‘The Strangest Problem’: Daniel Wilberforce, the Human Leopards Panic and the Special Court in Sierra Leone

Whyte, C. (2016) ‘The Strangest Problem’: Daniel Wilberforce, the Human Leopards Panic and the Special Court in Sierra Leone. In: Fischer-Tiné, H. (ed.) Anxieties, Fear and Panic in Colonial Settings: Empires on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Series: Cambridge Imperial and Post-Colonial Studies Series. Springer, pp. 345-368. ISBN 9783319451350 (doi:10.1007/978-3-319-45136-7_13)

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Abstract

This chapter examines the emergence of a colonial archive on ‘native savagery’ following the panic over ‘human leopards’ in Sierra Leone in 1912. It shows how the fright of the colonial elites was charged by the regurgitation of past prejudices and experiences of violence. The colonial archive—colonial officials used to refer to ‘Thuggee’ in India as the ultimate example of native ‘savagery’—was consulted to reinforce existing racial stereotypes. The panic ultimately resulted in an explosion of anthropological literature about the ‘leopards’ being disseminated all over Britain and its Empire. As the detailed analysis of this peculiar genre of texts clearly suggests, the narratives of the ‘leopard murders’ drew on earlier prejudices about African religion and ritual, and the resulting ‘scientific’ literature in turn became an important reference point for later investigators.

Item Type:Book Sections
Status:Published
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Whyte, Dr Christine
Authors: Whyte, C.
College/School:College of Arts > School of Humanities > History
Journal Name:Anxieties, Fear and Panic in Colonial Settings
Publisher:Springer
ISBN:9783319451350

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