This entry contains seven subentries: Early Exploration in East Africa; Exploration; Geographical Barriers to Exploration; Indigenous Porters and Guides; Maps; Patrons, Sponsors, and Supporters; Scientific Exploration
Early Exploration of East Africa
The human species evolved in Africa and at successive times during the last two million years left the continent and settled in Europe and Asia. The last migration event involving modern humans took place between 100,000 and 60,000 years ago. The story of the exploration of Africa undertaken largely by non-Africans is a sensitive issue because indigenous African communities knew about their own landscape for millennia. Discovery and exploration by non-Africans was really a prelude for exploitation of the continent's raw materials and human resources (especially slaves), which ultimately led to the colonization of the continent by European powers in the nineteenth century.
It was trade that certainly motivated the ancient Egyptians to plan significant expeditions into sub-Saharan Africa, which they identified as the lands of Yam and Punt. Early expeditions followed the Nile southward. Harkhuf (c. 2300 b.c.e.), whose tomb is just below the First Cataract on the Nile in Aswan, records four expeditions into the Sudan during the Sixth Dynasty; he returned on the last expedition with a “dancing dwarf of the gods from the land of the spirits.” Punt was reached by the Red Sea, and expeditions set out from Sinai and Quseir in the Old, Middle, and New Kingdoms, beginning during the Fifth Dynasty (c. 2450 b.c.e.). Extensive reliefs of one of these expeditions in c. 1492 b.c.e., under the instigation of Queen Hatshepsut, are preserved on the walls of the Deir al-Bahri temple complex at Thebes. These show the boats used, the indigenous peoples encountered, and the products obtained, which included gold, ebony, ivory, and live wild animals, as well as the animals' skins and incense. New evidence of these voyages has come from an archaeological survey of Marsa Gawasis on the Red Sea, where remains of rigging and ships timbers, as well as containers naming Punt with the cartouche of Amenemhat III (c. 1800 b.c.e.), have been found in man-made caves. No definitive archaeological evidence for the location of Punt has yet been obtained, although current opinion favors the African coast at the southern end of the Red Sea, rather than the lands beyond the Bab el-Mandeb. The trade goods, however, seem to have come from a wide area of eastern Africa. These voyages to Punt were major state-sponsored expeditions that involved the portage of ships across the desert and their reassembly on the Red Sea, and they apparently ceased in the Twentieth Dynasty.
Greek interest in African exploration developed through the Greeks' control of Egypt from 323 b.c.e. A primary motivation was a reliable supply of war elephants, and Ptolemy II Philadelphus (281–246 b.c.e.) established a series of elephant-hunting stations along the African coast of the Red Sea, extending as far south as Adulis. These stations developed as trading posts, enabling the connection of the maritime trade of the Indian Ocean with the Red Sea. Early voyages into the Indian Ocean include that of Eudoxus of Cyzicus (c. 146 b.c.e.), whose account is preserved by Strabo. On his return from India, Eudoxus was cast onto the east African coast, where he discovered a ship's prow shaped like a horse's head, which he carried home and believed was similar to those used off the coast of Spain—thus, to him, proving that Africa could be circumnavigated. Significantly, prows of the east African mtepe sewn boats are shaped as animal heads, and these may be part of a very ancient design. Eudoxus set out to prove his theory of circumnavigation, sailing to Cádiz and then southward, but he never returned.
More problematic are two voyages recorded in Greek literature that, it is claimed, reached East Africa, but the voyages are largely fictional in their content, recalling the utopian tradition of Plato's Atlantis. The voyage of Euhemerus (fl. 316 b.c.e., quoted by Eusebius in his Praeparatio) reached an island called Paanchea, while the voyage of Iambulus (second century b.c.e., quoted by Diodorus Siculus in his Bibliotheke) reached the “Islands of the Sun,” which numbered seven and lay off the African coast. Neither account contains details that are convincing, but the accounts may indicate that eastern Africa was being drawn into maritime trade networks, as has been suggested by recent archaeological finds on Zanzibar and Mafia islands, including finds of Egyptian marlwares. On the west coast of Africa, another Greek, the historian Polybius, set out to repeat the voyage of Hanno (c. 143 b.c.e.), and Polybius's account is partly preserved by Pliny.
The Romans saw Egypt's potential as a gateway into Africa, following the Nile, as well as a gateway into the Indian Ocean. A military expedition under Petronius (23–21 b.c.e.) reached as far as Zapata (Gable Barkel), and the most southerly frontier of the Roman Empire was briefly established at Qasr Ibrim; excavations have produced evidence of the Roman garrison and marching camps. Thereafter, a peace treaty was signed, and the frontier moved north. Pliny recorded an expedition sent by Nero in 61 c.e. that reached Meroe, the Nubian capital, and this was probably the farthest into continental East Africa that the Romans traveled.
The sea route to East Africa was an easier proposition, since the Red Sea coast had become the terminus of regular trade with India. However, while ships could sail to India in a single monsoon, the voyage to East Africa required two monsoons, and most of the trade seems to have been under the control of Arabian seaman. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (c. 40 c.e.) contains a very detailed account of the coastline and its ports as far south as “Rhapta,” a market that exported ivory and tortoise shell. Rhapta has not been located, although Roman beads have been found close to the Rufiji River in Tanzania. Claudius Ptolemy (c. 150 c.e.) was interested in the dimensions of East Africa, as part of his calculating the dimensions of the known earth. Ptolemy relied upon two accounts recorded by Marinus of Tyre (fl. 120 c.e.), that of Diogenes, who was driven southward for twenty-five days, reaching the “lake from which the Nile flows,” and that of Theophilus, who took twenty days to sail from Rhapta to Cape Guardafui. Elsewhere Ptolemy gives precise coordinates of the east African ports, which broadly follow those in the Periplus. Ptolemy also records the location of the Mountains of the Moon “from which the lakes of the Nile receive their snow water,” and he is aware that they can be reached from the east coast. This mountain range is probably the snow-covered Ruwenzori mountains in Uganda, and it was this information of Ptolemy's that was used to guide the Victorian explorers to the source of the Nile.
Islamic and Chinese Geography.
Byzantine interest in Africa was directed toward obtaining gold and ivory and toward supporting the Aksum to develop its trade with the East. Aksum had developed as a major trading center in highland Ethiopia, and the ruling family had been converted to Christianity by the mid-fourth century c.e. through the activities of two Coptic missionaries, Fumentius and Edesius. The fullest account of Aksum and its trade, complete with illustrations, is found in an account of a merchant-turned-monk, Kosmas Indicopleustes, whose Christian Topography (c. 550 c.e.) set out the notion that the world was flat and that the heavens were a dome overhead. He had visited Aksum as well as ports along the Red Sea, but he did not venture south of Cape Guardafui. Archaeological evidence suggests that regular trade did take place as far south as Zanzibar from the sixth century, although mostly with the Sasanian rather than with Byzantine or Aksumite merchants.
With the spread of Islam across the Indian Ocean and into northern Africa, geographical knowledge of Africa rapidly increased. Trade routes crossed the desert, reaching the urban communities of the Sahel and inland Niger delta, while monsoon trade connected the Swahili communities of East Africa. Numerous accounts, often fantastical, were collected of these places from returning merchants, but actual eyewitness accounts are rare. Most noteworthy are the descriptions of al-Masʾudi, who states that he visited East Africa in 916; of Ibn Battuta, who traveled between Mogadishu and Kilwa in 1332 and to western Sudan in 1352–1353; and of Leo Africanus, whose Description of Africa was first published in 1550. The Islamic geographers relied heavily on the classical authors for material beyond the trading centers, including the idea that the African continent stretched to the east to join Asia. There was little or no travel by outsiders to the indigenous states in the interior, such as Great Zimbabwe, the interlacaustrine region, or the Congo.
Chinese sources for this period are surprisingly accurate and fuller in ethnographic details than many of the Islamic accounts. The Chinese gathered much of their information at home from merchants, and even on one occasion in the tenth century from visiting Africans. Eyewitness explorations by the Chinese are rare, but Du Huan did reach the coast of Somalia or Eritrea in the mid-eighth century, and his description survives. A contemporary of Ibn Battuta was Wang Dayuan, who may also have visited East Africa. A Chinese map drawn by Zhu Siben, dated 1311–1320, clearly shows the southern coastline of Africa, in a way quite different from that of prevailing Arabic knowledge, suggesting some firsthand knowledge. The most significant Chinese exploration was by the naval expeditions of Zheng He, which first reached East Africa on the fifth voyage (1417–1419), returning on the sixth (1421–1422) and seventh voyages (1431–1432). Many of the records of this massive undertaking have been lost, but Zheng He's fleet visited many of the Swahili ports, including Malindi and Mogadishu, and may have ventured a short distance into the Atlantic, as is suggested by a note on the Fra Mauro map of 1453. There have been recent claims of the discovery of a Chinese shipwreck on the Pasali rocks off Pate Island, near Lamu, as well as long-recorded traditions that the people of the nearby town of Shanga, which was abandoned in the early fifteenth century, were descended in part from shipwrecked Chinese sailors. [See also Arabo-Islamic Geography; Chinese Exploration; Herodotus; Ibn Battuta; Leo Africanus; Pliny the Elder; Ptolemy; and Zheng He.]
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The hominids who developed into Homo sapiens must have explored areas around their East African Rift Valley homes as they spread out from there, but such ventures can be only inferred; no records have survived. Exploration implies communication to others in tangible form about what has been discovered. Hence the true exploration of Africa is a phenomenon of only the last 2,500 years. For almost all of that period a distinction has to be made between the accumulation of knowledge about the coasts and about the interior, which was difficult of access and often had a separate history. Not until well into the nineteenth century were those barriers properly overcome by explorers.
Ancient Civilizations, c. 2500 b.c.e.–500 c.e.
During the period of Africa's ancient civilizations, outsiders explored the continent by land and by sea, but the data accumulated were transmitted to later ages in a fragmentary and often confusing form.
Ventures by Land.
From the north of the continent, some ingress by land to the interior of Africa was possible and the rulers of ancient Egypt sent expeditions southward up the Nile valley. Inscriptions record three trading ventures by one Herkhof, the first-ever known explorer recorded by name, into the Sudan in about 2200 b.c.e. He brought back ivory, ebony, incense, and a Pygmy. Yet such expeditions did not bring much information; even by the time of the Alexandrian geographer Ptolemy in the second century c.e., Egypt's knowledge of the Nile Valley did not reliably extend much beyond the latitude of present-day Khartoum and only touched the borders of Ethiopia. Farther west, caravan routes were established across the Sahara despite its steadily becoming more desiccated in this period. Successive rulers of North Africa (that is, Egypt) the Greeks, then the Romans, among others, learned something of the peoples south of the desert, but there are few first-hand records of particular expeditions.
