Lake Tanganyika

Name ID 1858

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile
Extract Author: Richard F. Burton
Page Number: 148
Extract Date: 1858

First view of Lake Tanganyika

The Lake Regions of Central Africa

Nothing in sooth, could be more picturesque than this first view of the Tanganyika Lake, as it lay in the lap of the mountains, basking in the gorgeous tropical sunshine". Villages, cultivated lands, the frequent canoes of the fishermen on the waters, and on a nearer approach the murmurs of the waves breaking upon the shore, give a something of variety of movement, of life to the landscape". Truly it was a revel for soul and sight. Forgetting toils, dangers, and the doubtfulness of return, I felt willing to endure double what I had endured; and all the party seemed to join with me in joy. My purblind companion found nothing to grumble at except the "mist and glare before his eyes."

Extract ID: 5776

See also

Tanganyika Guide
Page Number: 50
Extract Date: 1953

Section IV�Tabora to Kigoma

West of Tabora the journey leads through densely populated and well-cultivated country for about 40 miles until, at Usoke, the savannah woodland is once more entered. From Kaliva, a little farther on, a branch railway has been built to the richly mineralised country containing the Mpanda Mine. Still farther on, the line dips into the deeply eroded Malagarasi Valley, and runs for some distance along the river, with the Uvinza Salt Works visible on the opposite side. The excellent salt produced at this place was well known when Burton, the explorer, passed by on his way to Lake Tanganyika in 1857, and Africans still come from places hundreds of miles away to purchase it. The salt also finds a good market far into the Eastern Congo.

Once more the line leaves the main valley and climbs to a plateau, finally descending into the Central African Rift. Then come a few low hills, a few groves of oil palms, and the train pulls up on the shore of Kigoma Bay, a sheet of dark blue water, surrounded on three sides by pleasant hills, while through the fourth shines the surface of mighty Lake Tanganyika.

Although the development of Kigoma was severely checked by the war, the port now has a considerable trade from the shores of the lake, from the Belgian Congo and from Ruanda-Urundi. From Kigoma the traveller should not fail to visit the old Arab port of Ujiji, three miles across the hills on the open shores of the lake, where a monument marks the site of the old mango tree under which Stanley met Livingstone in 1871. There are many pleasant walks along the hilltops of Kigoma Peninsula, with splendid views of the lake and the distant Congo Mountains.

Extract ID: 5540

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile
Page Number: 137
Extract Date: 1996

Three lakes

For the two explorers, Kazeh was a major milestone in their journey. They were ready for a rest. They stayed there for five weeks, dismissing much of their caravan and hiring fresh porters before they resumed their trek towards Lake Tanganyika.

Both Burton and Speke were now quite ill, and both suffered from trachoma, an affliction that seriously impairs vision by causing lumps to form on the inside of the eyelids. Burton at this point seemed to be in worse shape than Speke, which may partly explain why he spent most of his time in Kazeh with the Arab traders (who were also slavers). Burton says these Arabs treated him with "open-handed hospitality and hearty good-will."

Speke, on the other hand, spent much of his time in Kazeh gathering information. He writes: "Captain Burton got desperately ill, whilst I picked up all the information that I could gather from the Arabs, with Bombay as interpreter." Implicit in this statement is a growing conflict between the active Speke and the more contemplative Burton. Burton and Speke had been sent to find one great lake, the one shown on Rebmann and Erhardt's map, which they had been shown in the Royal Geographical Society in London and a copy of which they had with them. The Arabs now told them that there were in fact three lakes: Nyassa (now called Lake Malawi) to the south, the Ujiji lake (Lake Tanganyika) to the west, and the "Sea of Uk�r"W�" (Lake Victoria) to the north. With Bombay as his interpreter, Speke learned from Snay bin Amir and others that "the Kitangul" and Katonga rivers ran out of the Uk�r"W" Lake (Victoria N'yanza), and that another river, which is the Nile, but supposed by them to be the upper portions of the Jub river, ran into the N'yanza." They also originally told Speke that no river flowed out of the "Sea of Ujiji," but they recanted when Speke insisted they must be wrong: "I made them confess that all these rivers ran exactly contrary to the way they first stated"." Speke wrote that, at this time," " I felt so curious to find out, and so sure in my own mind that the Victoria N'yanza would prove to be the source of the Nile, I proposed going to see it at once, instead of going on to Ujiji. The route, however, to the northward was said to be dangerous" and Captain Burton preferred going west."

