(c) DJT

Jablanket-Machoies, Cheplanget-Wachawi, Cheplanget-Pooniik or Chui-Wachawi?

Leopard-Men Hunted For Slaves and Ivory on the Maasai Mara and Serengeti Plain

© D J Trotter, September 2019


I analyse the chapter entitled The Jablanket-Machoies, in John Alfred Jordan's book Mongaso[1], and conclude that it is a genuine account of a raid by men dressed as leopards, from western Tanzania into southern Kenya. Jablanket-machoie is Jordan's rendition of cheplanget-mchawi (cheplanget-muchawi), a Kalenjin-Swahili term meaning leopard-wizard. The raid was for slaves and ivory, and there was no convincing evidence of ritual killing. Ingenious leopard costumes were used to convince their victims that they were lycanthropes who could not be harmed by normal weapons. Although they included Manyema, a tribe of the eastern Congo, there is no clear connection to the Anioto leopard society of that country. These leopard-men were only interested in child captives and based on what is known of East African slavers such as Tippu Tip, they, or their masters, if they had any, may not have intended to sell the captives but to train and convert them into loyal followers.


Does Jablanket-Machoies Really Mean Anything?

Jordan's Encounter with the Cheplanget-Wachawi

The Leopard-Wizard Costumes

Who Were the Jablanket-Machoies?

Jordan's Restraint On the Subject of Cannibalism

What Motivated the Leopard-Wizards?




Leopard societies are known to exist, or have existed, in West Africa and the eastern Congo. Tanzania was noted for its lion-men. However, scholars have paid little attention to the activities of leopard-men in East Africa, in spite of a detailed eye-witness account of a raid, by Tanzanian leopard-men, on the Loita Plains and Maasai Mara of Kenya, and the Serengeti Plains of Tanzania.

This may be because the author of the account, John Alfred Jordan, is regarded as a fantasist. He did, after all, claim to have seen the fabled lukwata or dingonek[2][3]. However, as I have seen for myself the equally fabled Zambezi river god, called Chipique or Nyami Nyami, I know how easy it is to be fooled by one's expectations when seeing something for the first time, especially if it looks exactly like the descriptions or pictures of such monsters that we have heard or seen. By his own admission, Jordan lost his nerve and fled after firing at the "luquata", so he did not have time to realise what it really was. What I really saw, and what I believe Jordan actually saw, I shall write about elsewhere. Suffice it to say that my analysis of his narrative shows that Jordan was a truthful, if sometimes impressionable, witness.

Does Jablanket-Machoies Really Mean Anything?

And How Would It Be Transcribed In Modern Swahili or Kalenjin?

Jordan learned about Africa and its languages by watching and listening, not from text books, and he recited his narrative about half a century after the events took place. Also, he did not write his own books, in spite of having a descriptive and colourful turn of phrase, but narrated episodes from his life (not necessarily in the order in which they happened) to writers who knew even less about the accepted spelling of African words.

Still, according to the colonial administrator C W Hobley, jablanket is a Sotik word meaning leopard[5], so we are getting somewhere. Hobley associated the Sotik with the Lumbwa tribe, now known as the Kipsigis tribe. Sotik is also the name of a Kenyan constituency in an area where Kipsigis people live[6]. The Sotik Kipsigis must be the people that Jordan called "the Setick Lumbwa". According to Jordan, his bearer, Arab Moina (I will use "Arap Moina", as that is the contemporary spelling), used the term jablanket-machoie to mean leopard-wizard. Since Arap Moina was a member of the Kipsigis tribe and jablanket is a Sotik Kipsigis word, I started with the assumption that machoie is also a Kipsigis word.

Kipsigis is part of the Kalenjin language group, like Nandi. Unfortunately, a comprehensive and modern Kipsigis or Kalenjin dictionary does not seem to be readily available at the time of writing, and I found the currently available online translators inadequate for my purpose. However, the Kipsigis and Nandi languages are so similar that they use the same Bible[7], from which I deduced that they share the same words for leopard and wizard, as both words are used in the Bible[8]. In fact, the "languages" are dialects of one another and a common grammar was published in 1927[9], although I made use of the more readily available (and more useful for other areas of my research) book The Nandi: Their Language and Folklore by A C Hollis[10]. The differences between Nandi and Kipsigis have been compared to the differences between American English and British English[11].

In Hollis, I quickly found that the Nandi word for leopard is cheplanget. That is obviously just a different transcription of jablanket. Machoie, on the other hand, flummoxed me for some time. I found no similar word in Hollis' book. Although Hollis gave more than one word that could be interpreted as wizard, none were similar to machoie. In Hollis, the most appropriate Nandi word for a witch, wizard or sorcerer in a negative sense (as opposed to benevolent shamans such as the orkoiyot), is ponindet (when in the same form as cheplanget).

However, machoie sounded similar to machui, which in Kiswahili means "like a leopard"[12]. Jordan would have communicated with indigenous East Africans mostly in what was colloquially called up-country Swahili, to distinguish it from the more complex coastal Kiswahili. In correct Swahili, chui (leopard) is the same in singular and plural and, for the benefit of his readers, Jordan pluralised machoie by adding an s, so in this context, machui could not be the plural of chui. Still, it was tempting to transcribe jablanket-machoie as cheplanget-machui, as it would mean that both words referred to "leopard". However, it is just a coincidence.


I was on the right track with Swahili, however, as in F H Le Breton's book Up-Country Swahili[13], I found that he translated muchawi as witch-doctor or rainmaker. His alternative spelling is mchawi, and uchawi means witchcraft. (Actually, so-called witch-doctors are not witches but protectors against witchcraft.) The correct Swahili word for witch-doctor is mganga, and mchawi, or muchawi, means witch, wizard or sorcerer. The plural of mchawi is wachawi.

So, jablanket-machoie should be transcribed as cheplanget-muchawi or cheplanget-mchawi, and Jordan correctly translated it as leopard-wizard. Jordan's plural, jablanket-machoies, is better transcribed as cheplanget-wachawi. Jordan may not have gleaned his knowledge from books but he clearly knew East Africa and its people as well as almost any white person of his time.

