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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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1 Royal Museum for Central Africa (RMCA), Ethnography Department, Dossier C. Delhaise, no. 153.

2 RMCA, Museum Archives, Diverses, Communications between the Head of Ethnography Joseph Maes and Paul Wissaert, 1912–15.

3 Libois, L., ‘La lutte contre les Aniotos’, L'Illustration Congolaise, 181 (1936), 6066–7, 6082.

4 Halen, P., ‘Une figure coloniale de l'autre: l'homme-léopard’, Les Cahiers des Para-Littératures, 2 (1988), 129–47; Van Bockhaven, V., ‘Leopard-men of the Congo in literature and popular imagination’, Tydskrif vir Letterkunde, 46:1 (2009), 7994.

5 This was confirmed by convicts’ statements in judicial records and the analyses of traces on the objects at the RMCA in collaboration with the Belgian Federal Institute for Criminalistics and Criminology, funded by the King Baudouin Foundation, Oct. 2008–Jan. 2009.

6 Halen, ‘Une figure’, 129–47.

7 R. M. Packard, ‘The politics of ritual control among the Bashu of Eastern Zaire during the nineteenth century’ (unpublished PhD thesis, University of Wisconsin, 1976), 85; Schebesta, P., Vollblutneger und Halbzwerge (Salzburg, 1934), 129.

8 Vansina, J., Paths in the Rainforests: Toward a History of Political Tradition in Equatorial Africa (Wisconsin, 1990), 81.

9 Joset, P.-E., Les sociétés secrètes des hommes-léopards en Afrique (Paris, 1955), 2831; Lindskog, B., African Leopard-Men (Uppsala, 1954).

10 De Jonghe, E., ‘Formations récentes de sociétés secrètes au Congo Belge’, Africa, 9:1 (1936), 5663; Johnson, D. H., ‘Criminal secrecy: the case of the Zande secret societies’, Past and Present, 130:1 (1991), 170200.

11 Biebuyck, D., Lega Culture: Art, Initiation, and Moral Philosophy among a Central African People (Berkeley, 1973); Mahieu, W. De, Structures et symboles: les structures sociales du groupe Komo du Zaïre dans leur elaboration symbolique (London, 1980).

12 RMCA, Ethnography Department, AIMO files (RMCA AIMO) EA/0/0/237, Hackars, s.d. ‘Les Babali, Warumbi, Bakumu, Bayose et Babelu d'Avakubi’, 1919; EA/0/0/238, Strubbe, ‘Organisation des Babali, Ndaka, Mombo et Babeke’, 1920; Schildkrout, E. and Keim, C. A. (eds.), African Reflections: Art from North-Eastern Zaire (Seattle, 1990), 37–9.

13 A. Mwaka Bwenge, ‘Conflits, conflictualité et processus identitaires au Nord-Kivu: comprendre l'institutionnalisation des violences’ (unpublished PhD thesis, Université de Kinshasa, 2010), 314–15; Verweijen, J. and Vlassenroot, K., ‘Armed mobilisation and the nexus of territory, identity, and authority: the contested territorial aspirations of the Banyamulenge in eastern DR Congo’, Journal of Contemporary African Studies, 33:2 (2015), 191212.

14 C. J. Gray, ‘Death of the Equatorial tradition? Of leopard men, canton chiefs and women healers’, in Gray, C. J., Colonial Rule and Crisis in Equatorial Africa: Southern Gabon, c. 1850–1940 (Rochester, 2002), 195203; Nwaka, G. I., ‘The “leopard” killings of southern Annang, Nigeria, 1943–48’, Africa, 56:4 (1986), 417–40; Pratten, D., The Man-Leopard Murders: History and Society in Colonial Nigeria (Edinburgh, 2007); Rich, J., ‘“Leopard men”, slaves, and social conflict in Libreville (Gabon), c. 1860–1879’, The International Journal of African Historical Studies, 34:3 (2001), 619–38.

15 Pratten, Man-Leopard Murders, 25.

16 For instance, on the one hand Pratten refrains from interpreting the killings as anticolonial, implicitly building further on Nwaka, who claimed that Annang killings were not at all anticolonial in nature. See Nwaka, ‘The “leopard” killings’. On the other hand, dissatisfactions with colonial jurisdiction feature prominently as a breeding ground for killings in Pratten's analysis. For reviews of Pratten’s book, The Man-Leopard Murders (fn. 14), see Luongo, K., ‘Book Review: David Pratten, The Man-Leopard Murders: History and Society in Colonial Nigeria (2007)’, African Studies Review, 52:1 (2009), 173–4; Dibua, J., ‘Book Review: David Pratten, The Man-Leopard Murders: History and Society in Colonial Nigeria (2007)’, The American Historical Review, 114:4 (2009), 1201–2.

