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Hearts of Darkness: The European Exploration of Africa.

After his studies in depth of Stanley and Burton, Mr. McLynn now takes us for a general canter through 19th century exploration of Africa. Not a great deal of fact is added for the author is more concerned with the medical and psychological aspects of a rather disagreeable set of characters. Whether they were already abnormal or whether the horrors of Africa (and especially psychologically affective illness like malaria) sent them over the edge is debatable. There was certainly a high proportion of early and violent death, jealousies and the total inability of these loners to relate to their fellow travellers, black or white. To us, African exploration is British dominated, yet something might be learnt from the characters and tribulations of our fellow European such as Nachtigal, the doyen of German exploration, Karl Peters, Brazza and Rene Caillie.

McLynn devotes a chapter to the 'dark companions', the "wangwana' without whom the Europeans could not have succeeded. Maybe more than one short sentence of acknowledgement is due to Donald Simpson's pioneer classic, Dark Companions (1975). More explorers might have survived if they had taken local advice, but they perished like those Australian explorers who so patently ignored aboriginal lore of survival. It must have seemed odd to Africans to see these unsuitably clad Europeans portering so much peculiar gear (including cats to act as a barometric gauge). Though it must be admitted that payment of 'hongo' (tribute for transport through tribal areas) came heavy. It might be profitable to enter into a study of African psychology but Mr. McLynn thinks we lack data even for famous companions like Bombay, Susi and Chuma. It is hard enough for us to understand the psychology of their master Livingstone who could make totally politically incorrect statements: 'We come as members of a superior race and servants of a God that desires to elevate the more degraded portions of the human family'.

Mr. McLynn is not out to politicise the Victorian explorer, but he stirs some muddy psychological waters when mulling over the oddness of the male psyche when let loose in Africa -- a fascinating if not lucid read.
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Author:Mortimer, Molly
Publication:Contemporary Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Previous Article:Inside the Foreign Office.
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