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

Chapter 6: Arrival at Fashoda (Kodok). Explorers of the Nile.

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A Bird of the White Nile

On the second day from Khartoum, Doctor Bronson told the boys they were in the country of the Shilluks. The natural inquiry that followed this announcement was, "Who are the Shilluks?"

"They are a large tribe of Africans, living along the White Nile," replied the Doctor, "and are thought to number nearly, if not quite, three million. For more than two hundred miles their villages are scattered along the river, forming an almost continuous line. They live partly by hunting and fishing, and formerly they made quite a revenue by selling slaves to the dealers who came from Khartoum and other parts of Egypt.

"They made war upon neighboring tribes farther back from the river, and sold their prisoners into slavery; and sometimes they sold their own people. It was not unusual for a Shilluk to sell his own children when a good price was offered, especially if his family was large and his affairs were not prosperous."

Frank asked if they could land among the Shilluks and see how they lived. Doctor Bronson said it was not altogether safe to go among them, as they have been badly treated by the Turks and Egyptians, and are not especially friendly.

As the Doctor was speaking, the steamer rounded the point of an island, and the dragoman called their attention to a number of conical huts of grass among the low trees near the shore. "That is a Shilluk village," said Abdul, "and several of the inhabitants are standing by the edge of the river."

The boys ran below for their glasses, and were back again in a few moments. They made out the Shilluk inhabitants to be tall, well-formed men, most of them fully six feet in height, and entirely without clothing, with the exception of two, who had strips of cloth around their waists. Abdul said the full dress of the Shilluks was a waist cloth and a string of beads, but they were not always particular about arraying themselves.

Back of the village was a field of cotton and another of beans, and there was every indication that the Shilluks had a fertile soil to cultivate. Abdul said their products were the same as near Khartoum, but they had very few fruit trees, and their gardens were not carefully tilled.
An Ambatch Canoe

The steamer stopped near one of the villages to take wood, and after a consultation with the captain Abdul said the boys could go on shore, but must not wander from the immediate vicinity of the boat. The Shilluks are apt to be defensive, and sometimes a lance or an arrow is sent from the bushes when there is nothing to indicate the presence of danger. When kindly treated, their confidence is easily secured, but they have been subject to so much ill-usage at the hands of the slave dealers that it is no wonder they are suspicious.

They are said to be honest in their dealings, though excellent hands at a bargain, and as ready to tell a deliberate falsehood as the most accomplished shopkeeper in London or New York. They have no manufactures, and the articles most in demand among them are cheap cotton cloths and pieces of iron, from which they make the heads of their spears. As the steamboat neared the landing, several natives paddled out to meet it, and the boys were much interested in the rafts, which the Shilluks manage with a great deal of skill.

"Those rafts are made from the ambatch plant," said Abdul. "It is a reed like the bamboo, with hollow spaces between the joints, and is very light and strong. The ambatch narrows toward the top, and to make a raft of the plants all that is necessary is to fasten a couple of dozen of them together at the ends and turn the smaller extremity upward.

"The ambatch raft or canoe," he continued, "is in use all along the White Nile, and it would be difficult to find a more serviceable craft. It cannot be sunk, and if a man balances himself properly there is little danger of an upset."

"They are useful in war as well as in peace," remarked Doctor Bronson, who was listening to the conversation. "Dr. Schweinfurth, in the account of his travels in Africa, tells how he was pursued by a whole fleet of Shilluk canoes, and had a very narrow escape. He said not less than three thousand canoes were in motion along the river and pursuing the boat on which he was traveling.

"The wind left them while the canoes were approaching, and for a while his position was very critical. Only the previous year five boats, coming down the river on their way to Khartoum, had stopped at the village they were passing and endeavored to buy some provisions. The natives brought fowls, honey, and other things to sell, and while the negotiations were going on a large fleet of canoes suddenly came around the point of land and attacked the strangers.
Adventure on the Nile

"The captain of one boat and a sailor from another managed to escape by jumping into the river and swimming to a place of concealment among the reeds. The rest of the party, some eighty in all, were killed, and the vessels were plundered and burned.

