I wish that you had all been with me to see it, for I know...such scenes may never be seen again by a civilized man.” — Paul Du Chaillu, “Under the Equator” (1869).

Explorers 

by Westafricandocumentary.com

"Encounter With A Leopard." Engraving from Paul Du Chaillu's "Wild Life Under The Equator" (1869).

Illustration by C.R. Knight in explorer Paul Du Chaillu's book "World of the Great Forest" (1900).

Paul Du Chaillu's Routes in Equatorial Africa In 1864-65, including Eight thousand miles on foot.

“...their awful cry, which, fierce and animal as it is, has yet something human...” 
— Paul Du Chaillu, explorer, about gorillas (1861)

"Of the journey back I have but a dim and feverish recollection. I remember that my feet got worse instead of better, that when the wretched shoes were beyond even tying together with vines, I cast them away, and bandaged the feet with what remained of my shirt. That on the second and third day of our journey we had not even a little bird to eat, but plunged forward in a stupid apathy of hunger and pain. 

That on the fourth morning one of the men espied a gorilla, who came roaring toward us, beating his vast chest, and waddling up to the attack with such horrid utterances and soul-freezing aspect, eyes glaring, and the monstrous face distorted with impotent rage, that for once, waking out of my dreamy stupor, and seeing this image of the devil coming upon us, I would have run if my feet had borne me.

I remember that when my gun-carrier shot the huge beast, the men rushed upon it, and tore rather than cut it up, to stifle with its loathed flesh the hunger which was gnawing at their vitals."  
-- Paul Du Chaillu, "Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa" (1861)

"Friends in the Darkness", an engraving from Paul Du Chaillu's "Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa" (1861).

I sent men up the highest trees I could find, to see if they could obtain a view which would make out our position. But they could see only an interminable forest, whose general outline was so far hidden from them that it was impossible to say that we were near or far from the plain, or how high or low we were.” — Paul Du Chaillu, “Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa” (1861), p. 422.

Paul Du Chaillu in London, 1860s. Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, London. 

Above: Du Chaillu turns down a proposal to give lectures at Leeds, saying he is "not a professional lecturer. I do not seek such occupation and only can make such provincial visits at considerable personal inconvenience..." Dated October 2, 1866.

"Remandji put the kendo over my shoulder, which gave me like power with himself. It was done in the presence of an immense crowd, who shouted out their approval, and promised to obey me.

Remandji said, 'You are the spirit, whom we have never seen before. We are but poor people when we see you. You are of those whom we have often heard of, who come from nobody knows where, and whom we never hoped to see. You are our king and ruler; stay with us always. We love you, and will do what you wish.' Whereupon shouts and rejoicings; palm wine was introduced, and a general jollification ensued, in the orthodox fashion at coronations."  -- Paul Du Chaillu, "Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa" (1861)

 

Image: the kendo, an iron bell carried by chiefs in equatorial Africa and rung in processions.

 

 

Above: an inscription by Paul Du Chaillu found in his book "The World of the Great Forest" (1900). The inscription underneath is from a friend.

In those days there were regions to the north of the Cameroons Mountains (as I can state from personal experience) actually dominated either by chimpanzees or elephants, tracts of forest in which either the chimpanzees or the elephants were so numerous and so hostile to human invasion that they attacked individuals or small companies of men who attempted to make their way through the woodland.” — Sir Harry Johnston, “George Grenfell and the Congo (Vol. 1)”, 1908, p. 52.

ABOVE AND BELOW: Africa as it was imagined by Europeans in the eighteenth century.

Image: Scottish explorer Mungo Park (1771-1806) explored West Africa during several expeditions up the Niger River. After one perilous thousand-mile journey (1,600 km) he and his party drowned in the Niger during a cannibal attack in 1806.

"In the Creek of Snakes." Engraving from Paul Du Chaillu's book "Wild Life Under the Equator" (1869).

Above: Frontispiece of Scottish explorer Mungo Park's book "Travels in the Interior of Africa" (1858 ed.)

It is to be observed that there is no pathway in these woods, and we found much difficulty in keeping together: fired muskets frequently to give intimation of our line of march. After traveling about four miles, Shaddy Walters, the sick man before mentioned, became so exhausted that he could not sit on the ass...he became more and more faint, and shortly after died [...] two of the soldiers with their bayonets, and myself with my sword, dug his grave in the wild desert; and a few branches were the only laurels which covered the tomb of the brave.” — Mungo Park, “Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa: Second Expedition: 1805” (1816 ed.), p. 440.