Herodotus (484–425 b.c.e.), a traveler and historian who reached Aswan, collected much information. He rejected myths about the Nile but did mention five young men from Syrtis (modern Libya) who had traveled southwest to reach a great river that he assumed was the Upper Nile but which must have been the Niger. This confusion was to bedevil scholarship until 1830 c.e. Information on later travelers is scant partly because some rulers like the Cartha[chginians tended to keep details of their trade secret, although it is clear they had contacts with Negro peoples and used a system of “dumb barter” that had first been reported by Herodotus. When Rome conquered Carthage, Balbus was sent to extend Roman rule south over the Garamantes in Fezzan. Later, Septimius Flaccus penetrated even beyond there and Julius Maternus reached Agisymba (Tibesti). By 100 b.c.e. camels were in use for desert expeditions but no other Roman activities are precisely recorded.
Ventures by Sea: The Phoenician Circumnavigation.
There is slightly better evidence about ventures by sea from North Africa during this long period but details remain lacking or confused. As early as 2480 b.c.e., Sahure took an Egyptian expedition to obtain frankincense and myrrh from “Punt,” meaning probably southern Arabia or the Somali coast. A similar voyage was made by Hennu in 2007 b.c.e. Despite the continuous need for myrrh for embalming purposes, not until 1485 b.c.e. is another such venture recorded—in a mortuary temple frieze for Queen Hatshepsut. Nehsi was sent with a large fleet to explore the Red Sea coasts. In fact, the Egyptians never became great mariners and employed the Phoenicians instead. So, too, did King Solomon in about 950 b.c.e. in order to obtain gold from Ophir, which was presumably somewhere in eastern Africa. Much better attested, although disbelieved even by him, is the account Herodotus gave of the Egyptian use of a Phoenician fleet to sail around Africa in about 600 b.c.e. King Necho sent them south through the Red Sea and instructed them to return via the Pillars of Hercules (Strait of Gibraltar). The venture took three years because the sailors landed from time to time to grow crops for their food supplies. Although no details of places visited were noted, credibility is given to their story by their report that the sun was on their right-hand side, as it must have been when they were south of the Equator. The significance was, as Herodotus pointed out, that men came to know that Africa was “washed on all sides by the sea, except where it is attached to Asia.”
Currents and winds would have favored the circumnavigation clockwise but going the other way was more difficult. One Sataspes perhaps reached West Africa by sea but better attested is another Phoenician venture at the bidding of Hanno, king of Carthage, which, in about 450 b.c.e. sailed southward along the coast of Morocco founding trading settlements. It seems fairly certain that the Senegal River was reached and just possibly the Gulf of Guinea. Yet the expedition was never followed up from the Mediterranean for another eighteen hundred years.
It was easier to navigate Africa's east coast because of the alternating northeast and southwest monsoon winds, and Greek traders became familiar with the “Erythraean Sea,” that is, the northwest part of the Indian Ocean. One mariner, whose name we do no know, recorded a periplus or guide in perhaps about 100–130 c.e. Various places on the East African coast, which was known as Azania, are mentioned. The most important was Rhapta, where tortoiseshell was obtained. No one can say where Rhapta was but it could be Zanzibar or the Rufiji delta. It is to the period of Greek dominance that one may attribute the probably mythical expedition of Diogenes who allegedly went inland to some lakes.
By 500 c.e., then, records existed of the northern littoral regions of Africa, caravan routes across the Sahara, and there was vague awareness of coastal areas farther south on both coasts. A potentially important legacy of classical learning was the knowledge that Africa was probably surrounded by sea. Unfortunately, the author of the most important version of the legacy, Claudius Ptolemy, seems not to have believed this latter characteristic so there was conflicting evidence. Ptolemy's Geographike Syntaxis, compiled in Alexandria in about 150 c.e., is mostly a long list of places with supposedly astronomically fixed latitudes and longitudes. None of Ptolemy's own maps survived, and it is uncertain whether any of the medieval versions are true copies or merely guesses. Ptolemy gave an accurate version of North Africa, but the “Fisheaters” of West Africa and the “Mountains of the Moon” and two lakes at the head of the Nile are myth or garbled information. Nevertheless, Ptolemy's data were a source of information and speculation for medieval Arab and European geographers and for many later ones as well.
Arab Civilization's Contribution, c. 500 c.e.–1400 c.e.
The learning of the ancient civilizations about Africa was carried forward and extended by Islamic scholars. The rapid territorial expansion of Islam from the seventh to the ninth centuries meant discovery as a result of conquests and military ventures into North Africa, the West Sudan where there was gold, and along the East African coast. The names of pioneers are rarely known, but the results of their work were incorporated into Arab geographies and cosmologies, especially in the tenth and eleventh centuries. The travelers whose exploits are known, including the greatest of all, Ibn Battuta, were not primary discoverers but commentators on the Islamic world as they found it.
From at least the tenth century people from the Middle East were sailing their ships along the East African coast establishing colonies that included Arabs and Persians. There is an account of one Ismailawaih reaching Sofala to trade in 922 c.e., although the story includes unbelievable details. It is more certain that al-Mas'udi (d. 956) visited and described Pemba in about 915 although the geography is poor and incidental detail again more like the Arabian Nights. Ibn Hawqal is another tenth-century traveler who claimed to know East Africa but more certainly did visit the kingdom of Ghana in the Western Sudan. Information from such travelers informed the geographies of El Bekri of c. 1050, the great Sicily-based writer Al Idrisi (1100–1166), and Abu al-Fida (1273–1331).
The fourteenth century is dominated by Ibn Battuta (1304–1369), who made two major ventures that provided information on Africa. His first took him along the north coast from his home in Tangier to Egypt and ultimately Mecca; performing the hajj was for him, like numerous other Muslim travelers, a prime reason for setting out. After a stay in Arabia, he sailed south along the Somali coast, visiting Zeila and Mogadishu. In 1331 he went on to the flourishing East African trading cities of Mombasa and Kilwa, where he learned about Sofala farther south whence came the gold Kilwa sent to the Persian Gulf. After equally remarkable journeys in Asia, Ibn Battuta returned to the Mahgreb, from which he made his last major journey in 1351–1352 when he crossed the Sahara to the Niger, describing the empires of Mali and Songhay and staying in Timbuctoo before recrossing the desert from Gao to Fez. Not long before Ibn Battuta's visit to the Western Sudan, Islam inspired an African ruler, the great Mansa Musa of Mali, to make the pilgrimage from Timbuctoo to Egypt and Mecca. Legends about the gold he and his party distributed abound, but unfortunately no detailed itinerary exists.
By about 1400, then, the Islamic world and its scholars were reasonably well informed on the North African coastal region, on the Islamic societies of the Western Sudan in the region of the Upper Niger, and on the cities of the East African coast as far south as Kilwa. But of the inland areas of the continent south of the Tropic of Cancer almost nothing was known.
Chinese Knowledge to c. 1500.
The other great and much older Asiatic civilization was the Chinese empire. Despite the advantages it possessed in the shape of astronomical knowledge and the compass, it was much less interested in parts of the world distant from its center. As early as 138 b.c.e. Zhang Qian knew something of Egypt, and there continued to be perhaps a few direct and certainly indirect contacts with East Africa via the Indian Ocean. A fourteenth-century map by Zhu Siben appears to show Africa reasonably correctly while there was knowledge of its wildlife. Then in the period 1405–1433 the Chinese Muslim and eunuch Admiral Zheng He made seven long voyages, on one of which a visit was made to the East African coast. Ming pottery certainly became known in Kilwa. But Cheng Ho's navy was broken up and such knowledge as he acquired was never followed up. No widely available major geographical data on Africa resulted from Chinese visits.
Beginnings of European Interest.
It is no accident that the Maghreb, the home of Ibn Battuta, should also be the original focus of European interest in Africa, for a considerable amount of information had passed from Islamic sources to Europe. Real geography tended to be mixed up with myth, supposition, or misinformation. Hence some commentators assumed that Paradise had been built in Africa with the Nile assumed to be the River Gihon mentioned in Genesis 2. Alternatively, this was perhaps the kingdom of Prester John, a mighty potentate and potential ally against the Muslims. Real information on Ethiopia gave him more credibility. Such mixtures of fact and fancy can be found in the Catalan Map of 1375, which shows genuine knowledge of Mali in the Western Sudan with an exaggeration of the power of its ruler and his riches in gold. A pass in the Atlas Mountains is labeled “through here pass the merchants who come to trade with the negroes in Guinea.” In fact, European merchants were in constant touch with the Arabs and Jewish merchants of North Africa, who knew the Saharan routes, which Europeans themselves were rarely allowed to travel. Nevertheless, the Toulouse merchant Anselm d'Isalguier some time before 1413 claimed to have visited the Western Sudanic kingdoms and brought back a Negro wife as proof. His gold was of even greater interest. At this time Europe had a great need of gold to pay for its growing dependence on spices and other goods from Asia. Would it be possible to meet this need by reaching the sources of African gold? And if the Muslims of North Africa would not allow access to the Saharan routes, could sea routes be the way to the mysterious Guinea from which gold came? It was to be the Portuguese who attempted to answer this question. Yet another question was implicit in the series of exploratory voyages they were about to undertake. Was it really possible to sail around Africa to Asia as the evidence of the Phoenician voyage suggested? Hence there was an inherent disjunction of aims: to explore Africa for gold and Prester John or to find a way around it.
The Portuguese Initiative: Prince Henry the Navigator, 1394–1460.
With its old nobility broken by feuding, Portugal entered the fifteenth century with a more commercially minded nobility and a royal family anxious to increase its power and prestige. Although on the margin of Mediterranean-centered Europe, it was well placed to develop new kinds of oceanic enterprises. Two- or three-masted shallow-draft caravels were ideal for maritime exploration. The use of the compass enabled portolan charts to be made while latitudes could be determined with the astrolabe. His crusading spirit encouraged Prince Henry to attack Ceuta (opposite Gibraltar) in 1415. Victory and dawning knowledge of the Maghreb's gold trade with the Western Sudan spurred him to send out a series of expeditions to see if supplies could be obtained by sea. Although Henry was curious, energetic, determined, and did encourage the development of navigational techniques at Sagres, it is misleading to see him as a Renaissance figure.
