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Posted in Africa, Bravery, Famous battles, Heroes and Heroines, Historical articles, History, War on Thursday, 6 March 2014
This edited article about Rorke’s Drift first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 581 published on 3 March 1973.
Dust flicked into the horseman’s eyes and caked on to his skin still prickling with fear and shock. The rocky landscape flashed by, a cheerless, inhospitable vista which, for all its surface calm, could easily hide clutches of warriors, ready to pounce, not content, as Lieutenant Vane well knew, merely to kill their victims. After what had happened at Isandhlwana, Vane had no doubt about the fate that awaited him if he fell into Zulu hands.
A gentle rise in the ground brought him within sight of Rorke’s Drift. It looked pitifully vulnerable, just a couple of long, stone buildings with the slopes of Mount Oskarberg rising behind them, and it had no defences, no ramparts and no entrenchments.
The wave of Zulus swarming over the few miles from Isandhlwana could swamp the place in minutes and “wash their spears,” as their ruthless king had commanded, in yet more human blood.
The ferocity and dedication of the Zulu warrior was well known and well feared in the Transvaal a century ago. The Boers, who first ventured there in 1835, had found them a constant danger to their farms, their herds, in fact to their very survival, and when the British annexed the Transvaal in 1877, they inherited the problem.
Their solution was both imperious and arbitrary: the only way to remove the Zulu menace was to annexe Zululand.
It was to provide an excuse for annexation that in December 1878, the British presented Cetawayo, the Zulu king, with demands they knew he could not meet: for to do so would have meant handing his land and people over to the British and dismantling his army.
As expected, Cetawayo ignored the ultimatum, and the result, as planned, was the invasion of Zululand in mid-January 1879 by 13,000 British troops.
When their entry went unopposed, many British soldiers presumed that this was to be yet another colonial war in which wild, disorganised savages would be quickly overcome by the superior weapons and fighting methods of the white man.
The first troops to discover the fatal falsity of this notion were those who were encamped, casually and without defences, at Isandhlwana on 22nd January. That morning, a great tide of Zulus poured down from the surrounding hills and erupted into the camp, slashing and stabbing with their assegais until over 1,300 men lay dead.
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Posted in Africa, Discoveries, Exploration, Historical articles, History, Rivers on Thursday, 6 March 2014
This edited article about Mungo Park first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 580 published on 24 February 1973.
Mungo Park was exhibited in a market place as a sideshow and forced to dress and undress many times a day to show the tribesmen his strange white skin and odd-buttoned clothes, by Angus McBride
“Nothing can be more beautiful than the views of the immense river; sometimes as smooth as a mirror, at other times ruffled with a gentle breeze, but at all times sweeping us along at the rate of six or seven miles an hour.”
So wrote Mungo Park about Africa’s mystery river, called by the inhabitants the “Joliba” – the “Great Water.” In 1805, when Park went to Africa, no one knew where the Niger rose nor where it terminated. Geographers believed it ran to waste in the burning deserts. Park himself believed it to be a tributary of the Congo. But he was in Africa determined to trace it, and wherever it went – he was going.
Mungo Park was the son of a Lowland Scots farmer. As a boy he was known for “the gravity and decorum of his manner.” Apprenticed to a surgeon, Thomas Anderson, whose daughter Alison he was to marry, and whose son Alexander he was to whisk away to his death in Africa, Mungo was “passed at Surgeons’ Hall” in 1791.
He was twenty-three when he received an offer to explore the Niger for the African Association, which had already sent three unsuccessful expeditions. In June, 1795, he landed at Jonkakonda on the Gambia River, dressed in cotton breeches, a blue coat and a waistcoat with brass buttons. The last of these buttons was to save his life in the wild interior of Africa.
All that Mungo wrote about that first journey showed him to have been a humane, kindly man who looked upon the Africans as equal human beings with whom he made many friendships. He was young and inexperienced, so that often he was robbed and cheated unmercifully, but he took it in good part, until he came to the “Moors.” These were people of mixed descent, Arab and African, who lived on the southern fringes of the Great Desert. According to him, they were a vicious people who terrorised and robbed the Africans, considering them only good for slavery. Fanatical Moslems, they viewed Christians as devils in human form whose destruction would be rewarded in Paradise.
