As early as the 5th century, European explorers, more specifically, Hanno the navigator explored the coast of Africa. His accounts of the exploration would later discourage other explorers from venturing into Africa for close to a thousand years. Exploring Africa was a very dangerous exercise at the time because Africa was known as the ‘dark Continent,’ due to very little access into its lands. Also, very little was known about the people and various tribes of Africa. This led to the branding of African exploration and missions at the time as a death sentence.
The expedition of Africa and the extraordinary ordeals of early explorers into Africa are captured in the book titled Into Africa: The Dramatic Retelling of the Stanley-Livingstone Story, written by Martin Dugard.
The following is a compilation of extraordinary ordeals of early explorers in their expedition of Africa.
When Hanno the Navigator travelled to the West Coast of Africa, the Carthaginian and his crew were attacked by an enormous black man when the stepped into the tropical rain forests. They were shocked by his appearance which they described as ‘rippling muscles, great white teeth and full body hair’. The Carthaginians eventually killed him and skinned him to take back to Carthage, to prove to the world that such a man existed.
The Entry Point
The coast of Somalia was an entry point into Africa but a dangerous one due to Somali bandits known as ‘penis-cutting people,’ because they cut off the genitals of their captives or enemies. British explorers Richard Francis Burton and John Hanning Speke encountered these bandits on their first exploration, off the coast of Somalia, and a battle ensued. The sentries and porters were first slaughtered by the bandits using spears, clubs, curved daggers and sabres. Burton and Speke battled with their pistols but it wasn’t enough as Burton had a javelin thrust clean through his face. Speke was captured and spears were thrust through his thighs to ensure that he didn’t escape while the bandits looted the camp. Both managed to escape and get on a British ship anchored on the beach.
On their next expedition to Africa, in order to avoid hostile tribes, both Burton and Speke decided to go down south to Zanzibar. From Zanzibar, they embarked on an extraordinary journey of trekking through 800 miles of savannah, swamps and forest to a village named Ujiji.
Disease and Hunger
During the course of their expedition, Burton and Speke were ravaged by all kinds of sickness. At a point they were hit by malaria which almost turned them blind and they had to be carried for weeks by their porters on the expedition. Gonorrhoea was also prevalent to the point that it was regarded as a common illness. Speke was hit by an illness so painful that he was delusional and raged like a mad man. Both of them and their crews also endured serious hunger and malnutrition in the African jungle.
Bitter Rivalry and Death
Due to Burton’s illness at a point, Speke decided to leave him with a few aids at a village and venture deep into the jungle in search of the source of the River Nile. After a few weeks, Speke discovered what he regarded as the source of the Nile and named it Lake Victoria, after the Queen of England. Speke broke the news to Burton when he got back to the village but Burton did not believe him and demanded they go back to prove the claim. Speke argued that they did not have enough supplies to go back.
They went back to England and while Speke was regarded as the founder of the source of the Nile, Burton would continue to disregard his claim. This debate between the two of them turned into a bitter rivalry in England that overshadowed every single event at the time, including the American civil war, which the British were keen on the South winning. The Royal Geographical Society and the British Association decided to host both men to a debate and scientific presentation of facts to prove their claims and a date was set. Speke committed suicide on the morning of the debate. He pulled a rifle to his chest and bled to death. The Royal Geographical Society would later sponsor David Livingstone to discover the true source of the Nile.
Slave trade in Africa was rife at the time and a lot of despicable acts were common place. Livingstone reported seeing dead bodies on the trail as he went deep into Africa. He reported seeing a dead woman tied to a tree. She had fallen ill and was unable to keep up with the rest of the slaves. Her master decided to abandon her, but not wanting her to belong to someone else if she eventually recuperated; he decided to tie her by the neck to a tree.
David Livingstone reported seeing strange holes in the ground on his journey. These holes were used by the natives to slow-cook the feet of elephants, the heads of zebras and the humps of rhinoceros. Due to the hard skin of these animals, the meat was left in the holes for several days.
Trials and Tribulations
Livingstone encountered a lot of difficulties on his journey but the most devastating was the loss of his medicine box. The porters had been a constant pain to him on the journey, always complaining about food and money, waking up late and fearing for their lives. Livingstone had regarded all these as unavoidable distraction, until two of the porters decided to run away with supplies including the medicine box. It was like a death sentence to Livingstone as he could not see any other way of surviving in the jungle without his medicine supplies.
Being a devout Christian, Livingstone turned to prayers to God for comfort and protection. He would later write in his journal “everything of this kind happens by the permission of one who watches over us with most tender care, and this may turn out for the best”. He fell ill and was unable to walk or speak for months, and had to be carried; but his sheer determination to live and carry on his expedition saw him through until they reached the village of Ujiji, where he was taken care of by the villagers and Arab slave traders who frequently visited the region.
Livingstone later succumbed to his many illnesses and died in Africa. His heart and lungs were removed from his body and buried, while his body was mummified and returned to England where he was buried. He could have been buried in Africa, but his wish was always to return to England. The locals granted his last wish but his heart would always remain in Africa.
You can get the book and read the entire story of Stanley and Livingstone here.