No actual map recording the early voyages survived the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 but it seems that Henry's first concern was to secure the Azores, Madeira, and the Canary Islands. Much was learned about Atlantic currents and winds. Serious examination of the African coast began when Gil Eanes rounded Cape Juby in 1434 (although it is often assumed he reached Cape Bojador farther south). In 1435, Eanes did reach Bojador and then, with Alfonso Baldaya, Rio de Oro. These voyages dispelled the scare stories about a “sea of darkness” and Nuno Tristão and Antão Gonçalves got beyond the Tropic of Cancer to Cape Blanco where they captured and enslaved twelve men. Dinis Dias rounded Cape Verde in 1444. Tristão set up a trading post at Arguim from which Lançarote later obtained two hundred slaves before going on to meet his death a little way into the Gambia Valley in 1446. After a hiatus caused by domestic politics, Henry sent more expeditions in 1455–1456 when a Venetian in his service, Alvise de Cadamosto (1432–1480), reached what is now Guinea Bissau and the Cape Verde Islands. Pedro de Sintra reached Sierra Leone in 1456, but by his return Henry was dead.
Enough gold to encourage further efforts had been obtained and Henry's work showed that progress along the African coast was possible; all this was the essential prelude to the great age of discovery that was to follow. There was, however, a negative aspect: Henry's navigators had shown that slaves could be obtained from the West African coast and could be sold profitably in Europe.
The Great Age of Discoveries and Africa, 1460–1600.
The period between 1460 and 1600 saw Europeans making important discoveries throughout the whole world, including Africa. However, maritime discoveries around the coasts of Africa were not followed up to the extent that comparable discoveries were in Asia and the Americas; the major part of the African interior was to remain unknown.
Portuguese Expeditions: The Route to India.
In the century and a half after Prince Henry's death, maritime enterprise continued apace. King Afonso made a contract in 1469 with Fernão Gomes for the exploration of 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) of coast over five years. In 1471, Sueiro da Costa reached Axim and Pero de Escolar with João de Santarem reached Elmina on the Gold Coast, thereby paving the way for the fort of São Jorge da Minha of 1482. In 1472, Fernando Po reached the island in the Gulf of Guinea that long bore his name, and three years later, Rui de Sequeira crossed the Equator to reach the vicinity of the Ogowe. Even more extraordinary discoveries were inaugurated by King João II after 1481. Diogo Cão reached as far south as about 22° S at Walvis Bay. He also sailed into the Congo River, possibly seeking a way to Prester John's empire but actually opening up a relationship with the kingdom of Congo from 1482.
Cão's discoveries tend to be overshadowed by the following voyages of Bartholomew Dias. These carried him around the “Cape of Storms,” which King João renamed “Good Hope,” in 1487–1488 and on as far as the Great Fish River. The king had also sent Pero de Covilhã (c. 1450–1545) to find Prester John's kingdom by traveling south from Egypt along the Red Sea. In fact, de Covilhã reached India before returning to enter Ethiopia where he was to remain for the rest of his life. His letters home almost certainly encouraged the sending of Vasco da Gama to sail around Africa into the Indian Ocean. The fleet of four ships set off in July 1497. By Christmas, the Cape had been rounded and a landfall made near what is now Durban. Gama sailed on, calling at Quelimane and then Mozambique, where Arab traders proved hostile as they did at Mombasa. But Malindi's ruler furnished a pilot to take the Portuguese on to India. The return voyage in 1499 included visits to Mogadishu and Zanzibar. Further expeditions, essentially ones of conquest, especially Francisco de Almeida's of 1505–1509, soon came and culminated in the building of Fort Jesus at Mombasa in 1593 to seal Portugal's dominance of the East African coast.
Later Portuguese Activity: Contacts with the Interior.
The Portuguese fort at Elmina was soon accompanied by other trading forts in western Africa. Luanda and, later, Benguela were the major centers south of the Congo and there was considerable interaction with neighboring African polities, especially the kingdom of Congo. Yet little was learned about the farther interior perhaps because Africans brought goods to the coast readily enough and there were always ample supplies of slaves for Brazil. On the eastern side of the continent the story was slightly different. Although most of the captured cities were essentially on the western margin of the Indian Ocean rather than integral parts of Africa, there was a major exception—Sofala, which was in contact with gold-producing areas on the interior plateau under the control of the Rozwi group of the Karanga Bantu and their ruler, the “Monomotapa.” As early as 1511 Antonio Fernandes was sent inland to establish contacts and get direct access to the gold; he probably reached as far as present-day Mashonaland. Much exaggerated accounts of the Monomotapa's wealth began to circulate although his empire was in decline and gold production low. Intermittent contacts continued and attempts were made to carry Christianity inland, notably by the Jesuit Gonçalo da Silveira in 1560–1561. His martyrdom led to the dispatch of Francisco Barreto's military expedition, which came to an inglorious end in 1573. In fact, the Portuguese were never powerful enough to exert control so far into the interior even if some of the rulers became nominal Christians. Sena and Tete on the Zambesi did hold on and enough knowledge was garnered for João dos Santos to write a full account of the region but one whose geographical details were rather imprecise. South of the Zambesi the only information accruing came from the accounts of shipwrecked sailors who learned something of the Natal coast but no systematic descriptions emerged.
Pero de Covilhã was still alive in 1520 when a new Portuguese mission led by Rodrigo da Lima and Francisco Alvares arrived in Ethiopia in response to calls for help to repel encroaching Muslims. Little geographical work resulted although Alvares wrote an entertaining book about Prester John. A major military expedition under Christoph da Gama followed in 1541. He penetrated south from Massawa but was killed in battle. Nevertheless, Portuguese contact with Ethiopia was maintained into the next century.
Leo Africanus 1494–1552.
Despite the dominance achieved by Portugal during the great age of discoveries, its instinct to maintain secrecy meant that the knowledge of Africa that it had accumulated was not always widely dispersed. Oddly, therefore, the most comprehensive account of Africa to emerge in the sixteenth century was written by a Moor drawing on his own experiences and Arab sources. Born in Granada, educated in Fez, and captured by Christian pirates in 1518, Leo Africanus was freed by Pope Leo X, who encouraged him to write his Description of Africa. He had crossed the Sahara to reach the Niger and visit Songhai, Gao, the Hausa kingdoms, and Bornu and had gained a great knowledge of Arab geographical learning. Appearing in Italian in 1526 and translated into English in 1600, the Description remained a key source of information until about 1800. Unfortunately and inexplicably, it left a legacy of confusion about one key issue: Leo Africanus repeated Ibn Battuta's idea that the Niger flowed westward.
The Legacy of the Age of Discoveries.
By 1600, Portugal's near monopoly of European contact with Africa was coming to an end. French, English, Dutch, and Brandenburg traders competed for slaves in West Africa. In East Africa, Portugal had never entirely overcome Arabian and Asian competitors, and other Europeans would soon become new rivals in the Indian Ocean. Portugal, a military and ecclesiastical power not yet embracing active capitalism, could not compete in a mercantilist world. Yet the rival forces made no significant contributions to discovery in Africa. One of the paradoxical results of the great age of discoveries was that once Dias had rounded the Cape of Good Hope, the chief focus of European interest became Asia; Africa was more a barrier than a destination. Meanwhile, the opening up of the Americas was not only another rival focus but also a reason for the burgeoning slave trade. Europeans need go no farther than their coastal forts to get slaves. For all these reasons, there was as yet little reason to break through the barriers between coast and interior and learn about the heart of the continent.
Seventeenth and Early Eighteenth Centuries.
The comparative neglect of Africa by Europeans continued well into the eighteenth century, even if a great many books and maps were published. Paradise Lost displays John Milton's enormous knowledge of African geography as it was then known from his “less maritime kings” of East Africa to the supposed site of Paradise. Maps like those of Ortelius showed Ptolemaic knowledge modified only to some small degree by Portuguese information.
As the slave trade proceeded, knowledge of the coastal areas of western Africa was refined. Richard Jobson's Golden Trade (1623) and Jean Barbot's extensive writings, first published in English in 1732, are examples of notable works on West Africa proper. Farther south, the Portuguese hold on the Congo and Angola coast remained tenuous as embroilment in African war and politics proved often a losing game, while, for a time, the Dutch took over Luanda and Benguela. The one significant Portuguese attempt to penetrate the interior came in 1608 when Rebelo de Aragão reached about 400 miles (644 kilometers) inland.
The Portuguese had always neglected South Africa, but in 1652 the Dutch East India Company established a post at the Cape of Good Hope as a refreshment stop for India-bound ships. Settlers, especially the trekboers (wandering cattle farmers), did begin to penetrate inland, but these half-Africanized pastoralists were neither literate nor knowledgeable enough to make any significant contribution to formal geographical knowledge.
On the East African coast, Portuguese power weakened, especially after Arabs from Oman captured Fort Jesus in 1699. A hold was maintained south of Cape Delgado but attempts to control the Monomotapas or convert their peoples had completely failed by the 1690s. The handful of settlers, or prazeros, along the Zambesi became Africanized and paid little attention to Portuguese orders. Only two journeys of significance are recorded. In 1616, Gaspar Bocarro traveled from Tete on the Zambesi overland to Kilwa passing “a lake which looks like the sea.” Whether this was actually Lake Malawi has been disputed but a lake in roughly the right position did begin to appear on maps. In 1643, Sisnado Dias Bayao pushed into what is now Matabeleland but information on this expedition is even less available than for Bocarro's.
Ethiopia was the other area of significant penetration. The Jesuit presence was reinforced by the learned, prudent, and adventurous Pedro Paez (1564–1622) who reached the capital, Gondar, in 1604 and established that Lake Tana was the source of the Blue Nile in 1618. This was confirmed by Jeronimo Lobo in 1628. Yet the most remarkable journey was that of Antonio Fernandes in 1613 when he traveled south along the Great Rift Valley to Lake Ziwa at about 12° N. However, the Jesuits were expelled in 1633 and there were few other visitors until 1770. The main publication on Ethiopia, that by Jacob Ludolf, of 1681, was more a compilation of earlier knowledge than of new. Even the discovery of the Blue Nile source was not widely known in Europe.
Age of Scientific Exploration, c. 1770–1840.
A new era in the exploration of Africa began toward the end of the eighteenth century as a result of changes in Europe's material and intellectual attitudes. Intellectually, there came to be a desire for precise and accurate knowledge to replace the myths and vague reports, especially the ones about the heart of the continent; it was recognized that even classical knowledge might be superseded. Places must be given latitudes and longitudes, rivers’ courses traced from source to mouth, flora and fauna classified, and the true political and social condition of inhabitants described. Maps most clearly demonstrate the changes as cartographers, led by J. B. d'Anville (1697–1782), began to use mathematical techniques and to rid their African maps of poorly authenticated data so leaving a space entirely blank except for the words “tout à fait inconnue.” To be sure, the desire for scientific knowledge was not entirely disinterested. Although the increased economic prosperity of Europe made it possible to satisfy curiosity, it also created the need for an expansion of markets. Another factor was a growing feeling among many groups that a new type of “legitimate” trade must develop to replace the purely extractive and immoral slave trade. Political imperatives also had their impact: international rivalries, most notably a succession of wars between Britain and France, could lead to explorers competing for primacy in Africa.
