Source Book for African Anthropology



Exploratory activity in northeast Africa centered in discovery of the source of the Nile, and toward the end of the eighteenth century a group of talented explorers appeared; these attempted to solve a problem that had puzzled the Egyptians six thousand years before. Among the pioneers in this work were James Bruce, John Lewis Burckhardt, W. G. Browne, and Henry Salt. James Bruce (1804) traced the Blue Nile from its Abyssinian source to the junction with the White Nile. Finally he reached Assuan, but had to return to the desert for his baggage, which had been abandoned owing to the death of all his camels. Like Du Chaillu, Bruce was offended by the incredulity with which his reports were received, but his volumes entitled, "Travels to Discover the Source of the Nile in the Years 1768–1773," have completely demonstrated the thoroughness and the accuracy of his exploration. Stimulated by the research of Bruce, W. G. Browne (1799) traveled in the Libyan Desert. He visited the oasis of Siwa, and then proceeded south to Darfur, where he remained in captivity for three years before being able to return to Egypt.

Burckhardt (1819) relied on his ability to speak Arabic, his knowledge of Koranic law, and his effective Arab disguise, for traveling in Arabia and later in the Nubian Desert east of the Nile. In the year 1815 he arrived in Cairo in a state of extreme exhaustion. He recovered partially, but succumbed two years later when planning a journey to Tripoli. Henry Salt, one-time British Consul in Egypt, explored parts of Abyssinia and the Zanzibar coast in the first decade of the nineteenth century.

Exploration of Abyssinia is connected with activities of members of the Church Missionary Society, and notable among these are Krapf and Rebmann (1860). The former tells of a severe illness in early youth and a near approach to death, at which time he resolved to devote himself to mission work. Krapf, like Livingstone, was imbued with a sincere piety that sustained him through many years of peril and exhaustion.

Krapf and Rebmann worked their way from Mombasa northward to the region of the great mountains Kilimanjaro and Kenya, in 1848. The interest aroused by the reports of these missionaries led to further exploration by R. F. Burton (1856) and Speke (1858). Burton discovered Lake Tanganyika, and Speke explored the south shore of Lake Victoria Nyanza. On this journey Burton had the misfortune to fall ill near Tanganyika; therefore, greater acclaim was given to Speke, who continued northward alone, discovered Lake Victoria Nyanza, and was the first to reach England. Under the auspices of the Royal Geographical Society, which had evolved from the African Association, Speke and Grant explored the south shore of Victoria Nyanza and traveled down the Nile.

During this return journey Speke and Grant met Sir Samuel Baker and his wife, who had explored the River Atbara, a tributary of the Nile, and were working southward in the hope of discovering the source of the White Nile. Despite the disappointment of learning that they had been forestalled by Speke and Grant, Baker (1867) and his wife continued their journey, and acting on information given by their rivals they were able to explore Lake Albert Nyanza, of whose existence Speke and Grant had given assurance. This was in the year 1862, but for several years the region round the source of the Nile remained imperfectly explored, and even the reconnaissance of H. M. Stanley, about ten years later, left many details to be added to the cartography of the region.

From the Church Missionary Society came R. W. Felkin, 1878, who traveled from Suakin on the Red Sea to the Nile, which he followed to Uganda. The name of Joseph Thomson (1885) is associated with exploration between Lakes Nyasa and Tanganyika, then with travels farther north, where he pioneered in the Rift Valley and in the region of Lakes Naivasha and Baringo.

In Abyssinia, and along the border between that country and Kenya, valuable exploration was carried out by A. D. Smith (1897), Bottego (see Vannutelli, 1899), Stefani, Teliki (see Von Höhnel, 1894), and Maud (1904). See also Von Heuglin (1877) and Maydon (1925). Matteuci and Massari advanced from Suakin on the coast through Abyssinia, Kordofan, Wadai, and Bornu—a difficult route owing to the hostility of Sudanese Arab tribes. From the year 1291, when the Vivaldi brothers touched the coast of Guinea, Italians contributed to the opening up of Africa. Giuseppe Sapeto founded the Italian colony of Eritrea on the shore of the Red Sea. Casati (1891) contributed two volumes describing his explorations, and ethnological observations. Antonio Cecchi (1885–86) penetrated Abyssinia, and among modern explorers the late Duke of Abruzzi is famous. A bibliography for the Italian names will be found in "Voyageurs italiens en Afrique," published by the Minister of Colonies, Rome, 1931, and a similar compendium of Italian discoveries has been prepared by E. Cerulli (1933).

For supplementary reading on Abyssinia and the upper Nile region, the following books and articles are recommended. O. Bau-mann (1894), Cheeseman (1928), Cohen (1913, 1914), Jensen (1936), Lepsius (1853), J. Lobo (see P. Wyche, and Pinkerton’s "Voyages and Travels" (1808–1814), C. F. Ray (1923), Stern (1862), who describes the Falashas, and Wylde (1901).

G. Schweinfurth (1874, 1883) was primarily a botanist, who began his explorations with a journey in the northeast area of the Congo basin. He made several subsequent expeditions which gave valuable records of the Dinka, Bongo, Mittu, and other tribes of the upper Nile. With the same region, the explorations of W. Junker, 1875–90, are associated (1890–92). The name of Emin Pasha is important in the history of exploration in northeast Africa (1870–92). He was born in Russia of Jewish parents named Schnitzer. After being educated in Breslau and other towns, he acted as surgeon in the Turkish army; then later he served with General Gordon in the Sudan. Gordon was killed in the defence of Khartum against the dervish followers of the Mahdi in 1885 (B. M. Allen, 1931).

As a result of hostilities in the Sudan, Emin Pasha was completely isolated from his associates, and he refused to accompany H. M. Stanley to a place of safety. Emin Pasha suffered a long imprisonment but later entered the services of the German East African Company, after Kitchener had subdued the Mahdi’s rebellion. The exploratory work of Emin Pasha has been described by Dr. Stuhlmann (1894), who persisted in exploration despite failing eyesight, only to meet his death at the hands of Arab assassins.

Although no new and astonishing geographical discoveries can be expected, much surveying and cartography remain to be done, especially in the Sahara from Mauretania to Libya. In conjunction with exploration geological surveys are essential, and better topographical tribal maps must be prepared. To keep in touch with modern exploration, the various geographical journals listed in the bibliography of periodicals should be consulted.

A new edition (1930) of H. H. Johnston’s "A History of the Colonization of Africa by Alien Races" is a valuable textbook. The work contains a chronological table of all the major explorations and political events up to the year 1912. For literature bearing on history and administration after 1912 consult the following pages (672–689).


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Chicago: "The Nile and Northeast Africa," Source Book for African Anthropology in Source Book for African Anthropology, ed. Hambly, Wilfrid D., 1886- 669–671. Original Sources, accessed August 13, 2022,

MLA: . "The Nile and Northeast Africa." Source Book for African Anthropology, in Source Book for African Anthropology, edited by Hambly, Wilfrid D., 1886-, pp. 669–671. Original Sources. 13 Aug. 2022.

Harvard: , 'The Nile and Northeast Africa' in Source Book for African Anthropology. cited in , Source Book for African Anthropology, ed. , pp.669–671. Original Sources, retrieved 13 August 2022, from