A quote from John Hanning Speke, written in a book by him about his travel and exploration of the dark continent during the Victorian era, that culminated in his ‘discovery’ of the source of the River Nile, caught my eye:
‘As his fathers ever did, so does he. He works his wife, sells his children, enslaves all he can lay hands upon, and, unless when fighting for the property of others, contents himself with drinking, singing, and dancing like a baboon to drive dull care away. A few only make cotton cloth, or work in wood, iron, copper, or salt; their rule being to do as little as possible, and to store up nothing beyond the necessities of the next season, lest their chiefs or neighbours should covet and take it’.
Now like many parts of east Africa, This Victorian explorer is celebrated in History and is actually viewed with some fondness. He has roads named after him as well as two posh hotels. But after reading excerpts from his book it makes me wonder how he could have got away from it for so long. And the simple truth is that we do not read too deeply about our history, especially the colonial one.
In fact it was only after I read ‘the lunatic express’ that for the first time I really had a proper picture about how the modern states of east Africa were formed. It is a must read for all of us and one will then realize how sanitized the history we read in school really is. In fact, if I remember correctly, we only study Ugandan history in primary school and there is no time or mental capacity for serious detail.
Hence a racist Victorian explorer can get by for 150 years being feted and admired by the same people he despised so much.