offenders. A number of individuals were subsequently tried and found guilty of being involved in human leopard murders, some of whom confessed to their crimes; but, as with witchcraft trials in Europe, it is not easy to separate the reality behind the human leopard reports from the moral panic they aroused.

  • T.J.Alldridge, The Sherbro and its Hinterland (London 1901), Ch.16.
  • K.J.Beattie, Human Leopards (London 1915)
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