The Boy Travelers - Africa by Thomas W. Knox Boy Travelers-Africa by Thomas W. Knox    

Chapter 29: The Kagera River. The West Coast of Africa.

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View of the Uplands in Karagwe

From Dumo they continued their course to the southward, passing a crescent-shaped bay, bordered by a dense forest and backed by a semicircle of hills. Beyond this bay they turned a headland, and a few minutes afterward Fred observed that the water was of a darker color than they had hitherto found it.

"According to the map," said the Doctor, "this is the bay where the Kagera River empties into Lake Victoria, and its waters, rolling through an alluvial country, are charged with earthy matter, which gives it the color you perceive."

Frank wished to ascend the river; but the Doctor said they could not do so, as it would not be in accordance with their agreement with M'tesa to attempt any explorations. They passed near enough to the mouth of the river to see that it was about one hundred and fifty yards wide, and by the way the water flowed into the lake there was evidently a considerable volume of it. Stanley ascended the river about three miles, and said he found the current so strong that his boats made very slow progress, and he was obliged to give up the attempt.

The plain on each side of the river in the portion near the lake is from five to ten miles wide, and in the season of high water it is completely overflowed. The Kagera River is the largest of the effluents of Lake Victoria; the second largest river flowing into it is the Simiyu, and the two streams together are estimated to be nearly equal to the volume of water that passes Ripon Falls. Most of the natives call the Kagera River "the mother of the river at Jinja," or the Ripon Falls.

The kingdom of Uganda terminates at the Kagera River, which is its southern boundary; but parts of the modern-day region of Kagera, which lie beyond it, are subject to M'tesa, having been conquered by him during the early part of his reign. The manners and customs of the people of the two provinces are much like those of Uganda; they live principally by cultivating the banana and other edible things of the tropics, and in the chase of the lion and elephant they display a good deal of courage. They are usually hospitable to strangers; but their chiefs are apt to exact a heavy tribute, in one way and another, from all who pass through their territory.

Speke found the King of Karagwe very obliging. Other travelers have spoken well of the country, which they describe as an upland region, diversified with dense forests and open plains, the latter covered with tall grass, and giving promise of great fertility. The natives have large herds of cattle, sheep, and goats; the cattle are said to be of a superior breed, and their horns grow to an unusual size. A cow's horn was given to Speke that proved to be three feet five inches long, and nearly nineteen inches in circumference at the base.

Stanley describes Rumanika, King of Karagwe, as a finely-formed man, at least six feet six inches in height, as the top of the explorer's head when they walked side by side only reached to the king's shoulders. His face was long, with a nose of Roman shape, and his profile was decidedly of a refined type. He was fond of receiving strangers, and desirous of supplying all the information they desired. He told Stanley of a people of only two feet in height dwelling in the region west of Karagwe. "They tried to coax one of them to come and see me," said the king, "but the journey was long, and he died on the way."
The 'Lady Alice' in Sections

From the mouth of the Kagera River, our friends continued their voyage along the coast, halting at islands, or at villages on the mainland, whenever it was necessary to rest the men or purchase provisions. Frank wanted to visit Alice Island, which Stanley made famous, but Doctor Bronson said it was too far out of their track. Alice Island is about thirty miles from the coast, and directly opposite the large village of Makongo, and its inhabitants are fishermen.

Fred asked why it was called "Alice" Island.

"Don't you remember," said Frank, "that it was so named by Stanley in honor of his boat, the Lady Alice?"

"Certainly I do," was the reply, "but for the moment I had forgotten it. Wouldn't it be nice if we had a boat like the Lady Alice for navigating the lake?"

"Of course, it would," responded Frank; "but we haven't anything of the kind, and are getting along very well with the boats of King M'tesa."

"The Lady Alice," he continued, "was an invention of Stanley, and served his purpose admirably. She was forty feet long, six feet beam, and thirty inches deep, built of Spanish cedar, three-eighths of an inch in thickness. When finished she was separated into five sections, each of them eight feet long, so that she could be carried by porters from the coast to Lake Victoria, and from one lake to another. Stanley launched the Lady Alice on Lake Victoria, which he circumnavigated. Afterward he made a similar voyage around Lake Tanganyika; and in the same boat he descended a portion of the Congo, or Livingstone, until he was compelled to abandon her on reaching the great falls of that river."

"I remember now," said Fred, "that he went from Alice Island to Bumbireh, where he had a fight with the natives, and came near losing his life. That must be Bumbireh right ahead of us, I suppose?"

