Western Women in Colonial Africa

Western Women in Colonial Africa

Western Women in Colonial Africa

Western Women in Colonial Africa

Synopsis

Inspired by her own contact with Africa, Caroline Oliver has written biographies of five intrepid women who traveled through the interior of Africa during colonial times. Two were explorers. Alexine Tinne led her own expedition up the Bahr el Ghazal tributary of the Nile. The second sketch traces the expeditions of Florence Baker who accompanied her husband on two hazardous journeys to the lake regions of Central Africa. Oliver portrays Mary Kingsley, an intellectual who walked alone through the West African forests doing ethnographic research. The closing biographies are of two missionaries; Mary Slessor, who became the first female magistrate of the Okon district of Calabar, and Mother Kevin, who established many schools throughout East Africa. Oliver brings to her writing the special enthusiasm gained from having seen the African backgrounds in which these women lived and worked.

Excerpt

I first saw Africa in the autumn of 1949, from a plane coming down at what was then Stanleyville in the Belgian Congo. The vast equatorial forest was beneath us, broken here by a mighty river turning a mighty bend. This was the Congo, which, having hitherto flowed generally northwards, turns very positively westwards towards the South Atlantic, 1,000 miles away. My husband, then a young lecturer at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies, had come to do a pioneering survey of the possible sources for African history. It was hoped that his results would lay the foundations of African history as a new academic subject. Our car, an elderly Ford, had come up the river in a twelve-day journey by steamer from what was then Leopoldville. Within a week, we set off eastwards through the forest towards Uganda.

At first the road was wide and the trees kept a respectful distance. It was made, as were so many African roads, of red murram, or dirt. In time it narrowed, and the towering walls of forest, sometimes perhaps 150 to 200 feet high, pressed in on us. It also became steeply and perpetually hilly, though for the most part, only the gradient, and perhaps a little rocky outcrop coming through the murram, showed this. The forest walls obscured the contours. Twice our all-too-abrupt descent ended at a wide, swift-flowing forest river, which was crossed by ferries. At the bottom of every hill there was a turbulent stream, with a bridge consisting of two separate planks. After a fierce tropical rain-

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