But why did Arap Moina use a combination of Kipsigis and Swahili instead of using one or the other? F H Le Breton has the answer in his introduction: "Up-country Swahili no doubt varies slightly in different parts of East Africa, and each district may use a few words taken from the language of the local tribe." That would have been even more true in Jordan's time, which was about thirty years before Up-Country Swahili was published.

Without the substitution of a Kipsigis word, the Swahili for leopard-wizard would be chui-muchawi or chui-mchawi, and the plural would be chui-wachawi.

If Arap Moina had spoken in pure Nandi or Kipsigis, he would, using Hollis's spelling, have used cheplanget-ponindet to mean leopard-wizard, and cheplanget-ponik to mean leopard-wizards. But are those spellings still in use in Nandi and Kipsigis? The Kalenjin Bible[14] is one place to find out.

In the King James Bible, Jeremiah 13:23 is
"Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil."

and in the Kalenjin Bible, Jeremiah 13:23 is
"Tos imuuchi kowal Ethiopiaindet iriryondennyi, anan kowal cheplanget simormorindanyi? Ngo uu nooto, omuuchi ak okweek oyai ne myee, che ki onaite oyae yaityet."

The spelling of cheplanget in the Kalenjin Bible is exactly the same as in Hollis, so it is in contemporary use.

In the King James Bible, Exodus 22:18 is
"Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live."

and in the Kalenjin Bible, Exodus 22:18 (Komong'u 22:18) is
"Amemete poonindet kosap."

The Kalenjin Bible spelling for witch differs from Hollis' ponindet, so I shall compare it with other verses.

In the King James Bible, Deuteronomy 18:10-11 is
"10 There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch,
11 Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer."

and in the Kalenjin Bible, Deuteronomy 18:10-11 (Ne Kibwate Ng'atuutik 18:10-11) is
"10 Amat kobiit eng' okweek ne igoitoi weeriinnyi anan cheptonyi kobun maat anan ne poisyee ng'oorset anan sageiywek anan ne isagisyei anan poonindet,
11 anan ne abusisyei anan ne ng'alaali ak oik anan poonindet anan ne ng'alaali ak che ki kobek."

So the Kalenjin Bible uses poonindet to mean wizard or witch, rather than Hollis' ponindet.

In the King James Bible, Isaiah 8:19 is
"And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead?"

and in the Kalenjin Bible, Isaiah 8:19 is
"Ak ye mwaiwok kole, “Ocheeng'ate icheek che poisyee oik ak pooniik che twegu ko uu toriitik ak che nyeanyei ng'aleek.” Tos nyoljin kocheeng'at che ki kobek agobo che saptos? Tos ma nyooljin piik kocheeng' Kamuktaindennywa?"

The Kalenjin Bible spelling for wizards differs from Hollis' ponik, so I shall compare it with another verse.

In the King James Bible, Revelation 21:8 is
"But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death."

and in the Kalenjin Bible, Revelation 21:8 (Ng'ang'utyet 21:8) is
"Ago che iyweisyei, ak che ma iyani, ak che kiwechei, ak rumiik, ak che soksei, ak pooniik, ak che saaei kanamonik, ak kiplembechonik tugul, kotinyei kebebertanywa eng' araraita ne lale maat ak koik che laldos; ne nooto ko meet ne po aeng'.”

So the Kalenjin Bible uses pooniik to mean wizards or sorcerers, rather than Hollis' ponik.

Using the contemporary spelling of the Kalenjin Bible, if Arap Moina had spoken in pure Nandi or Kipsigis, he would have used cheplanget-poonindet to mean leopard-wizard, and cheplanget-pooniik to mean leopard-wizards.

So "jablanket-machoies" does mean something and we have a good idea of what the Kipsigis called the leopard-men whose raiding territory included parts of Kenya. Unfortunately, we may never know what the leopard-wizards called themselves.

For completeness, I mention that in Hollis, the plural of cheplanget is cheplangok. That this is still in current use is shown by comparing the King James and Kalenjin Bibles:

In the King James Bible, Song of Solomon 4:8 is
"Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse, with me from Lebanon: look from the top of Amana, from the top of Shenir and Hermon, from the lions' dens, from the mountains of the leopards."

and in the Kalenjin Bible, Song of Solomon 4:8 (Tyendo Ne Siirei Tugul 4:8) is
"Murerennyu, nyoo keebe tuwai eng' Lebanon, keebe tuwai kemande eng' Lebanon. Chorugei eng' tulweet parak ne po Amana, eng' tulweet parak ne po Senir ak Hermon, eng' kebenonigap ng'etuunyik, eng' tuloonoogap cheplangok."

In Hollis, the other noun forms of cheplanget and ponindet are cheplanga and ponin, and their plurals, respectively, are cheplangoi and pon. So in the other noun form, using Hollis' spelling, leopard-wizard would be cheplanga-ponin, and the plural would be cheplanga-pon.

Jordan's Encounter with the Cheplanget-Wachawi

With Comments and Analysis

Kenya's Loita Plains are northeast of the Maasai Mara National Reserve. The great wildebeest migrations of the Serengeti and the Mara roamed over the Loita Plains too, until they were fenced for farming. In fact, some old maps show the Serengeti Plains as extending into Kenya and including the Mara and the Loita Plains. In the eartly years of the twentieth century, John Alfred Jordan camped on the Loita Plains while tracking a wounded bull elephant. Jordan was an ivory poacher. He was a misanthrope with no respect for authority, although he could be generous to people who showed him kindness. He was not a nice man but he was honest enough not to claim that he was a one-shot killer, and he sometimes described the suffering of his victims in an unpleasantly matter-of-fact way.

John Alfred Jordan

In the firelight, he thought that he saw the vague outlines of several leopards at the periphery of his camp. While he was trying to make sense of what he saw, a hyena tasted the foot of his gun bearer and the whole camp was aroused. Jordan told his entourage of Kipsigis carriers and trackers what he had seen but they looked at him strangely, without comment.