17 Czekanowski, J., Forschungen im Nil-Kongo-Zwischengebiet: Ethnographie; Uele, Ituri, Nil-Länder (Leipzig, 1924), 326; Libois, ‘La lutte’, 6066; Salmon, P., Les carnets de campagne de Louis Leclercq, Revue de l'Université de Bruxelles, III (Bruxelles, 1970), 28, 30.

18 Roberts, A., ‘“Like a roaring lion”: Tabwa terrorism in the late nineteenth century’, in Crummey, D. (ed.), Banditry: Rebellion and Social Protest in Africa (London, 1986), 6586.

19 Vansina, Paths, 175.

20 Biebuyck, Lega; De Mahieu, Structures.

21 MacGaffey, W., Kongo Political Culture: The Conceptual Challenge of the Particular (Bloomington, 2000), 144–7, 222.

22 Janzen, J. M., Ngoma: Discourses of Healing in Central and Southern Africa, Volume XXXIV (Oakland, 1992), 4, 86.

23 Hunt, N. R., A Nervous State: Violence, Remedies, and Reverie in Colonial Congo (Durham, 2015), 6194.

24 Janzen, Ngoma.

25 Eggers, N., ‘Mukombozi and the monganga: the violence of healing in the 1944 Kitawalist uprising’, Africa, 85:3 (2015), 417–36; Hunt, A Nervous State, 61–94, 169–76.

26 Hunt, A Nervous State, 1–26; Stoler, A. L., Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense (Princeton, 2010), 23.

27 Van Bockhaven, ‘Leopard-men’.

28 Stoler, Along, 32.

29 Based on the informed opinion of the Belgian Federal Privacy Commission.

30 Hunt, A Nervous State, 1–26.

31 A. Marrevée, De Schrik der Mobali (Tervueren, 1922); Jadot, J. M., ‘Notes sur les hommes panthères dans l'Equateur’, Revue Juridique du Congo Belge, 6 (1928), 164–8.

32 Bouccin, A., ‘Crimes et superstitions indigènes’, Bulletin des Juridictions Indigènes et du Droit Coutumier Congolais, 4:8 (1936), 185–92; 4:9 (1936), 221–6; 4:10 (1936), 252–58.

33 Bouccin, ‘Crimes’, 192.

34 Czekanowski, Forschungen, 247; Massmann, P., Bereitet Den Weg, An Den Ufern Des Ituri, V (Aachen, 1920), 6975; Schebesta, Vollblutneger, 64–6, 69–71.

35 Henry, G., ‘Hinrichtung der 9 Anyoto zu Wamba am 8. Mai 1934’, Das Reich des Herzens Jesu, 1 (1934), 25–7; 2 (1934), 58–61; Migeon, M., ‘Les hommes léopards’, Le Monde Coloniale Illustré, 136 (1934), 190–1.

36 Belgian Foreign Office, Africa Archives (BFO AA), JUST/GG/3042 (5529) (case Mbako), Public hearing, Stanleyville, 11 Apr. 1933.

37 BFO AA JUST/GG/3042 (5529), Public hearing, Tribunal Uele, Wamba, 15 July 1933.

38 Bouccin, ‘Crimes’, 192.

39 BFO AA AIMO/13611, A. Bouccin, ‘Rapport sur le chef Mabilanga des Babamba’, 28 Oct. 1934.

40 BFO AA JUST/GG/3043 (5574) (case Bangombe), Public hearing, Kibali-Ituri, 26 Apr. 1934.

41 P. Salmon, La Révolte des Batetela de l'Expedition du Haut-Ituri (1897): Témoignages Inédits, Académie royale des sciences d'outre-mer, XXXXIV (Bruxelles, 1977); Czekanowski, Forschungen, 245–7.

42 Verweijen, J., A Microcosm of Militarization: Conflict, Governance and Armed Mobilization in Uvira (Research Report, Usalama Project, Rift Valley Institute, 2016); Vlassenroot, K., Mudinga, E., and Hoffmann, K., Contesting Authority: Armed Rebellion and Military Fragmentation in Walikale and Kalehe, North and South Kivu (Research Report, Usalama Project, Rift Valley Institute, 2016).

43 Kawaters, H., ‘Reifezeremonien und Geheimbund bei den Babali-Negern vom Ituri’, Der Erdball, 5 (1931), 461–2; Bouccin, ‘Crimes’, 253.