"Yes," answered the Doctor, to whom the remark was partially addressed, "that is Bumbireh; but we will not land there, and run the risk of a reception similar to that of Stanley. We will pass along the channel between the large island and the mainland, and what we see of Bumbireh will be from our places in the boat."
Native Village on the Gold Coast (Ghana)

They moved steadily down the channel, and the boys made note of the fact that the island was fifteen or twenty miles long, and that the greater part of it was densely wooded. Near the water there was a strip of beach, sometimes broken by shelving rocks. Where the beach was sandy canoes were frequently visible, the most of them drawn up quite high and dry out of the water. Groups of natives came down to gaze upon the passing flotilla, and at one point there was a movement which indicated a possibility of hostilities. Several natives ran wildly up and down the sands, gesticulating violently, and evidently calling others to come out from the huts in the forest and make ready for a fight. Two or three canoes were pushed into the water, but nobody ventured to attack the flotilla. The islanders were doubtless restrained by motives of prudence, as they could easily see the foreigners in the boats, and they were well aware that the foreigners' weapons are not to be despised.

After passing Bumbireh the expedition halted on a small island which was without inhabitants; but our friends were able to purchase all the fish they wanted from some boats which they encountered in the vicinity. They were now at the southern end of the Nyanza, and another day's run carried them to M'salala, which was at the end of a narrow gulf extending inland several miles, and was the limit of their boat journey.

We will leave our friends to get on shore, discharge the boats, and start them on their return to M'tesa, while we repeat some of their conversation during the voyage.

While they were returning from Ripon Falls to Rubaga, Doctor Bronson told Fred he would like to have him read up the description of the West Coast of Africa on the first opportunity, and be able to give a brief account of it during their southward voyage. The halt at Usavara gave him the needed time, which he improved to advantage. They were not provided with a large number of books on that part of the country, but, fortunately, there were enough for his purpose.

"The West Coast of Africa," said he, "is properly comprised between the Desert of Sahara and the Atlantic Ocean, the latter being about latitude 19° south. There are three divisions of this region, known as Senegambia, Upper Guinea, and Lower Guinea, and each of them comprises several native states, and nearly as many European possessions."

"You can read all that in an encyclopedia or any good geography," said Frank, with a slight laugh.

"Of course, you can," retorted Fred; "but if you don't happen to have read it, and no one has told you, it is pretty certain to be news to you."

Frank admitted the correctness of Fred's statement and the story was continued.
Cape Coast Castle

"The English have a settlement at Bathurst, on the Gambia River, and there are other small settlements near it. There is another settlement, called Sierra Leone, on a peninsula eighteen miles long by twelve in width. The Danes and Dutch formerly had settlements along the coast, but they ceded them to England, the former in 1850, and the latter in 1872. The Spaniards once held quite an extent of coast, but at present their only possession is the island of Fernando Po, which they use as a convict station.

"The Portuguese still have control of a large extent of country—at least, nominally—and they have several small ports where they do quite a trade in palm oil, india rubber, ivory, gold, and other products of Africa. They formerly dealt in slaves, but have followed the fashion of England and abolished the slave trade—at least, in name. But a great deal of the traffic is kept up at the present time, the slaves being taken south from interior stations in the Portuguese possessions and sold to the Kaffirs, instead of being brought to the coast.

"The English and French are now the only great nations with settlements of any consequence in Western Africa. The principal stations of the French are at Assinee, on the Gold Coast (Ghana), and at Gabon, on the river of the same name. In the northwest they have settlements on the Senegal River, where they have spent a great deal of money and wasted the lives of many Frenchmen without much advantage. Quite recently they have made an effort to establish a colony on the Livingstone, by supporting an Italian adventurer named De Brazza, who claims to have secured a grant of territory from a native chief.

"The foreign settlements are chiefly for purposes of trade; and as they have been placed there in most instances against the will of the natives, and are liable at any time to be assaulted, they are generally protected by fortifications. One of the strongest of these is Cape Coast Castle. The English settled there more than two hundred years ago, and established themselves on a rocky point, where they were quite safe from the natives, and could make good resistance to a European foe. The Dutch had a fortress called Elmina only a short distance from Cape Coast Castle, and sometimes the garrisons were not on friendly terms, owing to the different policies pursued by the English and Dutch."
Monrovia, Liberia

"But you haven't said anything about Liberia," said Frank. "You know that in the United States we have heard a great deal about Liberia, which was settled by Africans liberated from slavery in our country and other parts of America."

"I'm coming to that," replied Fred. "The first settlement of the kind was Sierra Leone, which was founded in 1787, with a colony of five hundred destitute Africans sent from London by some charitable people who wanted to help them along. A few years later one thousand liberated slaves from Nova Scotia were sent there, and in succeeding years there was an immigration of several thousand people from the West Indies. When the British cruisers began to capture slave ships, they took all the captives to Sierra Leone and set them free. That's the way the colony was peopled, and it now has about forty thousand inhabitants, of whom only a little more than a hundred are Europeans. It has schools, churches, a theological college, and other educational institutions."