The next day, they found the elephant but the tusks were missing. Jordan believed that they had been stolen by members of the Kisii tribe (aka Kisi or Gusii), who had been raiding in the area. He told his men that he proposed tracking the Kisii and recovering the ivory. However, they showed reluctance.

Jordan's bearer (his personal servant, not his gun bearer), Arap Moina, explained that it was not the Kisii who had taken the tusks. He pointed at tracks around the elephant carcass and said, according to Jordan, "jablanket-machoie" (cheplanget-muchawi), meaning leopard-wizard. Arap Moina pointed out that there appeared to be no tracks of men near the carcass, apart from those made by Jordan and his followers. There were, however, tracks of leopards. Jordan admitted that this was true, and it was strange that the elephant had not been butchered, as the Kisii eat elephant meat.

Arap Moina told Jordan that the cheplanget-wachawi were shitani (Swahili from the Arabic Shaitan [Satan]), devils who were part man and part leopard. (This appears to contradict I Q Orchardson, who believed that the Kipsigis had no concept of evil spirits[15]. E.g. he disagreed with A C Hollis about whether the chemosit [sometimes misidentified by Europeans as the Nandi bear] was a devil or a one-legged animal[16]. Any confusion was surely on the part of the European researchers. Other cultures do not necessarily distinguish the physical and spiritual worlds, or between the natural and supernatural, in the same way that Europeans do. At any rate, Arap Moina spoke Swahili as well as Kipsigis, and understood what shitani meant. He also knew that the leopard-wizards, shitani or not, left very physical tracks.) In his book The Elephant Stone[3], Jordan connected the apparent lycanthropy of the cheplanget-wachawi to what he called a belief in the "bush soul", something that, with practice and "hereditary secrets", a shaman could cause to leave his human body and be incarnated as an animal. Powerful shamans could supposedly incarnate as animals that they chose, but even normal people had bush souls that could incarnate as animals upon the death of the person.

Arap Moina continued, saying that on a monthly basis (full moons as with werewolves? - just wondering), the cheplanget-wachawi, who carried very physical firearms, hunted both elephants and people, and liked to eat women.

In spite of the evidence that the tusks had been taken by leopard-men, Jordan still wanted to follow them and recover his valuable ivory but his men refused. Jordan probably felt reasonably confident as in those days, guns possessed by Central Africans were usually muzzle-loaders, which were still commonly used at least as late as the Second World War[17]. Jordan had a small armoury of modern firearms. He implied to his men that they were being cowardly. (His "pep talk" belied the fact that he was actually in awe of their physical courage, which he praised more than once, and he admitted that he drew confidence from their courage, not vice versa.) However, his followers still refused to track the leopard-men.

Jordan did not mention that any of his men had firearms, so they were probably just armed with spears. For one thing, they may not have shared Jordan's confidence that men armed with muzzle-loaders could be easily defeated. Voortrekkers in South Africa had proved, at Blood River[18] and Vegkop[19], that men armed with muzzle-loaders, when prepared for battle, could defeat up to twenty times as many spearmen without suffering a single fatality. (That may be a surprise to people who saw, in the motion picture Zulu Dawn, British soldiers, armed with breech-loading rifles and cartridges, being slaughtered by Zulu assegais. In real life, however, the Zulus that fought at Isandhlwana had far more firearms than the British, although most were flintlock muzzle-loaders[20]. At Rorke's Drift, the Zulus had, in addition, the Martini-Henry rifles and ammunition captured at Isandhlwana and, unlike in the motion picture Zulu, they did not charge madly at the British but made use of available cover[20].)

Besides, Jordan's men believed that their weapons could not harm the leopard-wizards. This is comparable with the European belief that werewolves and vampires could not be killed by conventional weapons. If Jordan's men had attacked the leopard-wizards, they would have suffered many casualties for the sake of another man's ivory without, in their view, even having much chance of harming their foes, let alone recovering the ivory.

Having failed to persuade his men to follow the leopard-wizards, Jordan proceeded to what he called the Engabai, an alternative Maasai name for the Mara[2]. He and his men ascended the heights above the Mara River to a village of a tribe that he called the Buragi. He was probably referring to the Bairege (aka Bwirege) subtribe of the Kuria. They live mostly near the border of Tanzania, west of the Maasai Mara National Reserve (aka the Masai Mara National Reserve). That puts them at least approximately in the area of Jordan's adventure. He found the village overgrown and empty apart from some human bones. Jordan regarded it as the typical aftermath of a Maasai raid but his men disagreed.


They dug up some sweet potatoes and ascended to a village of a tribe that Jordan called the Marti. North of the Maasai Mara National Reserve is a vaguely defined area called Marrti and a Marti stream. Jordan would have meant the people who lived there at the time. In the chapter of Mongaso entitled "The Trouble was, Men", Jordan stated that the Marti Hills overlooked the Amala Plain. The Amala is a tributary of the Mara River. Ethnic distribution maps show the area as being mostly populated by Maasai now but Jordan's Marti were not Maasai. For one thing, they sometimes ate the meat of wild animals[1], which the Maasai do not.

At first, Marti warriors with black, elliptical shields barred his path, saying that they had no food for him or his followers, but Jordan was welcomed by the chief, who knew him. Jordan found the tribe's elders engaged in a meeting, or shauri. Two days before, they had received a threatening message from the leopard-wizards, demanding that in ten days time, two boys and two girls must be escorted to a ford on the Amala River, and left there as a sacrificial offering. Such was the fear of the leopard-men that the meeting was to decide which children would be sent.

Jordan warned the chief that if he sent the children, the colonial government would punish him. There was some manoeuvring in the discussion, and Jordan inferred that the chief hoped that he would wait at the designated spot and ambush the leopard-men. At this point, Jordan's self-preservation instincts resurfaced and he refused. The chief assured Jordan that the children would no longer be sent to the leopard-men but Jordan did not believe him. Cunningly, the chief then put the responsibility into Jordan's hands by turning the children over to him.

