Africa Dreaming Gallery
A Journey In Time - Following in the footsteps of Mungo Park

I scrambled through the dense African undergrowth, over vine covered boulders half hidden in the vegetation. A giant lizard rushed away to my right and a troop of Guinea baboons began to utter their "wahoo wahoo" alarm calls up ahead. I wiped the sweat from my eyes and looked for a way through. With some final swings of my machete I cleared a path and reached the top of the "talking mountain" or "Hasserik" as it is known in the local Beliyan language.

Basking crocodiles
Crocodiles Basking

Beliyan Woman
Beliyan Woman

View from Talking Mountain
View from Talking Mountain

At the summit I sat on a red laterite boulder and gazed out over a sea of green. It was a wilderness that stretched as far as the eye could see and disappeared into a haze of shimmering heat in the distance. After several days of walking I had reached the highest point in Senegal and one of the most important places along the route taken by the legendary Scottish explorer Mungo Park. Sweat poured from my body and tiny flies buzzed irritatingly close to my eyes. I felt utterly exhausted. It had been a steep climb over very rough terrain in blistering heat. Now, finally, I had a chance to reflect more on Mungo Park whose route I was retracing nearly two hundred years after his death. He had probably climbed this very mountain dressed in heavy Scottish clothes and long red gloves, which reached his elbows. Dressed like this he had hoped to escape the bites of mosquitoes and flies. How he must have suffered in the heat!

On the 20th July 1795 Mungo Park achieved his major goal of reaching the Niger River. It is a landmark in the history of European exploration but has sadly now been almost forgotten. We can only imagine how Park must have felt when after all the dangers he had been through he finally saw the glittering waters of the great river. His words do little to convey his deepest feelings. Perhaps he was writing them in utter exhaustion later in the day. Perhaps it is a measure of the man's humility."….we rode together through some marshy ground, where, as I was anxiously looking around for the river, one of them called out 'geo affili' (see the water), and looking forwards, I saw with infinite pleasure the great object of my mission - the long sought for majestic Niger, glittering to the morning sun, as broad as the Thames at Westminster, and flowing slowly to the eastward. I hastened to the brink, and, having drank of the water, lifted up my fervent thanks in prayer to the Great Ruler of all things, for having thus far crowned my endeavours with success"

In 1806 Mungo Park drowned in the Niger River in circumstances that still remain unclear. However, through the legacy of his diaries, which have survived, we are able to glimpse a world that has largely vanished. It is a world where Park, with his genius for exploration and his humility in the face of the people he encountered, moved easily and left no trace. He was a man ahead of his time who hated slavery and wrote bitterly against it. Most of his contemporary Europeans saw Africa and its people as a resource to be exploited. Mungo Park saw the Africans as people with interesting cultures and modes of life of equal worth to his own. He was truly a great man and his exploits deserve more recognition today.


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