Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Labyrinth of Kingdoms

A Labyrinth of Kingdoms by Steve Kemper
(The story of Heinrich Barth & his five-year expedition 1850-1855 through Central & West Africa before European Imperialism)

An amazing story of over 10,000 miles through Africa 160 years ago from Libya to Lake Chad and west to Timbuktu and back by Heinrich Barth.  Barth was a different kind of explorer than Livingston, Stanley, or Park because he was interested in learning about the people, their culture, and sought knowledge instead of conquest or expanding the European empire.  His books differed from theirs as he put the Africans first and not his own dramatized adventures.  The book is full of great descriptions of African societies and kingdoms before they were subjugated and many destroyed during the scramble for Africa.  Barth met with and shared scientific discussions with African scholars throughout the Sahel and not just in Timbuktu during his travels. Barth not only took made maps and made cultural notes but he also studied the languages, becoming conversant in many of them, and later publishing volumes on African languages. 

I wish I had learned about this book earlier as it destroys the many myths that Africa was a dark continent without any learning or civilization that needed to be tamed by Europeans. I hope I can find in print his original works published in the 1800s.

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