From Jordan's narrative, I would say that the Marti had still not decided which children would be sacrificed. I think that the chief cleverly gave Jordan four privileged children to be taken to safety, while still planning to send children with less influential parents to the leopard-wizards. Jordan actually commented on how carefully his children had been dressed.

Jordan and his followers, now including four children aged about twelve, went to the village of a friendly chief of the Loita Maasai, Tamani, in the hope of recruiting "elmorani" (Maasai warriors, more correctly il-murran, the plural of ol-murrani) to fight the leopard-men. In the chapter of Mongaso entitled "The Trouble Was, Men", Jordan stated that Tamani had taken his people to live on the German side of the border, which would now be part of Tanzania's Serengeti Plain.

Loita Maasai

Why did Jordan not take the children to the colonial authorities and let them deal with the leopard-men? Jordan did not mention his stolen tusks again but there is no reason to doubt that his intention was still to recover his valuable ivory. Even his friend Edgar Beecher Bronson described him as an ivory poacher and trespasser in "closed territory", areas that could not, at the time, be legally visited by white people without permits from the colonial authorities[2]. Jordan was a criminal who had nothing to gain and much to lose by informing the authorities about the activities of the leopard-men.

For that matter, why did the Marti, inhabitants of the East African Protectorate, not ask the colonial authorities for protection against marauders such as the leopard-wizards? This was the era of "punitive expeditions". Colonial Under-Secretary Winston Churchill commented, regarding an expedition against the Kisii, "Surely it cannot be necessary to go on killing these defenceless people on such an enormous scale."[21] The soldier and naturalist Richard Meinertzhagen, by his own admission, when commanding an expedition against the Kihimbuini Kikuyu, ordered his men to kill "every living thing except children"[22]. It would be a long time, if ever, before indigenous East Africans regarded the colonial authorities as their protectors.

At the Maasai village, Jordan learned that two girls has been kidnapped:

"A party of perhaps ten leopards had been seen carrying the girls over their shoulders, and some of the leopards had run on four legs and some had walked on two, and some had carried guns. All had left the leopard spoor."[1]

In spite of that, the Maasai chief Tamani refused to give Jordan warriors to fight the leopard-wizards. Apart from the supernatural element, Tamani would have had to weigh the number of casualties that his warriors would have suffered facing guns, against the loss of two girls. Some of the Maasai had bows and arrows but they were still no match for firearms, even muzzle-loaders, as proved by the rapid expansion of white settlements in the USA, even before breech-loaders became widely available after the Civil War. The Maasai were great warriors but were not suicidal, which is probably at least partly why they did not resist colonisation with as much force as some other tribes, e.g. the Kisii[21], the Nandi[22] and some sub-tribes of the Kikuyu (Gikuyu)[22].

Maasai bowmen

However, that night, campfires were seen near a ridge several miles away. Jordan told Tamani that he was going to investigate and that he would be "honoured" if Tamani's il-murran joined him. Tamani told his warriors to follow Jordan but warned that he did not think that they would follow him all the way to the fires. Jordan left before dawn, followed by the il-murran and his own Kipsigis warriors. As Tamani predicted, they stopped, at a wooded area, before reaching the fires. Jordan continued alone.

This apparently heroic act may also have contributed to Jordan's reputation as a spinner of yarns. However, he still wanted to recover his ivory. Besides, having implied to his men that they were being cowardly, he was in the schoolboy position of having to prove his own courage.

In any case, in spite of being spooked by what he thought was the dingonek, Jordan was certainly a courageous man. Although acknowledging that Jordan flouted any laws with which he did not agree, E. B. Bronson was full of praise for him, especially of the influence that he had with the Kipsigis, his ability as a safari guide, his imperturbability and his tolerance of pain[2]. Also, for all of their faults, the life of an elephant poacher at the beginning of the twentieth century was not for cowards. Scholars who sneer while safely sipping tea in their studies should bear in mind that when a doctor finally told him to leave Africa, Jordan's health had been ravaged by malaria, a green mamba bite, a Boer bullet and a Kisii spear wound. This was not a man who had to make up Boys' Own tales of adventure. He was a veteran of the Cape Mounted Police, the Boer War and the infamous Nandi and Kisii campaigns. Scouting an enemy camp was obviously not beyond his courage or ability.

Jordan was in luck. The leopard-men had not fortified their encampment with thorns, probably because doing so would have advertised their vulnerability and negated the protective mystique of their leopard-wizard personae. With rare exceptions, fires are sufficient to deter lions, especially if someone keeps watch and the campers have no livestock. There were about thirty leopard-men but only three were awake.

Their captives, the two Maasai girls and three girls that Jordan identified as Wanderobo (aka Il Torobo, Dorobo, Ndorobo or Wandorobo), were tied to a tree. The term "Wanderobo" refers to the Okiek (Ogiek) and other hunter-gatherers including, according to Jordan, outlaws and outcasts of cattle-rearing tribes. Besides the Okiek, traditional hunter-gatherers of northern Tanzania include the Akie or Mosiro, and the Hadza or Hadzabe, the latter whom are still allowed to hunt on the Serengeti. The "Wanderobo" with whom Jordan was most familiar were the Okiek. He admired and liked to hunt with them but he also called them shenzi, a Swahili word meaning uncivilised. The Okiek are part of the Kalenjin group of people, like the pastoral Nandi and Kipsigis, in spite of their different lifestyle.[23]

Jordan shouted for the leopard-men to stand up. One reached for a muzzle-loader and Jordan wounded him. Jordan ordered the leopard-men to disrobe. He cut the girls free and they fled towards the Maasai village.

