Exploration of Africa

November 27, 2012 1:52 pm

What makes people investigate distant lands? Is it a search for knowledge, or a love of adventure? Is it ambition, curiosity, enterprise, or just greed? All these reasons have inspired explorers in Africa for almost 4,000 years.
Africa is very old, very big, and very varied. It has deserts, rain forests, mountains, volcanoes, waterfalls, gold, diamonds, and oil. The Nile, the world’s longest river, runs through Africa.
Africa covers almost 12 million square miles. That’s more than three times the size of the United States. People have lived in Africa longer than anywhere else on Earth, and Africa has been home to many clever, creative civilizations, from ancient Egypt to great Zimbabwe.
The first explorers of Africa were Africans themselves. The ancient Egyptians, including Queen Hatshepsut, sent ships south to the land of Punt, somewhere in eastern Africa. The ships brought back gold, leopard skins, ivory, and black Africans to be slaves.
Around 800 bc, great seafarers known as Phoenicians, from the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea, explored the north coast of Africa. The Phoenicians set up a trading city there, called Carthage. They later sailed around Africa. Around 450 bc, ancient Greek writer Herodotus visited Egypt to investigate its fascinating way of life. In ad66, Roman emperor Nero sent an expedition along the Nile River.
The first camels came to Africa around ad 200 from the Middle East. Camels can survive long journeys without water. They can carry riders and heavy burdens. Camels enabled Africans to cross the Sahara, a huge desert in northern Africa, to trade and explore.
Ibn Battuta, an Arab from Morocco, was one of the greatest explorers of all time. He spent 30 years, from 1325 to 1354, traveling through Africa. Then he described his adventures in a book.
Starting around ad 100, sailors from Arabia crossed the Arabian Sea to explore Africa’s east coast. They set up trading bases that became rich cities. These cities included Kilwa, now in Tanzania, and Mogadishu, in Somalia.
Soon after 1400, Chinese explorer Zheng He reached eastern Africa. Zheng He returned to China with information about African life. He also brought back an African giraffe, as a gift for China’s emperor.
In Europe during the 1400s, explorers from Portugal planned record-breaking voyages. They were keenly interested in geography. They also hoped to find a sea-route around Africa to China. Then they could bring back valuable silk and spices to sell in Europe. The explorers also aimed to control West African trade in ivory, gold, and slaves.
By 1474, Portuguese explorers had crossed the equator—the imaginary line that runs around the middle of Earth. In 1488, Bartolomeu Dias rounded the southern tip of Africa. In 1498, Vasco da Gama explored Africa’s east coast. For the next 300 years, slave traders from Portugal and elsewhere in Europe shipped millions of Africans to North America and islands in the Caribbean Sea. The Africans were sold as slaves.
By around 1700, explorers began to investigate Africa for scientific reasons. In 1768, Scottish explorer James Bruce tried to find the source of the Nile. In 1795, another Scot, Mungo Park, investigated West Africa’s Niger River. Park later drowned after his boat was attacked. British explorer John Speke finally found the Nile’s principal source, Lake Victoria, in 1862.
Many Europeans in Africa combined an interest in geography with a desire to bring Christianity to Africa. David Livingstone was a Scottish doctor and Christian missionary who saw parts of Africa no European had seen before, including the stupendous Victoria Falls in south central Africa in 1855. Livingstone also worked to end the African slave trade.
On his last expedition, Livingstone was feared lost. American journalist Henry Morton Stanley led a group to rescue Livingstone. They found him in 1871. Stanley is reported to have said at their meeting, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.” Stanley later explored Central Africa, traveling 2,000 miles (more than 3,000 kilometers) along the Congo River by 1877. Women missionaries like Mary Kingsley from England combined teaching and nursing with studying African wildlife and traditions. She first visited Africa in 1893.
Toward the end of the 19th century, rival European nations began a scramble to grab colonies in Africa. They sent soldiers, as well as explorers, to establish settlements on African land and seize African resources.
In South Africa, British diamond prospector Cecil Rhodes gained control of many diamond mines. Rhodes dominated world diamond production. From 1881 on, he seized African territory for Britain. The land he seized later became the countries of Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
France, Germany, and other European countries also claimed territory in Africa. Most Africans resisted being taken over and ruled by foreigners. However by 1912, all of Africa, except Ethiopia and Liberia, was under European rule.
After 1950, most African colonies became independent nations. But their natural treasures still attract explorers. Some scientists hunt for fossil remains of early human beings. Biologists believe that forests in Africa hold many undiscovered kinds of plants and animals.
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