"Of course, this incident was fresh in the mind of Dr. Schweinfurth, and you can imagine his despair when the wind ceased while the canoes were approaching. But 'all's well that ends well:' the wind suddenly blew again, their sail was unfurled, and they were carried out of danger in a little while. The disappointed Shilluks returned to the shore, and nothing more was seen of them.

"Bayard Taylor visited the Shilluks in his journey here in 1852," the Doctor continued. "He came from Khartoum, with a single boat, manned by half a dozen sailors, and accompanied only by his dragoman. The only arms he carried was an old pistol, and he was represented by the captain of the boat to be a son of the Sultan of Turkey, who had come on a peaceful visit to the chief of the Shilluks."

Frank asked if he was kindly received by them.

"They were very wary at first," said Doctor Bronson, "and came down to the riverbank armed with spears and clubs. After some parley their chief stepped forward and asked if he wanted to fight. Mr. Taylor declared he was anxious for peace, and for that reason had come on shore without arms. The chief was not assured of his good intentions for some time, and there was an angry controversy among the men, which threatened for a while to result in open hostility; but nothing of the kind was attempted. Mr. Taylor stayed a couple of hours on shore, and just as the Shilluks began to show a familiarity bordering on insolence he suddenly returned to his boat and steered down the river the way he had come."

"Then this was the southern limit of his journey, was it not?" Fred asked.

"Yes; he came to the island of Aba, which lies about latitude 12° north, or two hundred and fifty miles from Khartoum. He was very anxious to push on to the south, but his contract with the owner of the boat was only for a journey to this island. At that time the highest point on the Nile to which any Europeans had ascended was about latitude 4° north, or four hundred and eighty miles beyond the island of Aba. Nothing was known about the sources of the Nile, and the general impression among geographers was that the river rose at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, in the third degree of south latitude. Some geographers had thought it possible that the Nile flowed from Lake N'yassi, but the idea was generally rejected. 'Since Columbus first looked upon San Salvador,' wrote Mr. Taylor in his journal, 'the earth has but one emotion of triumph left in her bestowal, and that she reserves for him who shall first drink from the fountains of the White Nile, under the snow fields of Kilimanjaro.'"
Speke and Grant in Central Africa

"What great progress has been made since Mr. Taylor's time in the exploration of Africa!" Frank exclaimed, as the Doctor finished his last remark.

"Yes," was the reply, "the progress in the last half of the nineteenth century has been greater than in the preceding twenty centuries. From the days of Herodotus—two thousand years ago—till within the present generation exploration of the valley of the Nile had accomplished very little. Syene, at the first Cataract of the Nile, was a city in the days of the ancient dynasties of Egypt. Three thousand years ago, the kingdoms of Ethiopia flourished, and their rulers had a prominent place in history. Time and time again men sought in vain to solve the mystery of the source of the Nile, and it was reserved for men of our day to make the great discovery."

One of the boys asked to whom the honor belonged of ascertaining the source of the Nile.

"That question is a conundrum," replied the Doctor, with a smile, "and a conundrum that needs an explanation before answering. The honor belongs to several explorers, and not to one alone. Each has made discoveries peculiarly his own, and these discoveries have supplemented the work of the rest.

"As I have before told you, it was long supposed that the Blue Nile was the parent stream, and its sources were ascertained by James Bruce. The error of this belief was set forth after the death of Bruce, as the White Nile was found to be of greater volume than the Blue, and was explored to a point more distant from the junction of the two streams than were the springs of the Blue Nile. Mohammed Ali sent three expeditions to find the sources of the White Nile, but they failed in their efforts. Private expeditions were sent every few years, but with the same results. The heat, the fevers, the hostility of the natives, the difficulty of penetrating marshes and tropical forests, all conspired to frustrate their efforts. The first expedition of Mohammed Ali reached latitude 6° 30' north; the second went to 4° 42' north; and the third stopped at about 5° north. Dr. Knoblecher, in 1849, went to 4° 10' north, which was farther than anyone else had gone. Miani, an Italian traveler, went to a point about 3° 32' north, and about the same time Dr. Schweinfurth explored the Bahr-el-Gazal, one of the tributaries of the White Nile, in the expectation that it might turn out to be the main stream. Miss Tinné, a Dutch lady, also explored that river, and spent more than a year in its valley."