On questioning, the "jablanket-machoies" admitted to poaching elephants and capturing slaves but denied eating anyone. Jordan admitted that he saw no evidence of cannibalism, even though some of the leopard-men were Manyema, who had that reputation. A leopard-man said that they wore leopard costumes so that they would not be noticed when poaching elephants. Jordan called him a liar, as they were far from unnoticed. Perhaps the leopard-man meant that the elephants would not notice them but they clearly used their leopard-wizard personae to intimidate the tribes among which they operated.

Meanwhile, the escaped captives had run into the Maasai and Kipsigis warriors, and told them what they had seen. The warriors rushed the leopard-men's encampment and the erstwhile "jablanket-machoies" fled. From Jordan's comments in his book The Elephant Stone [3], he believed that none escaped. In Mongaso[1], he just said

"The Masai took back the [leopard] skins to Tamani on their bloody spears, and the feasting lasted two days."

The Leopard-Wizard Costumes

Jablanket-Machoies or Cheplanget-Wachawi

Jordan was frankly impressed by the ingenuity of the leopard-men's costumes. His description shows details that a writer of fiction, who had not seen the practical requirements of modifying leopard skins and skulls for costumes, would be unlikely to consider. That is another reason for believing Jordan's account of the leopard-men.

The leopard costumes were attached by thongs to the wrists and ankles. Examining one of the costumes, Jordan found that it was a "cape cunningly tailored from several skins, with the head made into a cap so that the lower jaw fitted below a man's chin with the upper jaw coming down like a visor. Teeth had been reset in the gumless bone."

Who but someone who had actually seen the costume would think about the necessity of resetting the teeth?

Jordan went on: "The feet were ingenious. The leopard-men had made sandals from the pads, filling them with wild rubber." He also observed that "the skins of leopards came up over their backs and along their arms, with the claws over their fingers." Not ON their fingers, you will note. That would have impeded them and made it difficult to fire their weapons.

The Anioto leopard-men's costume, at least as shown in the sculpture in the Royal Museum for Central Africa, in Tervuren, Belgium, looks poor and cheap by comparison.

In my mind, the appearance of the "jablanket-machoies" is reminiscent of the jaguar warriors of the Aztecs. However, the jaguar helmets of the Aztecs were made out of wood, and the capes of feathers. In my opinion, the costumes of the leopard-wizards were even more ingenious.

Who Were the Jablanket-Machoies?

The leopard-wizards were not from a single tribe. From their tribal scarification, Jordan identified them as Majama, Ukerrari and Washie.

By "Majama", Jordan meant Manyema. Elsewhere in Mongaso, it is spelled "Manjama". (Jordan may have acquired the "j" during his years poaching elephants, and shooting crocodiles for the bounty, in German East Africa.) In The Elephant Stone, it is spelled "Manyma". They once had a reputation for cannibalism, which caused Jordan to not discount the possibility that the leopard-wizards really did eat some of their victims, as his Kipsigis followers had claimed. The Manyema live mostly in the area historically called Manyema in the eastern Congo, and in the area in and around the neighbouring towns of Ujiji and Kigoma, on the Tanzanian shore of Lake Tanganyika.

Manyema marauders - jablanket-machoies without leopard costumes.

The "Ukerrari" are the Kerewe of Ukerewe Island on Lake Victoria. Jordan believed that they were fish eaters, and Ukerewe Island is, of course, a fishing community.

Wa- is a prefix in some African languages, such as Swahili, used to pluralise people, so Jordan's "Washie" implies the plural of "Shie", an individual member of the "Shie" tribe. By "Washie", Jordan was probably referring to the Jie, a Karamojong-speaking tribe of Uganda. Wajie would be the Swahili name for the Jie people.

I did consider other candidates for the "Washie". Washihiri is a Swahili name for Arabs. Arab slave raiders cerainly made use of Manyema warriors but Arabs would have no tribal scarification, and Jordan would certainly have referred to them as Arabs.

Another candidate for the "Washie" was the Wajiji community. The Wajiji are the indigenous people of the Ujiji area, Ujiji being the town where Stanley famously found Livingstone. In the chapter of Mongaso entitled The Bwana Mkuba and the Memsahib, Jordan stated that in the eastern Congo, he and his wife met a former Arab slave trader who reminisced about "Tip-o-Tee" (Tippu Tip, aka Tippu-Tib, Tippu-Tippu, Tipo-Tipo, Tippoo Tip, etc.):

"The people of Ujiji learned well and admired the Arabs, and when slavery was abolished and the Arabs accepted this, the Ujiji people continued raiding on their own, and hired out their slaves as porters.

They raided still, said the old man, and chuckled. He said that sometimes at night, when the forests were quiet, you could hear the guns and the cries in the far distance."

The Wajiji share the Ujiji area with the Manyema. The Manyema and Wajiji were both sometimes allied to slave and ivory raiders such as Tippu Tip[24]. It is therefore plausible that the Wajiji would be involved in a slaving enterprise that included Manyema.

However, the Wajiji had a higher social position than the Manyema, who were often slaves imported from the Congo, and as Jordan pointed out, the people of Ujiji "hired out their slaves as porters." These Ujiji-based porters (aka carriers) were mostly Manyema[25]. It is unlikely that Wajiji businessmen would have put themselves in danger in an enterprise as risky as the leopard-man raids, if armed Manyema and other minions could be sent instead. (Manyema and other slaves were sometimes armed, as H M Stanley saw on his journey across Africa:

"One hundred men consist of Ba-rua, Manyema, Bakusu, Ba-Samba, and Utotera slaves; most of these slaves are armed with flintlocks, the others with formidable spears and shields."[24]

Also, some slaves led trading parties[24], so it makes sense that some would have been trusted to lead raiding parties.)

Besides, Jordan referred to the people of Ujiji as "the people of Ujiji"[1], not "Washie", so I conclude that the "Washie" were not the Wajiji.

My original proposition, that by "Washie", Jordan meant the Jie (Wajie), remains the best and simplest.

The Kerewe and Jie, like the Manyema, may have been slaves brought to Ujiji who became allies in the leopard-men venture. Wajiji, Arab or Swahili traders at Ujiji would have handled the ivory brought back by the leopard-men. The same may have been true of the captives, although it is possible that they were not sold.

