The New Student's Reference Work/Africa

Africa (ăf'rĭ-kă). A hundred years ago the continent of Africa was almost unknown to the educated world of Europe and North America as regards its vast interior.


Why was Africa the last of the great continents to be effectively opened up? Partly because of the comparative abundance of its negro population, its warlike character and sturdiness of physique, which made it a very serious enemy to the pioneer before the days of machine guns; partly because of the great heat, and most of all, the moist heat of much of Negro Africa, and of the germ-diseases more prevalent there than any other part of the globe; and partly, perhaps mainly, because of the remarkable continuity of the African coastline, the striking absence of those great gulfs, those far-reaching straits or inlets of the sea, those rivers navigable from their mouths upwards for hundreds of miles, which are so prominent a feature in the geography of Asia, Europe, and the eastern side of America. Any far-reaching exploration of the African continent had to be made by land, over a country more savage, less imbued even with the elements of civilization than Asia or America. The navigability of rivers where it was not barred by cataracts or shallows, was choked with a growth of vegetation, the riding animals (horses, asses, oxen) were killed by the bite of the tsetse fly or by some other injected germ disease. All Africa outside the waterless deserts must have seemed to the first pioneers impassable from thickets or forest. In short, it needed tremendous resolution and bravery and all the most recent appliances of civilization before Africa could be conquered for the white man’s knowledge. And this result has only been finally achieved within the memory of middle-aged people now living. In 1875 the interior of Africa was still very little known. By 1914 it had been made better known than the interior of Asia or South America.


Africa is a sister continent to South America, which it slightly resembles in shape. In the more ancient history of the earth (say ten million years ago), Africa was connected by a land bridge with South America on the one hand, with India, Ceylon, Malaysia, and Australia on the other; while Australia and New Zealand were probably connected with the west side of South America, and South America across Antarctica with Australia. This is virtually proved by the similarity and coincidence of geological formations and the possession of an almost uniform flora in the Mesozoic age. In fact, this great continental belt is sometimes called “Gondwanaland” (from the typical rocks of Gondwana in the Indiana Dekkan) and sometimes the Glossopteris Continent, because of the predominant vegetation prevailing at the beginning of the Secondary Epoch. These regions might also be termed the “Diamond” Continent; for all the detached portions at the present day agree in possessing diamonds. Outside their areas no true diamonds are found except some doubtful examples in North America and Scandinavia. It is further interesting to note that the diamonds of South Africa rather resemble in quality and composition those of Australia than those of Liberia (West Africa), which are more akin to the diamonds of India, Guiana, and Brazil. Long after Glossopteris land had been broken up, a land connection subsisted more or less between Tropical Africa and India, and still more, and still later, between West Africa and Brazil. This is the only supposition which will explain the remarkable correspondence in many features between the fauna and flora of Tropical Africa and Tropical America, especially the Brazil-Guiana region and the West Indies.


The Africa of today, which has been for two million years or so separated from the great island of Madagascar, extends but little either north or south into the Temperate Zones. It is perhaps the most tropical of the continents, presents the greatest amount of land area to the vertical sun, and is consequently the hottest of the continents. Its greatest length, 5,000 miles, is from north to south, from Latitude 37°20' N. (Cap Blanc, near Bizerta, in Tunis) to 34°51' S. (Cape Agulhas, Cape Colony); and its greatest breadth—about 4,000 miles— is from Senegal to the eastern horn of Somaliland. Its total area is about 11,500,000 square miles. The northernmost projection of the continent, Mauretania, is noteworthy, especially in its western portion, for its high plateaus and ranges of lofty mountains, which culminate in the Atlas peaks of Morocco, attaining to more than 15,000 feet in altitude and being under perpetual snow. The Tripolitaine, which lies to the east of Mauretania, is little else than the Mediterranean coast of the Sahara, and consists of ranges of stony hills, low mountains, and arid plateaus, with occasional wastes of shifting sand, and a few depressions known as oases, wherein an easily reached water-supply maintains a comparatively rich vegetation. Egypt is a prolongation of this desert region traversed by the course of the Nile, which in its delta completely banishes the desert and presents us with a region of fertile mud and rich vegetation of a European and Asiatic character. The Sahara Desert region extends with nothing but the interruption of the Nile—and the few miles of cultivated region on either side of the Nile, between the Red Sea on the east and the Atlantic Ocean on the west. Arabia carries on the characteristics of the Sahara to the south of Persia and the northwest of India.


