Seminar: The Man-Leopard Murder Mysteries

Image from book cover David Pratten

Michel de Certeau wrote that the historian is not in charge of speaking the truth, but in charge of “diagnosing the false.” In that spirit, this seminar will attempt to diagnose the ways in which a series of ‘human-leopard’ killings in Nigeria between 1943 and 1948 came to be labelled as ‘ritual murders’ when, in all probability, they were not. It tries to show how the ‘ritual murder’ label was no simple reflex of the colonial imagination. It was mutually constituted and contested by police and colonial officers, of course, but also by Nigerian court clerks, chiefs, an educated elite, and by the circulation of murder narratives from elsewhere in the continent as well as from popular fiction. To understand the problematics of the ritual murder verdict, then, requires an appreciation for the interweaving of historically situated narratives and circulating epistemologies of shapeshifting.

David Pratten

David Pratten is an Associate Professor in the Social Anthropology of Africa and Senior Tutor at Oxford University. He studied at Oxford, Manchester and SOAS, and previously taught at the Universities of Edinburgh and Sussex.

His research is based on a long-term engagement with Annang villagers in southeastern Nigeria and focuses on themes of history, violence and the state. His initial work was an historical ethnography of colonialism, which examined the events surrounding a series of mysterious deaths in southeastern Nigeria during the late 1940s. More recently, his research has looked at issues of youth, democracy and disorder in post-colonial Nigeria, with a particular focus on vigilantism and new masquerade performances.

Date, time and location

12 April 2016
15.30 - 17.00
Pieter de la Courtgebouw / Faculty of Social Sciences, Wassenaarseweg 52, 2333 AK Leiden
Room 3A06 (3rd floor)