Jordan's Restraint On the Subject of Cannibalism

Jordan's bearer, Arap Moina, told him that the leopard-wizards liked to eat women. Jordan's admission that he saw no evidence of the leopard-men's cannibalism is another reason why his narrative is compelling. They included Manyema and he had no doubt whatsoever that the Manyema were cannibals. He said that he knew that the Manyema were cannibals because they filed their teeth like the Wakamba[3]. (Jordan admitted that the Wakamba were not cannibals but was sure that their filed teeth meant that they had been cannibals in the past.)

Many Europeans in Jordan's time believed that cannibals filed their teeth. Even many Africans believed that the Manyema were cannibals who filed their teeth[26]. (There is no evidence that the Wakamba were ever cannibals and even H M Stanley concluded that the filing of teeth was not proof of cannibalism[24].)

Still, Jordan appears to have been right about at least some of the Manyema sharpening their teeth. According to the Reverend Sir George Grenfell when writing about tribes of the Congo Basin:

"... a great many of the peoples of the center and northeast file all the front teeth in both jaws to sharp points...."


"Some of the Bakusu, Basonge (Bakuba), and Manyema adopt the same practice,..."


"The Eastern Manyema chip a diagonal space between the middle upper incisors."[27]

Jordan had also heard stories about Manyema cannibals. In fact, the most famous explorers of the late nineteenth century, Stanley[24] and Livingstone[28], accused the Manyema of cannibalism. Cameron[29] and Johnston[30] claimed that the Manyema even ate the corpses of diseased people, and that they put the bodies in streams until they started to go rotten, and then ate them raw. Jordan repeated a similar story about the Manyema, "The first story a newcomer to Nairobi was told", about a missionary pegged in a stream to be tenderised[1][3]. Even Jordan was sceptical about that tale, even though he didn't mention anything about the missionary being eaten raw. Jordan did believe another story, that cannibals

"... did not eat the old people of their own tribe, but went into the catering business, selling them to other tribes."[1]

The Manyema with whom Jordan was originally familiar were the carriers based in Ujiji, who were probably immigrants (willing or unwilling) from the Congo. (Later, Jordan settled in the Belgian Congo itself.) In The Elephant Stone[3], Jordan related the experience of an acquaintance, Joe Marks, who used Manyema carriers, dismissing warnings about their alleged cannibalism on the grounds that they would not eat him unless they were hungry. When he became feverish and, perhaps, delirious, and could not hunt for meat, he thought that he had heard his carriers plotting to murder and eat him. He staggered out of his tent and, believing that his Manyema foreman was about to kill him, shot the man in the head and told the others that he had kept his promise to keep them in meat. Instead of eating their comrade, however, they understandably fled.

Manyema men

Believing as he did that the Manyema were cannibals, Jordan obviously disliked them:

"I did not like cannibals any more than I liked the crocodile."[1]

If Jordan was a spinner of yarns, he would have had no qualms about adding to the stories of Manyema cannibalism. He could easily have made the story even more believable by saying that the leopard-men were all Manyema, instead of admitting that they included, e.g., Kerewe, who were noted for eating fish. Knowing that his readers could hardly fail to believe what Africa's most revered missionaries and explorers had claimed, Jordan had ample opportunity to embellish his anecdote of the leopard-wizards with a lurid and grisly description of dismembered corpses. However, he admitted that he saw nothing of the sort.

Contrast Jordan's restraint with the claim of his contemporary in Kenya, the famous naturalist Richard Meinertzhagen, whose (transcribed) diary entry for October 25th, 1905 states that he saw a Manyema corporal with a number of human hands that the corporal admitted he intended to eat. Meinertzhagen wrote that he did not discipline the man because there was nothing about cannibalism in the army regulations, but ordered him not to mutilate his enemies in the future. He did not say whether he allowed the corporal to eat his chosen supper. This surreal diary entry ends with "he tells me that the fingers are the most succulent, adding: 'but the best of all is the buttocks of a young girl.'"[22]

(At this point, I should mention that Meinertzhagen had a motive for maligning the Manyema[31], and the famous explorers mentioned above failed to prove that cannibalism was part of Manyema culture. Even the infamous incident in which James Sligo Jameson witnessed the murder and dismemberment of a little girl, to prove Tippu Tip's claim that the Bakusu [Jameson called them Wacusu] were cannibals, only proved that evil masters can make slaves do evil things[33].)

What Motivated the Leopard-Wizards?

Why the Costumes?

The main reason for adopting man-leopard personae was to intimidate their victims by taking advantage of the universal fear of lycanthropes. This mystique would have helped to protect the leopard-men from attack and increased the chance of co-operation without the need for risky violence. The Maasai captives were kidnapped by stealth and the leopard-wizards demanded captives from the Marti by menaces. Although his Kipsigis followers believed that the "Buragi" (probably Bairege, aka Bwirege) village had been attacked by leopard-men, the village was overgrown, Jordan was not shown leopard spoor and he found no "Buragi" captives at the leopard-men's encampment. (Admittedly, that could have been because the "Buragi" had been attacked on a previous raid). The villagers may have been the victims of a conventional raid by Maasai, as Jordan had originally thought, or by Kisii, who Jordan had said were raiding at the time.

Was Ritual Murder Involved?

Murders by some other leopard-men, such as the Borfima Society of Sierra Leone and neighbouring countries, were at least partly committed to collect parts of human bodies, especially blood and fat, to maintain the magical power of amulets[34]. When Jordan visited them, the Marti were debating which children were to to be sent to be sacrificed to the leopard-men's gods. The leopard-wizards included Manyema, who were reputed to be cannibals. Jordan's Kipsigis entourage believed that the leopard-men ate human flesh. The readers' thoughts immediately turn to sinister secret rituals.