In Eastern Nigeria between the Eastern Niger, the Benue, and Lake Chad, and on the southern frontier of the central Sahara, there are high mountains which may attain to as much as 7,000 feet, perhaps more. South of the Benue the country is very mountainous, with altitudes of as much as 8,000 feet. Advancing from the Benue towards the Gulf of Guinea, we meet with peaks mostly of volcanic origin of 9,000 and 10,000 feet, culminating in the great volcanic mountain of the Cameroons, which is about 13,000 feet and is occasionally capped with snow. A few miles away to the west of the Cameroons lies the 10,000 feet high valcano of Fernando Po Island. From the Cameroons southwards there is an almost unbroken range of mountains at no great distance from the coast, which, except for the passage of a few great rivers, is continuous with Table Mountain at the Cape of Good Hope. The greater part of the center of Africa from the southern Sahara Desert to the southernmost limits of the Congo, is at an average altitude of 1,500 feet above sea level (with depressed areas and ancient lake-basins here and there). On the east this comparative flatness gives place somewhat abruptly to plateaus of 6,000 to 8,000 feet in height, above which towers the snow range of Ruwenzori (the true Mountains of the Moon), nearly under the Equator.


West Africa has a much greater rainfall than the eastern half of the continent. There is, however, a somewhat well-marked rainy equatorial belt, which extends from the Victoria Nyanza on the east to the Gambia River on the west, and expands over a good deal of the basin of the Congo, the lower and the upper Niger. This equatorial belt has some of the most splendid tropical forests the world can show. It is in this region also, especially in Central Africa, that some of the most rare and remarkable of African mammals continue to exist, such as the great Anthropoid Apes (Gorilla and Chimpanzi), the strange Drill and Mandrill Baboons, the Okapi, the Chevrotain, and (in Liberia) the Pygmy Hippopotamus and Zebra Antelope, The Lion has become extinct in North Africa within the last few years, but a Leopard of very large size still exists there, together with a Striped Hyena and the Common Jackal, the true Wild Boar, the Porcupine, and a Red Deer allied to that of Southern Europe. The Sahara Desert is by no means devoid of animal life. A few Lemurs (“half apes”) are still found in Tropical Africa and in Tropical Asia, but in Madagascar this group in the recent past developed extraordinarily. Within the human period there existed in Madagascar lemurs nearly as large as a man. Such remarkable forms are extinct now, as is also the gigantic bird of Madagascar, the Aepyornis, possibly the largest bird that this world has ever known, and the origin of the legend of the Rukh of the Arabian Nights. One of the most useful birds in Africa of the twentieth century is the Ostrich, which fortunately has been domesticated and brought into the service of man.


It was not, until 1884 that the wealth in gold of the Transvaal rocks was fully realized, and the gold industry centered in Barberton and Johannesburg was started on a large scale. Since then, the gold export of South Africa has risen to something like £36,000,000 (180,000,000 dollars) per annum. In the sixties of the last century, likewise, the existence of diamonds was made known in South Africa, and the working of diamonds brought immense wealth to that region and quite changed the history of the southern third of Africa. Within the last few years, however, diamonds have been discovered also in German Southwest Africa, in the south-western portion of the Congo basin, and in Liberia, on the west coast of Africa. Gold has also been discovered and worked in the north-eastern basin of the Congo and in Liberia. It has also been worked intermittently for several centuries in Bambara, in the basins of the upper Sengal and upper Niger. Another great source of wealth peculiar to Africa is the oil palm, the full importance of which is scarcely yet realized. The two distinct oils which come, the one from the kernel and the other from the husk of the nut, are not only of great value as food products for both man and beast, but they furnish the best material for soap, and for a great many other industrial products, including lubricating oils for machinery, and a vegetable fat for making butter. Other products of great future value in Africa will be timber and rubber from the forests and the plantations, the banana (which though not in its cultivated form native to the continent, has been established there for untold centuries), and maize, which, though introduced from America, has found a second home in Africa. Besides the ostrich also, Africa in many parts is a splendid field for horse and cattle breeding. The horses of North Africa are in great demand. So also are certain breeds of sheep and goat. Madagascar is celebrated for its cattle and apparently is free from the pest of the tsetse fly.


The total population of Africa at the present day is probably something like 151,000,000, and apportioned racially would consist of 120,000,000 Negroes and Negroids, 6,000,000 pure-blooded Europeans (absolute White men of Northern or Mediterranean stock), and 25,000,000 of handsome, physically well developed, but mentally rather backward, dark-skinned Caucasians—Berbers, Arabs, Egyptians, Galas, and Abyssinians. Quite distinct, from the true Negro is the Bushman of South Africa, a somewhat (but not always) stunted race, with a yellow skin, very sparse and tightly curled hair, and other peculiar physical features not ordinarily met with in the Negro, though sometimes occurring in the people of the Mediterranean basin. The Hottentot is nothing but an early hybrid between the true Negro and the Bushman.


Scarcely any portion of Africa at the present day can be described as independent of European rule. The Empire of Abyssinia maintains a tottering independence which cannot last much longer, owing to the utter inability of the ruling race, the Abyssinians, to impose law and order throughout their ill-governed dominions. The little Republic of Liberia on the west coast of Africa was founded by white Americans as a refuge for American slaves who had gained their freedom a hundred years ago. It has not so far been much of a success as a governing power over the wild negroes of the territory proclaimed as “Liberian,” and the government of the country is a good deal controlled and influenced nowadays by the American organizers lent by the United States. Not only is the whole of Africa controlled by Europe, but by Christian Europe; Muhammadan Turkey being excluded from any further interference in African affairs, since the Italian annexation of the Tripolitaine and the establishment of a British control in Egypt.


