In northeast Congo, from c. 1890–1940, ritually-empowered militias of Bali Leopard-men, or anioto, killed people on behalf of local leaders to secure access to land, resources, and people and to keep rivals and subjects in check. Belgian colonial authorities portrayed the actions of anioto as an irrational disturbance, ignoring their political relevance. The contextualized study of colonial-era conflicts based on court hearings, in association with anthropological, historical, and material sources, gives insight into emic perspectives. As militias controlled by different leaders, they reflected human adaptability in dealing with social ills, performed judicial functions, and provided therapeutic relief through violence. Originating in the precolonial era, anioto adapted to various strategic needs throughout history. A study of different manifestations of anioto reveals the creative and amalgamating nature of institutional dynamism in northeast Congo. Better knowledge of this institutional history, based on studying conflicts from the past, may enrich our deeper understanding of the dynamics of conflicts in the present.
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