Killer Cannibal Cult - Leopard Society
Humans have been pretending to be animals ever since the first human got mauled by a saber-toothed tiger. Someone saw it happen and went, "damn, that tiger sure is strong." There is something primal and magical about embodying the skin and mannerisms of powerful beasts that appeals to our darker nature. Vikings pretended to become bears (berserker), wolves (Úlfhéðnar) and boars (Svinfylking) as a part of their battle strategy. They weren't alone in attempting the transformation from man to beast. The West-African secret society known as The Leopard Society also channeled the spirit of a mighty beast.
What was The Leopard Society of West-Africa?
The Leopard Society was the oldest of the Cross river secret societies of West Africa (modern-day Nigeria and Cameroon). They only allowed men to join their ranks, a common prerequisite in many secret societies through the ages. What sets The Leopard Society apart from their contemporaries was their practice of ritualized cannibalism.
Members of this secret society would dress in leopard skins and attack unsuspecting travelers. These victims would be torn apart using specialized weapons and their flesh would later be distributed among members. Similar to The Leopard Society was The Crocodile Society whose tactics were similar. Both societies' killings were allegedly performed during a state of possession.
Becoming the Leopard
Members of the Leopard Society crafted claws from various metals for the purposes of slashing up travelers. Similar to the predator that they sought to emulate, the Leopard-Men would lay in wait for hapless prey to wander by. They would then pounce upon their victim, slashing them to death using these metal claws before they had time to react.
They made leopard suits as a visual reminder of what they sought to become. Much like the bear-shirts (berserkers) of the ancient Norse, the Leopard Men would fully embody the aspect of the beast they idolized. This psychological lycanthropy has been used by cultures around the world as a way to distance oneself from the act of killing another human. "It wasn't me! It was that darn leopard that brutally murdered this guy!"
The consumption of human flesh for the purpose of attaining spiritual and physical power is common around the world. The Aghori Monks of Northern India believe that by immersing themselves in practices considered to be taboo they can achieve enlightenment. These practices include chewing the heads off of live animals and the consumption of human flesh.
The Korowai tribe of Indonesian New Guinea practices a form of magical cannibalism. They believe that if a person dies of mysterious causes (death by disease) they have been eaten from the inside by a Khakhua (witch). The Khakhua is an evil spirit that possesses the body of a man. The only way to take revenge upon a Khakhua that has eaten your friend is to eat the Khakhua.
Out of the hundreds of cannibalistic traditions that have existed through the ages, Catholocism might be the most shocking name on the list. That's right, Catholics practice symbolic cannibalism in the form of taking the sacrament. The ritual consumption of wafers as the "body of Christ" is meant to symbolically bring the devotee closer to their god by consuming said god's flesh. Magically speaking this ritual is the equivalent of physical cannibalism due to the importance of symbolism in ritual. The drinking of communion wine would be vampirism if you were wondering.
The Leopard Men would consume the flesh of their victims in order to strengthen not only themselves but the society at large. They crafted a magical elixir from the intestines of their victims called Borfima. This elixir endowed them with superhuman power and the ability to transform into leopards.
Magic works on belief. There exists no difference in a magical sense between eating human flesh and eating something that you ritualistically imbue with the properties of human flesh. The same goes for the effect you hope to achieve from said cannibalism. If you believe that you've consumed human flesh, then you will get whatever benefit you sought. Once belief fails, the ritual is moot and the effect is gone. Isn't magical thinking fun?
Leopard Men and Colonial Oppression
Shortly after World War 1, the first recorded attacks began in Sierra-Leone and Nigeria. They were apparently driven into hiding by the European administrators' efforts during this time. During the following decades, the society continued their dark practices. They slowly changed from mostly attacking their fellow Africans, to mainly attacking colonialists.
By 1946 the group had grown confident. Their mythos, that they were bulletproof were-leopards, had become widely believed by the locals. This belief fostered intense fear of the Leopard Society's members. Local leaders refrained from reporting known members of the society for fear of retribution. Some might even have viewed the Leopard Men as vigilantes taking on the foreign invaders. During this year there were 48 attacks by members of the cult. 43 more attacks occurred in the first seven months of the following year.
Terry Wilson vs The Leopard Men
Terry Wilson was a district officer in Eastern Nigeria in 1947. He discovered that the Leopard Society was operating in his jurisdiction. They preyed mainly on young women at the time. Wilson received a tip that a local chief named Nagogo was one of these Leopard Men.