African developments began to have more significance as more European visitors arrived. The Islamic jihads in the Western Sudan, the “Great Trek” of the Boers and the “scattering” of the Nguni peoples in South Africa, and the penetration of East Africa by Arab and Swahili coast men are only the most obvious examples of African changes that were to affect the process of exploration.
The downside of the new situation was that Europe came to know or think it knew Africa and Africans better than Africans themselves. In some respects this was true, but it had the unfortunate effect of reinforcing ideas of superiority—technical, social, and moral. Some explorers undoubtedly helped to create the gulf.
Maritime Activity: Captain Owen.
Although from 1750 the emphasis switched to landward exploration in Africa; increased European attention meant more shipping and a need for better coastal charts. The British Admiralty sent Captain W. F. Owen to carry out a long and detailed survey of the coasts in 1822–1826. Although the officers made some limited forays inland, the essential results were good hydrographical charts.
West Africa: The Western Sudanic Kingdoms and the Problem of the Niger, 1788–1841.
The new era in exploration was most clearly signaled by the founding in 1788 of the African Association, dominated by Joseph Banks and with James Rennell as its leading geographer. The focus for the African Association was the Western Sudan. Their first two expeditions were sent from the north but one traveler died in Cairo and another in Fezzan. Perhaps it would be better to avoid the desert with its jealous and suspicious traders and approach from the coast at Senegal or the Gambia. Daniel Houghton was sent to use this means of reaching Timbuctoo and the Hausa kingdoms. He died when he was 400 miles (644 kilometers) inland, but his example encouraged the dispatch of the African Association's most famous explorer, Mungo Park. Very much an Enlightenment figure, Park did much more to illumine Africa than simply show in 1796 that the Niger did flow eastward, although he is chiefly remembered for this. He confirmed that there were well-organized societies in the interior with which it was worth establishing contact. Meanwhile, W. G. Browne had visited Darfur in 1793–1796 and Friedrich Hornemann got himself from Cairo to Murzuk and on to Bornu in the years 1798–1801. Although he died and his records were lost, he, Park, and Browne had made it clear that expeditions to the interior could succeed. The British government, persuaded that important markets might be found and that possible French activity must be forestalled, now took over the organization of exploration and sent Park back to the Niger in 1805–1806 to find his way down to wherever its end was—a matter that had become one of intense speculation and debate. Park died at Bussa in 1806 but his fate was a mystery for twenty-five years.
Strategic and economic factors ensured continued British support for exploration in West Africa while the ending of the British slave trade in 1807 gave reasons for finding opportunities for legitimate trade. Scholarly and more general interest aroused by the Niger problem and Park's fate further encouraged initiatives. Meanwhile, in West Africa itself, the jihad of Uthman dan Fodio and his son Mohammed Bello created a new and confident Islamic power, the “Fulani Empire” centered on Sokoto, but also tensions with other states, notably Bornu. In 1826, Alexander Gordon Laing (1793–1826) reached the almost fabled city of Timbuctoo only to be murdered, and it was a French explorer, René Caillié, who two years later got there from Freetown and went on northward over the desert to return to Paris and collect a ten-thousand-franc prize. More important was the British expedition sent from Tripoli in 1822. In the next four years, Walter Oudney, Dixon Denham, and Hugh Clapperton explored Lake Chad, Bornu, and Bello's new Fulani sultanate. Almost immediately after reaching home, Clapperton agreed to return to Sokoto but on this occasion penetrated from the Guinea coast at Badagry. He learned of Park's fate at Bussa and continued across the Niger to Sokoto. Here, however, his dispute with Bornu made Bello more suspicious and unhelpful than before, and Clapperton left a disappointed man and died shortly afterward. His servant Richard Lander, returned home with Clapperton's reports. He himself was soon sent back to confirm in 1830 what had now become obvious—that the Niger flowed into the Gulf of Guinea. However, the discovery of an apparent water route to the interior was misleading: Lander was to die in one attempted follow-up while even more sailors and missionaries were to succumb to malaria and other diseases on the ambitious British Niger expedition of 1841. European explorers had penetrated to the heart of West Africa but the desert barriers in the north and the disease barriers to the south were still in place.
The Congo and Portuguese-Influenced Africa, c. 1770–1840.
When it was still thought that the Niger might connect with the Congo, J. H. Tuckey was sent in 1816 to repeat Cão's attempt of 334 years before but with the aid of a steamboat now used in Africa for the very first time. It was a complete failure. Tuckey and many of his men died.
Farther south, Portuguese settlements remained on both coasts of the continent and were for the most part moribund and unhealthily dependent on the slave trade. Nevertheless, the Enlightenment did have some impact, most importantly on Dr. Francisco de Lacerda (1753–1798), a skilled observer who led an expedition from Sena on the Zambesi aiming to cross the continent and so forge a linkup with his compatriots on the west coast, which would frustrate any British push north from Capetown. La[chcerda died in October 1798 having reached the Cazembe's kingdom near Lake Mweru. The wish for an east-west link prompted a bit later the sending of two half-African traders, Pedro Batista and Amaro José, from Cassange in Angola to Tete on the Zambesi in the years 1806–1812. Then in 1831–1832 Majors José Monteiro and António Gamitto repeated Lacerda's journey but could get no farther. Among these travelers, only Lacerda was capable of scientific description, although the 1830 journey produced valuable information. Unfortunately, these travels remained largely unknown outside Portugal.
Southern Africa, c. 1770–1849.
Lacerda's fear of rivals pressing northward from Capetown was well-founded. The desire for scientific exploration was easier to gratify in the nonmalarial south than in tropical Africa. Botanical exploration inspired by Linnaeus was especially evident. Karl Thunberg (1742–1828) spent 1772–1775 botanizing in South Africa and in 1776 Anders Sparrman reached almost as far north as the Orange River in his search for plants new to science. Robert Gordon and William Paterson were also plant collectors who reached the Orange and followed it to its mouth in 1779. By 1795, when the British captured Capetown from the Dutch East India Company, the whole area south of the Orange River was reasonably well known. Britain gave up the Cape in 1803 but took over permanently again in 1806. New influences made better knowledge imperative. The restlessness of the Boer pastoralists, their dislike of British moves to ameliorate conditions for slaves and then in 1833 free them, wars with the Bantu to the east and the rise of Zulu power in the 1820s, and the desire of the London Missionary Society (LMS) pastors to evangelize to the north were among factors that meant trouble or disorder beyond the colony's boundaries. William Burchell continued the tradition of scholarly scientific study with his travels of 1811–1815 across the Orange River into what is now Botswana. LMS missionaries wished to move beyond the areas of Boer activity and John Campbell went farther than Burchell to reach the sources of the Limpopo in 1820. Robert Moffat of the LMS established a base among the Tswana at Kuruman from which he made various forays from 1820 to the 1860s, one as far north as what is now Zimbabwe in the 1850s. The way was being prepared for Moffat's illustrious son-in-law, David Livingstone.
East Africa, Ethiopia, and Northeast Africa, c. 1770–1845.
Along the largely Omani-controlled coast north of Cape Delgado, Arabs, backed by Indian financiers, increased their demands for ivory and slaves. By the 1820s European and American as well as Asian traders frequented Zanzibar and Arab traders began to go inland instead of relying on Africans to come to the coast. But their information was little known and, as yet, there were no journeys of scientific exploration, with one attempt by Lieutenant Maizan of the French navy resulting in his murder in 1845.
Ethiopia, almost completely closed to visitors after 1633, was visited and made famous, or notorious, by the colorful James Bruce. Despite his bombast, he was a scientific explorer as well as a fascinating recorder of a turbulent period of Ethiopia's history. His visiting the source of the Blue Nile and following it down to its confluence with the White Nile in 1772 was a major achievement. Ethiopia and the northeast generally now became a focus of strategic interest to both Britain and France. But Napoleon's great expedition to Egypt in 1798 was scientific and archaeological as well as military. Henry Salt, secretary to Lord Valentia's mission and British consul in Egypt, sent more travelers into Ethiopia and wrote much on the region in 1805. The African Association staged a revival in the 1820s and began to take up the question Bruce had left unanswered—where was the source of the White Nile? Linant de Bellefonds reached beyond the confluence of the two rivers in 1828 but was forced to turn back; a major problem remained to be tackled. Meanwhile, important geographical investigations in Ethiopia were undertaken in the 1830s and 1840s by the formidably scientific Antoine d'Abbadie and the argumentative Charles Beke, while both Roman Catholic and Protestant missionaries became active in the country. Among the latter, Johann Ludwig Krapf (who was later to move south to Mombasa) was notable for his geographical interests. The Bombay presidency sent W. C. Harris on an official mission in 1844 and his book helped to generate interest in Shoa and areas even farther south of Ethiopia proper.
Second Great Age of African Discovery, c. 1840–1876.
During the middle decades of the nineteenth century, the central areas of Africa were at last to be traversed and described in considerable detail. Within little more than twenty-five years, a group of outstanding travelers achieved more than had been managed in the previous five hundred. They succeeded because they were backed directly or indirectly by an increasingly powerful set of European governments and geographical societies keen to obtain scientific information. One may argue about the extent to which economic interest or political imperative lay behind the science but one new and obvious feature was the way the explorers attracted popular attention by their exploits. This was partly because of the adventure element in the travel literature involving, it seemed, wild animals, “savage tribes,” and formidable physical obstacles. But more serious questions of public policy were raised by the explorers. Could the lakes they found be navigated by steamboats carrying trade goods; what was to be done about the slave trade; could Africans be taught the Gospel of Christianity; what, indeed, was to be the relationship of Africa to the outside world? Such questions became acute after 1876 but were implicit as the explorers sought the truth about the interior.
West and Northwest Africa.