44 Bouccin, ‘Crimes’, 252–3.

45 Joset, Les Sociétés, 55–6, 65–70, 200–1; RMCA AIMO, Noirot, ‘Notes pour l'organisation politique des territoires’, 1930; Archives of Annales Aequatoria, Province Orientale, microfiche 19, Schockaert, 1933; RMCA AIMO, Noirot, ‘Notes pour l'organisation politique des territoires’, 1930.

46 BFO AA JUST/GG/3043 (5574) (case Bangombe), Public hearing, Kibali-Ituri, 26 Apr. 1934.

47 RMCA AIMO, A. Bouccin, ‘Rapport sur les enquêtes Anioto’, 1935.

48 RMCA AIMO, Defeld, ‘Rapport sur les Anioto’, 1917.

49 Verweijen, A Microcosm.

50 BFO AA AIMO/13611, Bouccin, ‘Rapport sur le chef Mabilanga des Babamba’, 28 Oct. 1934.

51 Verweijen, J., ‘Pompier-pyromanocracy: Mbusa Nyamwisi and the DR Congo's inflammable post-settlement political order’, in Thémner, A. (ed.), Warlord Democrats in Africa: Ex-Military Leaders and Electoral Politics (London, 2017), 4167.

52 Bouccin, ‘Crimes’, 221–6; Moeller, A., Les Grandes Lignes des Migrations des Bantous de la province Orientale du Congo Belge (Bruxelles, 1936), 543–4.

53 BFO AA JUST/GG/3042 (5529), Public hearing, Wamba, 11 July 1933; RMCA AIMO, Brandt, De Leest, Bouccin, Tihon, Libois, and Bourghelle, ‘Différentes études sur le Mambela’, 1933.

54 BFO AA JUST/GG/3043 (5574), Public hearing, Wamba, 19 June 1934.

55 G. de Wit (ed.), Compendium of Survey Reports, I: Bira-Huku group of Bantu, Summer Institute of Linguistics, Eastern Zaire Group (Bunia, 1995); S. Heald, Controlling Anger: the Sociology of Gisu Violence (Manchester, 1989), 120.

56 BFO AA JUST/GG/3042 (5529), Public hearing, Stanleyville, 7 Apr. 1933.

57 This came up in several interviews and informal conversations with people from the Bali and Budu regions, Kinshasa, Feb. 2012; Isiro, Apr. 2017.

58 BFO AA JUST/GG/3042 (5529), Public hearing, Stanleyville, 20 Apr. 1933 and Wamba, 8 July 1933.

59 BFO AA JUST/GG/3042 (5529), Public hearing, Wamba, 7 July 1933.

60 Schoenbrun, D. L., The Historical Reconstruction of Great Lakes Bantu Cultural Vocabulary: Etymologies and Distributions (Cologne, 1997), 203; Biebuyck, D., ‘Nyanga circumcision masks and costumes’, African Arts, 6:2 (1973), 2092; Biebuyck, D., ‘Mumbira: musical instrument of a Nyanga initiation’, African Arts, 7:4 (1974), 4296.

61 K. Hoffman, personal communication, Oct. 2017.

62 Bernault, F., ‘Body, power and sacrifice in Equatorial Africa’, The Journal of African History, 47:2 (2006), 207–39.

63 Hoffmann, K., ‘Myths set in motion: the moral economy of Mai Mai governance’, in Arjona, A. et al. (eds.), Rebel Governance in Civil War (New York, 2015), 166–9; Verweijen, J., ‘The disconcerting popularity of popular in/justice in Fizi/Uvira, Eastern DR Congo’, International Journal on Minority and Group Rights, 22:3 (2015), 335–9; Geschiere, P., The Modernity of Witchcraft: Politics and the Occult in Postcolonial Africa (Virginia, 1997), 204–7.

64 Vansina, Paths, 173–5, 180–91.

65 Bouccin, ‘Crimes’, 185–92; RMCA AIMO EA/0/0/243, De Haen, ‘Les Aniotos’, 1922.

66 Kawaters, ‘Reifezeremonien’, 162.

67 RMCA, Dossier Coclet-Henrotin, no. 213. There are several identical monkey-hunting costumes collected throughout the region in the 1970s at the Institut des Musées Nationaux du Congo (IMNC), Kinshasa.

68 M. A. MacMaster, ‘Patterns of interaction: a comparative ethnolinguistic perspective on the Uele region of Zaïre ca. 500 B.C. to 1900 A.D’ (unpublished PhD thesis, University of California, 1988), 115–21.

