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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.

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

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.

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