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Mary Kingsley

Travels in West Africa (unabridged edition)

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The breathtaking, edifying and hilariously entertaining autobiographical tale of the famous British 19th century female explorer, who traveled all by herself into the deepest West African jungle and loved every life-threatening moment of it, be it sudden lone encounters with crocodiles and leopards, or staying for the night in a cannibal village.

Always a keen and unprejudiced observer, never losing her sense of humor nor her poise, and joyfully “convinced that it was almost as safe and far more amusing to be born lucky than wise,” Mary Kingsley gives us unprecedented insights into native African tribal societies, as well as into the mindsets and lives of the European settlers and colonists.

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About the Author

Mary Henrietta Kingsley was born in London on October 13th, 1862. Her father was George Kingsley, a doctor and travel writer; the writer Charles Kingsley was her uncle. Mary had access to her father’s large library of travel books, and was fascinated by his tales about his long and frequent travels, but having to look after her chronically ill mother her own life was largely confined to the house and garden. When both her parents unexpectedly died in 1892, Mary Kingsley traveled to Africa on a scientific quest for fetish and fish (the term “fetish” referring to religious customs and belief systems), but also, as this book bears witness, driven by a deep passion. Her biography by the Royal African Society tells us that in a private letter she said she had gone to West Africa “to die” but instead found that “West Africa amused and was kind to me, scientifically interesting and did not want to kill me just then.”

Mary Kingsley returned to Africa in 1895 for a second journey on which, among other adventures, she lived with the Fan cannibals, went up the Ogowé river and climbed Mount Cameroon — almost incredible feats at that time for a woman traveling on her own. It is this journey about which she gives us a faithful, sweeping and often breathtaking account in Travels in West Africa.

Equally impressive as her travels are her writings. With great narrative skills she demonstrates her stunning composure even under the most exceptional circumstances, her remarkably un-prejudiced perceptiveness, her intelligence and intuition — and last but not least her hilarious dry humor, never daunted by discomfort nor deadly dangers.

In 1899 Mary Kingsley went to South Africa to volunteer as a nurse in the Second Boer War, intending to go back to West Africa afterwards. She caught typhoid fever from the patients she nursed, and died in Simon’s Town on June 3rd, 1900. She had asked to be buried at sea, and was the next day, with full military honors.

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