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Travels in West Africa

Mary H. Kingsley

Book Overview: 

Mary Henrietta Kingsley (13 October 1862 – 3 June 1900) was an British explorer and writer who greatly influenced European ideas about Africa and its people. Kingsley was an outspoken critic of European colonialism, a champion for indigenous customs, and a dedicated campaigner for a revised British policy which supported traders and merchants over the needs of settlers and missionaries.

Her adventures were extraordinary and fascinating. Among other things she fought with crocodiles, fell into native spear traps and was caught in a tornado on the slopes of Mount Cameroon. She traveled in West Africa wearing the same clothes she always wore in England: long, black, trailing skirts, tight waists, high collars and a small fur cap. These same clothes saved her life when she fell into a game pit, the many petticoats protecting her from being impaled on the stakes below.

This is her story in her own words of her adventures and the people and culture of West Africa.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .Talagouga for planks from M. Gacon’s sawmill.  As soon as we are past the tail of Talagouga Island, the Éclaireur ties her whistle string to a stanchion, and goes off into a series of screaming fits, as only she can.  What she wants is to get M. Forget or M. Gacon, or better still both, out in their canoes with the wood waiting for her, because “she cannot anchor in the depth,”  “nor can she turn round,” and “backing plays the mischief with any ship’s engines,” and “she can’t hold her own against the current,” and - then Captain Verdier says things I won’t repeat, and throws his weight passionately on the whistle string, for we are in sight of the narrow gorge of Talagouga, with the Mission Station apparently slumbering in the sun.  This puts the Éclaireur in an awful temper.  She goes down towards it as near as she dare, and then frisks round again, and runs up river a little way. . . Read More

Community Reviews

This is one of my all time favorite books.

It was written in the 1890s, so it takes a few pages to get into the period English, but I was fascinated right away.

This is a hilarious, well written, thought provoking autobiography filled with adventure and touching accounts of humanity at it's finest.

What a long book, but Kingsley's excellent sense of humor makes the dry parts bearable. She's at her best when writing in travel journal style. Can you believe this woman went alone, in 1893, to remote areas in West Africa crawling with cannibal tribes? Some areas had never been visited by a white m

Kingsley is possibly unique in her perspective as a single white woman traveling alone in Africa in the late 19th century. While her views on race and culture are more narrow than ours, I think she conveys considerably more respect for the Africans she works with and considerably less Victorian judg

A remarkably fearless explorer and scientist, Mary Kingsley traveled to areas where the mortality rate among Europeans was extremely high, to cannibal villages, and to rivers full of crocodiles. One of her amazing feats was to climb Mount Cameroon (13,255') by a new route through constant rain. Whe

What Mary Kingsley did was pretty incredible.... in 1893, she decided -- skirts and all-- to travel to West Africa to explore, collect fish and learn more about the religion of native people. Her account "Travels in West Africa" follows her adventures as she traipses through the jungle, paddles down

"...no sooner did I see him than I ducked under the rocks, and remembered thankfully that leopards are said to have no power of smell. But I heard his observation on the weather, and the flip-flap of his tail on the ground. Every now and then I cautiously took a look at him with one eye round a rock

Kingsley loved Africa, this is the tale of her first excursion on a scientific expedition as a young, single woman. She rallied against popular English belief and Christian missionaries and fell in love with the people.

Interesting in places, but largely rather dry and a bit of a struggle to get through. Also, considering what she did, I thought she might be a bit more progressive in her views, which were jarring to reading.

Just came across a lovely bit, as Kingsley laments people's over-reliance on water filters to protect them from the many diseases rampant in Africa:

"A good filter is a very fine thing for clearing drinking water of hippopotami, crocodiles, water snakes, catfish, etc., and I dare say it will stop bac

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