Into their hands, Mungo naively delivered himself, penniless, alone except for a servant boy and unarmed. They seized him and enslaved his “boy.” Mungo, they subjected to insult and indignity. He was exhibited in the market place as a side show, and forced to undress and dress forty times a day to display his strange white skin and odd-buttoned clothes. For three months, he was the prisoner of King Ali, dragged out to amuse the tribesmen, otherwise kept in a hut with barely enough food or water to sustain life. Had it not been for Queen Fatima, who looked favourably upon the handsome young Scot and interceded with Ali on his behalf, he knew he would have been murdered out of hand.
In the confusion of a tribal war, Mungo finally escaped. A fugitive, followed by Ali’s men, he still pressed on, using his last brass button to buy a few days’ food. Reaching the Niger at Sego, he fell on his knees, to drink the water and give thanks to God. Only then did he turn back, joining a slave trader’s caravan which at last brought him safely to Gambia and a ship to Britain.
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Posted in Africa, Historical articles, History, Religion, Ships on Wednesday, 5 March 2014
This edited article about Muslim slave traffickers first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 579 published on 17 February 1973.
The bombardment of Algiers by Lord Exmouth in 1816
Seconds after the quarter-master’s command, flame belched from the cannons’ mouths. A cannon-ball whistled through the black sail of one of the pirate ships which was closing in on the English vessel Mercy.
The Mercy, bound for Jamaica with a cargo of wool, had little chance against the sleek Algerian Corsairs. These pirates were the terror of the Mediterranean and the seas off the African coast. Sometimes they even raided the English Channel, carrying off the crews of French and English fishing-boats to sell in the slave markets of Algiers.
During the Napoleonic Wars they had become even bolder, because the ships of Christian Europe had been too busy doing battle with each other to worry about the Muslim raiders.
Now the Mercy was to become another victim. For an hour she had held the pirates at bay with her six guns, but now they were bearing down for the kill.
As they swept alongside, grappling hooks were thrown into the rigging of the Mercy and a wave of yelling Moors clambered aboard the merchantman. In vain the English seamen fought them with their cutlasses. Within minutes they were overwhelmed. Half the crew were killed, and the other half locked in chains.
Five weeks later, the survivors of the attack were herded into the slave market of Algiers. In those days Algiers had a population of 80,000, of whom 25,000 were slaves.
“Before the bidding begins, you have a chance to win your freedom,” said the master of the market. “If you give up your religion and turn to the true faith, your chains will be thrown away.”
There was no response from the little band of captives. The master gave the word for the selling to begin.
The highest price that day was paid for a tall Englishman called John Oakley. He had been a carpenter aboard the Mercy, and his fine physique made him a good investment in the eyes of the Moorish merchants.
Oakley was bought by an Algerian nobleman, and in the weeks that followed he had to toil in the gardens of a palace. Often he felt the burning pain of the overseer’s whip across his naked back. But he did not cry out. Only one thought filled his mind. Somehow he was going to escape. . .
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Posted in Africa, Historical articles, History, Ships on Tuesday, 25 February 2014
This edited article about Christian slaves first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 567 published on 25 November 1972.
John Fox was captive for 14 years before escaping from a Turkish jail, by Ken Petts
A fair wind filled the sails of the English merchantman Three Half Moons as she drew near to the Straits of Gibraltar. On deck the crew busied themselves trimming the sheets and breathed deeply the warm air from the Mediterranean. Their home port of Portsmouth, wreathed in rain upon their departure, was a thousand miles away and the rest of the voyage to Seville lay on a sea of sunshine.
From the crow’s nest came an urgent cry: “Ships a’starboard-and a’port.”
Despite the warmth in the air, the crew of the Three Half Moons felt a chill in their blood. For they were in pirate waters – the most notorious pirate waters in the world.
In that year of 1563, when good Queen Bess reigned over England, the Barbary States which stretched across the northern shores of Africa harboured thousands of Turkish pirates whose sole occupation was capturing Christian ships and selling their crews into slavery. No ship that entered the Mediterranean was immune from them, and the Three Half Moons from Portsmouth was to be no exception.
A glance over the side showed that to run for it was folly. There were eight swift Turkish pirate galleys armed to the gun-whales bearing down on them and it needed no second glance to see that it would be as great a folly to resist.
But there were brave men on the Three Half Moons, none braver than one Groves, the ship’s master. With his sword held aloft he rallied his crew.
“We’ll die like Englishmen, lads!” he cried. “Man the gun, Master Fox.”
