1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Kasai

KASAI, or Cassai, a river of Africa, the chief southern affluent of the Congo. It enters the main stream in 3° 10′ S., 16° 16′ E. after a course of over 800 m. from its source in the highlands which form the south-western edge of the Congo basin—separating the Congo and Zambezi systems. The Kasai and its many tributaries cover a very large part of the Congo basin. The Kasai rises in about 12° S., 19° E. and flows first in a north-easterly direction. About 10° 35′ S., 22° 15′ E. it makes a rectangular bend northward and then takes a north-westerly direction. Five rivers—the Luembo, Chiumbo, Luijimo or Luashimo, Chikapa and Lovua or Lowo—rise west of the Kasai and run in parallel courses for a considerable distance, falling successively into the parent stream (between 7° and 6° S.) as it bends westward in its northern course. The Luembo and Chiumbo join and enter the Kasai as one river. A number of rapids occur in these streams. A few miles below the confluence of the Lowo, the last of the five rivers named to join the Kasai, the main stream is interrupted by the Wissmann Falls which, though not very high, bar further navigation from the north. Below this point the river receives several right-hand (eastern) tributaries. These also have their source in the Zambezi-Congo watershed, rising just north of 12° S., flowing north in parallel lines, and in their lower course bending west to join the Kasai. The chief of these affluents are the Lulua and the Sankuru, the Lulua running between the Kasai and the Sankuru. The Sankuru makes a bold curve westward on reaching 4° S., following that parallel of latitude a considerable distance. Its waters are of a bright yellow colour. After the junction of the two rivers (in 4° 17′ S., 20° 15′ E.), the united stream of the Kasai flows N.W. to the Congo. From the south it is joined by the Loange and the Kwango. The Kwango is a large river rising a little north of 12° S., and west of the source of the Kasai. Without any marked bends it flows north—is joined from the east by the Juma, Wamba and other streams—and has a course of 600 m. before joining the Kasai in 3° S., 18′ E. The lower reaches of the Kwango are navigable; the upper course is interrupted by rapids. On the north (in 3° 8′ S., 17° E.) the lower Kasai is joined by the Lukenye or Ikatta. This river, the most northerly affluent of the Kasai, rises between 24° and 25° E., and about 3° S. in swampy land through which the Lomami (another Congo affluent) flows northward. The Lukenye has an east to west direction flowing across a level country once occupied by a lake, of which Lake Leopold II. (q.v.), connected with the lower course of the Lukenye, is the scanty remnant. Below the lake the Lukenye is known as the Mfini. Near its mouth the Kasai, in its lower course generally a broad stream strewn with islands, is narrowed to about half a mile on passing through a gap in the inner line of the West African highlands, by the cutting of which the old lake of the Kasai basin must have been drained. The Kasai enters the Congo with a minimum depth of 25 feet and a breadth of about 700 yards, at a height of 942 ft. above the sea. The confluence is known as the Kwa mouth, Kwa being an alternative name for the lower Kasai. The volume of water entering the Congo averages 321,000 cub. ft. per second: far the largest amount discharged by any of the Congo affluents. In floodtime the current flows at the rate of 5 or 6 m. an hour. The Kasai and its tributaries are navigable for over 1500 m. by steamer.

The Kwango affluent of the Kasai was the first of the large affluents of the Congo known to Europeans. It was reached by the Portuguese from their settlements on the west coast in the 16th century. Of its lower course they were ignorant. Portuguese travellers in the 18th century are believed to have reached the upper Kasai, but the first accurate knowledge of the river basin was obtained by David Livingstone, who reached the upper Kasai from the east and explored in part the upper Kwango (1854–1855). V. L. Cameron and Paul Pogge crossed the upper Kasai in the early “seventies.” The Kwa mouth was seen by H. M. Stanley in his journey down the Congo in 1877, and he rightly regarded it as the outlet of the Kwango, though not surmising it was also the outlet of the Kasai. In 1882 Stanley ascended the river to the Kwango-Kasai confluence and thence proceeding up the Mfini discovered Lake Leopold II. In 1884 George Grenfell journeyed up the river beyond the Kwango confluence. The systematic exploration of the main stream and its chief tributaries was, however, mainly the work of Hermann von Wissmann, Ludwig Wolf, Paul Pogge and other Germans during 1880–1887. (See Wissmann’s books, especially Im Innern Afrikas, Leipzig, 1888.) On his third journey, 1886, Wissmann was accompanied by Grenfell. Major von Mechow, an Austrian, explored the middle Kwango in 1880, and its lower course was subsequently surveyed by Grenfell and Holman Bentley, a Baptist missionary. In 1899–1900 a Belgian expedition under Captain C. Lemaire traced the Congo-Zambezi watershed, obtaining valuable information concerning the upper courses of the southern Kasai tributaries. The upper Kasai basin and its peoples were further investigated by a Hungarian traveller, E. Torday, in 1908–1909. (See Torday’s paper in Geog. Jour., 1910; also Congo and the authorities there cited.)