Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L. (emo_snal) wrote,
Echidna Media Organization project S.N.A.L.
emo_snal

Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa

   I found another really interesting historic travelogue. In 1795 Scotsman Mungo Park (is Mungo a Scottish name??) traveled for 18 months in West Africa through what is now Gambia, Senegal and Mali (right around Guinea where I've spent time), he wrote about it, not in overwrought flowing descriptions but with a keenly observant eye. Where every other European writing about Africa prior to ... 1950 ...seems to describe it as an anarchic dystopia full of nothing but savages -- but from the start Mungo Park describes the local people in very human terms completely free of cliches and assumptions. He portrays an Africa full of villages knit together by established political systems and people as individuals with their own aspirations and lives to live, taking time to describe the various tribes, cultural groups and customs. Mungo Park is robbed repeatedly until he is left literally penniness but even then he points out that if some foreigner were to attempt to traverse the English countryside bedecked with rare items of priceless value to locals, they would undoubtedly be robbed blind too. And henceforth he continues his journey begging from village to village, noting that often the most charitable people he encountered were the poor or slaves themselves. It's amazing to me that he kept on persevering on his quest to find the source of the river Niger rather than turn back even after all the setbacks he had encountered, though he apparently died on a second expedition.

He also recorded some funny local beliefs about Europeans I'd never heard before but make sense that they'd think them -- namely that Europeans ATE the countless slaves they continuously shipped off in boats never to be seen again, which would certainly instill terror in those bound for the coast; and they were convinced the Europeans used ivory for some mysterious purpose no European would divulge to them, since it made sense to them that they'd put such a high price on something used to knife handles and piano keys when wood would work just as well.

Tags: book reviews, media reviews, travel writing
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