69 Kawaters, ‘Reifezeremonien’, 461–2.

70 Bouccin, ‘Crimes’, 252–3.

71 RMCA AIMO EA/0/0/215, Winckelmans, ‘La secte secrète mambela et les bandes anioto’, 1933; Tihon, ‘Lettre sur l’anioto et le mambela’, 1934.

72 Bouccin, ‘Crimes’, 192.

73 Schebesta, Vollblutneger, 70.

74 Bernard, , ‘Une société secrète chez les Babali’, Congo, 2:3 (1922), 349–53; RMCA AIMO EA/0/0/215, Winckelmans, 1933.

75 RMCA AIMO, A. Boucin, ‘Note sur l’ambodima’, 1933.

76 Delathuy, A. M., Missie en Staat in Oud-Kongo: 1880–1914 (Berchem, 1994), 271–6.

77 RMCA AIMO, A. Bouccin, ‘Note sur l’ambodima’, 1933; Defeld, ‘Rapport’ (1917); BFO AA AIMO 13611, A. Bouccin, ‘Rapport sur le chef Nembunzi des Bebengu (1934); A. Bouccin, ‘Rapport sur le chef Kabakaba des Bekeni' (1934); Bouccin, A., ‘Les Babali (suite)’, Congo, 1:1 (1936), 2641; 2:5 (1936), 685–712; Joset, Les Sociétés, 70–5, 225, 228.

78 RMCA AIMO, A. Bouccin, ‘Note sur l’ambodima’, 1933; Czekanowski, Forschungen, 264–7; Delathuy, Missie, 271.

79 BFO AA JUST/GG/3042 (5529), Public hearing, Wamba, 10 July 1933.

80 C. A. Keim, ‘Precolonial Mangbetu rule: political and economic factors in nineteenth-century Mangbetu history (northeast Zaire)’ (unpublished PhD thesis, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 1981), 90–2.

81 Evans-Pritchard, E., Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande (Oxford, 1937), 511–16.

82 Hunt, N. R., A Colonial Lexicon: Of Birth Ritual, Medicalization, and Mobility in the Congo (Durham, 1999), 27116.

83 Evans-Pritchard, Witchcraft, 511–16; C.-R. Lagae, Les Azande ou Niam-Niam (1926), 123.

84 Evans-Pritchard, Witchcraft, 511–16.

85 Eggers, ‘Mukombozi’, 417–36.

86 BFO AA, Communications about the military occupation of the Beni territory, 1934; Bergmans, , Les Wanande, I: L'Histoire des Baswaga (Butembo, 1970); RMCA AIMO, Joset, ‘Historique du territoire de Beni’, 1939, 19, 74, 77; Joset, ‘Les Sociétés’, 22–6, 31–2, 37–41, 46–9, 50–1, 53–4; L. Packard, The Politics, 168, 222–6.

87 RMCA AIMO EA/0/0/194, F. Absil, ‘Note au sujet de l'aniotisme à Beni’, 1934; Bouccin, ‘Crimes’, 223–4.

88 Bergmans, Les Wanande, 92–4; Joset, Les Sociétés, 30–2.

89 Joset, Les Sociétés, 32–4; Mwaka, ‘Conflits’, 314–5.

90 Biebuyck, ‘Mumbira’; Moeller, Les Grandes Lignes, 552.

91 Brandt, L., ‘Note sur le Mambela des Babali’, Congo, 1:3 (1923), 344–8; Joset, Les Sociétés, 32–4.

92 RMCA AIMO, Bouccin, 1933; Bouccin, ‘Crimes’, 223–4.

93 Vansina, Paths, 186; Biebuyck, ‘Nyanga’, 20–92; Biebuyck, ‘Mumbira’.

94 RMCA AIMO, Bouccin, 1933.

95 Mwaka, ‘Conflits’, 214–15; Verweijen, A Microcosm.

96 Eggers, , ‘Mukombozi’; Gaise, R. (ed.), La Rébellion de 1964 en RDC Congo – cinquante ans après (Paris, 2015).

This article is based on earlier doctoral research undertaken at and supported by the Sainsbury Research Unit, University of East Anglia, and on current postdoctoral research at the University of Ghent funded by the BRAIN-program of the Belgian Federal Ministry of Science. The University of Uele, and more particularly Roger Gaise, helped to facilitate field research in the provinces of Haut-Uele and Tshopo in the DRCongo. I want to thank Judith Verweijen for her feedback on comparisons of leopard-men with present-day militias in the east of DRC. Author's email:





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