Although West Africa was not the focus of such intense interest as it had been during the era of the Niger controversy, much remained to be done. The region of the upper and middle Niger valley remained the prize but so did doubt about which of the desert routes, the Senegal Valley, or the coast ports near the Niger estuary were the best means of ingress. A British government expedition of 1849–1855, consisting of James Richardson and the two Germans Heinrich Barth and Adolf Overweg, was sent from Tripoli to explore, promote legitimate trade, and frustrate French ambitions in the Niger, Benue, and Lake Chad region. Richardson and Overweg both died but Barth emerged as one of the century's greatest scholar-travelers. Having showed that the Benue drainage was distinct from Lake Chad, he moved west to Timbuctoo, making treaties and amassing detailed data on the Islamic societies of this vast region. Gerhard Rohlfs made several journeys in the Sahara from 1862 and then in 1865–1867 crossed from Tripoli to the coast near Lagos. In 1869, a third distinguished German explorer, Gustav Nachtigal, traveled from Tripoli to Bornu and then went eastward through Darfur to the Nile and Egypt. Hence, by the end of this period, West Africa from the Mediterranean to the Guinea coast was reasonably well known.
The Central Belt of Africa.
During this period of discovery, the most intense interest was focused on the interior of Africa in the equatorial latitudes as its lakes and rivers were revealed. Broadly speaking, successive explorers attempted to reach the central areas from the west coast, from South Africa, from the east coast, or by going up the Nile.
In the west, travelers from the Portuguese settlements made some notable forays into the interior. Ladislaus Magyar and Silva Porto both reached the upper Zambesi in the 1850s before Livingstone, but both had their efforts overshadowed (and unfairly ignored) by Livingstone. Paul du Chaillu in 1855–1859 and 1863–1865 made journeys in the Ogowe River region but he mixed fact and fantasy to such an extent that many of his stories were disbelieved. Yet he did see gorillas and did meet Pygmy peoples. In terms of their ultimate political importance, the most significant ventures were made by Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza and Alfred Marche as they tried to use the Ogowe Valley as a possible route to the far interior in 1875.
The story of expeditions into the central area from the south is dominated by the work of David Livingstone. His discovery of Lake Ngami in 1849 and then gaining the Zambesi Valley was the prelude to his great transcontinental journey of 1852–1856, which took him first to the west coast and then, via the Victoria Falls, eastward to the mouth of the Zambesi. This has been regarded as one of the two or three major exploratory feats of the nineteenth century. The river, Livingstone suggested, could become the highway into the interior, and the British government agreed, despite unhappy Niger experiences, to fund the ambitious Zambezi Expedition of 1858–1864. Whatever its other failures, the expedition did put the Shire Valley and Lake Malawi accurately on the map.
At the same time as Livingstone's exploits along the Zambesi Valley were being accomplished, very significant discoveries were being made rather farther north as a result of expeditions from the east coast. Taking advantage of African-developed routes now used by Arab “caravans” and of British domination of Zanzibar, travelers began to go inland. The missionaries Krapf and Johannes Rebmann had started the process in 1848–1849 with sightings of the snow-covered mountains, Kilimanjaro and Kenya, and some confused hearsay about waters farther into the interior which one of their companions, Erhardt, reported as one monster slug-shaped lake. The Royal Geographical Society (RGS) sent a series of missions to the East African lakes. Richard Burton and John Hanning Speke reached Lake Tanganyika in 1857 and, in the following year, Speke alone reached the southern end of the lake he named Victoria. Then Speke, now accompanied by James Augustus Grant, examined more of the lake and reached the kingdom of Buganda before Speke alone visited the spot where the Nile flows out of the lake at the Ripon Falls. The date was July 28, 1862. Some said Speke had not proved the stream was the Nile and when, coming from the north up the Nile, Samuel Baker found Lake Albert, others now said there must be sources more remote than Speke's Ripon Falls. Controversy continued for some twelve years or more. Meanwhile, in 1861–1865, Baron Karl Claus von der Decken visited Kilimanjaro, proved there was snow, which some commentators had refused to believe, and then went on to explore the Juba River Valley. He was murdered at Bardera.
Livingstone now began what was to prove his final journey. Lasting from 1866 to1873, it became an obsessional attempt to solve the question of the Nile's source. In fact, he was working on the upper waters of the Congo when exploring around Lakes Mweru and Bangweulu. In 1873 Cameron, sent by the RGS on the last of several expeditions seeking news of Livingstone, met only his corpse being carried to the coast by his remaining porters. Cameron went on to explore Lake Tanganyika more thoroughly than anyone had done before and then continued across the continent. This remarkable achievement had a great impact on the thinking of King Leopold II. Two years before Cameron, Henry Stanley had made a reputation and a journalistic “scoop” by meeting Livingstone at Ujiji in October 1871. He now became an explorer in his own right, extremely competent but also ruthless. His great journey of 1874–1877 ranks with Livingstone's of twenty years before. First he proved that Speke was right about Lake Victoria and its outlet. He solved various other puzzles, the most notable of which was the precise course of the Congo from its upper waters to the sea.
By the time of Stanley's journey, attempts were being made to reach the lakes region from the north via the Nile itself under the aegis of the khedive of Egypt who hoped thus to remedy the indebtedness of his domain. After his 1864 journey, Baker seemed the obvious man to establish Egyptian authority; he led an expedition from 1869 to1873, made himself a fortune, but exaggerated his actual achievements. Charles Gordon was the next to be appointed “Governor of Equatoria” followed by Emin Pasha. They and their lieutenants accomplished a considerable amount of more detailed exploration in the Upper Nile region with Chaillé Long, for example, visiting Lake Kyoga and proving that Speke's Nile really did link up with the stream north from Lake Albert.
Meanwhile, two Russo-German explorers separately accomplished remarkable scientific journeys in the areas west of the Upper Nile. Georg Schweinfurth between 1868 and 1871 reached the Welle River and encountered Pygmy peoples. Wilhelm Junker was in the same region from 1879 to1886 exploring Bahr-el Ghazel and the Nile-Congo watershed area before entering the Lake Albert area, where he met Emin Pasha with consequences that were important less for scientific exploration than for European imperial moves.
From the Brussels Geographical Conference to Imperialism and Colonial Rule.
The Brussels Geographical Conference of 1876 marks a watershed in the story of the exploration of Africa. Although some basic exploration remained to be done, henceforward there was to be much greater emphasis on objects beyond the avowedly scientific. Africa was to be “redeemed” in one way or another as various groups acted on the lessons apparently learned from the explorers. Very soon, the international cooperation envisaged at Brussels was transformed via “national committees” into international rivalry to establish spheres of interest, protectorates, and colonies. Attempts were made at the Berlin Conference of 1884–1885 to halt this process and maintain a “fair field” for all in Africa but it failed and in another ten years nearly all the continent had been parceled out between European powers.
Initially, after 1876, the emphasis was on establishing viable routes to the interior lake regions. Hence Brazza further explored the Ogowe but emerged on the north bank of the Congo where he clashed with Stanley now working to establish for Leopold the Congo as a way inland for the “Congo Free State.” On the other side of the continent, the RGS sent Keith Johnston and Joseph Thomson to find a good route from the coast to Lake Malawi and then on to Lake Tanganyika. Having accomplished this after the death of Johnston, Thomson was to pioneer the route from Mombasa through Maasailand to Lake Victoria in 1883–1885. Lake Turkana (Rudolf), the remaining unvisited large Rift Valley lake, was reached by Teleki and Von Höhnel in 1888.
Numerous other expeditions made for the great lakes, some organized by “national committees” responding to Leopold and not a few others by missionary societies. Alexander Mackay of the CMS who went to Buganda and Edward Hore of the LMS who worked around Lake Tangayika are examples of missionaries who carried out geographical work of some importance. One or two intrepid lady travelers now appeared. Most significant as a scientific explorer was the admirable Mary Kingsley in the Gabon region in 1893 and 1894–1895, while May French Sheldon explored parts of eastern Kenya in 1891.
The Portuguese responded to the challenge of Leopold with the expedition of Serpa Pinto in 1877–1879 from Benguela via the Victoria Falls to Natal while Lieutenants Capello and Ivens explored the upper reaches of the Cuango River. The two men then crossed Africa in a vain effort to achieve the long-desired link from Benguela to Mozambique. Serpa Pinto restored Portuguese pride but the veteran Silva Porto committed suicide in 1890 in despair at Portugal's supercession in Africa by other powers.
Besides Brazza, France had active explorers such as Giraud who reached Lake Bangweulu in 1884, but the principal efforts were in West Africa where military expeditions from Senegal sought to bring the upper Niger under French hegemony. Louis Binger reached the same goal from the south via the Volga Basin in 1887–1889. Some ten years later, Jean-Baptiste Marchand made an expedition from France's equatorial colonies to the Nile at Fashoda, which was exploratory as well as imperialistic. German and Austrian travelers became extremely active in response to the Brussels Conference. Hermann von Wissmann crossed the continent from Luanda to Zanzibar in 1881–1882 and repeated the feat in 1886. Oscar Lenz visited the Lower Ogowe and then Timbuctoo before, on his third expedition, he, too, crossed the continent from the Congo to the Zambesi in 1885–1887. Less geographically significant but politically explosive were the two expeditions of Karl Peters. In 1884, he set off the “scramble” in East Africa by treaty making in what is now Tanzania and then in 1890 provoked British antagonism by trying to annex Buganda.
The expedition in these years that was at once the most geographically significant and the most politically influential was Stanley's Emin Pasha Relief Expedition of 1886–1889. This remarkable and controversial affair was designed ostensibly to take relief to Emin Pasha who was, as Junker reported, still in the Upper Nile region and cut off from Egypt by the Mahdist revolt. Here was “Equatoria,” apparently a ready-made bit of empire, which Leopold hoped Emin Pasha could be persuaded to attach to his Congo Free State while some British groups wanted it for “British East Africa.” By going up the Congo and then cutting his way through the jungle to Lake Albert, Stanley accomplished a great feat of primary exploration. Arthur Jermy Mounteney Jephson, with Stanley, revealed the existence of a new set of snow mountains in the shape of Ruwenzori. Politically, Leopold got a temporary foothold on the Nile but Uganda became a British sphere in 1890 when Britain and Germany made an agreement.
Other scientific cum imperial expeditions were similarly rendered irrelevant politically by agreements made in Europe. Nevertheless, exploration did continue, if only to establish where boundaries arbitrarily drawn on maps in Europe actually were on the ground. As European administrations were established in the 1890s–1920s period, officials had to undertake what, in effect, were exploratory “tours” to learn about their territories. Meanwhile, certain prominent features were further explored as when Halford Mackinder made the first ascent of Mount Kenya in 1899 and the Duc d'Abruzzi scaled Ruwenzori's twin peaks in 1906.
