An African adventure like no other. At the start of the 20th century the British East Africa Protectorate is a beautiful but savage country. A veneer of civilization overlays a prehistoric land where a man stays alive “by dint of his courage, daring, cunning, and ferocity,” and can make a fortune smuggling ivory, gold and slaves from the jungles of the Congo to the black markets in Zanzibar.
Two American hunters, Kincaid and Gunner, are tossed back a hundred years in time and find themselves lost on East Africa’s Athi Plain where mischance – or great good fortune – makes them masters of a smugglers’ caravan on trek from the shores of Lake Victoria to the Uganda Railway at Nairobi, laden with £20,000 worth ($2.5 million) of illicit ivory, gold, and slaves.
To free the seventy natives held as slaves, they must survive assaults by askari military police, Arab slavers from Oman, Kavirondo tribal warriors, hired thugs in the streets of Mombasa, a lion’s mauling, and the mysterious wiles of a fierce and beautiful Baluba woman.
MY EAST AFRICAN SAFARI was sixty years in the making.
In my childhood, Africa seized my heart and soul when I came upon the adventure novel King Solomon’s Mines on the shelves of the public library, the book that took me on a dangerous, reckless trek with the white hunter Allan Quatermain, the noble Englishman Sir Henry Curtis, and Captain Good. Soon I was reading every African adventure book I could get my hands on.
I loved the “Lost World genre” stories that the 19th century English author H. Rider Haggard created when he penned King Solomon’s Mines, and I was enchanted by the incredible tales of heroic characters’ derring-do in the unexplored and mysterious interior of Africa, a continent of uncharted wilderness, fantastic wonders of nature, magnificent animals, bizarre tribal civilizations, forgotten histories, ancient legends, primitive religions and gods, and eerie paranormal forces.
I wanted it all and vowed that someday I would set off across the trackless veldt with a caravan of ox carts and native porters, a .470 Nitro Express double rifle over my shoulder, and a million square miles of awesome and perilous lands before me.
It was years before I learned that storyteller Haggard was an author of less than stellar literary merit (although he was surely a cut above Edgar Rice Burroughs, whose Tarzan novels seemed false and contrived to me even as a 10-year-old), and he was something of a plagiarist of tales if not actual text. His novels were heavy on fantasy and light on fact; the romantic Africa he portrayed in his stories existed mostly in his imagination and the excited minds of his readers.
By the time I made this discovery, it was too late. My own mind was in a state of fevered excitement, and my imagined Africa was every bit as wild and romantic as Haggard’s. After twice devouring his King Solomon’s Mines novel I gorged myself on his follow-up book Allan Quatermain, not comprehending in my childish ignorance that Africa had changed drastically over the seventy-five years since those books were first published in the 1880s.
Hungry for more, I read Rudyard Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King and Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. More contemporary tales – Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa, Ernest Hemingway’s Green Hills of Africa, and Robert Ruark’s Something of Value and Horn of the Hunter – broadened my knowledge and understanding but only sharpened my appetite.
There are a hundred non-fiction travelogues, memoirs and biographies written by and about adventurers from the golden age of African exploration, and I read all I could find. African Game Trails by Theodore Roosevelt, The Man-Eaters of Tsavo by Lt. Colonel J.H. Patterson, In Wildest Africa by Peter MacQueen, On Safari by Abel Chapman, Alan Moorehead’s history books The White Nile and The Blue Nile, the Zulu wars history The Washing of the Spears by Donald R. Morris, and of course the Frederick Courteney Selous autobiographies with the ridiculously long titles: A Hunter’s Wanderings in Africa: Being a Narrative of Nine Years Spent Amongst the Game of the Far Interior of South Africa; followed by East Africa: Being the Narrative of the Last Eleven Years Spent by the Author on the Zambesi and Its Tributaries; and finally his African Nature Notes and Reminiscences.
Not until my late teens did I realize that I would never experience any of these African stories. It slowly dawned on me that while I could travel to East Africa and put my boots upon the land where these wondrous exploits and quests had played out over the previous hundred years, I could not travel back though time. As far as the romance and adventure of safari life is concerned, the Kenya of today is but a shadow of the British East Africa Protectorate of the 19th century.
I was crushed. Africa, no longer a mysterious blank space on the map but a travel brochure picturing trendy tourist destinations, receded to the periphery of my world and its colors faded. My adventuresome spirit wandered off in search of other wonderful places.
But Africa must have been stalking me over the years, refusing to let me abandon her, because one day I opened my keyboard and my fingers typed:
Simba and chui hold court nightly over his grave,
but the roar of the lion and the scream of the leopard
do not trouble his rest for he is in paradise
where all is happiness.
And I was off on Safari for the next three years. It was exciting. Wonderful and horrible. Brutal and beautiful. Harsh and romantic. I hope its story will bring you the same fascination and joy those African adventure books of my youth brought to me. Because that’s why I wrote it.
IVORY AND GOLD
A Safari into the Sandhills and across the Athi Plain
by Jerry Johnson
Cover design by Aaron Lurth