The Leopard Men of the Eastern Congo (ca. 1890-1940): history and colonial representation

Van Bockhaven, Vicky (2013) The Leopard Men of the Eastern Congo (ca. 1890-1940): history and colonial representation. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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The research begins with a sculpture representing a “Leopard Man”, threatening to attack a sleeping victim, at the Royal Museum for Central Africa, Belgium. Recently this colonial icon was criticised for presenting a racist image. Leopard men killed on behalf of chiefs in the east of Congo (ca. 1890-1940). The emergence of a mythology of leopard men is analysed in relation to its suppression as an anti-colonial movement in the colony. This research highlights the distinctive potency of ethnographic objects as proof, shaping experiences of the colonised in the colonial museum, in relation to the text-focused study of the colonial discourse.
The history of leopard men is reconstructed to break away from an exotic and de-historicised understanding. Two eastern Congolese varieties, anioto and vihokohoko, are studied, from which the RMCA display was derived. The micro-histories of conflict clusters are considered in the context of the Zanzibari slave trade and the Belgian colonisation as forms of empowerment. Anioto and vihokohoko are further studied in their cultural history. They are regarded as institutional developments in the context of political competition.
Mythologisation in colonial sources is regarded as a process of structuration underlying all expressions of human experience. While rooted in reality, such expressions are also shaped by what people desire to believe. This occurs in line with a cultural logic and the rhetoric of rumour with the most potent elements being singled out to support the colonial discourse, leaping into fiction. Leopard men accounts are structured after culturally effective traditions of narration, presenting the civilising project as a moral victory of good over bad. Leopard men became an epistemological category, a morally inferior, animal-like opponent threatening the colonial order. The use of costumes and claws for the killings was falsely exaggerated, because their form objectifies the colonial logic.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Art History and World Art Studies (former - to 2014)
Depositing User: Users 2259 not found.
Date Deposited: 12 Jun 2014 14:21
Last Modified: 12 Jun 2014 14:21


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