Page images
PDF
EPUB

ARTICLE VII.

EGYPTOLOGY, ORIENTAL TRAVEL AND DISCOVERY.

Parrish
BY JOSEPH P. THOMPSON, D.D., NEW YORK.

The great event of the year 1863, in the department to which these pages are devoted, was the discovery of the source of the White Nile, in the equatorial lake Victoria N'yanza. The geographical problem of centuries approaches its solution; the proverb Nili quaerere caput has lost its point. This discovery confirms substantially the guesses and traditions concerning the lake region of inner Africa, which have come down from a remote antiquity; confirms the almost discarded report of the snowy mountains of the moor; and also confirms in the main the geological hypothesis advanced by Sir Roderic Murchison in 1852, that “the whole African interior is a vast watery plateau-land of some elevation above the sea," — “a net-work of lakes and rivers,” discharging themselves, by transverse gorges, through the loftier mountains of the coast-lines. This hypothesis was suggested before Dr. Livingstone had traced the course of the Zambesi ; and when, in 1858, Captain Speke reported his famous discovery of the Victoria N'yanza, Sir Roderic expanded his hypothesis with regard to the outlets of the “ central reservoirs” of the continent, so as to allow of a possible connection between this reservoir and the Nile. “ If the great N'yanza shall really be found to flow into the White Nile, it is simply because there is no great eastern transverse fracture, like that of the Zambesi, by which the waters can escape ; so that, subtended on that flank by lofty and continuous mountains, the stream has no course open to it but northwards.” It was largely due to the enlightened zeal of Murchison that the discoverer of the Victoria N'yanza was enabled to verify his own confident belief that this vast inland sea “ gave birth to that interesting river, the source of which has been the subject of so much speculation, and the object of so many explorers.”

Before giving the details of captain Speke's discovery, and in order that we may measure its exact scientific value, it is well to remind ourselves of the state of the Nile question previous to his first expedition with Burton. * Of the sources of the Nile no one can give any account,” was the despairing conclusion of Herodotus, after a careful digest of all the opinions upon this point that were brought to his knowledge in Egypt. Strabo

1 Journal of the Discovery of the Source of the Nile. By John Hanning Speke, Captain H. M. Indian Army. Fellow of the Royal Geographical Sociery; Hon. Corr. Member of the French Geographical Society. Edinburgh and London: W. Blackwood and Sons ; New York: Harper and Brothers.

? Speke, in Blackwood's Magazine for October, 1859.

3 For the state of the Nile problem in that age, see Euterpè, c. 19 - 35, where all known speculations of geographers and reports of travellers are discussed. VOL. XXI. No. 02.

54

compiled, from Egyptian sources, an imperfect account of the Astaboras or Atbara (Tacazze) and of the junction of the Astapus (Bahhr el Azrek or Blue Nile) and the Astasobas (Bahhr el Abiad or White Nile) to the south of Meroe.' Pliny adds, “ from common report,” that the Nile “ rises in a mountain of Lower Mauritania, not far from the ocean ; immediately after which it forms a lake of standing water, which bears the name of Nilides.". From these authorities, together with the brief references of Seneca and Lucan, Dr. Beke infers that “in or previously to the first century of the Christian era, the main stream of the Nile had been ascended as far as the ninth parallel of the North latitude,” and that three or four of its principal tributaries were known; “ in other words, the actual personal knowledge of the Upper Nile possessed by the Greeks and Romans at the commencement of the Christian era was very far superior to that possessed by the civilized world till near the middle of the nineteenth century."3 We think this overstated; since the most pains-taking collation of the authorities quoted by Beke fails to yield us materials for the construction of an accurate map of the Nile above Meroe. Herodotus confesses the absence of any definite knowledge upon this point : “ With regard to the sources of the Nile, I have found no one among all those with whom I have conversed, whether Egyptians, Libyans, or Greeks, who professed to have any knowledge, except a single person.” This was the scribe at Sais, who told the story of the water-shed at the “two conical hills between Syene and Elephantine,” where were unfathomable fountains, from which “half the water runs northward into Egypt, and half to the south towards Ethiopia.” But the wary traveller adds, that this informant" did not seem to be in earnest in what he said.”+ That Strabo had never fairly digested the fragmentary accounts of his predecessors is evident from his vague statement that “ near Meroe is the confluence of the Astaboras with the Nile.” Ptolemy, deriving his information mainly from Greek traders to the eastern coast of Africa, traced the sources of the Nile to two lakes, situated far to the south, at some distance asunder, and both fed from the snowy niountains of the moon. These lakes are located by Beke, and also by Kiepert, in about 70 S. lat., and 57o and 65° E. long., respectively. After all, the geography of the Upper Nile, as conceived by the ancients, is substantially expressed by Seneca : “magnas altitudines pervagatus, et in paludes diffusus, gentibus sparsus.” 6 Such was the report brought by the explorers sent by Nero ; and these lagoons, in which the sluggish stream was supposed to lose itself, are described as a fatal barrier to the discovery of its source: “immensas paludes, quarum exitum nec incolae noverant, nec sperare quisquam potest, ita implicitae aquis herbae sunt.”