Frank asked what was the religion of the people of Sierra Leone.

"There is a bishop of the Church of England," replied Fred, "and there are nearly a hundred ordained ministers, but they have not been very successful in converting the Africans. The most of the inhabitants are Muslims, and it has been found much easier to convert them to Islam than to Christianity.

"Now for Liberia," he continued. "The first settlement in the republic was made in 1820 by the American Colonization Society, which sent some emancipated slaves there. A 'declaration of independence' was made in 1847, and the Republic of Liberia was organized much after the form of the United States. The President holds office four years, the same as with us; there is a regular staff of cabinet officers, and a Senate and House of Representatives. The country extends about six hundred miles along the coast, and has a population of seven hundred and twenty thousand. Seven hundred thousand of them are aborigines, and the rest are Africans from the United States, and their descendants.
Freetown, Sierra Leone

"Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, contains about thirteen thousand inhabitants, and has schools, colleges, churches, and the like, similar to Sierra Leone. The colony has been fairly prosperous, and the republic has made treaties of commerce with the principal nations of Europe and America. If you want to know more about it there are several books which give its history in detail."

Frank said he had heard quite as much as he was likely to remember, and with this remark the lesson on the history of the colonies of Sierra Leone and Liberia came to an end.

The Doctor asked Fred what he had learned relative to the healthiness of the African coast, or rather of that part of it which was under discussion.

"As to that," replied Fred, "there is no healthiness at all for the foreigner, but, 'on the contrary, quite the reverse.' From February to December, 1871, of the ninety-eight European residents at Freetown, in Sierra Leone, twenty-four died, and in other years the mortality has been in nearly the same proportion. Other points along the coast are pretty nearly as fatal to the foreign visitor, and also to the native born and reared in temperate climates. Strangers soon after their arrival are attacked with a fever which seems to be caused by the malarious environment. The fever shows itself by loss of appetite, pains in the back, severe and long-continued headache, together with gastric troubles that develop into bilious remittent fever. Sometimes it yields to medical treatment, but more frequently it develops into the dreaded malarious fever, which is marked by intense headache and delirium. In this stage it is frequently fatal. The native who escapes can consider himself acclimated; but the foreigner is liable to a return of the disease, as the first attack does not secure him against subsequent ones."

"A very good lecture on the fever," said the Doctor. "I don't think you are likely to encourage emigration in the direction of the Gold Coast."

Fred bowed his acknowledgment of the Doctor's compliment, and said the more he read and heard of the West Coast of Africa, the less was his desire to go there, even for a very brief visit.
A Street in Kumasi

"Now I'll tell you about Ashanti," he continued. "I've been reading about it in Stanley's 'Kumasi and Magdala,' and other books, and am ready to set up as an authority on the subject."

Frank nodded his readiness to hear about the land of King Coffee, the ruler who fought British government in 1874, and who held out until his capital was burned, after the defeat of his army and his narrow escape from capture.

"Ashanti," said Fred, "is a kingdom whose boundaries are not very well defined; it has a population estimated at not less than three million.

"The king has the power of life and death over all his subjects; he is the owner of a great part of the country, and is regarded as the natural heir of everybody. When a subject dies the king takes everything he wants, and leaves the rest to the dead man's relatives. He usually shows his generosity by taking whatever unwrought gold there may happen to be on the estate, and relinquishes his claims to ornaments, furniture, and other effects. He collects a tax of twenty percent on all gold manufactured in the country, and in addition to this he has a large revenue from the mines where the precious metal is obtained."

"The king evidently has a nice time of it," said Frank; "and if ever the choice of a throne is offered to me I'll keep Ashanti in mind."
A Village in Ashanti

"Perhaps you won't care for it so much," Fred answered, "when I tell you that the king is in constant fear of his life, as he never knows what plots may be formed for his assassination. Existing only by tyranny, he is subject to the same rule as other tyrants, and is liable to be overthrown at any moment.

"The two great institutions of Ashanti are slavery and polygamy. Some rich men own a thousand slaves each, and the king has many thousands of them at his command. In the matter of marriage he is under restrictions, as he is only permitted to have three thousand three hundred and thirty-three wives. No doubt he would like to have more, but the custom of the country forbids him to do so."

Frank wanted to know if the king went out to walk often, and took his family along.

"Probably not," replied Fred, "as the wives of the king are really laborers on his plantations, or at least the most of them are. During the working season they are scattered where their work is needed, but at other times they occupy two streets in the capital city, where they are secluded from the gaze of all except the king and his female slaves. Any man who looks upon one of them even by accident must suffer death.