"What!" exclaimed one of the youths, "a lady going on an expedition in Africa! She must have been fond of adventure. Who was she?"

"Miss Tinné was born in 1835, and was the daughter of a baroness, who had a large fortune. She was fond of travel, and in 1861 went to Cairo with her mother. She was so enamored of the East that she determined to remain there, and announced to her friends that she should not return to Europe to live. In 1862 she started from Khartoum with a steamboat, several sailing boats, a large party of attendants, and so many beasts of burden of various kinds that the natives everywhere believed she was the daughter of the Sultan of Turkey. The only Europeans of her party were Dr. Steudner and Baron von Henglin, and also her mother. The latter died of fever, and so did Dr. Steudner, before the return to Khartoum, which occupied some fourteen months after the departure of the expedition.
Group of Gani Men

"Miss Tinné on this journey explored the Bahr-el-Gazal, and made a great many notes and observations, which have been very useful to those who followed her. She had previously visited the White Nile as far as Gondokoro, and altogether she passed nearly three years in the work of exploration. In 1869 she organized an expedition at Tripoli, intending to pass through Moorzook and Borneo, and reach the Nile by way of Kordofan, a route which up to that time had never been followed by a European. She had fifty attendants and seventy camels on this expedition, and her only European companions were two Dutch sailors. From Moorzook she went on a side journey to the country of the Tuaregs, and was murdered by her escort. The sailors who accompanied her were also murdered, and her native attendants were sold into slavery.

"Let us return to the exploration of the White Nile," said Doctor Bronson. "While these discoverers were at work from the north others were approaching the Nile from the south, and it was from that direction the great secret was revealed. In 1856 Captains Speke and Burton, of the British army, started from Zanzibar for a journey into Africa, and on the 30th of July, 1858, Captain Speke discovered Lake Victoria.

"Nyanza is a native word, meaning lake, and, reduced to English, the body of water discovered by Speke may be called the Victoria Lake of Africa. Captain Speke was alone at the time of the discovery, his companion Burton being engaged in an exploration farther to the south. Speke was of the opinion that the lake he had found was the source of the Nile, but was unable to find its outlet, and so demonstrate the correctness of his theory.

"In 1862 he revisited the lake, accompanied by Captain J. W. Grant, and this time he explored its northern part and found its outlet. A large river flowed northward from the lake, and at its head was a cataract, to which the explorer gave the name of Ripon Falls. The stream is now known on the maps as the Victoria Nile, or Somerset River, and may be considered the beginning of the great river of Egypt."

"Then the Nile has its beginning at the outlet of Lake Victoria?" said one of the boys.

"Not exactly," was the reply. "The Somerset River, or Victoria Nile, flows northward into another lake, Lake Albert, discovered in 1864 by Sir Samuel W. Baker. Lake Albert is smaller than Lake Victoria, and its outlet is the White Nile, on which we are now traveling.
Karuma Falls, the Victoria Nile (Somerset River)

"You know what the showman said when the little girl asked which were the monkeys and which the hyenas?"

"Yes," said Frank: "'Whichever you please, my dear. You pays your money, and you takes your choice.'"

"It is somewhat that way with the origin of the Nile," answered the Doctor. "If Lake Victoria is the source of the great river, you can give the credit of its discovery to Captain Speke; and if the outlet of the lake is technically the head of the river, the honor is divided between Speke and Grant. If Lake Albert, and not the Victoria, is the source of the Nile—since the Bahr-el-Abiad, or White Nile, issues from it—then you must set Speke and Grant aside and award the palm of merit to Sir Samuel Baker."