John Fox, who came from Woodbridge in Suffolk, eagerly set to priming his powder. And, backed by the stinging arrows of his fellow seamen, his single gun was soon creating havoc among the approaching pirate galleys.
It was, as all the crew knew it would be, a hopelessly one-sided battle. In a short while the little English ship, holed dozens of times below the water line, was listing badly. The Turks closed in, ready to board, but even as they swarmed up the sides they were attacked tenaciously by Master Groves and his crew.
Against overwhelming odds the crew were finally overcome. Their clothes were torn from their backs and they were hustled in chains to the oars of the pirate galleys, where they were made to row under the Mediterranean sun by being cruelly whipped.
At the end of summer the pirate fleet put in at Alexandria, where, for the purpose of the Barbary pirates, there was a large fortified complex containing a harbour for the galleys and a prison for the Christian slaves. Into the prison, loaded with chains, went the wretched crew of the Three Half Moons. And there, for the next 14 years, they worked as galley slaves, beaten and half starved until they longed only for the release of death.
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Posted in Africa, Historical articles, History, Politics, Royalty, World War 2 on Monday, 24 February 2014
This edited article about Ethiopia first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 563 published on 28 October 1972.
Haile Selassie raises the Ethiopian flag after five years of Italian occupation, by Angus McBride
The flagpole stood in the centre of the dry cracked river bed, stark and bare against the thick jungle that crowded down on either side. During the rainy season, a mass of water churned and thundered by this spot, but now in January, only a few stagnant pools remained, with crocodiles lashing their tails into intermittent view above a coating of scum.
A small, slightly-built man stepped from the shadow of the trees and made his way across the river bed. He reached the flagpole and slowly hauled to the top a gold, green and red standard inset with the fierce, scowling emblem of the Lion of Judah.
It was the first time in nearly five years that Emperor Haile Selassie, Lion of Judah, Elect of God, King of Kings of Ethiopia, had seen his country’s flag flying on the soil of his long-suffering kingdom.
On October 3rd, 1935, the Fascist armies of Italy had invaded Ethiopia from the Italian colonies of Somaliland and Eritrea. They could hardly have chosen a more vulnerable enemy; for the Ethiopian army was thoroughly antiquated and the Ethiopian people backward, even barbaric, and certainly easy to terrorise.
In the seven months the unequal war lasted, both were totally helpless as Italian bombers roared down on undefended villages, encampments and hospitals, bringing with them a holocaust of fire and the burning, choking, blinding fumes of gas.
Ethiopian soldiers, armed sometimes with no more than staves and swords, were pounded by artillery and pursued in inevitable retreat by fast armoured vehicles. When, with almost ludicrous bravery, they made massed charges on barbed wire defences or machine-gun nests, the result was only slaughter and useless sacrifice.
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Posted in Africa, Animals, Australia, Nature, Wildlife on Friday, 21 February 2014
This edited article about desert wildlife first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 562 published on 21 October 1972.
A Fennec manages to escape its powerful enemy, the Eagle Owl by Eric Tansley
We usually think of deserts as being hot, dry places. The ground is stony or sandy and the sun beats down from a clear blue sky. The only vegetation is a few scattered plants and there are no animals to be seen.
This is the popular idea of a desert and such places do exist, but the word desert really means a barren tract of land where there is very little rainfall. The Antarctic continent is a desert because the annual rainfall, in the form of snow, is very small.
But there are many desert regions which support a variety of plants and animals and only the driest parts are completely lacking in plant and animal life.
Desert life is based on what little rainfall there is. Some deserts get regular rain in the winter while others have to rely on rare showers. Yet even a small shower is often sufficient to produce a burst of plant life. Seeds rapidly send out shoots and dried up plants gain a new lease of life. The leaves and seeds of these plants provide food for all kinds of desert mammals.
The hot deserts of the world are the home of many kinds of small rodents. The most familiar of these are the gerbils which live in the desert regions of Africa and Asia. The jerboas or “desert rats” of North Africa and Asia look like miniature kangaroos. They have long hind legs, long tails and short front legs. The kangaroo rats of the south-western U.S.A. and northern Mexico and the kangaroo mice of Australia are also desert-dwellers.
These little animals from all over the world have many things in common which suit them for living in dry country. They all have long tails which act as balancers and long hind legs which are used for hopping. The jerboa hardly ever walks normally but progresses by leaps of up to 10 feet. This is a very useful way of getting about in the desert, where the plants that the rodents feed on are widely scattered. The jerboas and gerbils have hairy soles on their feet which give them a better grip on soft sand and probably makes standing on hot ground more comfortable.
