Wild Africa: Three Centuries of Nature Writing from Africa

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"The Sea at Mombasa is as blue as cornflower," wrote Isak Dinesen, "and, outside the inlet to the harbour, the long breakers of the Indian Ocean draw a thin crooked white line, and give out a low thunder even in the calmest weather." Vast, untamed, mysterious, and profoundly beautiful, Africa has always exerted a powerful sway over its Western admirers. And the dual nature of the Dark Continent reflected in Dinesen's lines--a paradise with a dark, forbidding undercurrent--has for three centuries inspired what ...
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Overview


"The Sea at Mombasa is as blue as cornflower," wrote Isak Dinesen, "and, outside the inlet to the harbour, the long breakers of the Indian Ocean draw a thin crooked white line, and give out a low thunder even in the calmest weather." Vast, untamed, mysterious, and profoundly beautiful, Africa has always exerted a powerful sway over its Western admirers. And the dual nature of the Dark Continent reflected in Dinesen's lines--a paradise with a dark, forbidding undercurrent--has for three centuries inspired what John A. Murray now reveals as a unique literary genre. In Wild Africa he combines a diverse sampling from this rich trove of African nature and travel writing with traditional myths and stories in fashioning a book that brings to life the spirit of the African wilderness.
In these pages the reader will share the experiences of the most intrepid adventurers as they endure the weather (as hot as 137 Farenheit in the Sahara), the dangerous animals (lions, crocodiles, and cobras), parasites (tapeworms, leeches), and nature's most potent arsenal of biological weaponry (cerebral malaria, sleeping sickness, dengue fever). The writings gathered in this book reflect not only these extremes of the land, but the extremes of human experience as well--or what Joseph Conrad described as the "joy, fear, sorrow, devotion, valour, rage" that is amplified in the wilds of Africa. Here we follow John Barrow on his 1797 search for the unicorn he believed could be found in South Africa; watch as Dr. David Livingstone is mauled by a lion prior to his discovery of Victoria Falls ("besides crunching the bone into splinters, he left eleven teeth wounds in the upper part of my arm"); and accompany Teddy Roosevelt on a 1909 safari in which 512 animals were killed for the Smithsonian's permanent collection.
The personalities we encounter are also unforgettable, from the formidable Scottish explorer Mungo Park, to the famed big-game hunter J.H. Patterson (whose fatal love triangle with Mr. and Mrs. Audley James Blyth was the basis for Hemingway's "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber"), to contemporary biologist Delia Owens (who protests the incursion into the Kalihari of would-be uranium miners). Murray seamlessly weaves these disparate voices into a passionate whole, a book which in the end becomes an eloquent plea for the further conservation of Africa's immense yet dwindling natural resources.
Above all, it is the beauty of Africa that intrigues us most, the majesty of the Nile, the exotic wildlife of the Serengeti Plain, the gorillas in the mists of Rwanda. Wild Africa is a rare delight.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
This is an interesting collection of writings about the African wilderness. While the editor English, Univ. of Alaska is no Africanist he refers to Mali, for example, as being in the northeastern interior, he has collected a broad sample of the writings of early European explorers and later travelers e.g., Richard Burton, Mark Twain, and Joseph Conrad. Women are included Isak Dinesen, for example as well as African folk tales and contemporary writings concerned with the threat to Africa's ecosystem. A rather eclectic bibliography is appended. Most readers should find this entertaining and informative reading. Recommended for general readers.-- Paul H. Thomas, Hoover Inst. Lib., Stanford, Cal.
School Library Journal
YA-This collection of short writings, mostly journal entries of Western explorers, gives a firsthand view of the continent over the past 300 years. The accounts describe the discovery of the Blue Nile's source, encounters with the slave trade, and exploring Mount Kilimanjaro. Masai proverbs and stories, as well as tales from the Zulu, Suk, and Ki-Mbundu are included. The book is not easy to read, but it does provide excellent primary-source material.-Heidi M. Steinhauer, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach, FL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195073775
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 5/13/1993
  • Pages: 356
  • Product dimensions: 6.50 (w) x 9.56 (h) x 1.24 (d)

Meet the Author

About the Editor:
John A. Murray is Assistant Professor of English at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and is also the editor of The Islands and the Sea: Five Centuries of Nature Writing from the Caribbean and A Republic of Rivers: Three Centuries of Nature Writing from Alaska and the Yukon, both published by Oxford.

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Table of Contents

Introduction 3
Pt. I 177O-1885: The Age of Exploration 25
1 Finding the Source of the Blue Nile 29
2 The Discovery of the Niger River 35
3 The South African Unicorn 43
4 The Eland and the Puff Adder 49
5 The Death of Hugh Clapperton 55
6 The First White Man to Report on Timbuctoo 61
7 The Cataracts of the Nile 65
8 Encounter with a Lion and Discovery of the Victoria Falls 71
9 Lost in the Sahara Desert 79
10 The Discovery of Lake Tanganyika 85
11 A Swarm of Beetles 91
12 A Baby Gorilla Captured Alive 95
13 Hunting Elephants 103
14 The Upper Nile 109
15 An Encounter with a Slave Caravan 113
16 In the Jaws of Death 119
Pt. II 1886-1956: The Age of Exploitation 125
17 Exploring Mount Kilimanjaro 129
18 The Primeval Forest 139
19 Heart of Darkness 149
20 West African Rivers 155
21 The Death of the First Man-Eater 163
22 To Lake Naivasha 169
23 Hunting Gorillas 175
24 The Giraffes Go to Hamburg 183
25 Father Elephant (from the Pygmies of Gabon) 190
26 The Origin of the Leopard and Hyena (from the Nandi of East Africa) 193
27 The Story of the Crow Who Married a Woman (from the Masai of East Africa) 197
28 Masai Proverbs (from the Masai of East Africa) 201
29 Masai Riddles (from the Masai of East Africa) 205
30 The Hare and the Elephant (from the Suk of East Africa) 209
31 Man and Turtle (from the Ki-Mbundu of Angola) 213
32 The Origin of Death (from the Zulu of South Africa) 217
Pt. III 1957-1992: The Age of Environmentalism 221
33 In the Realm of the Mountain Gorilla 225
34 The End of the Pleistocene 237
35 Uranium 245
36 The Leopard 251
37 Sand Rivers 263
38 Landscapes Open and Closed, a Journey Through Southern Africa 275
39 In the Country of Grasses 289
40 Radiant Darkness 297
Further Reading 305
Index 315
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