Extract ID: 5763

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile
Page Number: 138
Extract Date: 1996

So they went west

So they went west, and Speke was not to have a chance to slake his curiosity until after they returned to Kazeh six months later. About the lake to the north, Burton would write,

"... by his [Snay bin Amir's] distances and directions we were enabled to lay down the southern limits and the general shape of the Nyanza or Northern Lake as correctly" and the maps forwarded from Kazeh to the Royal Geographical Society will establish in fact" as were subsequently determined, after actual exploration, by my companion."

Burton is being defensive here for on these maps he had, in fact, "adjusted" the distances, dimensions, and shape recorded by Speke. He wanted Lake Tanganyika to be the source of the Nile, but in the event was not able to either prove or disprove it. He accepted the fact of the three large lakes, but did not, like Speke, continue to quiz people for details about them. Information was there for the asking, and Speke was hungry for details and directions. On the trip to Lake Tanganyika, he came to think that what we now know is the eastern escarpment of the western rift valley was the eastern end of a great arc of mountains, the Mountains of the Moon of Ptolemy. Even so, or perhaps even more so, by the time they returned to Kazeh, Speke had become preoccupied with the idea that Lake Victoria might be the source of the Nile. Burton was equally convinced it was not.

Extract ID: 5764

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile
Page Number: 145a
Extract Date: 1996

Our first sight of Lake Tanganyika

We crossed the Rusugi River in order to visit the salt flats. The operation seemed quite organized, as it must also have been in Burton's time. The flats are a huge area where the salt can be seen drying. We were there towards the end of the day and watched lines of women carrying the salt in baskets on their heads, the day's production, to a central building for further processing.

There were rock outcroppings all over the place" good leopard country. Burton mentions this, but only in discussing the children dressed in leopard skins. Nowadays, if any villager is caught with a leopard skin there is a very severe penalty involving a long jail term.

We took a sharp turn to the west on a relatively new road, but because it did not appear on the modern Tanzanian map we could not be sure where it went. However, the villagers assured us that this was indeed the road that led to Kigoma and Ujiji. After lunch, which we had under a tamarind tree, the road began to descend sharply. I knew we must be going down to the big lake, and my excitement grew.

Then our route took us alongside the railway line to Kigoma. At one point, where the land was very hilly, there was no road at all, and we considered shoving the two Land Rovers onto the railway tracks and driving to Kigoma that way. However, it was quite precipitous on either side and it would not give us much chance to get off the line out of the way of an oncoming train. So, instead, we just gunned the Land Rovers through the rough terrain. At Kalenga, two young boys tried to sell us a dead banded mongoose. I cannot imagine what they thought we would do with it. And then, at last, at 3:18 p.m., we reached Kidawe and caught our first sight of Lake Tanganyika.

It was overcast, and therefore I did not see the light shimmering on the waters of the big lake, as Burton had, but the experience was thrilling nonetheless.

Burton's description of his first sighting, on February 13, 1858, is almost ecstatic.

Extract ID: 5774

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile
Page Number: 148a
Extract Date: 1996

Into Kigoma

Burton's description of Speke's attitude here is also important. It is clear that the two men now had serious differences of opinion that would lead to later conflict. I could not help wondering whether Speke had already lost interest in Lake Tanganyika, knowing, from talking to people along the route, that it could not be the source of the Nile, as Burton still believed. Perhaps he was already on the alert for an opportunity to get away from Burton long enough to get up to Nyanza, the northern lake. His opportunity would come, but not before a gruelling assignment on Lake Tanganyika.

Descending from the hills, we drove into and right through the busy town of Kigoma, then six kilometres southeast to Ujiji. Ujiji is one of Africa's oldest market villages. It is a colourful, bustling, commercial centre. The majority of the population is from the Ha tribe, although Arab influence is seen in the architecture. Structures bear a strong resemblance to coastal homes, and this is especially evident in the carved wooden doors.

