“Some time before Chief Dapaba died, many people had disappeared from that area. While they crossed the river in a canoe, ‘leopard people’ grabbed them, pulled them under the water, cut their heart out and left the corpses. These ‘leopard people’ would dress in leopard skins and put on claws of steel with which they stabbed their victims.”
(Guenter, 1992: p. 55/56).
It is very rarely the case that any tribal society of the world is given such significant notoriety as the secret leopard societies of West Africa. With gruesome tales emerging of the mysterious leopard men from as early as the 1890s, the narcissistic operations of the tribal cannibals didn’t disappear until as late as the 1950s; although, it is still unknown exactly when the merciless clan did eventually cease to exist, or if even it did go completely extinct. Centered in the heart of Sierra Leone and surrounding districts, the leopard men were the most psychotic of any organised criminal group in the world.
The goal of the society was to gain supernatural powers and protection through ritualistic sacrifice. Yongolado – the designated murderer of the society, would dress head to toe in the sacred animal’s skin and ruthlessly ambush any unsuspecting traveller out in the wilderness of the jungle, where the victim would be most vulnerable to attack. The sharp claws of the leopard skin would craftily be replaced by three-pronged forks and iron knives in order to cunningly disguise any killing the Yongolado made with that of the animal itself. Once the murder had taken place, the cannibals would slice up the body and distribute the parts throughout the society where it would be contrived into bofima – an omnipotent medicine that allegedly gifted the consumer with supernatural powers and bolstered the strength of the clan as a whole.
Gaining membership to the fearless society was not a challenge for the faint of heart. Each prospective member would be required to produce the sacrifice of either a teenage girl of his own or the blood of his wife in order to gain access to the club’s barbaric operations. On the eve of this sacrifice, a cannibal meal would be prepared and devoured and the candidate accompanied by companions of the society would run rampant through the jungle, imitating the blood-curdling sounds of leopards as they did. On the day of sacrifice, the new member would plan an ambush on their chosen family member by luring their victim into the jungle and hiding in the thick brush upon their passing. The leopard man would then proceed to pounce upon their victim, stabbing their leopard claw replicas into the victims neck and then decimating the body for the glory of the society.
Throughout the duration of the rule of President Edwin Barclay in Liberia from 1930 to the early 1940s, hair-raising reports of the greatly feared leopard men began to surge. A German Doctor who lived in Liberia for ten years describes one of his most chilling encounters with the murderous society. It reads as follows:
“There, on a mat in a house, I found the horribly mutilated body of a fifteen-year-old girl. The neck was torn to ribbons by the teeth and claws of the animal, the intestines were torn out, the pelvis shattered, and one thigh was missing. A part of the thigh, gnawed to the bone, and a piece of the shin-bone lay near the body. It seemed at first glance that only a beast of prey could have treated the girl’s body in this way, but closer investigation brought certain particularities to light which did not fit in with the picture. I observed, for example, that the skin at the edge of the undamaged part of the chest was torn by strangely regular gashes about an inch long. Also the liver had been removed from the body with a clean cut no beast could make. I was struck, too, by a piece of intestine the ends of which appeared to have been smoothly cut off, and, lastly, there was the fracture of the thigh – a classic example of fracture by bending.”
(Junge, 1952: p. 176).
As can be gathered from Werner Junge’s observations, the leopard men were utterly merciless in their operations. Their limited morals could only have been concentrated on that of their own selfish superstitions. Although, the leopard men were not the only cannibalistic murderers that roamed the jungles and villages of West Africa in these times – the fear of being ambushed and killed by the Devil society or the Crocodile society were also quite prominent among tribal villagers living in these areas throughout the 20th century. However, in spite of these other dangerous societies, it can not be disputed that the secret leopard societies of West Africa were the most notorious of any clan. I’d certainly rather become a hostage to the affairs of Islamic State than these primitive psychopaths.