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The Leopard Society, also known as Ekpe or Anyoto Aniota, was the oldest of cross river societies in West Africa. It was an all-male society. It most likely originated as a warrior society, but assumed importance during the slave trade which was centered in Calabar and dominated by the Efik people by the late 1700s. The trade brought wealth and a range of imported products into Calabar. The Efik, seeking to augment this wealth, also sold memberships in the society to other groups, enabling it to spread widely through the area.
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 ...
Fictionalized versions of the Leopard Society feature in the Tarzan novel Tarzan and the Leopard Men, in Willard Price's African Adventure, in Tintin au Congo and in Hugo Pratt's Le etiopiche. Also, the Leopard Society was referred to in the "Akata Warrior" series by Nnedi Okorafor. Robert E. Howard also mentions them in his short horror/detective story Black Talons.
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.
- "The Leopard Society - Africa in the mid 1900s". Retrieved 3 April 2008.
- 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
- Travels in the White Man's Grave: Memoirs from West and Central Africa, by Donald MacIntosh, 1998
- Beryl L. Bellman (1986). The Language of Secrecy. Symbols and Metaphors in Poro Ritual. Rutgers University Press, p. 47
- 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 0-253-34956-7.
- Poore Sheehan, Perley (2007). The Leopard Man and Other Stories. Pulpville Press. ISBN 1-936-72002-7.