By 1903 the first motor car was in Uganda and several railways linked coast and interior often along routes first pioneered by the explorers. A new age had dawned in which, for fifty years or more, Africa was dominated by Europe. The two-thousand-year period of exploration traced here was, in fact, the long, slow prelude to Africa's inclusion in a globalized world. The accelerations of exploration in the sixteenth century and the nineteenth century were the most significant episodes in the building up of a knowledge of the continent as a part of its incorporation in the wider world. The consequences of that process for Africans are still being worked out and the context in which that process happens is very much conditioned by the picture that the explorers presented of Africa and its peoples. [See also African Association; Brussels Geographical Conference; Chad, Lake; East African Lakes; Expeditions, World Exploration; Fictitious and Fantastic Places; Ibn Battuta; Niger River; Nile River; Royal Geographical Society; Sahara; Timbuctoo; Zanzibar; and biographical entries on figures mentioned in this article.]
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Axelson, Eric. The Portuguese in South-East Africa, 1600–1700. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1960.Find this resource:
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Bridges, Roy. Towards the Prelude to the Partition of East Africa. In Imperialism, Decolonization, and Africa, edited by Roy Bridges, 65–113. Houndmills, U.K.: Macmillan; New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000.Find this resource:
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Hallett, Robin. The Penetration of Africa: European Enterprise and Exploration Principally in Northern and Western Africa up to 1830. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul; New York: Praeger, 1965.Find this resource:
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Geographical Barriers to Exploration
It has often been asserted that various geographical factors explain the difficulties that outsiders seem to have had in penetrating the continent of Africa. Certainly it was not until almost the end of the nineteenth century that even the most basic features of many parts of the interior of Africa could be put on maps. Still, to ask why it was that explorers, traders, missionaries, and road or rail builders could not get into Africa may be to pose the question wrongly; in fact, they did get into Africa when they really wanted to. Moreover, as the slave trade testified, Africans could move or be moved out of the continent in large numbers. Perhaps the real question is why it was that outsiders with technological skills—including skill in mapmaking—superior to those of most of the indigenous peoples found it difficult to deploy their technology effectively, especially at any distance from the coasts.
Position, Size, Shape, and Wind Regimes.
Africa juts out from the Eurasian landmass and is readily accessible from other landmasses only along its northern coast. As some societies developed long-distance sea transport, eastern Africa became open to traffic from Arabia and India, but the wind regimes to the west of the continent are less favorable to sailing ships than the Indian Ocean trade winds, and European mariners found difficulty in sailing south of the Equator along the coast, or back northward if they had reached that far. Africa became a barrier, with ships more readily reaching the Cape of Good Hope from far out in the Atlantic and then proceeding to Asia by going east of Madagascar. More important than position, however, are size and shape. The area of Africa including Madagascar is reckoned to be about 11.7 million square miles. Yet the coastline is only some 16,000 miles long: this means there are few major inlets and indentations to furnish natural harbors, but the principal consequence is that a very high proportion of the continent is a long way from any access to the sea; the contrast with Europe, which has an area of 3.75 million square miles but a coastline of about 20,000 miles, can hardly be more apparent.
Geomorphology, Relief, and Drainage.
Most of Africa's interior is an ancient erosion surface dating from the period when Africa was not a separate continent but rather part of Gondwanaland. This surface breaks sharply to a series of younger, lower, and narrower surfaces near the coast. Drainage on the slightly warped main plateau tends to be indeterminate or broken by the Great Rift Valley—hence many of the difficulties that explorers had in determining river courses. More significantly, rivers that reach the coast are marked by waterfalls and rapids at the discontinuities between the erosion surfaces. Only the Nile is navigable for any distance inland, although the Niger and the Zaire can be navigated for long stretches of their middle and upper courses. In any case, very few large rivers actually reach the sea; there are only five major river basins, and more than half of Africa's drainage does not reach the sea at all. Thus, by and large, the opportunities offered by African river valleys as routes inland are few, and the routes themselves difficult.
Climate, Vegetation, and Disease.
Access to Africa from the sea is further inhibited by the fact that large stretches of coastline border deserts. Europeans long assumed that nearly all of the interior of the continent was “burning deserts.” The Sahara, however, was traversable, if not easily, and afforded the only means of reaching tropical Africa from the north until the fifteenth century, and a fair amount of geographical information was brought back. During the nineteenth century, “burning deserts” were replaced by “impenetrable jungles” in European mythology. Parts of the Zaire Basin may indeed be dense equatorial forest, but most of Africa from the Tropic of Capricorn south is savannah. The idea of “fever-ridden swamps” near the coast being a barrier has slightly more validity than the ideas of deserts or jungle, but the implication that the problem is the climate is false. The real point is that certain kinds of insects that carry parasites causing diseases in men and animals tend to flourish in Africa. Malaria, blackwater fever, and sleeping sickness affect humans, while draft animals, including camels, bullocks, and horses, are also subject to a form of sleeping sickness. Indigenous zebras or elephants have never been successfully domesticated. Until the advent of modern medicines and prophylactics, these diseases were a real barrier to the penetration of Africa by outsiders who had no built-in immunity.
It used to be alleged that African peoples rejected and repulsed outsiders. Historically speaking, this generalization simply cannot be maintained; African societies regularly interacted and traded with outsiders, naturally insisting on doing so on their own terms. Equally incorrect is the still prevalent idea that conditions in Africa were unsettled by constant “tribal wars.” What perhaps can be said is that, if one examines the migrations, conquests, and state building of African peoples, it does appear that development tended to be along interior lines and was rarely oriented toward the sea. This in itself, of course, may be attributed to some of the inhibiting geographical factors already mentioned. If, indeed, access to the sea was of little importance, it follows that ingress by outsiders was not made possible by established lines of communication. Arguably, this basic situation did not change until the growth of the Atlantic and Indian Ocean systems of trade had begun, by 1800, to create the need for contacts with the coast. Even then, the situation changed only slowly, and it was not until another hundred years had passed that even the most basic facts about Africa's interior had become known to European geographical science. [See also Sahara.]
Aryeetey-Attoh, Samuel. Geography of Sub-Saharan Africa. 2nd ed. New York: Prentice Hall, 2003.Find this resource:
Indigenous Porters and Guides
Travelers who came from the outside world to explore Africa were successful in achieving their objectives, it can be argued, to the extent that they were able to recruit reliable guides and porters. In fact, indigenous guides and porters played a vital part in exploration but they are usually known by no more than name, if even that. Those that emerge in the historical record almost always do so through unreliable testimonies that are very rarely their own. The example of those men who were with David Livingstone at his death shows that Chuma and Susi were applauded by Europeans because they could be described as embodying the virtues of faithful and uncomplaining service to their saintly leader. Jacob Wainwright, on the other hand, who could read and write and showed considerable initiative and independence of mind, did not conform to the stereotype and was discredited and treated with disdain (although he had not been treated thus by Livingstone himself).
Travelers often found their followers troublesome and would have preferred to do without porters and guides. Yet explorers who lacked local help were rarely successful. Walking alone made one no better than a beggar, as Mungo Park discovered. To some extent, trek wagons in South Africa could insulate the traveler from depending on those around him but one still needed drivers and guides, as one did with the caravan of camels across the Sahara. Even in the era of steamboats, when theoretically one should have been able to penetrate along waterways untroubled by the need for guides or carriers, stops had to be made for fuel and food. In most cases, in fact, neither animals nor boats could obviate the need for human porters. The “caravan” of people could be several hundred strong for a major expedition. It must include servants to cook and care for the explorer himself, bearers to carry his tents, medicines, scientific instruments, and other paraphernalia and yet others to carry the trade goods that would pay for food or provide presents for those controlling territory through which the traveler wished to pass. However, more than carrying power was required: the simple problem of the existence of a variety of languages meant interpreters were needed. The interpreter or some other figure must also explain local custom or judge to whom it was desirable to give presents.
How were these varying needs met? Some travelers tried to take fellow outsiders to manage the porters and the diplomacy but this was rarely efficacious; local knowledge and local contacts were essential. In 1869, for example, Nachtigal found his Piedmontese assistant more a hindrance than a help and came to rely on one Bui Mohammed who knew the peoples of the Western Sudan. Guides like Bui Mohammed tended to be those who had traveled in the course of trading activities. Arabs from North Africa who had been across the Sahara, or Omanis resident in Zanzibar who had been into the interior of East Africa were frequently employed by European travelers. In fact, the major European exploratory expeditions into East Africa in the nineteenth century were modeled for their organization on the Zanzibar Arab expeditions into the interior for ivory and slaves. In West Africa, the “landlord and stranger” system could be adapted to the needs of the traveler; the landlord made himself responsible for providing guides and porters. Local Africans who had traveling experience might become caravan leaders and guides. Krapf relied on the Akamba chief and ivory trader Kivoi, whose death effectively ended the missionary's secondary career as an explorer. Livingstone's great cross-continental journey of 1853–1856, it has been argued, was so dependent upon the Makololo as guides, negotiators, and carriers that it was their expedition rather than his.
Ordinary porters were difficult to recruit from agricultural societies, especially in the growing season, but people like the Banyamwezi or the Yao of Tanzania lived in a marginal areas where hunting and traveling to sell ivory had become customary and they easily adapted themselves to professional porterage. Some other porters might be slaves hired out to an explorer by their owner while freed slaves also provided a pool of labor.
Besides the actual carriers within an explorer's caravan, there were many other people. Women brought or acquired during the expedition to cook and care for the men would be present. An armed guard was a feature of many expeditions. Its function was to keep order in the caravan and protect it from any hostile local inhabitants. Yet to keep order in the guard itself could be difficult while using armed men to force a way through an area was almost always to court disaster. Until the era of the Maxim machine gun, armed expeditions could not assume they had superior force. Henry Stanley was an explorer well supplied with guns and ruthless enough to use them frequently but even he, like most other explorers, had to rely in the end on diplomacy.
The expedition, the caravan, often had a life of its own with complex hierarchies and rivalries and sometimes its own ways of dealing with those encountered. The traveler himself might be only dimly aware of such complications. Nevertheless, the traveler's own relationship with his followers was crucial. Force, cajolery, bribery with extra payments might all be tried in various measure but in the end, the porters had the last word for if they all deserted, the explorer could not go on. If the explorer was fortunate, or, like Joseph Thomson, a good manager of men, he could develop harmonious relationships with prominent members of the porters and try to work through them to achieve his ends. The former slave “Bombay,” served John Henning Speke, Stanley, and Verney Lovett Cameron, and was awarded a special Royal Geographical Society (RGS) medal for his work. Another of Speke's 1859 party, Baraka, was an excellent diplomat, but his independence of spirit led to a severing of ties and Speke dubbed him one of his “unfaithfuls.” Another of this group, Uledi, seems to have become a minor warlord. Porterage could provide at least some former slaves with the opportunity to carve out new careers for themselves.