Arap Moina told Jordan about a Kipsigis warrior who had been captured by the leopard-men. He had been wounded by a musket ball, bitten on the arms and clawed on the head. He escaped and told his story but quickly lost his sanity and died shortly afterwards. The clawing may have been done with a forked tool similar to those used by leopard-men in other parts of Africa. Jordan believed that the warrior had been poisoned with a substance that damaged his mind.

The leopard-wizards' message to the Marti (regrettably, Jordan did not establish how they received the message) showed that the leopard-men encouraged the belief that their captives were sacrificed ritually. That would have added to their mystique. It would also have given the victims' relatives closure rather than being tempted to change their minds and hunt for the children. The leopard-wizards only wanted child captives, so the Kipsigis warrior was probably deliberately allowed to escape, to spread the story that he was abducted by man-leopards. His madness and unpleasant death would have fostered a conviction that there would be no point in trying to rescue the captives of the leopard-men, as well as reminding would-be rescuers that they risked a similar, or worse, fate.

It is probable that the leopard-wizards, like people all over sub-Saharan Africa, consulted shamans and herbalists who would have given them allegedly magical charms for their protection. They may also have believed that with appropriate rituals, donning the leopard costumes really did give them some of the qualities of leopards. However, there is no reason to believe that such rituals, if they took place, included human sacrifice. So any ritualistic or magical connotations of the leopard-wizards' abductions appear to be bogus, an artifice designed to strengthen their protective mystique.

Was There a Political Motive for the Raids?

The Anioto leopard-man society of the eastern Congo had a political motive for some of their killings, being employed to maintain the authority of chiefs when their power was eroded by the colonial administration[35][36]. Other killings enforced tribal law. This was obviously not a motive for the ivory and slave raiding leopard-wizards. A political motive for their raids cannot be ruled out, as politically motivated groups have been known to e.g. rob banks to obtain funds for their work. However, there is as yet no reason to believe that the leopard-wizards were trying to generate funds for a political cause such as independence. Their raids for ivory and slaves may have been purely for profit. However, the leopard-wizards, or their masters, if they had any, may not have been planning to sell their captives. They may, in a sense, have had a political motive in that they may have acquired slaves to increase their power, not just their wealth.

Why Did the Leopard-Wizards Want Child Captives?

One reason that slavers liked to capture boys was that they could be castrated and sold for a high price. A retired slaver showed Richard Meinertzhagen around the ruins of a slaving station where the operation was performed, in Kitale, western Kenya[22]. About half died before reaching the coast[22], probably because in the case of black eunuchs, the penis was removed as well as the testicles[37], massively increasing the risk of infections and difficulty with urination.

However, by 1897, slavery was illegal even in Zanzibar[38]. By the early twentieth century, the export of large numbers of slaves from East Africa had ended. It is unlikely that all, if any, of the boys captured by the leopard-wizards, were destined to become harem eunuchs.

In the long term, however, child slaves were still more valuable than adults. The leopard-wizards only kidnapped children because they could more easily learn to identify with their captors or owners, and become loyal followers. The slaver Tippu Tip, who made use of Stockholm Syndrome before it was even identified, knew this only too well:

"There are also about fifty youths, ranging from ten to eighteen years of age, being trained by Tippu-Tib as gun-bearers, house servants, scouts, cooks, carpenters, house-builders, blacksmiths, and leaders of trading parties. Meanwhile such young fellows are useful to him ; they are more trustworthy than adults, because they look up to him as their father ; and know that if they left him they would inevitably be captured by a less humane man."[24]

The Ndebele (aka Matabele) of Southern Africa gained power in the same way, converting Sotho, Tswana and Shona children into faithful warriors and mothers[19].

Was There a Connection Between the "Jablanket-Machoies" and the Aniotos?

The leopard-wizards included Manyema, people mostly inhabiting the eastern Congo, so it is tempting to consider a connection between the "jablanket-machoies" and the Aniotos. However, according to van Bockhaven[35] and Cyrier[36], the Anioto leopard-men originated among the Bali and related tribes of the northeastern Congo, and their activities increased (were triggered in the Ituri Forest region, according to van Bockhaven) as a REACTION to the invasion by Zanzibari Arabs and Swahili, as well as their Wangwana and Manyema allies. That appears to rule out an association between the Aniotos and the "jablanket-machoies".

How Did the Leopard-Wizards Choose the Area of Their Raids?

Why did the leopard-wizards operate in the Maasai-dominated Loita Plains, Mara and Serengeti? In the past, Zanzibari slavers had avoided Maasai territory, and the slave caravans between Kitale and Bagamoyo had taken a detour around the area[22]. The old slaver that Jordan and his wife met in the eastern Congo said that slavers from Ujiji still raided there[1]. However, the region had become largely depopulated and impoverished by Tippu Tip and his ilk, and the authorities of the Congo Free State conscripted much of the remaining population to gather wild rubber, or killed them when they did not comply (that may have been the actual source of the sounds of raiding heard by the old slaver), and disease also took a great toll[39]. The Maasai territory and its environs was an untapped source of slaves, a tempting prospect for slavers, especially if minions could be persuaded to take the risks. Adopting the personae of lycanthropic leopard-wizards was an artifice that made even the Maasai think twice about attacking the raiders.


John Alfred Jordan described a real encounter with men dressed as leopards, in what would now be described as the Serengeti ecosystem, including Tanzania's Serengeti Plain and Kenya's Maasai Mara, as well as Kenya's Loita Plains (which formed part of the ecosystem before they were fenced for farming). His narrative is self-consistent and does not contradict known historical or ethnographical facts. It also shows knowledge of the languages, tribes and place names of the area at the time of the encounter. Jordan resisted any temptation to use his undoubted prejudices against the Manyema to concoct lurid or grisly embellishments for the benefit of his readers. His description of the leopard costumes contains details that someone who had not really examined them would be unlikely to consider.

