Reiseliteratur und Forschungsreisen
1. Henno Martin: Wenn es Krieg gibt, gehen wir in die Wüste. Erstausgabe: Stuttgart, Union Deutsche Verlagsgesellschaft, 1956.
Dieses Buch, das genau vor 50 Jahren zum erstenmal erschienen ist und danach immer wieder neu aufgelegt wurde (7. Aufl. bei Two Books, 2005) beschreibt die Robinsonade von zwei deutschen Geologen in der Namibwüste während der ersten zweieinhalb Jahre des zweiten Weltkrieges. Um der Internierung durch die Südafrikaner zu entgehen, versuchen die Beiden beinehe ohne fremde Ressourcen in der Wüste zu überleben. Augerüstet mit lebenswichtigem Material, etwas Werkzeug und ziemlich insuffizienten Jagdwaffen starten sie mit einem kleinen Lastwagen und begleitet vom Hund 'Otto' zu einem Versteck im Kuiseb Canyon der Namib. Das Buch handelt nicht nur vom Kampf ums Überleben in einer lebensfeindlichen Umgebung, sondern auch vom Lernprozess des zivilisierten Menschen bei der Adaptation an nahezu steinzeitliche Bedingungen, vom Umgang mit der Isolation und vom Bemühen um analytische wissenschaftliche Beobachtung auch unter den widrigsten Umständen. Am Schlus muss die Überlebensübung abgebrochen werden, weil einer der beiden lebensgefährlich erkrankt. Der Erzählstil lässt den geübten wissenschaftlichen Autor erkennen und bleibt trotzdem persönlich und anrührend. Natürlich erscheinen viele der wissenschaftlichen Probleme, die die beiden Freunde dikutieren, heute unter einem anderen Licht (wie von Martin in der Neuausgabe von 1984 auch erläutert). Das tut aber der Faszination dieses Berichtes keinen Abbruch.
2. Charles Marie de la Condamine: Relation abrégée d'un voyage fait dans l'interieur de l'Amerique méridionale. Chez Dufour & Roux, Maestricht, 1778 (2. Ausgabe)
Hinter diesem bescheidenen Titel verbirgt sich der Bericht über die erste wissenschaftliche Befahrung des Amazonas von der Quelle bis zur Mündung als Abschluss einer Expedition zur Erdvermessung. 1735 hatte der französische König zwei Expeditionen ausgesandt, die die geaue Länge des Erdumfangs gemessen über beide Pole oder über den Äquator feststellen sollten. Die erste Expedition ging nach Lappland und war relativ schnell mit ihrer Arbeit fertig, die zweite begab sich unter Leitung von de la Condamine nach der Gegend von Quito im heutigen Equador. Diese zweite Expedition dauerte wegen aller möglichen abenteuerlichen Zwischenfälle mehr als 10 Jahre. Die wissenschaftlichen Ergebnisse belegten zum erstenmal eindeutig die Abflachung der Erdkugel an den Polen und beendeten damit eine lange Kontroverse um die genaue Gestalt der Erde. Die Befahrung des Amazonas stellte eine zusätzliche beeindruckende Leistung dar. Schon vor de la Condamine hatten wagemutige Spanier den Amazonas befahren, aber das waren Abenteurer gewesen, denen die wissenschaftliche Erschliessung des Amazonasbeckens völlig ferngelegen hatte. Es ist ja generell bemerkenswert, dass die Spanier und Portugiesen zu dieser Zeit schon über 200 Jahre Südamerika beherrschten, ohne sich ernsthaft um eine wissenschaftliche Erschliessung und systematische Kartierung ihres Territoriums zu kümmern. Diese Arbeit wurde erst von Franzosen, Engländern und Deutschen geleistet, denen die spanische Kolonialverwaltung meistens sehr mistrauisch gegenüber stand. Neben dem präzisen und nüchternen Bericht von de la Condamine enthält dieser Band auf S. 329-379 die absolut unglaubliche Geschichte der Reise des Ehepaars Godin in Gestalt eines langen Briefes von M. Godin an de la Condamine. M. Godin des Odonais war ein Mitglied der Expedition von de la Condamine gewesen, aber nicht zusammen mit ihm zurückgekehrt, weil er während des Aufenthalts eine junge Dame aus einer vornehmen einheimischen Familie geheiratet hatte. Einige Jahre später entschloss er sich doch mit seiner Familie nach Frankreich zurückzukehren. Auch er wählte die Route über den Amazonas. Da nicht klar war, ob eine solche Reise seiner Frau samt Kindern zugemutet werden konnte, ging er zunächst allein, um dann gegebenenfalls seine Familie nachkommen zu lassen. Seine eigene Reise verlief mehr oder weniger problemlos, aber dann häuften sich alle möglichen Schwierigkeiten und er musste nicht weniger als 16 Jahre in Guayana auf seine Frau warten. Einmal gestartet verlief deren Reise katastrophal. Alle ihre Begleiter kamen unterwegs um und sie selbst wurde, halb wahsinnig im Urwald umherirrend, schliesslich von Indianern zu einer Missionsstation gebracht. Trotzdem trafen sich die beiden Ehegatten wieder und verbrachten dann noch eine ruhige Zeit auf der Besitzung von M. Godin in Frankreich. Man muss das wirklich selber lesen!