"Until the slave trade was suppressed on the coast of Western Africa, Ashanti had a thriving business in selling prisoners of war or disposing of its surplus population, but of late years this commerce has been cut off, and the country has been restricted to dealings in gold and other products of the land. It is separated from the coast by the country of the Fante people, who are hostile to the Ashantis, and frequently at war with them. On two occasions, when the English have supported the Fante people in hostilities against the Ashantis, the latter have marched large armies to the coast and threatened the safety of Cape Coast Castle and Elmina. Once they actually compelled the British governor to make terms of peace, and in 1824 they defeated a British army, and killed the commander and nearly all his officers.
Burning on Kumasi

"Things went on in a very unsatisfactory way until 1873, when the Dutch fort of Elmina and the surrounding possessions were ceded to the English. The Dutch had paid the King of Ashanti a tribute of £500 a year, which the English discontinued. Thereupon the king sent an army to collect it, but he was defeated, though not driven back. In 1874 Sir Garnet Wolseley was sent there with two thousand English troops. To these he added a large force of Fante people, with which he invaded Ashanti and burned Kumasi, its capital city. Two severe battles were fought, and in the second of them the king commanded in person, and only retreated after a fight of six hours.

"This is the famous 'Ashanti war' of which we read a few years ago. The treaty of peace which followed the burning of Kumasi required the king to pay an indemnity of fifty thousand ounces of gold, keep a road open to the coast, and abolish human sacrifices."

"I have read about these sacrifices," said Frank. "It is stated somewhere that at least a thousand slaves were sacrificed every year, in a certain grove near the king's palace at Kumasi."

"That is the case," replied Doctor Bronson, "and the worst of the story is not told. It was the custom, on occasions of festivity or mourning—in fact, on every affair of publicity—to kill a certain number of victims. If slaves were convenient they were selected to be offered up; but it often happened that the immediate attendants of the king were taken at an instant's notice. A traveler tells that one day two messengers came to inform the king of the discovery of a new gold mine, and brought samples of the gold produced by it.

"The king looked at the gold with evident pleasure, and then ordered a sacrifice in honor of the discovery. The most convenient victims were the two messengers. They were immediately seized and taken to the sacrificial grove, where they were given to the Ashanti divinities, with the customary ceremonies."
View of Elmina, on the Gold Coast (Ghana)

"What a horrid custom!" exclaimed Frank. "Have they ever sent Christian missionaries among the people?"

"They have done so," was the reply, "but with very poor success. Some Ashantis have become Christians, but only a very few, and the missionaries have become discouraged. Quite lately there have been reports that Muslim missionaries have come from Central Africa and attempted to convert the Ashantis to their faith. They are said to be meeting with good success."

"I suppose," said Frank, "that the gold from this part of Africa is the 'Guinea gold' which we often read about?"

"Quite right," was the reply. "Guinea gold was known in Europe long before gold from America, and the golden guineas of England were made from it. No guineas are coined now, and the piece of twenty-one shillings is not in circulation. London tradesmen, especially when dealing with foreigners, like to reckon prices in guineas, as they can thereby add five per cent. to their figures, since the stranger does not always mark the difference between guineas and sovereigns."

The arrival of the boat at the point where the camp was to be made for the night brought the conversation to an end.

    The Boy Travelers - Africa by Thomas W. Knox Boy Travelers-Africa by Thomas W. Knox    

Chapter 29: The Kagera River. The West Coast of Africa.


Study the chapter for one week.

Over the week:

  • Read and/or listen to the chapter.
  • Review the vocabulary terms.
  • Complete the enrichment activities.


Alluvial: Pertaining to the soil deposited by a stream.
Effluent: A stream that flows out, such as from a lake or reservoir.
Gold Coast: A former British colony in Africa, consisting of what is now Ghana.
Despotism: Government by a singular authority, either a single person or tight-knit group, which rules with absolute power, especially in a cruel and oppressive way.
£: Symbol for pound sterling, the currency of the United Kingdom.
Shilling: A coin formerly used in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Malta, Australia, New Zealand and many other Commonwealth countries.


Activity 1: Narrate the Chapter

  • Narrate the events aloud in your own words.

Activity 2: Study the Chapter Pictures

  • Study the chapter pictures and describe how each relates to the story.

Activity 3: Observe the Modern Equivalent

  • Examine the chapter setting in modern times: An enormous Nile perch (Lates niloticus) caught in Lake Victoria.

Activity 4: Map the Chapter

Find the following on the map of Africa:

  • The eastern countries of Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Burundi, and Tanzania
  • Lake Victoria (unlabeled)
  • The western countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia
  • Find the countries of Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Burundi, and Tanzania on the map of Tanzania.
  • Find the location where the Kagera River empties into Lake Victoria at the border of Uganda and Tanzania.

Activity 5: Map the Chapter on a Globe

  • Repeat the applicable mapwork from Activity 4 on a three-dimensional globe.


  1. 'Picture of Lates niloticus by smudger888 (CC BY 2.0).' Wikipedia. n.p.