The nineteenth century found the problem of the sources of the Nile substantially where Ptolemy had left it in the second; since in the long in

1 Strabo, XVII. 1.

% Nat. Hist., V. 10. 3 The Sources of the Nile, by Charles T. Beke, Ph.D., p. 61. • Euterpé, c. 28.

5 Nat. Quaest., IV. 2.

terval geographers had rested in the belief, first, that the Tacazzè, and next that the Bahhr el Azrek or Blue river (both streams of Abessinia), was the true Nile.

Diodorus' portrays the difficulties and dangers of a tour of discovery in the marshy and desolate regions beyond Meroe ; and in the absence of commercial enterprize and of political ambition, these sufficed to deter explorers from that field. The Bahhr el Azrek or Blue river sustains to the Bahhr el Abiad or White river, at their junction near the modern Khartum, much the same relation as the Missouri sustains to the Mississippi after their union; and hence this was naturally mistaken for the parent stream, when the claims of the Tacazzè had been finally abandoned. But since the beginning of the eighteenth century the White river has gradually come to be recognized as the true Nile, and the curiosity of explorers has been directed toward its source. A great impulse in this direction was given by the three expeditions of Mohammed Ali, between the years 1835 and 1841. These discovered the Sobat, and traced that stream to within four degrees of the equator; but the region beyond, and the course of the principal stream, were left unexplored. What has since been accomplished is distinctly traced upon Petermann and Hassenstein's Chart of Inner Africa, especially its eighth and tenth sections. The points ascertained by d'Arnaud and Werne in 1840 – 41, being the second expedition of Mohammed Ali, by J. Kroblecher in 1849-50, by Brun-Rollet and Angelo Vinco in 1848 – 51, by Petherick in 1858, by Jules Poncet in 1860, by F. Morlang in 1859 – 60, by Miani in 1860, by Antinori in 1860 – 61, by Peney, de Bono, and Lejean in 1861, by von Harnier in 1860 – 61, and von lleuglin in 1861 – 63, with various incidental confirmations from other travellers, cartographers, and missionaries, are all here collated upon an ample sheet, and indicated by appropriate colors; yet these various lines of travel and of conjecture, - black, brown, blue, purple, orange, red, green, – while they mark years of patient toil, and make familiar a once doubtful region, all fall short of the true source of the Nile. It is only when we strike the route of Burton and Speke in 1857 – 58, and again that of Speke and Grant in 1861 – 63, that we approach the solution of the great problem. We are now prepared to appreciate the results of captain Speke's lubors.

Already, in 1851, Messrs. Krapf and Rehmann, missionaries in the service of the Church missionary society in Eastern and Equatorial Africa, had announced the existence in that region of snow-capped mountains, of which the principal, the Koenia and the Kilimanjaro, lie in 1° 45' and 3° S. lat., and between 36° and 37° E. long. From native sources, they reported also the existence of a lake, the receptacle of the waters from these mountains, through numerous streams ; and, at a later date, Krapf sought to identify these mountains with those to which Ptolemy had conjecturally traced the sources of the Nile. Again, in 1856, their fellow-laborer, Rev. T. Erbardt, published a map of Eastern Africa, compiled from native

1 Diod. Sic., I. 30.

sources, in which a great inland sea was represented as filling an interior basin in the region of the equator. In a memoir accompanying this map, liebmann, arguing by analogy from the physical conformation of Africa in the south and north, advanced the hypothesis of “an enormous valley and an inland sea” in the centre of the continent; and he also suggested that in the mountain barriers to the eastward “must we look for the more eastern sources of the White Nile.” Dr. Beke regards the “snow-mountains” of Krapf and Rebmann as belonging to Ptolemy's “Mountains of the Moon,” which he would transfer from their traditional location in Abessinia to the immediate region of the equator, parallel with the eastern coast, in about 37° and 39° E. long. Captain Speke locates these mountains to the west of lake N'yanza, in 30° E. long., at the northern extremity of Tanganjika.