Despite the colorful characters among them as well as their importance to explorers, porters and guides have attracted relatively little attention from scholars. However, François Bontinck's studies in a series of articles in Zaire and Donald Simpson's Dark Companions (if too inclined to accept explorers’ character judgments) have shown that useful information on such individuals can be assembled. [See also Cameron, Verney Lovett; Livingstone, David; Park, Mungo; Speke, John Hanning; and Stanley, Henry.]
Bridges, Roy C. John Hanning Speke: Negotiating a Way to the Source of the Nile. In Africa and its Explorers, edited by Robert Rotberg, 95–137. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1970.Find this resource:
Fisher, Allan G. B., and Humphrey J. Fisher. Nachtigal's Companions. Paideuma 33 (1987): 231–262.Find this resource:
Simpson, Donald. Dark Companions. The African Contribution to the European Exploration of East Africa. London: Elek, 1975.Find this resource:
From the late eighteenth century, penetration of the interior of Africa by Europeans resulted in change—but not always improvement—to the maps of the continent. Exploration was intermittent and not every European traveler could be relied upon to observe and record accurately and truthfully, while compilers of maps continued to consult earlier sources such as Ptolemy, al-Idrisi, and de Barros.
The subject matter of the maps of Africa that resulted from European exploration reflected the objectives of the explorers themselves. The driving forces, at least up until the late nineteenth century, were science, commerce, and Christianity, as well as imperialistic ideals—but not ideals motivated by colonial intentions. For example, Mungo Park's travels up the Gambia River to the Niger River from 1795 to 1797 were sponsored by the Association for Promoting the Discovery of the Interior Parts of Africa, formed in 1788 to increase scientific knowledge of the continent. Park's cartography was compiled not by the explorer himself, but by James Rennell, a military officer and scholar, who checked and reconciled the explorer's observations of the latitudes, distances, and bearings of physical features, selected for mapping in preference to the more transitory sites of human habitation. Scientific interest in Africa was particularly concerned with hydrology. The course of the Niger was also observed by Walter Oudney, Hugh Clapperton, and Dixon Denham in 1822, while the lower course of the river was finally followed by Richard and John Lander in 1830. The route maps that accompanied the published accounts of all these travels fed through successively to the depiction of the Niger on contemporary small-scale maps.
The Royal Geographical Society of London was one of several national geographical societies in Europe that systematically planned and funded journeys of exploration into Africa. A range of motivations for exploration was to be found within their membership: not only pure science, but also perceived economic opportunity, the preaching of the Gospel, or, more generally, the application of European technological and organizational skills in what was seen as a civilizing role. In this context, it was appropriate for explorers to compile maps of the highest scientific caliber and for the sponsoring societies to train and equip the explorers for the task.
The best-known African explorer to be supported by the Royal Geographical Society was David Livingstone, the missionary doctor who became drawn into the controversy over the source of the Nile, having earlier investigated the navigability of major rivers as routes to the interior. Commerce as a civilizing influence, the elimination of slavery, the Gospel, and scientific discovery were entirely compatible for Livingstone, whose meticulous instrumental observations were compiled into maps by Aaron Arrowsmith in London. Earlier, two German missionaries, Johannes Rebmann and Ludwig Krapf, had led the way into the interior of East Africa; they were followed by Richard F. Burton and John Hanning Speke, who were less concerned with saving souls than with hydrology. Indeed, Speke wrote at one point of “applying myself solely to mapping.” Both parties measured and observed to the best of their ability and training, their cartographic impact differing in the extent and duration of their travels. But perhaps the most remarkable example of the cartography of exploration in Africa are the maps that accompanied Henry Stanley's report of his trans-Africa journey, a journey that began in 1874 and resolved most of the outstanding hydrographic problems of equatorial Africa. Stanley's detailed transects are notable, not so much for their descriptive detail as for their precision in locating named sites, often authenticated by actual measurements of distance and altitude. The lectures, papers, maps, and journals that Stanley and other explorers customarily published on their return to Europe were factored into the evolving map of Africa.
The cartographic evolution of Africa during the classic period of exploration—up to about 1870—was not driven only by explorers in the field, as geographical societies also encouraged debate at home about the sometimes inconclusive evidence of these explorers. Such armchair geographers weighed the evidence against earlier sources and propounded their own theories without leaving Europe; for example, William Desborough Cooley's work on East Africa influenced map compilers in the 1850s. Then there were military expeditions, which, despite being few in number and limited in their coverage, resulted in surveys on the ground in southern Africa and most notably in the Nile Valley, where Napoleon's invasion of Egypt in 1798 gave rise to large-scale topographic cover as far south as Aswan.
In the second half of the nineteenth century, there was a shift of emphasis in the motivation of travelers to the interior of Africa. Increasingly, self-funded exploration was incidental to specific purposes such as hunting, trading, prospecting, or missionary work. For example, Frederick Courteney Selous, in the course of hunting trips, broke much new ground in the Kalahari and Zambezi basin. He compiled only rough sketch maps sufficient for finding routes, without the meticulous instrumental observations that characterized the scientific work of earlier sponsored explorers. Few pioneer missionaries intent on saving souls possessed Livingstone's motivation or skills in mensuration. In these circumstances, the quality of new data for map compilation was not always of a high standard.
By the first decade of the twentieth century, exploration was taking place contemporaneously with the imposition of colonial rule. While parts of Africa were selectively and rapidly surveyed in delimiting boundaries, building roads and railways, or laying out townships, there was no need, over the large parts of colonial Africa seen by Europeans for the first time, for a high order of accuracy in the route maps that needed only to suffice to locate the peoples then being administered. The quality of new data for map compilation became variable.
The impact of explorers' maps on the nineteenth-century cartography of Africa is evident in atlases published throughout the century. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, maps of the continent showed only very few physical features in the interior, some of these deriving from Arabic or earlier Portuguese sources, and the maps had extensive areas either blank or with text of an ethnographic nature. Through the first half of the nineteenth century, there was an increasing tendency to leave large areas blank or labeled “unexplored,” while including recent discoveries so that major rivers often appear fragmented. As the century progressed, the hydrology shown on the maps became less disjointed, though cartographers still used pecked lines to indicate tentative alignments. Ethnological descriptions were finally removed and a new category of information in the form of European territorial claims made its appearance. [See also Maps, Mapmaking, and Mapmakers; Niger River; Nile River; and biographical entries on figures mentioned in this article.]
Fernández-Armesto, Felipe. The Times Atlas of World Exploration. London: Times Books, 1991.Find this resource:
Norwich, Oscar I. Norwich's Maps of Africa: An Illustrated and Annotated Carto-bibliography. 2nd ed. Norwich, Vt.: Terra Nova Press, 1997.Find this resource:
Skelton, R. A. Explorers' Maps: Chapters in the Cartographic Record of Geographical Discovery. New York: Spring Books, 1970.Find this resource:
Stone, Jeffrey C. A Short History of the Cartography of Africa. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1995.Find this resource:
Patrons, Sponsors, and Supporters
The motives of those who sought knowledge of Africa by exploration include economic, political, strategic, religious, scientific, and intellectual concerns. These were promoted by organizations ranging from governments through scientific societies to missionary bodies. Some individuals became so powerful or influential within such organizations as to become akin to individual patrons. Five names stand out in the relatively modern period: Prince Henry of Portugal, Joseph Banks, John Barrow, Roderick Murchison, and Clements Markham. Such individuals were part of government or had the ability to call on government support. Indeed, investigating Africa either along its coasts by sea or over land into the interior was so difficult and therefore costly that, usually, only governments could mobilize the necessary resources and power.
The Phoenicians, who may have circumnavigated Africa in about 600 b.c.e., were presumably interested in trade but they were actually sent, it seems, by King Necho of Egypt. The name or names of those who sponsored the Greek traders who produced an account of East Africa in the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea is unknown. The Carthaginian travelers who may have reached West Africa were sent by a monarch, Hanno. Similarly, the Roman centurions who attempted to ascend the Nile valley were supposed to have been sent by Emperor Nero partly to gain knowledge and partly to investigate possibilities for conquest. However, in general one can say very little about the sponsorship of the expeditions by which the classical world learned something of Africa.
The European Middle Ages saw little accession of direct knowledge by Europe but this was the great age for Islamic scholar-travelers, not least, for example, Ibn Battuta who in the earlier fourteenth century went overland to the Western Sudan and by sea to East Africa. How he was financed, especially on his initial journey to make the hajj, is not apparent but other scholars, holy men, and rulers seemed to be ready to give hospitality to such a well-traveled man who could tell so much about the farther reaches of the Islamic world. The situation was similar for other Arab travelers.
European religious enthusiasm, which was essentially anti-Islam, explains in part the series of exploratory voyages along the African seacoast organized and patronized by Prince Henry of Portugal, “the Navigator,” in the fifteenth century. The aim was to outflank Islam and link up with Prester John, a powerful Christian king rumored to reside on the African continent. “Gold and glory” were soon added as motives: one must get around Africa to obtain the riches of the East but there was literally gold to be had in Africa itself, too. Prince Henry (1394–1460) could draw on the power of the Portuguese state and so inaugurated one hundred years or more of Portuguese investigations around and into Africa, which were essentially seeking fields for domination or plunder and evangelization; sponsorship of exploration in this era was for the purposes of state mercantilist success. The Dominican missionaries, who were often also explorers, were expected to and generally did fit into this mercantilist pattern.
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, European involvement in Africa greatly increased especially because of the slave trade. Yet for the most part, slave traders remained at the coast, not seeking to find the sources of their wealth inland. This was true of the Dutch East India Company at the Cape of Good Hope, too. Yet the desire to find ways into Africa as well as around its coasts became stronger, principally, it would seem, on the part of learned and scientific academies and societies. Botanical exploration was particularly important, with Sir Joseph Banks using his position as head of Kew Gardens in London as a means of sponsoring explorers in various parts of Africa. Banks was also the effective head of the African Association formed in 1788 to sponsor expeditions to West Africa. Later, the Second Secretary at the Admiralty, John Barrow, used his position to act as a sort of quasi-patron of West African travelers. Later still, Sir Roderick Murchison, head of the Geological Survey Department but also president of the Royal Geographical Society (RGS), could use his position to exercise patronage of travelers. Banks's African Association had merged with the newly formed Royal Geographical Society in 1831. The RGS, like the Paris Geographical Society and to a lesser extent the Berlin Geographical Society, consisted of members who were connected with government or indeed worked for it. Hence the societies and academies, much as they might be devoted to science and disinterested enquiry, in fact received much state help directly in the form of finance or indirectly by such means as the secondment of personnel. The three RGS explorers— Richard Burton, John Hanning Speke, and James Augustus Grant—for example, were all Indian Army officers. Governments saw the need for accurate information about Africa so that they could more effectively pursue their strategic, political, or economic objects. In the first half of the nineteenth century, both the British and French governments sent their own expeditions to West Africa. Geographical prizes like Timbuctoo or the course of the Niger were easily meshed with a strategy of engaging politically and economically with the developing new Islamic societies of the Western Sudan or combating the slave trade. Meanwhile, the Bombay government in India was sending naval and other expeditions to East Africa.