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Posted in Africa, Animals, Birds, Farming, Nature, Wildlife on Friday, 21 February 2014
This edited article about birds first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 561 published on 14 October 1972.
The Quelea among other creatures by A Oxenham
Large areas of Africa are covered by savannah country. They reach from Senegal and the Sudan in the north, through East Africa to South Africa. Savannahs are grasslands with scattered woods and solitary trees. For most of the year savannahs are dry, except around lakes and swamps and in river valleys. They form the most familiar African countryside because they are the home of the big game animals – the antelope, zebra, giraffe and elephants.
The mixture of grass and trees reminds one of an English park, especially after the rainy season when the vegetation is green and fresh, but the last 20 or 30 years have seen a great change come over much of the African savannah. Large areas have been ploughed up so that crops can be grown to support the rapidly increasing human population. Millet, rice and wheat have replaced the natural grasses.
The disappearance of the original plants has also led to the disappearance of many of the native animals. Antelope and elephants are not appreciated in agricultural regions, but there is one small bird that readily eats the ears of cultivated grasses and descends on the crops in such vast numbers that it is a major pest. This is the black-faced dioch, or quelea, as it is now generally called from its scientific name Quelea quelea.
The quelea is a relative of our common house sparrow. It is the same size as a house sparrow and has similar, generally dull, plumage but the conical bill is red. Queleas are nomads; it is possible to travel many miles through the savannahs without seeing a single specimen. Then a flock is encountered, feeding on grass seeds, drinking at a waterhole or roosting in a clump of trees. A couple of weeks later, the flock disappears; it has eaten all the grass seeds and has flown off in search of new feeding grounds.
The quelea flocks are so large it is impossible to count the birds in them. When feeding, a flock is continually on the move. As the birds find themselves at the back of the flock, they fly over the heads of their comrades and land at the front. The effect has been described as looking like “a great black cloud rolling steadily forward across the plain.” When the flock goes to roost in the evening, it may need several acres of trees to provide perching space for the tens of thousands of birds, and stout branches may break under their weight.
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Posted in Africa, Discoveries, Exploration, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History on Thursday, 20 February 2014
This edited article about Burton and Speke first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 560 published on 7 October 1972.
The Ancient Egyptians, who farmed the banks of the Nile over 6,000 years ago, regarded the mighty African river as sacred. They did not know where it flowed from, but believed it must be from some earthly Paradise in the centre of Africa. Even the learned members of the Royal Geographical Society in the middle of the 19th century did not know the answer.
In 1857, when the Society decided to send an expedition to discover the great lakes of Darkest Africa in order to try to find the source of the Nile, they realised that only someone of the nature of a superman could be considered to lead such a hazardous mission.
The nearest approach to a superman they could think of was Richard Francis Burton. His talents were staggering – soldier, explorer, inventor, archaeologist, author, linguist (he could speak 29 languages as easily as his own), anthropologist and student of religions. No swordsman in all Europe could stand against him with a rapier.
Burton had made a hazardous journey through Somaliland in East Africa and was the first European to enter the forbidden city of Harar where he stayed for ten days in deadly peril and then rode across the desert, running the gauntlet of Somali spears all the way. He had also disguised himself as an Indian Moslem, being one of the first white men to take part in the great pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, the sacred Moslem cities of Arabia.
Yet, if his father had had his way, Burton would have spent his life as an English clergyman. With his heart set on an Army career, young Richard had been an unwilling student at Oxford and within a year had managed to have himself expelled. The jubilant young man had departed from university in triumph, driving a specially-hired horse-tandem. Whether by accident or design, he drove the tandem across one of the college’s finest flower-beds!
Realising that it was useless to battle with his son any longer, Richard’s father reluctantly agreed to a military career and obtained for him a commission in the Bombay Native Infantry And so began Burton’s remarkable, exciting life of adventure.
It was on June 17th, 1857, that Burton set out from Zanzibar to explore the uncharted lakes of Africa and to seek the source of the Nile. His second-in-command was an old friend of his Army days, John Hanning Speke, a giant of a man and seasoned traveller, but lacking many of Burton’s talents, particularly a knowledge of languages.
They differed in temperament, too. As time went on, and the hardships of the expedition increased, these differences in temperament resulted in the two men becoming increasingly intolerant of each other, and this was to have disastrous consequences.