3. Redmond O'Hanlon: Congo Journey. Hamish Hamilton, London, 1996
Redmond O'Hanlon, both an 'homme de lettres' and an acomplished naturalist, is a long term natural history editor of the Times Litteray Supplement. He made his fame as a travel writer with his books on somewhat excentric journeys into three of the remotest and most dangerous areas of the few jungles that have remained on earth (Amazon, Borneo, Congo). This one deals with a journey into that part of the Congo which belongs to The People's Republik of the Congo/Brazzaville. Together with his friend Lary Shaffer, an Americam animal behaviourist and an official guide, Dr. Marcellin Agnagna, a Cuban-educated biologist in the Ministry for Conservation and Protected Areas, he intends to search for a strange dinosaur-like animal that was rumored to live in a remote lake deep in the jungle. Far from describing simply an adventerous trip (even though there is enough of somtimes nightmarish adventure) the book leads us deep into the heart of Africa both geographically and figuratively. I never red a report on African travel that succeeded in approaching the mentality of both, the local people as well as the Western traveller in such a perceptive, respectful and deeply humane manner. Written in a immensely readable, whitty style, it never becomes superficial. Learning a lot about such discrepant topics as African wildlife (espacially birds), the relationnship between Bantus and their pigmy slaves and the clash between African and Western Culture, I often felt like suddenly seeing an important aspect that I had failed to grasp before and that I would not have been able to formulate clearly myself. Do they ever meet the mysterious animal? Check it for yourself!
Whoever is interested in Redmond O'Hanlon's other travels or in his personality should read the sympathetic portrait of this remarkable man:
4. Christina Dodwell: Travels with Fortune. An African Adventure. The Long Riders Guild Press 2005. (First published by W. H. Allen, London 1979)
This is the first book of the renowned woman traveller describing her epic three year travel across western, southern and eastern Africa starting in 1975 when she was only 24 years old. Africa and the Africans (both black and white) seen through the wide open eyes of an curious, tremendously courageous, compassionate and occasionally somewhat naive english girl makes for a reading experience very different from anything I have seen before on African traveling. Written in a vivid, picturesque stile with a good sense of humour and entirely free of self-pity, she clearly concentrates on the more adventurous episodes when she travelled alone or with a female companion through untrodden paths of the country, often well beyond 'civilization', and glosses relatively quickly over parts of her travels on more conventional routes.Clearly the two most fascinating episodes are her description of a several weeks long descent in a dugout down the rivers Oubangui and Congo together with her friend Lesley and her solitary 3000 miles ride across Lesotho and the eastern part of South Africa. No women had ever before succeeded to travel by boat from Bangui to Brazzaville and probably nobody had ever mastered this distance in such a shaky boat. The ride started in Johannesburg where she bought a horse in the slaughterhouse that turned out to be the perfect and untiring companion for crossing the trackless wilderness. She appears free of prejudices, abstains from any political judgements and has the gift of easily making contact and coming along with people of all cultural backgrounds which is a tremendous asset when traveling with few resources except one's own intrepidity. Although her traveling at first glance appears governed entirely by chance and curiosity rather than planning, at times the text hints that she was probably less naive and more circumspect than is obvious from the first impression. Occasionally she met helpful friends of her family in unexpected places and her and her friend's adventures in Nigeria appeared a little less scary when it turned out that she herself was actually born and raised in Nigeria. Recently, I had the priviledge of meeting Christina Dodwell who is now in her late fifties but still full of energy that she invests in carefully selected small projects of developmental aid in Madagascar.