Above: a map of West Africa from Mungo Park's book "Travels in the Interior of Africa"

Portrait: Sir Samuel White Baker (1821-93) explored central Africa and established the Province of Equatoria in 1870.

Sir Samuel S. Baker

From the Samuel S. Baker book "In The Heart Of Africa" (1866)

Above: From the Samuel S. Baker book "In The Heart Of Africa" (1866)

A dull grey cobra, about five feet long, crawled from beneath the table... There was no time to lose; Mr Talbot seized a tent-pole and struck the snake, but an unpliable stick is a dangerous implement.

The cobra reared up and spat venom straight into his eyes. The pole came down on it once more and broke its back, but already Mr Talbot was in intolerable agony.

The pain was as of something burning into the very brain itself. We bathed his eye with salad oil and boric acid, but otherwise there was nothing that could be done.” — Olive MacLeod, “Chiefs and Cities of Central Africa, Across Lake Chad by way of British, French and German Territories” (1912), p. 180.

Above: "The natives of this region have a curious way of saluting a stranger. Instead of bowing they throw themselves on their backs on the ground, rolling from side to side and slapping the outsides of their thighs, while they utter the words “Kina bomba! kina bomba!” In vain the doctor implored them to stop. They, imagining him pleased, only tumbled about more fiercely and slapped their thighs with greater vehemence." From the book "Great African Travellers" by J.W.G. Kingston (1874)

“Forest Dwarfs Eating Snakes", The Graphic, April 30, 1890.

Henry Morton Stanley explored the middle reaches of the Congo river and founded the city of Kinshasa in 1881. Here he is on the frontispiece to Volume 1 of his In Darkest Africa (1890).

Illustration by J.M. Gleeson in explorer Paul Du Chaillu's book "World of the Great Forest" (1900).

Illustration from the book "Stanley in Africa" by James P. Boyd (1889).

A Belgian expedition to the Congo, early 20th century.

'A Congo Jungle-Path' (c. 1879-80) - Credit: W. Holman Bentley

"The Fight With The Avissiba Cannibals" from Henry Morton Stanley's "In Darkest Africa" (1891)

“The whole wide country seemed to be given up to cannibalism, from the Mobangi (a major tributary of the Congo) to Stanley Falls, for six hundred miles on both sides of the main river, and the Mobangi as well.

Often did the natives beg Grenfell to sell some of his steamer hands, especially his coast people; coming from the shore of the great salt sea, they must be very ‘sweet’ – salt is spoken of as sweet, in the same way as sugar. They offered two or three of their women for one of those coast men.

They could not understand the objections raised to the practice. ‘You eat fowls and goats, and we eat men; why not? What is the difference?’

The son of Matabwiki, chief of Liboko, when asked whether he ever ate human flesh, said: ‘Ah! I wish that I could eat everybody on earth!’ Happily his stomach and arm were not equal to the carrying out of his fiendish will.

Fiendish? Yet there is something free and lovable in many of these wild men; splendid possibilities when the grace of God gets a hold of them. Bapulula, the brother of that ‘fiend,’ worked with us for two years – a fine, bright, intelligent fellow; we liked him very much...”
—  Rev. W. Holman Bentley (Baptist Missionary Society), “Pioneering on the Congo”, Fleming H. Revell, 1900 (2 vols.)

W. Holman Bentley.

George Grenfell (1849-1906) was a missionary and explorer from Cornwall, England. His steamship Peace explored the Cameroons and Congo, discovering unknown rivers and areas.

“As they neared the Wamba River they came within the echoes of a fierce struggle which was going on between two potentates — Kanzori and Kahungula — for the possession of a royal fetish indicating supreme rank. This was made of the tendons of human arms and legs.” — Sir Harry Johnston, “George Grenfell and the Congo (Vol. 1)” (1908), p. 209.

Above: in boats like the "Goodwill", missionary George Grenfell explored the Congo river wilderness in the 1880s.

“There were moments when one’s past came back to one...but it came in the shape of an unrestful and noisy dream, remembered with wonder amongst the overwhelming realities of this strange world of plants, and water, and silence.