At Ujiji, Burton reflected on the economics of the slave trade, remarking that the town was "still the great slave-mart of these regions, the article being collected from all the adjoining tribes of Urundi, Uhha, Uvira, and Marungu.... [T]he trade realizes nearly 500 per cent, and will, therefore, with difficulty be put down."

Burton and Speke, the first Europeans to see Lake Tanganyika, arrived at Ujiji in February 1858, and immediately started exploring the waters of the lake. Twenty-three years later, in 1871, Livingstone also made his way to Ujiji, at that time the terminus for most caravans from the coast. It was here that the historic meeting between Stanley and Livingstone took place. Both the name of Livingstone Street and a 1927 plaque donated by the Royal Geographical Society commemorate the event. In Ujiji we headed straight to the Livingstone Memorial. It stands on the spot where Stanley met the famous explorer, but the beach and the lake front have receded considerably. After a look at the memorial, I went down to the beach: boys were swimming, girls bathing and washing, women tending their children, men selling wares, boats being built.

Extract ID: 5777

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile
Page Number: 152
Extract Date: 1996

Lake Tanganyika

The east side of Lake Tanganyika around Kigoma is fairly flat, but as you journey a little farther north the shore slopes precipitously and the water is very deep. This is a narrow, rift-valley lake. The wind whipping across the water causes the dramatic waves. We waited until the danger of a storm had passed before beginning our exploration.

While we waited we found out more about the refugee situation. Bujumbura is in Burundi, at the north-east corner of Lake Tanganyika. The army there is controlled by the Tutsis, who are waging a bitter civil war with the majority Hutus. It was possible, therefore, that the refugees we had seen were Hutus from Burundi who had fled initially to Zaire and now were seeking a new haven in Tanzania. On the other hand, they may have been refugees from Zaire's own civil war, or a mixture of both. We never found out.

Zaire is just across the lake from Kigoma and Ujiji. One can see the hills on a clear day. We had heard that the flames of civil war in Zaire had been fanned by ethnic Tutsis in Rwanda (the country north of Burundi) as part of a plan to distract international attention from events in Burundi. This could not have been accurate, although it later became clear that Tutsi sympathies were very much with the Kabila forces and the anti-Mobutu movement. The refugees we saw later, south-west of Lake Victoria, were from both Rwanda and Burundi, and were mostly Hutus.

Extract ID: 5780

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile
Page Number: 152a
Extract Date: 1996


We waited patiently for well over an hour for the boat that was to take us up the east coast of Lake Tanganyika.

Because of the refugee situation, the boat's departure from Kigoma harbour was delayed by bureaucratic wrangling. However, it eventually reached us, and we cruised northward, stopping at seven different fishing villages: Kalalangabo, Kagongo, Kigale, Kananie, Mtanga, Ngelwe, and finally Kazinga.

Although Burton and Speke did stop at and visit fishing villages, the names in Burton's diary are different. There were boatloads of refugees waiting offshore at every village we saw. All were Hutus, and all had arrived from Zaire. It really was a pitiful sight. The police were everywhere, searching the refugees for guns and ammunition. If not confiscated by police, weapons are traded for money or provisions, usually to rebel Tanzanians. Arms are also sought by refugees planning to return to Burundi to seek revenge against the Tutsis. Once searched, the refugee boats were allowed to go to Kigoma. There they were checked again, and their occupants were registered as refugees, but only after the required guarantees from the international community. Refugees cannot settle in Tanzania anywhere but in the refugee camps. It was heartbreaking to see tired, sad-eyed, dejected families with small children huddled amid their possessions: mattresses, bundles of clothes, bicycles. Everything" people and goods" piled into the slender open boats.

