Sir Samuel White Baker, 1821-1893
Click on Images

“A Homestead of the Bari Tribe — the usual Attitude of the Men”

The native dwellings are the perfection of cleanliness; the domicile of each family is surrounded by a hedge of impenetrable euphorbia, and the interior of the inclosure generally consists of a yard neatly plastered with a cement of ashes, cow-dung, and sand. Upon this cleanly-swept surface are one or more huts surrounded by granaries of neat wickerwork, thatched, resting upon raised platforms. The huts have projecting roofs in order to afford a shade, and the entrance is usually about two feet high. . . . The natives of Gondokoro are the Bari: the men are well grown, the women are not prepossessing. . . . They are tatooed upon the stomach, sides, and back, so closely, that it has the appearance of a broad belt of fish-scales, especially when they are rubbed with red ochre, which is the prevailing fashion. This pigment is made of a peculiar clay, rich in oxide of iron, which, when burnt, is reduced to powder, and then formed into lumps like pieces of soap; both sexes anoint themselves with this ochre, formed into a paste by the admixture of grease, giving themselves the appearance of new red bricks. The only hair upon their person is a tuft upon the crown of the head, in which they stick one or more feathers. The women are generally free from hair, their heads being shaved. [Vol. 1, pp. 89-90]

"The Latooka Funeral Dance"

Drums were beating, horns blowing, and people were seen running in one direction; — the cause was a funeral dance, and I joined the crowd, and soon found myself in the midst of the entertainment. The dancers were most grotesquely got up. About a dozen huge ostrich feathers adorned their helmets; either leopard or the black and white monkey skins were suspended from their shoulders, and a leather tied round the waist covered a large iron bell which was strapped upon the loins of each dancer, like a woman's old-fashioned bustle: this they rung to the time of the dance by jerking their posteriors in the most absurd manner. A large crowd got up in this style created an indescribable hubbub, heightened by the blowing of horns and the beating of seven nogaras of various notes. Every dancer wore an antelope's horn suspended round the neck, which he blew occasionally in the height of his excitement. These instruments produced a sound partaking of the braying of a donkey and the screech of an owl. Crowds of men rushed round and round in a sort of "galop infernel," brandishing their lances and iron-headed maces, and keeping tolerably in line five or six deep, following the leader who headed them, dancing backwards. The women kept outside the line, dancing a slow stupid step, and screaming a wild and most inharmonious chaunt, while a long string of young girls and small children, their heads and necks rubbed with red ochre and grease, and prettily ornamented with strings of beads around their loins, kept a very good line, beating the time with their feet, and jingling the numerous iron rings which adorned their ankles to keep time with the drums. One woman attended upon the men, running through the crowd with a gourd full of wood-ashes, handfuls of which she showered over their heads, powdering them like millers; the object of the operation I did not understand. [Vol. I, pp. 241-242]

"The Obbo War Dance"

On the 18th of July, the natives held a great consultation, and ended with a war-dance; they were all painted in various patterns, with red ochre and white pipe-clay; their heads adorned with very tasteful ornaments of cowrie-shells, surmounted with plumes of ostrich-feathers, which drooped over the back of the neck. After the dance, the old chief addressed them in a long and vehement speech; he was followed by several other speakers, all of whom were remarkably fluent, and the resolution of the meeting was declared "that the nogaras were to be beaten, and men collected to accompany the Turks on a razzia in the Madi country." [Vol. I, pp. 376-377]

“The Lake”

