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Leopard-men of the Congo in literature and popular imagination

V Van Bockhaven


The Anyoto leopard-men, a society from eastern Congo, operated between approximately 1890 and 1935. Until now the history of the leopard-men has inspired representations of Central Africa as a barbaric and disorderly place, and the idea that a secret association of men attacked innocent people and ate their limbs remains dominant in western culture. Since the early 20th century this image has been rather faithfully perpetuated in colonial ethnography and official reports and in popular representations of Africa. The Anyoto costumes in the collection of the Royal Museum for Central Africa have in particular inspired leopard-men iconography in western sources until today. There are certain striking similarities between western fictional literature on the Anyoto society and the factual sources, such as eyewitness reports from colonists and missionaries. Both share the historically rooted and culturally-specific representation of people from outside their own areas. In Europe there has been a long tradition of representing heathens and non-Europeans as being half man, half beast and behaving like animals, including eating their own species. Such cultural predispositions have stood in the way of understanding the real purposes of this society. Anyoto men's activities were a way of maintaining local power relations, performing indigenous justice in secret and circumventing colonial government control.

Keywords: Anyoto, colonialism, representation, resistance.

Tydskrif vir Letterkunde Vol. 46 (1) 2009: pp. 79-94

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eISSN: 2309-9070
print ISSN: 0041-476X