Mary Kingsley, the first Africanist and fearless traveler

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Mary Kingsley, the first Africanist and fearless traveler
Mary Kingsley, the first Africanist and fearless traveler

Video: Mary Kingsley, the first Africanist and fearless traveler

Video: Mary Kingsley, the first Africanist and fearless traveler
Video: Travels in West Africa | Mary H. Kingsley | Travel & Geography | Audio Book | English | 7/13 2023, September

In Victorian England, it was customary to sympathize with old maids. At the same time, some girls could not wait for this title - after all, it finally opened many roads.

Mary Kingsley: the old maid who rediscovered Africa for Europeans
Mary Kingsley: the old maid who rediscovered Africa for Europeans

At thirty, a girl who never married could put on a cap. So she announced that she was now an old maid and no longer looking for suitors. Taking into account the fact that men in England were sorely lacking - they constantly pacified the colonies and took native wives there, and husbands had frightening power over the whole life, property and earnings of a woman, many girls preferred not to wait any longer at thirty and put on a cap without delay.

Those who laughed at the lady with imperial prejudice fell silent in the face of the facts. Puffy skirts saved Kingsley's life and he alth when she fell into a pit trap with sharp stakes at the bottom. The elegant umbrella turned out to be very handy in order to fend off too curious crocodiles. The corset generally kept the ribs remarkably well at any turn of events.

Those who wondered how such a stereotypical old maid ever ventured to far off dangerous lands were relieved to learn that her father was George Kingsley, the famous traveler. In Victorian England, the belief was that blood was not water. Of course, normally a woman, in order to travel to distant countries, married an officer or a missionary, but it was well known that there were not enough men for everyone. What then is the poor old maid to do? The blood is calling!

The girl who grew up in the library

It must be said that the father was not the only famous person in the Kingsley family before Mary's trip to Africa. His brothers, Charles and Henry, wrote novels. Of course, George Kingsley himself was also not averse to the pen, otherwise no one would have known that he was a traveler.

Mary was a girl, which means that it was considered optional to systematically engage in her education. In addition, she had a younger brother who got a lot more attention. In her free hours, Mary did literally what she wanted - of course, within the limits that were set for English girls as reasonable. Mary wanted to sit in the library or listen to adult guests when her father was at home and acquaintances came to him.

It also meant that there was no one to check what the girl was reading in the library. The girl read books that were considered dangerous for her sex. Yes, then there was an opinion that non-fiction dries out a woman's brain and inflames ambitions, and Mary adored non-fiction and even books about wanderings. Father's library was full of both.

For many girls, at the age of eleven, life turned abruptly: they were sent to closed boarding schools. At Mary, she also turned around, but in the other direction. The father who arrived told and generally spoke very much and interestingly. He talked not only about curiosities. He talked about the British oppression of people in distant lands, about the thoughtless destruction of their culture. Mary listened with excitement. She realized that she wanted to study and protect people in distant lands. She also understood that this was impossible: after all, she was a girl…

The Incredible Adventures of an Old Maid in a Woolen Dress

When Mary entered the age that is called the bride, her mother fell ill. My brother was studying in a boarding house at that time. Father continued to travel and worry about distant people. In fact, Mary and her mother lived alone, and the girl barely had a few hours a day to take care of herself and, at times, a hasty exit from the house for the necessary purchases. The books with which she sat near her mother's bed helped a little, but not much. Mary gasped.

It's nothing, her mother might have told her. You are ugly, Mary, there are no suitors for you. But then you will tell everyone that you did not marry because of me. This is a very worthy reason, this is not laughed at. Or maybe mom, on the contrary, protected the vanity of her eldest daughter and avoided all talk about her seclusion and appearance.

This could be a good dowry that would attract suitors to a faded and gaunt girl of thirty years old … or the money that Mary could travel with. Needless to say, she chose the latter? Get out of the four walls that almost drove her crazy in a few years! Mary tied her cap, declaring herself an old maid, quickly completed her nursing course, packed her bags and went to Africa.

Friends, seeing Mary off, gave advice and warnings. It is better to travel in men's clothes - it is not so tempting and it is also easier to run away. As if Mary could run fast and could seduce someone! Gorillas and leopards roam the jungle, and blacks, as one, cannibals - you should not eat up so as not to look too appetizing. As if Mary was able to look appetizing…

In Africa, Kingsley discovered a lot of talent. It turned out that she is able to negotiate with almost anyone, endures any hardships quite well (and even leeches all over her body), learns easily (and there was something to learn from the locals if you wanted to survive in the wild jungle), and where to look and what to write down, she knew perfectly well without a school behind her: she grew up on the books of geographers and ethnographers and on the stories of her father.

You can't say that there were no problems with the Africans. One day she was captured by a group of hunters. Mary seemed so funny to them that they decided to use her as bait for the monkeys - they are very curious. The poor traveler had to spend several hours on her feet until the hunters caught the right amount of prey.

After writing the first batch of notes, Mary briefly returned to England: to sign a contract with a publishing house and consult with the famous zoologist Albert Günther, which animals should be paid attention to if you want to help science. The consultation helped her a lot on her second trip: she left a mark on zoology, describing fish species previously unknown to Europeans and preparing their samples. But her main goal this time was not fish and other animals, but cannibals. She got ready to study them properly.

Kingsley, protector of cannibals

As the daughter of a traveler, Mary knew very well that every journey requires preparation. Before breaking into the African huts with an offer to talk, she found the missionary Mary Slissor, also an old maid who taught the basics of Christianity to blacks - and also wandered through the African villages alone. Slissor shared all the useful knowledge she had, and Kingsley went (and also rode and swam) from village to village fully armed.

Africans were quite surprised at a white woman in warm clothes who knocked on the doors of their huts, but, as it turned out, the inhabitants of the jungle or the slopes of the volcano, on average, appreciate the courtesy and respect shown as highly as the Europeans. In addition, Mary knew how to talk to anyone.

Meanwhile back in England, the publisher wasted no time in running a massive publicity campaign for Kingsley's diaries, which were due to be published after her trip, so that when Mary returned to England again, a crowd of reporters was waiting for her. Kingsley was very outraged that few people were interested in her impressions and discoveries.

Kingsley spent the next three years traveling around her native Britain: she was invited to lecture. So far, no one else has brought such a complete array of knowledge from the places she has visited. She was also the first woman to speak at the Manchester and Liverpool Chambers. Meanwhile, she said things unheard of and challenging the generally accepted idea of the white man's holy burden.

Kingsley argued that the culture of blacks is not reduced to cannibalism, that it is disgusting and criminal to destroy it, that they are not "savages", but people who have ideas about ethics, about respect, about kindness. Very quickly, she gained a reputation as a protector of cannibals, as all she said was that people heard only “yes, they have cannibalism (and some other customs are also disgusting).”

On the spot, she asked to go to Simonstown, to a hospital for prisoners of war. There was a desperate shortage of nurses, there was as much work for every two hands as ten hands was not easy to do, but Kingsley set to work with such energy that, as her colleagues said, she “turned this mortuary into a real sanatorium.”

Alas, her energy lasted only two months. It's not about burnout: from the prisoners, Kingsley contracted typhus. The probability of death at that time and in that environment was almost one hundred percent. Everyone understood this, and Mary too. Dying, she asked for two favors: to let her die alone, without fuss, like a free animal of the jungle, and to bury her in the sea. Both wishes were granted.