In spite of encouraging such a belief among the tribes in their areas of operation, there is no evidence that the leopard-wizards killed their captives, either ritually or to maintain magical power, unlike e.g. the Borfima Society of West Africa. Nor, unlike the Anioto Society of the Congo, did they carry out their raids to maintain the authority of indigenous leaders and laws. Like raiders and traders such as Tippu Tip, the leopard-men encountered by Jordan were after ivory and slaves. However, the fact that they only wanted child captives suggests that like Tippu Tip and Mzilikazi's Ndebele, they may have had a political motive in the sense of acquiring power by converting their captives into loyal followers, either of themselves or of their own masters, if they had any.

The Maasai-dominated region in which these leopard-men operated was a hitherto untapped source of slaves. The fact that the events took place in the region including the Maasai Mara National Reserve and the Serengeti National Park, two of the most famous and popular conservation areas in the world, makes them even more interesting from the point of view of the many visitors to the area.


  1. Mongaso by John Alfred Jordan as told to John Prebble (Nicholas Kaye 1956)

  2. In Closed Territory by Edgar Beecher Bronson (A C McClurg and Co 1910)

  3. The Elephant Stone by John Alfred Jordan as told to George Leith (Nicholas Kaye 1959)

  4. Rhodesia Monster: Chipekwe, Lukwata, Dingonek by D J Trotter (Accepted for publication.)

  5. Ethnology of A-Kamba and Other East African Tribes by C W Hobley (Cambridge University Press 1910)

  6. Kipsigis people (Retrieved September 23rd 2019)

  7. The Kalenjin Peoples of Kenya (Retrieved August 26th 2019)

  8. The Holy Bible Authorised King James Version

  9. A Grammar Of The Kipsigis And Nandi Language (The Africa Inland Mission 1927)

  10. The Nandi: Their Language and Folklore by A. C. Hollis (Clarendon Press 1909)

  11. Nandi and Other Kalenjin Peoples (Retrieved August 27th 2019)

  12. Machui | (Retrieved August 26th 2019)

  13. Up-Country Swahili Second (Revised) Edition by F H Le Breton (May 1937)

  14. Kalenjin Bible - Bukuit Ne Tilil (KAPR) (Retrieved August 26th and 27th 2019)

  15. Religious Beliefs and Practices of the Kipsigis by Ian Q Orchardson (pp 154-162 in Journal of the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society 1933)

  16. Origin of the Masai (Criticism of Cardale Luck’s Treatise) letter by Ian Q Orchardson (Journal of the East Africa and Uganda Natural History Society 1927)

  17. On Safari by Armand Denis (Collins 1963)

  18. Rule of Fear by Dr Peter Becker (Viking 1979)

  19. Path of Blood by Dr Peter Becker (Longmans 1962)

  20. Zulu Rising by Ian Knight (Pan paperback undated)

  21. African Responses to Colonial Military Recruitment: the Role of Askari and Carriers in the First World War in the British East Africa Protectorate (Kenya) by Salina Jepkoech Cheserem (Masters thesis presented to McGill University 1987)

  22. Kenya Diary 1902-1906 by Richard Meinertzhagen (Eland Books and Hippocrene Books 1983 reprinted 1984 [First published by Oliver and Boyd 1957])

  23. Okiek by Roderic H Blackburn, in Kenya Peoples series edited by Margaret Sharman (Evan Bros Ltd 1982)

  24. Through the Dark Continent by H M Stanley (Harper & Brothers 1878)

  25. The Leopard Men of the Eastern Congo (ca. 1890-1940): history and colonial representation by Vicky L M van Bockhaven (PhD thesis submitted to to the University of East Anglia December 2013),

    from information in Forschungen im Nil-Kongo Zwischengebiet. Wissenschaftliche Ergebnisse der Deutschen Zentral-Afrika-Expedition 1907-8, by Jan Czekanowski, (in EthnographieAnthropologie II: Ethnographie Uele-Ituri-Nil-Länder, published by Klinkhardt & Biermann, 1924.)

  26. Sukuma Labor Songs from Western Tanzania by Frank Gunderson (Brill 2010)

  27. Extract from Through the Congo by Sir George Grenfell 1905 in the article Practices and Customs of the African Natives Involving Dental Procedures By Bene van Rippen, D.M.D. (The Journal of the Allied Dental Societies Vol. XIII March, 1918 No.1)

  28. The Life and Explorations of David Livingstone, LL.D. by John S Roberts (The Tyne Publishing Company, Limited, no earlier than 1877. Originally published by John G Murdoch, 1874 but the Tyne edition contains much information about subsequent explorations.)

  29. Across Africa by Verney Lovett Cameron (Harper & Brothers 1877)

  30. George Grenfell and the Congo : a history and description of the Congo Independent State and adjoining districts of Congoland together with some account of the native peoples and their languages, the fauna and flora, and similar notes on the Cameroons and the Island of Fernando Pô by Sir Harry Johnston (Hutchinson 1908)

  31. Did Richard Meinertzhagen See Proof of Cannibalism? by D J Trotter

  32. Were the Manyema Really Congo Cannibals? by D J Trotter (Accepted for publication)

  33. James Sligo Jameson and the "Wacusu" (Bakusu) Cannibals: Jameson the Fool and Livingstone the Ghoul by D J Trotter

  34. Human Leopards: An Account of the Trials of Human Leopards Before the Special Commission Court; With a Note on Sierra Leone, Past and Present by K J Beatty (Hugh Rees Ltd 1915)

  35. The Leopard Men of the Eastern Congo (ca. 1890-1940): history and colonial representation by Vicky L M van Bockhaven (PhD thesis submitted to to the University of East Anglia December 2013)

  36. Putting a Paw on Power: Anioto Leopard Men of the Eastern Uplands, Belgian Congo, 1911-1936 by Jeremy Cyrier (pp 75-86 in Ufahamu: A Journal of African Studies 2000)

  37. INTERVIEW: George Junne on black eunuchs and slavery in the Ottoman Empire (Retrieved September 28th 2019)

  38. History of Zanzibar (Retrieved September 28th 2019)

  39. Atrocities in the Congo Free State (Retrieved September 28th 2019)


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