Last Letter from the Heart of Africa

Henry Stanley

New York Herald/August 12, 1876

Last Letter from the Heart of Africa


Thwarted in His Plans by the Kishakka


The Supposed Lake West of Albert Niyanza


Stanley Contradicts the Statement of Colonel Long

Ubagwe, Western Unyamwezi, Central Africa

April 24, 1876

We departed from the capital of Karagwe with very brave intentions and high aspirations. We had discovered that the Kagera River formed a great lake about eighty miles in length and from five to fourteen miles in breadth, and that at Kishakka the Kagera was still a powerful, deep-flowing river, and curious reports from natives and Arabs had created curious ideas within our minds as to the source of this noble river. Imbued with the thought that by journeying a sufficient distance along its right bank we might discover this source, we made ample preparations for the crossing of a wide wilderness, packed ten days’ provisions of grain on the shoulders of each man of the expedition, and on the 27th of March set out for the uninhabited land.

On the second day of our departure from the Karagwe capital we came to the east side of a lake, a long, narrow, winding body of water. We marched along its eastern shore for three days, a distance of thirty-six miles; on the fourth day and fifth day an obstructing ridge shut it from our view while marching, but by occasionally surmounting the ridge I managed to obtain views of its stream-like water, still extending south and southwest. On the sixth day we came to Uhimba, the frontier of Karagwe, where, behind a ridge, which extends between Uhimba and the lake, we saw the extreme south end of the lake we had so long followed.

From a point of observation near Uhimba we saw also a decided change in the formation of the broad valley of the Kagera. The mountainous ridges bounding the western shore of the Kagera, which, extending from Mpororo south, continue on a south by west course, became broken and confused in Southern Kishakka, and were penetrated from the northwest by a wide valley, through which issued into the Kagera a lake-like river called Akanyaru. Southwest was seen the course of the Kagera, which, above the confluence of the Akanyaru with it, was only a swift flowing river of no very great depth or breadth. Such a river I thought might well be created by the drainage of Eastern Urundi and Western Uhha. My attention was drawn from the Kagera to the lake-like stream of Akanyaru, and several natives stated to me while looking toward it that it was an effluent of the Kagera, and that it emptied into the Albert Niyanza. Such an extraordinary statement as this could not be received and transmitted from me to you as a fact without being able to corroborate it on my own authority. Exploration of the mouth of the Akanyaru proves that the Akanyaru is not an effluent, but is an affluent of the Kagera.

Beyond the mouth of the Akanyaru I dared not go, as the natives of Kishakka on the left bank, and Ugufu on the right bank, are too wild altogether. I find the long-legged race inhabiting the countries west of Uganda, Karagwe and Usui 3 have a deadly aversion to strangers. The sight of a strange dog seems sufficient to send them to mad rage and paroxysms of spear shaking and bow bending. They are all kin to the long-legged mortals of Bumbireh, who sounded the war cry at the mere sight of our inoffensive exploring boat floating on the Victoria Lake. They are so dreadfully afraid of losing their cattle that if one cow dies from sickness the whole country is searched to discover the stranger who has bewitched the cow to death, for whose loss, if one is found, his life is forfeit to the purblind, small brained natives.

Human beings frequently astonish one another in all countries by their hobbies, and by showing excessive fondness for gold, horses, dogs, cats, clothes, birds, &c., but the love which the Wasongora, Wanyankori, Wa-Ruanda, Wa-Kishakka, Wagufu, Wanyamba and Watusi exhibit for their cattle is an extreme, selfish and miser-like affection. A stranger might die in any of those countries for lack of one drop of milk. Generous and sweet-tempered as Rumanika proved himself, he never offered to give me even one teaspoonful of milk during the time I was with him, and had he given me a milk can his people would have torn him limb from limb. From this excessive love for their cattle springs their hostility to strangers, and this hostility arises from a dread of evil or fear of danger. By maintaining a strict quarantine and a system of exclusiveness they hope to ward off all evil and sudden disaster to their cattle, which are their sole means of subsistence.

By comparing the information derived from natives of Uhimba, Ugufu, Kishakka, Urundi and Ruanda I am able to give you additional details of the source and course of the Kagera River, and I hold out to myself some small hope that in a few months from the present date I may be able to explore from another quarter a tract of country which, hypothetically, I believe contains the extreme sources of this river. Until that period let the following stand for the utmost of our knowledge of it.

From a ridge near Mtagata Hot Springs, having an altitude of 6,500 feet above the ocean I obtained a view of Ufumbiro Mountains, which have a height of about 12,000 feet. This group consists of two sugar loaf cones and a lumpy mass, and is situate about forty geographical miles west-northwest from Mtagata, and form a barrier at that spot between Mpororo and Ruanda.