And this stillness of life did not in the least resemble a peace. It was the stillness of an implacable force brooding over an inscrutable intention.”  — Joseph Conrad, “Heart of Darkness” (1899)

Above: Joseph Conrad

The Congo river near Lefubu, 1888. Photo by Alexandre Delcommune.

Congo River bank and hippos.

Waterway in Congo jungle.

The Congo river near Sankuru, the end point of navigation (1888). Photo by Alexandre Delcommune.

From Stanley Pool upwards the [Congo] river becomes a wide, fine waterway for hundreds of miles; with great rivers such as the Kwa, the Ubangi, the Kwangu, the Aruwimi, and others, flowing into it on either side, some of these so big that the Rhine at Arnhem or the Thames near London seems insignificant in comparison.

Small floating islands are constantly passing downstream, both on the Upper River and the Lower, and may be noticed even far out at sea.

The amount of water carried by the Congo into the sea must be immense. It is said to be distinguishable for two hundred miles out, where the steamer’s propeller will turn up the green sea water from under the brown that has come down from the Congo.”
— H. Margot Bentley, “W. Holman Bentley: Life and Labors of a Congo Pioneer” (1907)

Interlude: a waking vision

I had such a ‘gouamba’ — that is, such a longing for meat — that the nuts and the boiled antelope skin became loathsome to me... What a fearsome meaning there is, I thought, ‘In that native word “gouamba”!’ I spent hours in a sort of waking dream in which I fancied that I had returned home, and had met many friends, one after another, as I walked about the streets.

The first one would say, ‘Is that you, Paul? Welcome home. Won’t you dine with me to-day? My wife and children will be so glad to see you back again. We have roast beef to-night.’

I could see the smoke rising from these hot dishes. How I enjoyed the pudding and the ice cream at the end of the dinner!

...Then more dinners, with other friends. How I enjoyed these in my imagination! Then hunger would stop, and then come back with ten times greater force. We drank as much water as we could, for there is nourishment in water.” — Paul Du Chaillu, “In African Forest and Jungle” (1903), pp. 184-5.
One day some of the station men were down at the water, when a crocodile had the audacity to snap at one of them. The man cried out to his companions, who caught hold of his free arm and tried to pull him on board. But the crocodile would not let go, and nearly dragged both his victim and the would-be rescuers into the water.

There was a tug-of-war between the two parties, but happily the friends succeeded in keeping the man above the water, whereupon, after about five minutes’ struggle, the crocodile let go. It was a narrow escape!”
— H. Margot Bentley, “W. Holman Bentley: Life and Labors of a Congo Pioneer” (1907)

A 25-foot python skin photographed by missionary George Grenfell near Matadi.

Abpve: German pioneers of Congo exploration photographed at Stanley Pool. Top row, left to right: Von François, Wissmann, Wolf, and Hans Müller. (Courtesy New York Public Library)

A Belgian river station on the Congo river, Belgian Congo.

“ The atmosphere of the forest was almost unbreathable with its Turkish-bath heat, its reeking moisture, and its powerful smell of decaying, rotting vegetation. We seemed, in fact, to be transported back to Miocene times, to an age and a climate scarcely suitable for the modern type of real humanity.”
— Sir Harry Johnston, on his 1901 Congo expedition to search for the okapi.

Sir Harry Johnston.

According to the experiences of Europeans familiar with the Congo, many [okapi] tracks have been found quite close together, as though formed by the passing of a herd...it certainly seems that the okapi is not so rare as has been generally accepted, for, as already mentioned, one often comes across girdles made from its hide.” — Adolf Friedrich, Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, “In the Heart of Africa”, on the okapi.

Above: Duke Adolf Friedrich of Mecklenburg.

Lieutenant Dr. Arnold Schultze, officer and entomologist on the Mecklenburg-Schwerin expedition of 1907-08.

Okapi specimen secured in 1910 by the American Museum of Natural History Lang-Chapin Congo Expedition. (A very healthy okapi compared to those seen on extremely rare occasions today.)

Okapi skins in the Semliki Valley photographed by the Mecklenburg-Schwerin Expedition of 1907/08.

Above: skins and skulls found by Johnston attracted the interest of the American Museum of Natural History.

“In the village there were many gorilla bones and skulls to be seen, and most of the men wore belts of gorilla skin. There was no doubt in my mind that here was the country I had sought for so long. Gorillas were my neighbors at last.”  
— Fred Merfield with Harry Miller, “Gorillas Were My Neighbors” (1956)