Chapter I : Historical Introduction
Part 1 : Explorations

from : J. Roland and E. Duchesne, Cours Complet de Geographie : Le Congo Belge, Namur 1914, pp.5-6

The First Explorations.

It is in 1485, exactly four centuries before the founding of the Independent State of the Congo, that the Portuguese Diego Cam discovers the mouth of the Congo River. There a column is erected, commemorating the event and claiming possession of the adjacent territory in the name of the King of Portugal. Six years later, a new expedition leaves Lisbon, several Portuguese merchants and missionaries disembark on the southern arm of the Congo Estuary, in the Bay of San Antonio; the former establish trading relations with the interior, the latter baptize chapels and preach to the coastal population; this was the beginning of the European occupation of the mouth of the Congo River.
In the course of the following 300 years, the European colonization did not penetrate further inland : in 1536, the Portuguese have not passed, on the river, the Yelala Falls and did not reconnaitre the higher elevated regions. As on other points of the continent, the shape of the African land surface made the penetration into the hinterland difficult.
Except the expedition of Dr. Lacerda, who set out from the eastern coast and reached the Zambezi in 1798, into the region of Chambezi, a main affluent of Lake Bangweolo, the era of the scientific exploration of the Congo Basin was not begun until the 19th century.
In 1816, the English mission of Captain Tuckey explored the Congo estuary and the first cataracts until Isangila. In 1843, the Portuguese traveller Graca, departed from the eastern coast, as Lacerda, travelled until Upper Kasai and recorded the existence of the vast Lunda Empire. In 1858, the two Englishmen Burton and Speke, on their expedition to discover the sources of the Nile, discovered Lake Tanganyika. So the exploration of the Congo Basin has been conducted from the west, the south and the east; it was reserved for the German Schweinfurth to discover it's northern limits and to explore, in 1870, the central valley of the Uele River.
In the meantime, the remarkable travels of the Scotsman Livingstone all across eastern Africa took place. Already in 1854, before his crossing of the continent, he had visited several regions of the Upper Kasai; from 1867 to 1873 the discovered successively Lake Moreo and Lake Bangweolo, the southern end of Lake Tanganyika and the upper course of the Congo (Lualaba and Luapula) until Nyangwe. He died at Tchitambo, south of Lake Bangweolo, on May 1st 1873. In 1874, Cameron on his tour explored Lake Tanganyika; he discovered it's outflow, the Lukuga, and penetrated into unknown regions located beyond Nyangwe, saw the valley of the Upper Lomami, and, after crossing the Urua and Lunda, reached the western coast.
From 1874 to 1877 the memorable voyage of Stanley took place, which opened to the world the course of the Congo River. He departed on November 1874 from Bagamoyo, on the eastern coast vis-a-vis Zanzibar; he followed the route of Speke to Lake Victoria, discovered Lake Albert Edward, completed the reconnaissance of the rivers of the Tanganyika and reached the Congo at Kassongo, where he found the famous Arab chief and slave-trader, Tippo-Tip, established. On November 5th 1876, two years after his departure from the east coast, he was at Nyangwe, from where he set out into the mysterious unknown by undertaking the first descent of the river. It took 20 days to get around the falls which bear his name, the Stanley Falls. In the following month of March, he navigated downriver to Stanley Pool, and on April 9th 1877 he arrived on the coast of the Atlantic, after a voyage of about 12,000 km, accomplished in 999 days, during which he fought 32 combats and surmounted all the difficulties and obstacles nature and men had placed in his path.

This page is part of World History at KMLA
Last revised on February 13th 2002

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