The day broke beautifully clear, and having crossed a deep valley between the hills, we toiled up the opposite slope. I hurried to the summit. The glory of our prize burst suddenly upon me! There, like a sea of quicksilver, lay far beneath the grand expanse of water,— a boundless sea horizon on the south and south-west, glittering in the noon-day sun; and on the west, at fifty or sixty miles’ distance, blue mountains rose from the bosom of the lake to a height of about 7,000 feet above its level. It is impossible to describe the triumph of that moment; — here was the reward for all our labour — for the years of tenacity with which we had toiled through Africa. England had won the source of the Nile! Long before I reached this spot, I had arranged to give three cheers with all our men in English style in honour of the discovery, but now that I looked down upon the great inland sea lying nestled in the very heart of Africa, and thought how vainly mankind had sought these sources throughout so many ages, and reflected that I had been the humble instrument permitted to unravel this portion of the great mystery when so many greater than I had failed, I felt too serious to vent my feelings in vain cheers for victory, and I sincerely thanked God for having guided and supported us through all dangers to the good end. I was about 1,500 feet above the lake, and I looked down from the steep granite cliff upon those welcome waters — upon that great source so long hidden from mankind; that source of bounty and of blessings to millions of human beings; and as one of the greatest objects in nature, I determined to honour it with a great name. As an imperishable memorial of one loved and mourned by our gracious Queen and deplored by every Englishman, I called this great lake “the Albert N’yanza.” The Victoria and the Albert lakes are the two sources of the Nile. [Vol. 2, pp. 94-6; italics added]

“Natives of Lira (1) and Madi (2) in the Camp at Shooa”

The Turks had discovered a new country called Lira, about thirty miles from Shooa. . . . Many of the people were located in the Turks’ camp; they were the same type as the Madi, but wore their hair in a different form: this was woven into a thick felt, which covered the shoulders, and extended as low upon the back as the shoulder-blade. . . . I am not aware that any Lord Chancellor of England or any member of the English bar has ever penetrated to Central Africa, therefore the origin of fashion and the similarity in wigs is most extraordinary; a well-blacked barrister in full wig and nothing else would thoroughly impersonate a native of Lira. [Vol. 2, pp. 261-62]

“My Examination by the Chiefs on Entering Unyoro — Resolved, that I am ‘Speke’s Brother’”

A few extracts from my journal will describe the delay at At~da: — . . . “Jan. 28th. —Reports brought that Kamrasi has sent his headman with a large force, including some of Speke’s deserters. They are to inspect me, and report whether I am really a white man and an Englishman. If so, I believe we are to proceed; if not, I suppose we are to be exterminated. . . . Jan. 29th. . . . In mid-day the headman arrived with a number of men, accompanied by three of Speke’s deserters, one of whom has been created a chief by Kamrasi, and presented with two wives. I received them standing; and after thorough inspection I was pronounced to be ‘Speke’s brother,’ and all were satisfied.” [Vol. 2, pp. 50-2]

"The Start from M'rooli for the Lake with Kamrasi's Satanic Escort"

We approached a considerable village; but just as we were nearing it, out rushed about six hundred men with lances and shields, screaming and yelling like so many demons. . . . With a rush like a cloud of locusts, the natives closed around us, dancing, gesticulating, and yelling before my ox, feinting to attack us with spears and shields, then engaging in sham fights with each other, and behaving like so many madmen. . . . The entire crowd were most grotesquely got up, being dressed in either leopard or white monkey skins, with cows' tails strapped on behind, and antelopes' horns fitted upon their heads, while their chins were ornamented with false beards, made of the bushy ends of cows' tails sewed together. Altogether, I never saw a more unearthly set of creatures; they were perfect illustrations of my childish ideas of devils — horns, tails, and all, excepting the hoofs; they were our escort! furnished by Kamrasi to accompany us to the lake. [Vol. II, pp. 80-81]

“The Murchison Falls, about 120 Feet High, from the Victoria Nile or Somerset River, to the Level of the Albert Lake”

Upon rounding the corner, a magnificent sight burst suddenly upon us. On either side of the river were beautifully wooded cliffs rising abruptly to a height of about 300 feet; rocks were jutting out from the intensely green foliage; and rushing through a gap that cleft the rock exactly before us, the river, contracted from a grand stream, was pent up in a narrow gorge scarcely fifty yards in width; roaring furiously through the rock-bound pass, it plunged in one leap of about 120 feet perpendicular into a dark abyss below. The fall of the water was snow-white, which had a superb effect as it contrasted with the dark cliffs that walled the river, while the graceful palms of the tropics and wild plantains perfected the beauty of the view. This was the greatest waterfall of the Nile, and, in honour of the distinguished President of the Royal Geographical Society, I named it the Murchison Falls, as the most important object throughout the entire course of the river. [Vol. 2, pp. 142-43]