Extract ID: 5781

See also

Ondaatje, Christopher Journey to the Source of the Nile
Page Number: 109
Extract Date: 14 Feb 1858

The rough nurse of rugged men: Zungomero to Ujiji and Kigoma

Chapter 4

When we left Zungomero, we left what Burton called the First Region of his trip and entered the Second, or mountain, Region. Ahead of us, between Zungomero and Lake Tanganyika, lay four more of his regions. Traversing the Second Region would take us from Zungomero over the Rubeho Mountains to the edge of a country Burton called Ugogo, which is near present-day Dodoma. The trek through the Rubeho Mountains was a difficult one for Burton because of the rugged terrain. For us it was also difficult, but mainly because we could not be sure what route Burton's expedition had taken to reach the mountain pass.

Beyond Dodoma, the explorers passed through the Third Region and part of the Fourth Region to reach Kazeh (present-day Tabora), where they rested for five weeks. From Tabora they proceeded to the Malagarasi River, which marked the beginning of Burton's Fifth Region; and from there they plodded laboriously on, reaching Lake Tanganyika at Ujiji on February 14, 1858, seven and a half months after leaving Bagamoyo. When I glanced at Burton's careful list, I counted ninety stations between Zungomero and Lake Tanganyika.

Our own expedition telescoped Burton and Speke's seven and a half months of travel into eight days. We left Bagamoyo on October 25, and arrived at Lake Tanganyika on November 1. Swift though our progress was, however, when we set out from Zungomero I had hoped to cover the distance much more quickly than we actually did. The trip to Lake Tanganyika turned out to be a difficult slog as we detoured and backtracked ceaselessly, trying to identify some of the more elusive portions of Burton's trail.

The rough nurse of rugged men: Zungomero to Ujiji and Kigoma

Extract ID: 5734

See also

Foden, Giles Mimi and Toutou Go Forth: The Bizarre Battle of Lake Tanganyika
Extract Date: Tuesday September 21, 2004

Flies, fever and farce

The Guardian

The African Queen is renowned as one of the toughest and craziest shoots in cinematic history. But it was nothing compared to the first world war British naval escapade which lay behind the film, as Giles Foden's new book reveals

At one point in John Huston's 1951 film The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn, Bogie gets covered in flies. A crude special effect (the insects are plastered on the lens), it is nevertheless one of the links between the film and the true story behind it: a British navy campaign on Lake Tanganyika in 1915 which saw 28 men haul two motorboats with the unlikely names of Mimi and Toutou through the wilds of the Congo.

At the start of the first world war, German warships controlled Lake Tanganyika. The British had no ships there. This mattered: it was the longest lake in the world, and of great strategic importance. The Admiralty ordered the 28 men, mostly volunteers, to take control of it. They were a strange bunch - one was addicted to Worcester sauce (as an aperitif), another was a former racing driver - but the strangest of all of them was their skirt-wearing, tattoo-covered commander, Geoffrey Spicer-Simson.

In The African Queen, which was based on a novel by CS Forester, published in 1935, Bogart and Hepburn are en route to sink a German battleship on a fictionalised central African lake, when the insects strike. In real life, Spicer-Simson was witness to a great eruption of flies on the surface of Lake Tanganyika. He and his men saw a series of sky-tall funnels wheeling across the waves. They rose hundreds of feet in crooked stems, then spread out at the top, mounting in eddies as they joined the clouds.

Typically, Spicer-Simson maintained that the swarming masses were water-spouts until the evidence they were insects could be gainsaid no longer. In fact, they were the famous kungu flies of central Africa that Livingstone had noted on his travels. Both a local delicacy (baked in a loaf) and a death trap to fishermen (sweeping up their boats in tornados or suffocating them), the flies' eggs had risen from the lakebed, nearly a mile below.

Hatching as the navy men watched, the kungu whirled across the lake; or, their short lives over, fell dead on the surface of the water - just as they would do 36 years later when Huston, his cameraman Jack Cardiff and still photographer Arthur Lemon tried to keep the rackety show of The African Queen shoot afloat, 400 miles to the north on Lake Albert.

According to Lemon: "We lived on an old paddle-steamer called the Lugard II, which had been art directed to look like a German gunboat - the one that eventually gets blown up in the film... Each evening, as the sun went down, lake flies would hatch out and swarm everywhere. Everything on the boat had to be shut up tight. They only survived 30 minutes or so and then died and fell back on to the surface of the water. Great for the Nile perch who would swim along like vacuum cleaners and scoop them up for dinner. Some of these fish were huge."