1. Elizabeth A. Bohls and Ian Duncan eds: Travel Writing 1700-1830. An Anthology. Oxfords World's Classics, Oxford University Press, 2005
All anthologies have the problem of selecting the relevant pieces to include. This one limits itself strictly to English Authors, tourists as well as explorers. Although it is certainly true that the English dominate travel writing in this (and not only in this) period, the titel is somewhat misleading. As a German, I certainly miss such a prototypical piece of romantic travel writing as Seume's 'Spaziergang nach Syrakus' (1803). But otherwise the texts are immensely entertaining and all are expertly, if briefly, commented and put into context. There is much opportunity to discover many a less known author. My appetite is certainly wetted for trying to obtain some of the original works from which the pieces were taken. The editors also took care to include the testimony of female writers (16 in 76) although, for obvious reasons, they are exceedingly scarce among the explorer type of travellers. As a naive reader, I was surprised how late in time people started to report their personal emotions while traveling through utterly foreign countries. So, do not feel deterred by the more than 500 pages and take this book as the perfect travel companion for your next holidays.
2. Anthony Smith: Explorers of the Amazon. Four Centuries of Adventure along the World's Greatest River. Viking, London, 1990
This book keeps an admirable balance between careful analysis of the sources and an eminently readable and fascinating story of adventure. A serious attempt is made not only to relate the accomplishments of the adventurers or scientific explorers but also to understand the motivation for their bold untertakings within the context of their time. The personalities of the explorers extend from Francisco de Orellana, the first European known to have traveled the Amazon from Peru down to its mouth, to Richard Spruce, the lonesome devoted botanist.This remarkable scientist collected plants in the Amazon woods for 14 years but aquired lasting fame only near to the end of his stay when he got involved in British Imperial Politics by securing seeds of the Cinchona tree for clandestine export. The history of the exploration of the Amazon basin is no less spectacular than the history of the discovery of the sources of the Nile.
3. Alan Moorehead: The White Nile. Hamish Hamilton, London, 1960
This is one of the most famous books of the distinguished writer and traveller. The text covers the events that led to the discovery of the sources of the white Nile and to the 'de facto' establishment of British rule along the total length of the river between 1856 and 1899. Indeed it conveys the flavour of the 'heroic times' of African discovery by mostly English but, occasionally, also German, French or Italian explorers together with the intricate blending of human endeavours and colonial politics. Today, less than 150 years after the crucial events so lively described by Moorehead, it is often difficult to imagine what fiery emotions of the general public at home accompanied the travels of Livingstone, Stanley or Baker, not to mention the defeat of General Gordon in Khartoum in the Mahdi wars or the victorious campain of General Kitchener that opened the Nile up to its sources for British colonial activities. The emotional discussions of the slave trade in Great Britain at the time and the ambiguities of the actual anti-slavery campains certainly get a fair treatment. Although Moorehead generally takes a rather detached stance on the colonial past and tries to do justice to the various interests involved, he does not hide his sympathy for the great British past in Africa. Nevertheless, even almost 50 years after its first publication the book not only offers an interesting read but still helps to understand some of the consequences of European colonialism for present day African developments.
4. Alan Moorhead: The Blue Nile. Hamish Hamilton, London, 1962
In 'The Blue Nile' Moorehead goes back to the end of the 18th century describing the history of the Nile valley up to the sources of the Blue Nile starting with Bruce's travels to lake Tana and the source of the Blue Nile (1768-1773, published 1790) and ending with Lord Napiers expedition against Emperor Theodore of Abyssinia 1867/68. While the story of the White Nile mainly deals with the acomplishments of the great explorers on the background of colonial politics, the 'Blue Nile' is mainly dominated by the lively description of various military campaigns by Napoleon, Mehmed Ali or Napier in the wake of each of which scientist-explorers penetrated into these little known countries. The travels of a few independen explorers are also covered like the one's of Bruce, Burckhardt and Baker. Moorehead provides a very sympathetic description of Napoleon's expedition to Egypt and shows how crucial this event has been for taking the Nile valley and it's tremendous archeological treasures back into the focus of European nations. Even Champollions deciphering of the hieroglyphs was an indirect result of Napoleons otherwise ill-fated military adventure. The conquest of the Nile vally by the Turks during the reign of Mehmed Ali gets a thorough, albeit critical treatment. Moorhead is at his best when describing the political troubles in Ethiopia leading to the British military expedition lead by Lord Napier and in recounting this memorable march itself. He is clearly fascinated with, though no uncritical admirer of, British imperial politics. On the other hand, his selection of European travellers and explorers is heavily biased towards the English and the French. Famous explorers like Rüppell, Brehm or, in particular, Richard Lepsius, all travelling during the turkish period between 1828 and 1856 in Nubia or Abyssinia go entirely unnoticed. Fürst Pückler-Muskau with his immensely entertaining report of Egyptian Travels in the eighteen thirties (though a little overly fascinated by Mehmed Ali) is mentioned only as having had the tastelessness of inscribing his name on one of the giant statues in Abu Simbel. Overall, however, the book provides a most readable account of the 19th century European 'rediscovery' of Egypt and Nubia and of the start of scientific evaluation of their immense treasure of antiquities.