In the truly marvelous opening-up of Africa which has been taking place during the last twenty years, and more especially since the commencement of the present century, the great schemes and public works which most deserve mention in a brief record (beginning on the north and proceeding southwards) are the following:

The damming of the Nile at Assuan, at what is called the first (though it is really the last) of its cataracts. This operation, though it is leading to the submergence of the temples of Philae, will more than double its native population. For Egypt (compared to the rest of Africa) is a healthy land for Black, White, and Yellow. Give it a sufficient water supply in the way of irrigation and it will become one of the wealthiest regions, for its area, on the world’s surface and one of the most habitable. What the ultimate consequences of this regeneration of Egypt under the British aegis will be, it is interesting to speculate. Certainly the prosperity of this land will far exceed the greatest altitude ever reached in population and civilization at the best period of the rule of the dynastic Egyptians—let us say, Egypt 1,500 years before the time of Christ; and if ever Egypt again is one of the great nations of the world the thanks of her people will be due entirely to the British nation which undertook its regeneration.

The Italians are commencing a similar work in the Tripolitaine, and once Italy has got effective control we may look with confidence to the restoration of the sparsely inhabited region between Egypt and Tunis to a state of prosperity such as it has not enjoyed since it ceased to form part of the Roman Empire. Wells will be dug and will tap the immense reserves of water underlying the surface of the Sahara. The French have really transformed Tunis from a semi-desert country to one of the most fertile and beautiful in the Mediterranean Basin. Algeria has more than twice the native population at the present day which it possessed at the time the French abolished the rule of the Turkish pirates in 1830–40.


The French are entirely revolutionizing conditions of life in Morocco, chiefly by means of railways. They have carried their eventual Trans-Saharan Railway from Oran on the coast to a distance of 700 miles south, into the desert, beyond the range of the great Atlas. In fact, what with the work of the Italians in Tripoli, the British in Egypt, and the French in the rest of North Africa, there will, before very long, be a continuous line of rail between Tangier through North Africa to Alexandria and Cairo.

The French also, once they are free from any reasonable dread of German invasion, will complete their Trans-Saharan Railway right across the Desert of Timbuktu, arid joining with other railways already constructed or under construction, will eventually link up Tangier with Kano in Northern Nigeria, as well as the British, French and German colonies on the West African coast.

Tangier, which will certainly be the point of departure for these tremendous overland railway journeys through the once Dark Continent, constitutes at the present time a tiny internationalized state of Morocco, under the joint guardianship of Britain, France and Spain. It is, of course, only a few hours’ steam from Gibraltar and the Spanish and Portuguese coasts. It is the Calais of Africa, and perhaps some day may be its most important city.


The extraordinary rate at which railway building is now proceeding in Africa is justified commercially by recent discoveries of great mineral wealth. The tin and the coal of Nigeria; the phosphate deposits of Tunis; mineral oil in Somaliland, Egypt, and the Northern Sudan; gold, tin, copper, coal, petroleum, in North and Central Africa; haematite iron, lead, silver, in Morocco; phosphates, soda, copper, iron and gold in the Sahara Desert and the Egyptian Sudan; are, or will be, inducements for railway adventure in those regions, while in much of Central Africa, Angola, Nyasaland, Uganda, Kamerun, the Congo Basin and the forest regions of West Africa, the inducement for railway and road construction is often not mineral but vegetable; for these regions are producing ever-increasing quantities of rubber, coffee, cotton, tobacco, maize, peanuts, bananas, cocoa, palm-oil and palm-nuts; besides timber, cattle, hides and wax. One of the most interesting phases in the opening-up of Africa is the greatly increased application of the negro races to agriculture and horticulture on their own account. The cocoa of British West Africa is produced not by hired laborers or slaves for white planters, but by free natives working their own land. This is the case with regard to the immense ground-nut industry of French West Africa and the palm-oil and rubber of Southern Nigeria.

Natives of AfricaPlate I
1 Shilluk2 Dinka3 Woman of Porto Novo4 Fulah Girl5 Tamberma Man6 Man of Bamum7 Ama-ngqika8 Waushagga Girl9 Loango Girl10 Girl of Kamerun11 Pygmy12 Woman of Lunda

Natives of AfricaPlate II
1 Hadendoa2 Bedouin3 Biskra Girl4 Midgan5 Somal Woman6 Wahuma Girl7 Bushman Woman8 Horrentot9 Mukamba10 Hova Girl11 Sakalava Girl12 Masai Youth

1—Gorilla.2—Chimpanzee.3—Mandril.4—Giraffe.5—Koodoo Antelope.6—Lion.7—Hippopotamus.8—Elephant.9—Warthog.10—Aye-aye.11—Ringtail Lemur.12—Banana Bird.13—Jacko Parrot.14—Guinea Fowl.15—Ostrich.16—Shortbead.17—Chameleon.18—Rock Rabbit.