Nagogo's residence was raided by Wilson's men. They discovered a leopard mask, leopard robe as well as a two-pronged steel claw among his possessions. Investigators also discovered a mass grave containing the skeletal remains of 13 victims. Nagogo was imprisoned by the colonial officers and left to await trial. Wilson made it his personal mission to eradicate this dangerous cult from his jurisdiction.
The local people feared the Leopard Society and refused to cooperate with judiciary forces. Attacks continued in the weeks following chief Nagogo's arrest. Among the victims of this latest spate of attacks were Nagogo's own wife and daughter. Terry had grown desperate and frustrated by his lack of progress in the fight against the Leopard Men. He ordered that Nagogo be shown the mutilated corpses of his family, hoping that the gruesome sight would spark anger in Nagogo's heart. Something did spark in Nagogo's heart when he saw the awful scene, so overcome by sorrow was he that his heart failed and he died. Wilson had hoped that the betrayal would galvanize chief Nagogo into betraying his cohorts.
Could Wilson have staged these murders? Official documentation, of course, blames the Leopard Men.
Despite the arrival of 200 colonial reinforcements, the attacks continued unabated. The Leopard Society had grown bold following their recent successes. They even pulled off the brutal sacrifice of a young woman inside the police compound. Escaping unseen after this attack and further eroding the locals' trust in colonial power.
Following the attack in the compound, the Leopard Men grew increasingly daring. Victims were now being attacked and sacrificed in broad daylight. Some of Wilson's own forces were beginning to believe the hype. These Leopard Men were truly superhuman predators, no other explanation made any sense.
Wilson woke one night in mid-August when his dog started growling at something. He rose from bed just as a barbed arrow whizzed by his head and embedded itself in his wall. Two of his officers also reported attempts on their lives made that night. The Leopard Men's confidence was at an all-time high. Colonial forces could make little sense of the pattern of killings, and belief in the supernatural nature of their enemies grew.
To Catch a Leopard
Terry Wilson was at his wit's end when he came up with a plan to catch a Leopard Man in action. He had one of his best men pose as the son of a local woman. The officer would accompany her down a trail where several attacks had already occurred. Wilson and his men hid in the bushes along the path, hoping to ambush the notorious killers.
The disguised officer and his pretend-mother were walking along the path when a tall man dressed as a leopard erupted from the bushes. This Leopard Man charged them, brandishing a large club and roaring like the predator that possessed him. Wilson's man was quickly overwhelmed in the ensuing struggle. He managed to stab his attacker before having his skull caved in by the cultist. I'm assuming his companion was left traumatized as their assailant fled back into the jungle. Terry and his men arrived too late to save their clobbered colleague.
Wilson ordered his men to leave their comrade's body on the trail. His reasoning was that the Leopard Man hadn't been able to complete the ritual sacrifice and would surely return. Terry himself waited until midnight, concealed in some bushes that overlooked the trail.
Proving his assumptions correct, the Leopard Man crawled out of the jungle on all fours. Straddling the young officer's corpse, the Leopard Man set about clawing at the young man's face. Wilson caught the flash of metal claws as he approached the brutal scene. The Leopard Man attacked the advancing district officer, snarling madly as he slashed at Wilson with his two-pronged claws. Wilson shot his attacker in the chest, proving to his men as well as the locals that The Leopard Society were just men in costumes.
Lair of the Leopard God
Soon after Wilson killed the Leopard Man his office was flooded with reports from locals. Their fears had been quelled by Wilson's success and their minds turned to justice. These reports led to the arrests of 73 initiated cult members and the discovery of their gruesome shrine hidden deep in the forest.
The shrine of the Leopard Society was hidden in a cave concealed by a boulder. Within this sanctum, they discovered a gruesome effigy of the Leopard god overlooking a blood-stained stone slab. The altar was surrounded by human remains.
Of the 73 that were arrested in February of 1948, only 39 would later be executed for their crimes. Their executions were witnessed by several local leaders. This was done to ensure that the mythos of the invulnerable Leopard Men could be put to rest once and for all.
Governments in Nigeria, Liberia, Tanzania, and Gabon attempted to wipe out Leopard Societies for many years. These attempts failed universally.
The groups faded from prominence as the 20th century progressed. Fading into history as another legend of lycanthropy.
Some believe that the Leopard Men will return one day.