October 26, 2014

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The Human Leopard Society was a secret group of men who donned a leopard-skin and, having selected a victim, kidnapped and killed him or her, using the blood to refresh a magical fetish and distributing the flesh for other members to eat. By this means they were all implicated in a crime, much as in the 19th-century Nechayev bound his revolutionary group together by making them kill someone so that they were irrevocably outlaws. 

The colonial authorities decided to put an end to the Human Leopard Society, and to this end set up special courts to try those accused of belonging to it. The evidence of murder produced against the accused was always highly circumstantial, and the witnesses who gave evidence were not necessarily entirely disinterested. I was reminded a little of the accusations of Satanic abuse of children that were for a time so popular, or at least prevalent, in the Western world. Despite the lack of indisputable evidence, many of the accused were hanged (in public, for as Doctor Johnson said, an execution misses its aim if it is not carried out before the public). Many more of the accused were formally acquitted, but nonetheless deported because the authorities believed that if insufficient evidence against them had been forthcoming it could only have been because the accused had successfully intimidated witnesses.  

Did the members of the Human Leopard Society kill and eat anybody? There is still no agreement on this. Those who say that it didn”€™t happen accuse those who say that it did of moral panic, motivated by racial malice and ignorance of African custom; those who say that it did accuse those who say that it didn”€™t of complacency caused by naivety and the equivalent of political correctness. Panic and complacency, there is no escaping them; they are the twin poles of our existence, and ever have been. It is not only in stocks that there are bull and bear markets, but in our assessment of what is going on around us all the time. 


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