"But how about the rivers that flow into Lake Victoria?" said Fred. "There must be several effluents of the lake, and the largest and longest of them might be called the true source of the Nile."

"That is a matter which is not yet fully determined," was the reply. "Stanley circumnavigated Lake Victoria in 1875, and found several streams flowing into it; but, as they have not all been traced to their sources, we cannot say with exactness which is the longest. Until this point is settled there will be a question in the minds of some very exact people as to the source of the Nile, but for all practical purposes the matter is determined already. To my way of thinking Lake Victoria is the source of the Nile; and it is hardly worth our while to consider the streams that feed it, unless one of them should be found to be larger than all the others, as in the case of the Somerset River, flowing into Lake Albert.

"There is another lake, called Tanganyika, which lies south of Lake Victoria, and was discovered by Burton and Speke in February, 1858. It was supposed that this lake discharged into Lake Victoria, and this supposition was sustained by Dr. Livingstone against the opinions of other geographers. It is known that the level of Tanganyika is lower than the Victoria and Albert lakes, and therefore it cannot be the source of the Nile."
View of Fashoda (Kodok)

The conversation came to an end as the plank was put to the shore, and the party stepped from the boat in the country of the Shilluks.

The natives straggled slowly to the landing place, but were evidently averse to an intimate acquaintance with the strangers. The majority were in the same airy costume that the boys had observed through their glasses, but some of them had added a veneering made of a paste of ashes mixed with water. This did not enhance their beauty; but as it was a fashion among them, and they evidently considered it correct, the strangers had no business to object. A few had rubbed their faces and necks with red ashes, which gave a ferocious tinge to their countenances, and was evidently regarded as an indication of bravery.

Nearly every one wore an armlet of metal or untanned leather above the elbow, and the most of the crowd were armed with spears. Some had strings of beads around their necks, and one, who seemed to have authority, was decorated with beads larger than those of his companions.

The boys endeavored to make a trade for some of the arm rings and spearheads, but did not meet with much success. The natives refused to part with their spears, and the Doctor said that they probably had a superstition about selling their weapons, believing that by so doing they would bring misfortune upon themselves and their tribes. After some bickering, however, Frank secured an arm ring of metal, while Fred bought one made of elephant-hide. The price in each case was a string of small beads, but the offers were refused half a dozen times before they were accepted. Trade is a slow business among people to whom time has no value.

The whistle of the steamer brought the negotiations to an end, and in a few minutes the boat was under way again. Nothing of moment occurred from this point to Fashoda, the first military post above Khartoum, and the station of a mudir, or provincial governor. It is situated on a bluff sloping gently from the river. The Egyptian portion is surrounded by a mud wall, and contains comfortable barracks for the officers and soldiers. There is a Shilluk village just outside, the conical huts forming a marked contrast to the flat roofs of the substantial buildings erected by the government.

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

Chapter 6: Arrival at Fashoda (Kodok). Explorers of the Nile.


Study the chapter for one week.

Over the week:

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


Conical: Of or relating to a cone, a solid of revolution formed by rotating a triangle around one of its altitudes.
Cultivate: To grow plants, notably crops.
Lance: A weapon of war, consisting of a long shaft or handle and a steel blade or head.
Plunder: To pillage, take or destroy all the goods of, by force (as in war); to raid.
Parley: A conference, especially one between enemies.
Arms: Weapons.
Sultan: A hereditary ruler in various Muslim states.
Nyanza: The word for lake in the Bantu language.
Lake Victoria: The largest lake in Africa, with shoreline in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.


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: the capital city of South Sudan, Juba.

Activity 4: Map the Chapter

Find the countries of Sudan and South Sudan on the map of the world.

Zoom in to find the following on the map of South Sudan:

  • The White Nile
  • The capital city of Juba
  • Name aloud the countries bordering South Sudan.

Activity 5: Map the Chapter on a Globe

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