Huston was a difficult man to work for. Clint Eastwood's 1990 fictional film about the shoot, White Hunter, Black Heart, gives a good idea of his macho posturing. But compared to Spicer-Simson, he was an easygoing milksop. Vainglorious and vindictive, Spicer (as he was known) took every opportunity to show off the tattoos of snakes and butterflies that covered his thighs, arms and torso. Nor did he ever lose the chance to browbeat his men, barracking them with bogus tales of his own bravery in various parts of the world.

Spicer had always wanted to be a hero. He would have settled for admiral. But a series of catastrophic errors had left him the oldest lieutenant commander in the navy, which he had joined at the age of 14. By the start of the war he had already lost three ships through stupid mishaps. He was given a desk job to keep him out of trouble. Such was the state of Spicer's fortunes when, on April 21 1915, a big-game hunter called John Lee arrived in London with an appointment to see Admiral Sir Henry Jackson. Lee had great experience of Lake Tanganyika. He also had a scheme to bring it under British control.

Lee explained to the admiral that the Germans had two steamers under military orders on Lake Tanganyika: the 60-tonne Hedwig and the 45-tonne Kingani. Lee's plan to attack the German vessels was simple in conception but difficult in practice: if two fast British motor boats could be sent to South Africa, then by rail to the Belgian Congo and dragged to the lake, they could sink or disable the slower Hedwig and Kingani. Sir Henry agreed to the plan.

There was much discussion as to who was to lead the Naval Africa Expedition, as it was named, but in the end it was a case of needs must. The navy was in turmoil. First Sea Lord Winston Churchill had just been sacked because of the Gallipoli debacle, which had left the service short of officers. There weren't many options.

So when Spicer volunteered, he was given the appointment, despite still being in disgrace. His fortunes were about to change. Within a year he would be being worshipped as a deity by an African tribe. Within two years his name would be plastered over British newspapers.

The liner carrying the Naval Africa Expedition arrived safely in Cape Town, South Africa, on July 2 1915. The two motor boats, HMS Mimi and HMS Toutou (as Spicer had whimsically christened them after the navy had rejected his first-choice names, Cat and Dog) were put on goods trucks in a railway siding, ready for travel.

On August 5, nearly two months after they had set out from England, Spicer's crew reached Fungurume, deep in the Belgian Congo. It was just a few sheds in the jungle, with piles of steel railway track and wooden sleepers lying about.

To the right and the left of them was rough bush; in front lay the forbidding Mitumba mountains, which they would have to cross. Mimi and Toutou were lifted off the train on to special trailers. Two enormous steam-traction engines would drag them up the escarpment: a team of 1,400 Africans had begun clearing a road.

By August 18, the ox-teams that were supposed to supplement the pulling power of the road locomotives had not yet arrived, but Spicer was impatient to get going. He gave the order to proceed. Belching smoke, the locomotives tugged their eight-tonne burdens up the track. The steam whistles of the engines blew and the African labourers chanted as Mimi was towed towards the first bridge. Within seconds of the first tractor coming on to it, it collapsed. Mimi and the loco had to be hauled out of the gulch below.

They had almost reached the first camping point, having covered six miles, when disaster struck again. Mimi's locomotive slipped off the edge of the track and began to fall away, the earthwork sliding, unable to carry the engine's weight. Stuck at an angle, the tractor had to be disconnected from Mimi again and pulled by the other engine till upright once more.

The oxen arrived but the days that followed were much the same, one accident following another under the penetrating sun. The struggle continued as, mile by mile, they crept towards the top of the Mitumbas. Every hour threatened the arrival of the rains, which would make their ascent impossible: neither wheels nor hooves would be able to cope with deep mud.

Hauled in this manner, 50 yards at a time, Mimi and Toutou finally reached the mountain-top. There, 6,400ft above sea level, they came to rest on a pleasant meadow-plateau. Crossing the 20-mile plateau was easy enough, except that a great many lions surrounded the camp at night. On September 12 they reached the other side and saw, far below them, the Lualaba or Upper Congo river, on which they would make the second part of their epic journey.