By the 1870s, several avowedly commercial geographical societies had emerged in Europe but, on the whole, practical traders, chambers of commerce, and investors did not support exploration; they waited for more certain dividends than an expedition to the source of the Nile could provide. Yet certain individuals with the power of government did send expeditions during this period that were at least half scientific exploration and half economic. The two major examples were the Khedive Ismāʻīl of Egypt and King Leopold of the Belgians.
A new element from about 1800 was the Protestant evangelical revival in northern Europe. This led to the foundation of missionary societies keen to seek converts in Africa and so to some notable missionary explorations, the most famous being those of David Livingstone. Missionary societies could get some financial support from their churches but found the costs of pure exploration burdensome. However, their usually anti-slave-trade positions usually coincided with government, especially British government, policy and they might be in concert with officialdom. “Christianity, Commerce and Civilization” for Africa was seen as consonant with a Palmerstonian type foreign policy that led most notably to the Niger Expedition of 1841 and the Zambezi Expedition of 1858.
As exploration became a popular interest, some new types of sponsorship emerged with public subscriptions for travelers. But more significant was the popular element channeled through newspaper sponsorship, especially in the case of the New York Herald Tribune and the Daily Telegraph financing of Henry Stanley.
By the 1880s and 1890s, international rivalry and territorial acquisition had begun in Africa; neither religion and philanthropy nor pure science, however much they were invoked, was the real reason for expeditions. Imperialist pressure groups sought and usually obtained state endorsement, perhaps sometimes because there was popular public support. The greatest exploratory feat in this era was Stanley's Emin Pasha Relief Expedition, which was essentially funded by King Leopold II though with some private British commercial and missionary backing.
Throughout two thousand years of African exploration, merchants, scholars, divines, and politicians may have formed associations of one kind and another to sponsor expeditions but their success nearly always depended upon the extent to which governments were involved. [See also African Association; Royal Geographical Society; and biographical entries on figures mentioned in this article.]
Cary, M., and E. H. Warmington. The Ancient Explorers. Rev. ed. Harmondsworth, U.K.: Penguin, 1963.Find this resource:
Diffie, Bailey W., and George D. Winius. The Foundations of the Portuguese Empire 1415–1580. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press, 1977.Find this resource:
Hallett, Robin, ed. The Records of the African Association, 1788–1831. London: T. Nelson 1964.Find this resource:
Markham, Clements R. The Fifty Years’ Work of the Royal Geographical Society. London: J. Murray, 1881.Find this resource:
The motivations for geographical exploration in Africa ranged from individual desire for adventure, through missionary zeal, through big-game hunting, and through the search for political hegemony. But from roughly the middle of the eighteenth century, all travelers were expected to conduct scientific inquiries, and some of the travelers became notable for their contributions, especially to geographical science and natural history. Increasingly, geographical data were required on relief and drainage patterns, and it came to be expected that the “scientific explorer” would know how to use at least a sextant so that his positions could be accurately plotted on maps. A strong strand in scientific exploration was botanical inquiry; Sir Joseph Banks established the practice of sending out botanical collectors to obtain specimens for Kew Gardens in London, and this scientific approach affected the African Association, which Banks set up in 1788 to encourage the exploration of Africa.
For more than one hundred and fifty years, Africa has been looked upon as a vast natural laboratory for scientific inquiry. Questions regarding the location of the sources of well-known rivers were particularly common. The sources of the Nile River occupied much of the interest of geographers and cartographers between the 1770s and the 1850s, and the Niger River generated similar interest. Was the Niger a tributary of the Nile, did it flow into an unknown interior lake in central Africa, or did it debouch into the Gulf of Benin? This geographical mystery was resolved in 1832, when Richard and John Lander sailed down the river into the Gulf of Benin.
Explorers came to Africa not only to resolve specific geographical problems: many came to learn about Africa's natural history. Anders Sparrman (1748–1820), Carl Peter Thunberg (1743–1828), William Burchell (1782–1863), and Georg Schweinfurth (1836–1925) were superb botanists; Mary Kingsley (1862–1900) performed meritorious ichthyological work in Gabon; and Karl Johan Andersson (1827–1867) studied South African bird life. Although they were primarily big-game hunters, William Cornwallis Harris (1807–1848) and Frederick Selous (1851–1917) were major contributors of unknown African animals to natural history museums in Britain. Selous was also responsible for helping mapmakers determine the southern limits of the tsetse fly, which in turn helped European pastoralists decide where to herd their cattle. Wilhelm Junker (1840–1892) resided in the upper Nile region for eleven years (1875–1886), where he collected plant and animal specimens for museums in Berlin and Saint Petersburg and wrote an ethnological account of a tribe of cannibals he knew well. Beginning in 1856, the American Paul du Chaillu (1831–1903) added to the store of knowledge of African natural history—he was the first to describe the unusual otter-shrew and the bald chimpanzee, and he confirmed the existence of Pygmies. But his major achievement was the description of the elusive lowland forest gorilla in Gabon. He claimed to be “the only white man who could speak of the gorilla from personal knowledge.”
Perhaps no explorers of Africa produced more material of scientific interest than did Heinrich Barth (1821–1865), David Livingstone (1813–1873), and Joseph Thomson (1858–1895). The five volumes that Barth wrote after he returned from central Africa in 1855 are loaded with ethnological and geographical data, as well as information regarding plants and animals, and certainly architecture. Barth's eyewitness account of Timbuctoo was the first since René Caillié had visited the city in 1828, and it was valuable for corroborating Caillié's account, which had aroused skepticism. Thomson, a Scottish geologist and naturalist, made five journeys to Africa between 1879 and 1890. Among his accomplishments were carefully explaining the geography and physical properties of the lands and lake systems in East Africa. Because of his scientific knowledge of Africa, Thomson was hired by Cecil Rhodes to negotiate mining agreements in what is now Zambia. Although David Livingstone was a medical missionary, all of his journeys were of a scientific nature, and during his last expedition, which began in 1867, he expended considerable effort attempting to determine the watershed of interior southern Africa.
Other, lesser-known nineteenth-century scientific explorers of interest include Karl von der Decken (1833–1865), Leopold Janikowski (1855–1942), and James Grant (1827–1892). By almost ascending Mount Kilimanjaro in 1861–1862, Decken, a talented naturalist, proved to skeptical armchair geographers in Europe that ice and snow indeed were found on high tropical mountains. Janikowski, a member of the Polish expedition to the Cameroons in 1883–1885, was an outstanding linguist who produced important ethnological studies in that region. Grant is best known for being John Speke's companion when the Nile question was solved, but he was trained in botany and natural history and produced considerable scientific data while exploring in Africa.
French scientific explorers were quite active in Africa in the latter half of the nineteenth century. Henri Duveyrier (1840–1892) did much to explain the ethnology of Saharan tribes, whereas in tropical Africa, the Marquis de Compiègne (1846–1877) and Alfred Marche (1844–1898) conducted ethnographical and zoological studies in the Ogowe River region in the 1870s. Marche also made important contributions to the Paris Museum of Natural History.
In the twentieth century, the ornithologist Boyd Alexander (1873–1910) made Europeans aware of the myriad bird life in Fernando Póo, the Cape Verde Islands, São Thomé, the Cameroons, and the Lake Chad region during his many journeys—journeys that ceased only with his murder while traveling in eastern Chad in 1910. During his expedition that began in 1904, southern Lake Chad was carefully mapped for the first time. The Italian mountaineer Luigi Abruzzi (1873–1933) led an expedition to the Ruwenzori Mountains in 1906 that resulted in considerable mapping and surveying; most important, however, the expedition gave the world superb photographs of the “Mountains of the Moon.”
Carl Akeley (1864–1926), along with his first wife, Delia (1875–1970), spent months in Africa in 1905 collecting animals to display at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. Later, after World War I, on a commission from the Brooklyn Museum of Arts and Sciences, Delia Akeley collected animals in Kenya and Somalia. Mary Akeley (1878–1966), Carl's second wife, conducted a study of gorillas in the Congo, and she helped her husband develop the Great African Hall at the American Museum of Natural History in New York.
Among the most important scientists working in Africa in the twentieth century were Louis Leakey (1903–1972), his wife Mary (1913–1996), and their son Richard (b. 1944). When Mary Leakey discovered the Zinjanthropus cranium at the Olduvai Gorge in 1959, the modern science of paleoanthropology was launched. A contemporary of the Leakeys, the primatologist Jane Goodall (b. 1934), performed pioneer research while living with mountain chimpanzees in East Africa. Her research significantly aided the movement to preserve the species from extinction.
The distinguished French archaeologist Henri Lhote (1903–1991) traveled extensively in the Sahara region before and after World War II, and his greatest achievement was discovering the mural paintings at Tassili n'Ajjer, Algeria, which depict Saharan life as far back as 10,000 b.c.e. Émile Félix Gautier (1864–1940), who was the world's expert on the camel, and Theodore Monod (1903–2000) also conducted important scientific research during their travels in North Africa in the twentieth century. [See also African Association; Chad, Lake; Niger River; Nile River; and biographical entries on figures mentioned in this article.]
Desmond, Ray. Kew: The History of the Royal Botanic Gardens. London: Harvill Press, with the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, 1995.Find this resource:
Lhote, Henri. In Search of the Tassili Frescoes. 2nd ed. London: Hutchinson Press, 1973.Find this resource:
Livingstone, David. The Life and African Explorations of Dr. David Livingstone: Comprising All His Extensive Travels and Discoveries as Detailed in His Diary, Reports, and Letters, Including His Famous Last Journals: with Maps and Numerous Illustrations. With an introduction by Christopher Hibbert. New York: Cooper Square Press, 2002.Find this resource:
Rotberg, Robert. Joseph Thomson and the Exploration of Africa. New York: Oxford University Press, 1971.Find this resource:
Schweinfurth, Georg August. The Heart of Africa: Three Years' Travels and Adventures of the Unexplored Regions of Central Africa from 1868 to 1871. Chicago: Afro-Am Books, 1969. First published in 1873.Find this resource: