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MUNGO PARK AND THE NIGER
 BRUCE died in the spring of 1794. Just a year later another Scotsman, Mungo Park, from Selkirk, started off to
explore the great river Niger—whose course was as mysterious as that of the Nile. Most of the early
geographers knew something of a great river running through Negroland. Indeed, Herodotus tells of five young
men, the Nasamones, who set out to explore the very heart of Africa. Arrived at the edge of the great sandy
desert, they collected provisions and supplied themselves with water and plunged courageously into the
unknown. For weary days they made their way across to the south, till they were rewarded by finding themselves
in a fertile land well watered by lakes and marshes, with fruit trees and a little race of men and women whom
they called pigmies.
And a large river was flowing from west to east—probably the Niger. But the days of Herodotus are long
since past. It was centuries later when the Arabs, fiery with the faith of Mohammed, swept over the unexplored
lands. "With a fiery enthusiasm that nothing could withstand, and inspired by a hope of heaven which nothing
could shake, they swept from district to district, from tribe to tribe," everywhere proclaiming to roving
multitudes the faith of their master. In this spirit they had faced the terrors of the Sahara Desert, and in
the tenth century reached the land of the negroes, found the
 Niger, and established schools and mosques westward of Timbuktu.
Portugal had then begun to play her part, and the fifteenth century is full of the wonderful voyages inspired
by Prince Henry of Portugal, which culminated in the triumph of Vasco da Gama's great voyage to India by the
Cape of Good Hope.
Then the slave trade drew the Elizabethan Englishmen to the shores of West Africa, and the coast was studded
with forts and stations in connection with it. Yet in the eighteenth century the Niger and Timbuktu were still
In 1778 the African Association was founded, with our old friend Sir Joseph Banks as an active member
inquiring for a suitable man to follow up the work of the explorer Houghton, who had just perished in the
desert on his way to Timbuktu.
The opportunity produced the man. Mungo Park, a young Scotsman, bitten with the fever of unrest, had just
returned from a voyage to the East on board an East India Company's ship. He heard of this new venture, and
applied for it. The African Association instantly accepted his services, and on 22nd May 1795, Mungo Park left
England on board the Endeavour, and after a pleasant voyage of thirty days landed at the mouth of the
river Gambia. The river is navigable for four hundred miles from its mouth, and Park sailed up to a native
town, where the Endeavour was anchored, while he set out on horseback for a little village,
Pisania, where a few British subjects traded in slaves, ivory, and gold. Here he stayed a while, to learn the
language of the country. Fever delayed him till the end of November, when the rains were over, the native
crops had been reaped, and food was cheap and plentiful. On 3rd December he made a start, his sole attendants
being a negro servant, Johnson,
 and a slave boy. Mungo Park was mounted on a strong, spirited little horse, his attendants on donkeys. He had
provisions for two days, beads, amber, and tobacco for buying fresh food, an umbrella, a compass, a
thermometer and pocket sextant, some pistols and firearms, and "thus attended, thus provided, thus armed,
Mungo Park started for the heart of Africa."
AFTER A PORTRAIT IN PARK'S TRAVELS INTO THE INTERIOR OF AFRICA, 1799.
Three days' travelling brought him to Medina, where he found the old king sitting on a bullock's hide, warming
himself before a large fire. He begged the English explorer to turn back and not to travel into the interior,
for the people there had never seen a white man and would most certainly destroy him. Mungo Park was not so
easily deterred, and taking farewell of the good old king, he took a guide and proceeded on his way.
A day's journey brought him to a village where a curious custom prevailed. Hanging on a tree, he found a sort
of masquerading dress made out of bark. He discovered that it belonged to a strange bugbear known to all the
natives of the neighbourhood as Mumbo Jumbo. The natives or Kafirs of this part had many wives, with the
result that family quarrels often took place. If a husband was offended by his wife he disappeared into the
woods, disguised himself in the dress of Mumbo Jumbo, and, armed with the rod of authority, announced his
advent by loud and dismal screams near the town. All hurried to the accepted meeting-place, for none dare
disobey. The meeting opened with song and dance till midnight, when Mumbo Jumbo announced the offending wife.
The unlucky victim was then seized, stripped, tied to a post, and beaten with Mumbo's rod amid the shouts of
the assembled company.
A few days before Christmas, Park entered Fatticonda—the place where Major Houghton had been robbed and
badly used. He therefore took some amber, tobacco, and an
 umbrella as gifts to the king, taking care to put on his best blue coat, lest it should be stolen. The king
was delighted with his gifts; he furled and unfurled his umbrella to the great admiration of his attendants.
"The king then praised my blue coat," says Park, "of which the yellow buttons seemed particularly to catch his
fancy, and entreated me to give it to him, assuring me that he would wear it on all public occasions. As it
was against my interests to offend him by a refusal, I very quietly took off my coat—the only good one
in my possession—and laid it at his feet." Then without his coat and umbrella, but in peace, Park
travelled onward to the dangerous district which was so invested with robbers that the little party had to
travel by night. The howling of wild beasts alone broke the awful silence as they crept forth by moonlight on
their way. But the news that a white man was travelling through their land spread, and he was surrounded by a
party of horsemen, who robbed him of nearly all his possessions. His attendant Johnson urged him to return,
for certain death awaited him. But Park was not the man to turn back, and he was soon rewarded by finding the
king's nephew, who conducted him in safety to the banks of the Senegal River.
Then he travelled on to the next king, who rejoiced in the name of Daisy Korrabarri. Here Mungo learnt to his
dismay that war was going on in the province that lay between him and the Niger, and the king could offer no
protection. Still nothing deterred the resolute explorer, who took another route and continued his journey.
Again he had to travel by night, for robbers haunted his path, which now lay among Mohammedans. He passed the
very spot where Houghton had been left to die of starvation in the desert. As he advanced through these
inhospitable regions, new difficulties met him. His attendants firmly refused to move farther. Mungo Park was
 in the great desert Negroland, between the Senegal and the Niger, as with magnificent resolution he continued
his way. Suddenly a clear halloo rang out on the night air. It was his black boy, who had followed him to
share his fate. Onward they went together, hoping to get safely through the land where Mohammedans ruled over
low-caste negroes. Suddenly a party of Moors surrounded him, bidding him come to Ali, the chief, who wished to
see a white man and a Christian. Park now found himself the centre of an admiring crowd. Men, women, and
children crowded round him, pulling at his clothes and examining his waist-coat buttons till he could hardly
move. Arrived at Ali's tent, Mungo found an old man with a long white beard. "The surrounding attendants, and
especially the ladies, were most inquisitive; they asked a thousand questions, inspected every part of my
clothes, searched my pockets, and obliged me to unbutton my waistcoat and display the whiteness of my
skin—they even counted my toes and fingers, as if they doubted whether I was in truth a human being." He
was lodged in a hut made of corn stalks, and a wild hog was tied to a stake as a suitable companion for the
hated Christian. He was brutally ill-treated, closely watched, and insulted by "the rudest savages on earth."
The desert winds scorched him, the sand choked him, the heavens above were like brass, the earth beneath as
the floor of an oven. Fear came on him, and he dreaded death with his work yet unfinished. At last he escaped
from this awful captivity amid the wilds of Africa. Early one morning at sunrise, he stepped over the sleeping
negroes, seized his bundle, jumped on to his horse, and rode away as hard as he could. Looking back, he saw
three Moors in hot pursuit, whooping and brandishing their double-barreled guns. But he was beyond reach, and
he breathed again. Now starvation stared him in the face. To the pangs of hunger were added the agony of
 thirst. The sun beat down pitilessly, and at last Mungo fell on the sand. "Here," he thought—"here after
a short but ineffectual struggle I must end all my hopes of being useful in my day and generation; here must
the short span of my life come to an end."
THE CAMP OF ALI, THE MOHAMMEDAN CHIEF, AT BENOWN.