They were now in the depths of humid jungle, where every step was an effort, the stench of rotting vegetation overpowering, and the torment of insects unbearable.
Burton became so ill with fever that he had to be carried on an ass and supported by bearers.
To add to the nightmare of the journey, they encountered slave caravans stricken by small-pox. Their trails were marked by dead and dying and vultures were feeding off the corpses. Then fever gripped Speke and he could only walk by being supported on both sides. One night, he became so deliriously violent that his weapons had to be taken from him.
On December 14th, 1857 after resting at Tabora they set off towards Ujiji, 200 miles away where, people believed, there was a gigantic lake called Tanganyika. If it existed, no white man had seen it. They had not gone far when some jungle fever struck Burton and in a few hours he had lost the use of his limbs. A week later Speke was struck by an eye infection which made him almost blind. He had to be carried on a donkey whilst Burton, unable to walk had to be carried in a hammock. To add to their troubles. Speke’s donkey collapsed and died of exhaustion.
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Posted in Africa, Animals, Nature, Wildlife on Tuesday, 18 February 2014
This edited article about African wildlife first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 556 published on 9 September 1972.
A cross the dark still scrubland of the African bush an eerie, devilish whine pierces the night air shattering the calm and peaceful silence.
The hyaena has left its daytime hideout in a rock crevice to hunt for food and is prowling around sniffing the air and uttering the spine-chilling hideous howl which has earned it the nickname ‘laughing hyaena.’
Powerful, awkward and ferocious though they are, hyaenas are cowardly beasts. They will not dare to face an alert man, but they will not hesitate to attack him if he is sleeping or too weak to defend himself.
Once common throughout Europe, the hyaena is found only in Asia and Africa today. The spotted hyena is the largest and fiercest member of the hyaena family. The powerful jaws, a feature common to all hyaenas, are most pronounced in this species. These can crack the thigh bone of an ox with one sharp loud snap in a matter of seconds.
Hyaenas are usually solitary creatures but will often gather together at the pitiful remnants of a lion’s feast; to eat up the bones which have been stripped of flesh. When it is hungry it usually relies on its keen sense of smell, but it is sometimes guided by gathering vultures – a sign that a kill is being performed.
The striped hyaena which is found in Asia and in North and Central Africa feeds mainly on carrion, being ill-adapted to kill prey for itself. Although it is incapable of running fast it has strong fore paws which are well-adapted for digging out meat from holes made by carnivorous hunters.
It has an evil reputation because of its tendency to raid human graves and dig up and consume recently-buried bodies.
Posted in Africa, Animals, Nature, Wildlife on Monday, 17 February 2014
This edited article about African wildlife first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 554 published on 26 August 1972.
A massively-built creature wallows lazily in the muddy swamp of an African lake to keep cool under the heat of the glaring midday sun.
Standing five feet high at the shoulder and weighing a full ton, the African or Cape Buffalo has long been known as the most dangerous wild animal in the world. It is also perhaps the very worst-tempered of all creatures, too, especially when it is wounded.
When the heat becomes less intense as the sun begins to go down, the African buffalo will sometimes shake off its lazy mood and suddenly become one of the fastest-moving and most ferocious of all animals. At a speed of 35 miles per hour, it will make a powerful charge across the vast scrub-covered plain keeping its head up until the moment of impact so that the intended target has very little chance of dodging out of its way.
It has massive horns which may sometimes span as much as 4 feet 8 inches and which the buffalo uses as a battering ram. It is these powerful horns which protect the buffalo from the man with the gun. The bases of the horns, which are broad and nobbly, form a shield round its head making it very difficult to shoot at.
The buffalo’s most formidable enemy is the Lion, which will single out cows and calves which stray from the herd. Buffaloes are excellent swimmers, though, and will take to the water as soon as danger threatens. A buffalo herd of several hundred will graze during the night and early morning in the open forests on the fringes of the thick bush along the eastern coasts of Africa, from the Sudan to Natal.
In the past, vast herds of buffalo could be found all over Africa but the outbreaks of rinderpest (Cattle plague) which spread through the continent at the end of the last century did much to reduce their number. Big game hunters who coveted buffalo horns as trophies were also to blame for destroying a large number of these animals. But recently they have been protected and herds of over a thousand can be seen in many of Africa’s National Parks. It is hard to believe that such dangerous creatures were nearly wiped out.