5. Frank McLynn: Hearts of Darkness. The European Exploration of Africa. Hutchinson, London, 1992
This book attempts a concise analysis of the process and the results of the European 'discovery' of central Africa during the second half of the 19th century. McLynn is less interested in the actual achievements of the explorers than in the driving forces and motivations (both individual and political) behind their ardous travels. He also provides highly interesting insights into the means and resources that enabled individual travellers to penetrate into the African interior as well into the obstacles that had to be overcome. Last not least he disects the often catastrophic consequences of European interference for the endogenous tribal culture. In spite of acknowledgeing remarkable achievements of individual explorers, the author maintains a rather critical attitude towards their (and their sponsor's) motives, their dealings with the natives and the overall results of the Europeans intrusion into African politics. On the other hand, McLynn is far from being a neutral observer. As might perhaps be expected for an Englishman he is predominantly concerned with British efforts in African exploration, although French and German contributions get a fair, albeit not very thorough, treatment. Slightly more disturbing is his marked, though by no means uncritical, partiality in judging individual explorers. He seems most impressed by Stanley but condems Baker and deeply distrusts the myth of Livingstone. Without being able to check out all his cited sources, it remains difficult to assess his often harsh judgements. He might have good reasons for attacking long-cherished prejudices. Nevertheless I got somewhat suspicious of his method in analyzing personalities when I arrived at the very last chapter of this book entitled 'The psychology of the explorers'. Here an attempt is made to interpret their deeds and motivations in the context of Freudian psychanalysis. Although it is certainly justified not to take the explorer's own writings at face value, highly speculative suggestions of repressed (homo)sexuality or mother complexes seem not particularly helpful either. Yet, McLynn also provides quite a bit of more solid evidence for dark sides in the explorers personalities that used to be overlooked by their uncritical admirers.
6. Byron Farwell: Burton. A Biography of Sir Richard Francis Burton. Viking, Penguin Books, Harmondworth UK 1963, 2nd ed. 1988
Starting with his wife, Isabel Burton, quite a few authors have tried their skills in writing a biography of this eminent Victorian scholar and traveller. The most recent ones by Fawn Brodie (1967) and Frank McLynn (1990) have a decidedly psychoanalytical orientation. Although Burton certainly was a difficult character, I feel more at home with the more traditional biography of Byron Farwell (first published in 1963). It gives a colourful picture of this astonishig man and his time. Farwell is neither an uncritical admirer nor a speculative interpreter when he follows the many twists and turns of Burton's life story from a rather detached point of view. In addition to being an indefatigable traveller and explorer Burton was an acomplished ethnologist and philologist perfectly mastering at least 20 different languages. A prolific writer he produced about 30 books, many of which had more than one volume, in additon to numerous translations (including a celebrated edition of the 'Arabian Nights' and erotic literature). Farwell claims to have read all of Burton's works most of which he did not really like because many were composed in haste or almost drowned in annotations and footnotes. Most important for his fame as a traveller proved to be his reports from his pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina in diguise (1856) and from his expedition (together with Speke) to Lake Tanganjika in Central Afrika (1860). The famous controversy with Speke about the discovery of the Nile sources that only died down after Spekes mysterious death testifies to the darker side of his charakter, even though the roles of hero and villain cannot be clearly attributed to one or the other of the two men. Farwell presents Burtons difficult character plausibly and convincingly by relating his complicated relationsships with his peers, friends, superiors and his wife. Lacking human warmth and with a high talent of being offensive in his relation to others he must have been a fascinating mixture of a deeply rooted 19th century English conservative, a sincere admirer of Arabian culture, an insightful ethnologist and a man who often held (and enjoyed in holding) shockingly unconventional views.
7. Michael D. Coe: Breaking the Maya Code. Thames and Hudson, 1992
Although this is a book on archeology and decipherment rather than merely on travelling, I have included it here because it is an excellent introduction into the world of the Mayas (and the mayanists for that matter) for any serious visitor of the Maya sites in Mesoamerica. Coe, an anthropologist and eminent expert on mesoamericam precolumbian archeology gives an absorbing and very personal record of the many twists and turns finally leading to the decipherment of Maya inscriptions and how this has transformed our picture of the Maya and their civilization. Coe himself has been involved in some of the research effort and possesses an intimate knowledge of the personalities of Mayanist scholars both past and present. His book makes for particularly engaging reading because it focusses on the people that contributed to this great achievement of late twentieth century archeology and epigraphy. On the way one obtains not only an impression on how science forms out of the interaction of the scientists but also an extremely well written introduction into linguistics and into the structure of old writing systems.