Mary Henrietta Kingsley (1862-1900) was an English writer and explorer who greatly influenced European ideas about Africa and African people. Kingsley was born in Islington, London on October 14, 1862. She was the daughter and oldest child of traveler and writer George Kingsley and Mary Bailey, and was the niece of novelists Charles Kingsley and Henry Kingsley. After the death of her parents, Mary determined to follow in the footsteps of her father as a traveler and finish one of the books he had started. Mary landed in Sierra Leone on August 17, 1893 and pressed on into Luanda in Angola . She lived with local people who taught her necessary skills for surviving in the African jungles, and often went into dangerous areas alone. Her training as a nurse at the Kaiserworth Medical Institute prepared her for slight injuries and jungle maladies that she would later encounter. Mary returned to England in December 1897. Upon her return, Mary secured support and aid from Dr. Albert Gunther, a prominent zoologist at the British Museum, as well as a writing agreement with publisher George Macmillan for she wished to publish her travel accounts. She returned to Africa yet again in December 1894 with more support and supplies, as well as increased self assurance in her work. She longed to study cannibal tribes and their traditional religious practices, commonly referred to as fetish during the Victorian Era. In April she became acquainted with Scottish missionary Mary Slessor, another female living amongst the natives with little company and no husband. Later while in Gabon, Mary Kingsley travelled by canoe up the Ogooué River where she collected specimens of previously unknown fish, three which were later named after her. After meeting the Fang tribe and traveling through uncharted Fang territory, she climbed the daring 13,760 ft Mount Cameroon by a route previously unattempted by any other European.
Travels in West Africa: An Adventure Classicby Mary H. Kingsley
Mary Kingsley's "Travels in West Africa" has become a classic, and deservedly so. Her story is remarkable. In the 1890s, unmarried and no longer having to care for her parents, Kingsley decides she should travel in "the tropics" and sets off for "West Africa" (i.e., the West coast of Central Africa). She travels as a scientist, collecting fish specimens, and… See more details below
Mary Kingsley's "Travels in West Africa" has become a classic, and deservedly so. Her story is remarkable. In the 1890s, unmarried and no longer having to care for her parents, Kingsley decides she should travel in "the tropics" and sets off for "West Africa" (i.e., the West coast of Central Africa). She travels as a scientist, collecting fish specimens, and finances her travels by trading along the waybut mostly she travels for the love of adventure and to satisfy an appetite for the unknown. "Travels in West Africa" is a treasure trove of information about Atlantic-coast Central Africa in the late 1800s. The last third of "Travels in West Africa" consists of three long chapters on fetish customs. Although she lacks a systematic view of the role of fetishes and other spiritual tokens in the cultures she met, her depiction of their impact on everyday life and on funeral customs is enlightening. She delves into the afterlife beliefs of the peoples she encountered; in many of these cultures today, the beliefs she relates are still expressed in a form of syncretistic Christianity. But beyond its historic and sociological value, the book is just wonderful. Mary Kingsley's descriptions are vivid, her insights interesting, and her understated humor is a joy. Anyone with a love of exploration and a good story would enjoy "Travels in West Africa." Mary Kingsley's account of her experiences, suffused with an infectious good humor, was published to immediate success in 1897 and remains a compelling tale of adventure.
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