But happily a great storm came and Mungo spread out his clothes to collect the drops of rain, and quenched his
thirst by wringing them out and sucking them. After this refreshment he led his tired horse, directing his way
by the compass, lit up at intervals by vivid flashes of lightning. It was not till the third week of his
flight that his reward came. "I was told I should see the Niger early next day," he wrote on 20th July 1796.
"We were riding through some marshy ground, when some one called out 'See the water!' and, looking forwards, I
saw with infinite pleasure the great object of my mission—the long-sought-for majestic Niger glittering
to the morning sun, as broad as the Thames at Westminster,
 and flowing slowly to the eastward. I hastened to the brink and, having drunk of the water, lifted up my
fervent thanks in prayer to the Great Ruler of all things, for having thus far crowned my endeavours with
success. The circumstance of the Niger's flowing towards the east did not excite my surprise, for although I
had left Europe in great hesitation on this subject, I had received from the negroes clear assurances that its
general course was towards the rising sun."
He was now near Sego—the capital of Bambarra—on the Niger, a city of some thirty thousand
inhabitants. "The view of this extensive city, the numerous canoes upon the river, the crowded population, and
the cultivated state of the surrounding country, formed altogether a prospect of civilisation and magnificence
which I little expected to find in the bosom of Africa." The natives looked at the poor, thin, white stranger
with astonishment and fear, and refused to allow him to cross the river. All day he sat without food under the
shade of a tree, and was proposing to climb the tree and rest among its branches to find shelter from a coming
storm, when a poor negro woman took pity on his deplorable condition. She took him to her hut, lit a lamp,
spread a mat upon the floor, broiled him a fish, and allowed him to sleep. While he rested she spun cotton
with other women and sang: "The winds roared and the rains fell. The poor white man, faint and weary, came and
sat under our tree. He has no mother to bring him milk, no wife to grind his corn"; and all joined in the
chorus: "Let us pity the white man, no mother has he."
Mungo Park left in the morning after presenting his landlady with two of his last four brass buttons. But
though he made another gallant effort to reach Timbuktu and the Niger, which, he was told, "ran to the world's
end," lions and mosquitoes made life impossible. His
 horse was too weak to carry him any farther, and on 29th July 1796 he sadly turned back. "Worn down by
sickness, exhausted by hunger and fatigue, half-naked, and without any article of value by which I might get
provisions, clothes, or lodging, I felt I should sacrifice my life to no purpose, for my discoveries would
perish with me." Joining a caravan of slaves, he reached the coast after some nineteen hundred miles, and
after an absence of two years and nine months he found a suit of English clothes, "disrobed his chin of
venerable encumbrance," and sailed for home. He published an account of the journey in 1799, after which he
married and settled in Scotland as a doctor. But his heart was in Africa, and a few years later he started off
again to reach Timbuktu. He arrived at the Gambia early in April 1805. "If
 all goes well," he wrote gaily, "this day six weeks I expect to drink all your healths in the water of the
Niger." He started this time with forty-four Europeans, each with donkeys to carry baggage and food, but it
was a deplorable little party that reached the great river on 19th August. Thirty men had died on the march,
the donkeys had been stolen, the baggage lost. And the joy experienced by the explorer in reaching the waters
of the Niger, "rolling its immense stream along the plain," was marred by the reduction of his little party to
seven. Leave to pass down the river to Timbuktu was obtained by the gift of two double-barreled guns to the
King, and in their old canoes patched together under the magnificent name of "His Majesty's schooner the
Joliba" (great water), Mungo Park wrote his last letter home.
KAMALIA, A NATIVE VILLAGE NEAR THE SOUTHERN COURSE OF THE NIGER.
"I am far from desponding. I have changed a large canoe into a tolerably good schooner, on board of which I
shall set sail to the east with a fixed resolution to discover the termination of the Niger or perish in the
attempt; and though all the Europeans who are with me should die, and though I myself were half-dead, I would
still persevere; and if I could not succeed in the object of my journey, I would at least die on the Niger."
It was in this spirit that the commander of the Joliba and a crew of nine set forth to glide down a great
river toward the heart of savage Africa, into the darkness of the unexplored.
The rest is silence.