In 1854 Dr. Krapf published his own conjecture with regard to the sources of the Nile, in the following terms: “There can be no question that the opinion of the ancients, who believed the Caput Nili to be in Ethiopia, is truly correct; for the Wakuafi, whose language is of Aethiopico-Semitic origin, are in possession of the countries which give rise to that river. The real sources of the Nile appear to me to be traceable partly to the woody and marshy land of the Wamau people, about 21° or 30 south of the equator, of whom Rumu wa Kikandi told me, in Ukambani, in 1851.”] This " marshy land” Dr. Krapf supposed to be identical with the “paludes" of Seneca's Quaestiones Naturales (Lib. VI.) : “ Ibi, inquit, vidimus duas petras, ex quibus ingens vis fluminis excidebat. Sed sive caput illa, sive accessio est Nili, sive tunc nascitur, sive in terras ex priore recepta cursu redit : nonne tu credis illam quidquid est, ex magno terrarum lacu ascendere ? Habeat enim oportet pluribus locis sparsum humorem, et in imo coactum, ut eructare tanto impetu possit.”

The publication of Erhardt's map, together with the crude but stimulating conjectures of his associates, gave a new impulse to geographical exploration in Eastern Africa; and in September, 1856, an expedition was sent thither by the Royal Geographical Society, of which Captain R. F. Burton was principal and Captain J. H. Speke associate. On the 14th of February, 1858, this expedition reached the great lake Tanganjika, which stretches from the third to the eighth parallel of south latitude. This they explored, by boat and coastwise, to its northern extremity, where it is enclosed by a chain of mountains, which Speke supposes to be Ptolemy's Niountains of the Moon. Returning to Kazé or Unyanzembe, where Burton was obliged to remain as an invalid, Speke journeyed northward, and on the 3d of August, 1858, struck the southern border of the great N'yanza, to which he gave the name Victoria. He heard also of a river upon the upper side of the lake, which was believed to flow northward to the sea; but as he was only a subordinate in the expedition, he was not able, at that

1 Travels and Researches in Eastern Africa by Rev. Dr. J. Lewis Krapf. The Appendices to this volume, upon East African History and the Sources of the Nile, are worthy of renewed study, in the light of Speke’s discoveries.

time, to test the truth of this report. Still his confident opinion was, that the Nile would be found to take its rise from this great inland sea.

It will be seen that the numerous explorations and determinations made in the twenty years between the first expedition of Mohammed Ali and the expedition of Burton and Speke, had reduced the problem of the sources of the Nile to a comparatively limited and definite area. The head-waters of the mystic river must be found somewhere between 3o N. and 3o S. latitude and between 28° and 38° E. longitude. A glance at the map of Petermann and Hassenstein shows how completely the converging routes of travel during these twenty years had hemmed in the enchanted problem. It was reserved for Speke finally to break its spell.

When the discovery of N'yanza was announced, Dr. Petermann made the following judicious comments upon the state of the question : “ The solution of the old problem of the Nile's sources will yet require a good deal of labor; but in consequence of the travels and researches made by Captain Speke and the Protestant missionaries in the south, and by the Egyp. tians and the Roman Catholic missionaries, the region yet unsurveyed, and in which the sources of the Nile must be situated, is so much circumscribed, that probably a single journey of a scientific traveller proceeding from Zanzibar to Gondokoro, or vice versa, would suffice to solve definitely this famous geographical problem."

In October, 1860, Captain Speke was again at Zanzibar, with his chosen friend Captain J. A. Grant as his associate, prepared to enter with enthusiasm upon an exploration which he felt would be decisive. From Zanzibar his route followed the course of the Kingani river, making gradual ascent to the Gara country, “ U-Sagara,” a hilly region forming a link of the great East Coast Range, and stretching westward about a hundred miles, from the bifurcation of the Kingani and Mgéta rivers to the great interior plateau. Upon striking the Usagara uplands, he thus describes the scene :

“ Our ascent by the river, though quite imperceptible to the eye, has been 500 feet. From this level the range before us rises, in some places, to 5,000 or 6,000 feet, not as one grand mountain, but in two detached lines, lying at an angle of forty-five degrees from N. E. to S. W., and separated one from the other by elevated valleys, tables, and crab-claw spurs of hill, which incline towards the flanking rivers. The whole having been thrown up by volcanic action, is based on a strong foundation of granite and other igneous rocks, which are exposed in many places in the shape of massive blocks; otherwise the hill-range is covered in the upper part with sandstone, and in the bottoms with alluvial clay. This is the superficial configuration of the land as it strikes the eye; but knowing the elevation of the interior plateau to be only 2,500 feet above the sea immediately on the western flank of these hills, while the breadth of the chain is 100 miles, the mean slope or incline of the basal surface must be on a gradual rise of twenty feet per mile. The hill tops and sides, where not cultivated, are well covered with bush and small trees, among which the bamboo is conspicuous; while the

« PreviousContinue »