The course of all the main ridges and valleys from Ruanda to the Victoria Niyanza appear to be south by west. Nay, you may say that from Alexandria to the Nyassa Lake, the central portion of Africa appears to be formed into ridges, deep troughs or basins, or valleys, whose length is from north by east to south by west, or from northeast to southwest. Regard the course of the Nile from Lake Albert to Alexandria, the position of Lakes Albert, Tanganyika and Nyassa, as well as the Victoria Lake. Follow the course of the Mokattem range of mountains through Nubia, Abyssinia, Galla, Masai and Usagara; trace the plateau of Masai, Unyamwezi, Urori, Ubisa, south to the Bechuana country, and you will perceive that the general lay of almost all rivers, lakes, mountains, basins and plateaus is from northeasterly to southwesterly. On a reduced scale it is even so with all the mountain ridges and valleys between the Lakes Victoria and Albert. It seems as if the throes which Africa suffered during that grand convulsion which tore her asunder heaved up these stupendous ridges and sunk those capacious basins now filled with lengthy and broad expanses of crystal-clear water were keenest and severest about these lake regions; for here the mountains are higher, the valleys deeper and narrower. We have no longer the wide, billowy plateau, whose successive swells make travel and exploration tedious, but lengthy lines of mountains of enormous frame, separated from each other by deep, narrow valleys, with a hundred and many wonders presented to the view at a glance.

From Mtagata Mountain, while looking toward the Ufumbiro cones, there were visible three lofty ridges, separated by as many broad valleys. First was the Ishango and Muvari ridge, west of the Kagera Lake and valley, and west of this were two ridges, with the valley of Muvari between the two easternmost and a valley of Ruanda between the two westernmost. The two latter ridges appear to run parallel with each other from east and west of Ufumbiro Mountains, and shut in the valley of the Ni-Nawarango or Nawarongo River, which, rising in Ufumbiro Mountains, flows south by west between Muvari and Ruanda, and enters Akanyaru Lake, thirty by twenty miles in extent. From Akanyaru Lake issues Akanyaru River, between Ugufu and Kishakka, into the Kagera. The Kagera proper, coming from the southwest, also enters Akanyaru Lake, but leaves the lake south of Ugufu and takes a curve northeasterly between Ugufu and Western Usui.

West of Akanyaru I could get no certain intelligence. I have heard of another large lake lying west, but what connection it has with the Kagera, or whether it has any, I cannot learn definitely. One says that is is an arm of Luta Nzige or Lake Albert, another declares it to be a separate lake. Whatever it be I believe I will be able to discover at a later period.

With the best intentions to prosecute my explorations along the Kagera I was paralyzed by famine in Usui and the hostility of the Warundi, and was obliged to abandon exploration from this side of the Tanganyika. Summing up all the chances remaining for me to do good work without expending vainly my goods and the health and energy left in me, I saw it was useless to sit down and launch invectives against the intractable natives, and that it was far better and more manly to hurry on to other regions and try Lake Albert by another route from the opposite quarter.

You will perceive by this letter that I am now in Western Unyamwezi, about fifteen days journey from Ujiji. What I propose doing now is to proceed quickly to Ujiji, then explore the Tanganyika in my boat, and from Uzige strike north to the Albert, and if that road be not open to cross the Tanganyika and travel north by a circuitous course to effect the exploration of the Albert. It may not be actually necessary to explore that lake, for Gordon or some of his officers may have accomplished that work, but I have no means of knowing whether they have done so or not; it therefore remains for me, if the feat is possible, to circumnavigate it. If it is not I shall strike out for other regions and continue exploration elsewhere, until my poverty of goods warns me to return.

By the same bearer which conveys this letter to the coast I send four others, which have been kept by me until I had an opportunity to send them. Three at least I expected to put in person into the hands of one of Gordon’s officers; but it was not fated to be so. From Ujiji I shall send the duplicates of these letters to the coast, and before I quite leave that port I expect to possess other geographical items to transmit to you.

Gordon PACHA was kind enough to send me a Daily Telegraph of December 24, 1874, and a Pall Mall Gazette of the same month, which I received in Uganda just before starting for the Albert Niyanza. In the Telegraph I saw a short letter from Cameron, dated May 3, 1873, wherein he says he has discovered the outlet of the Tanganyika to be the Lukuga. Cameron has been fortunate and energetic, and deserves credit for the discovery. But he says he has not quite circumnavigated the Tanganyika because he did not think it worthwhile after discovering the Lukuga. It may be Cameron, by this omission, has left me something to discover in the Tanganyika, but whether or not, the Lady Alice shall not quit the waters of that lake until I have finished the two-thirds left unvisited by me on my first expedition.

In the Pall Mall Gazette I read a more startling statement which deserves from me a flat contradiction, as no doubt it received from Colonel Grant. The article stated that Colonel Long, of the Egyptian service, declared that he had just returned from a visit to the King of Uganda, and he had discovered, to his surprise, that Lake Victoria was a body of water about twelve miles in width! Now, I do know it as a fact that Colonel Long, or Long Bey, was in Uganda in July, 1873; but if he states that the Victoria Niyanza is only twelve miles in width he states what every snub-nosed urchin in Uganda would declare to be most astounding nonsense. The width of twelve miles is what I would give Murchison Bay, a portion of which bay is visible from Kibuga, one of the Emperor’s capitals. If M. Linant de Bellefonds, of the Egyptian service, who discovered me in Uganda, is now in Europe, he is requested to publish his opinion of Lake Victoria, even from what he saw of it from Usavara.

The Pall Mall Gazette adds that it was always the opinion of Captain Burton that Speke had exaggerated the extent of Lake Victoria. Last year I sent you a map of the southern, eastern, northern and northwest coasts of Lake Victoria. Enclosed in this package you will find a sketch map of the southwest coast, with which you may compare Speke’s hypothetical outline of the Victoria Lake and judge for yourselves whether Speke has been guilty of much exaggeration.

(Source: “Stanley’s Despatches to the New York Herald,