The river passage was 350 miles long. They kept hitting obstructions and were bitten by tsetse flies along the way. The men shot off their rifles at hippos and crocs. The boats often had to be towed by dug-out canoes or hauled over sandbanks by teams of African labourers. Sometimes they were loaded on Belgian steamers, like that in which Joseph Conrad had travelled up the river 25 years previously, on the trip that inspired his novella, Heart of Darkness; some of The African Queen was also filmed on the Lualaba.

Through heavy rain, Spicer saw Lake Tanganyika for the first time on October 27, more than four months since he had set out from London. Watched by Holo-Holo tribesmen, the expedition set up camp on the lakeshore. At last, Mimi and Toutou's great journey was over. Now they had to prepare for battle.

One morning soon after they arrived, a German boat was spotted on the horizon of the lake. In truth, this small paddle-steamer didn't look much of a challenge. But still, she was twice as long as Mimi or Toutou. Squinting through his field glasses, the expedition's medic, Dr Hanschell, noted that the gun of the ship, the Kingani, was trained on them, where they had lined up on cliffs above the lake. He looked around to ask Spicer what he thought, but the commander was nowhere to be seen.

At breakfast a day or two later someone told the doctor that he had seen the commander wearing a skirt. Hanschell assumed they were pulling his leg. But at that moment Spicer appeared, framed in the doorway. He was indeed wearing a skirt. It was made of lightweight khaki and came down to his knees. Spicer sat down at the breakfast table; nobody knew what to say.

"I designed it myself," Spicer announced eventually. "My wife makes 'em for me. Very practical for the hot weather."

On Boxing Day 1915, after a fierce battle on the lake, Mimi and Toutou captured the Kingani, killing its captain and two others. Once the boats came onshore, Spicer was mobbed by the thousands of Holo-Holo who had watched the action from the cliffs. They threw themselves prostrate before him or tried to touch his clothes, as if they wanted to worship him. Fighting them off, he went over to inspect the prize, stepping over the German corpses on the deck.

"Twelve hits out of 13 shells," he announced. "That's a pretty good show." And then, quite casually, Spicer bent over the captain's twisted body and calmly removed the dead man's signet ring. Over the next few days the Kingani was mended. Spicer renamed the ship HMS Fifi, which he thought went rather well with Mimi and Toutou.

With the Kingani captured, the expeditionaries turned their attention to the bigger Hedwig, sinking it on February 9 1916. With that Spicer thought his work was done. He had even managed to capture a German naval flag, the first of the whole war. And now the Holo-Holo began to worship him in earnest, bowing down before him and making his effigy in clay. Part of the reason for this was that they venerated a snake god: his tattoos tapped into the mythology. Mainly it was because he had defeated the Germans.

But he hadn't. Not long after, a much larger German ship, the Graf von G�tzen, appeared on the horizon. At 1,200 tonnes, it was 20 times the size of the Hedwig. It seemed to make a mockery of Spicer's toy navy, and its appearance came around the same time as news that his younger brother had been killed on the Western Front. Spicer went to pieces and was invalided home.

The irony was, the G�tzen was carrying only wooden decoy guns. Its real ones, being needed by German land troops, had been removed. Spicer could have taken it with Mimi and Toutou after all. For the rest of his life - he moved to Monte Carlo after the war, then to Canada, where he died in 1947 - he kept quiet about the G�tzen, bragging noisily about the other ships instead.

The G�tzen was eventually scuttled by its German captain in July 1916 after being bombed by Belgian aeroplanes. Its latter fate is perhaps the strangest part of the whole tale. In 1921 Churchill, back in the job of First Lord of the Admiralty, ordered the G�tzen refloated. On Monday May 16 1927, she sailed again - rechristened the Liemba, the name given to Lake Tanganyika in Livingstone's time. She is still sailing up and down the lake to this day.

" Extracted from Mimi and Toutou Go Forth: The Bizarre Battle of Lake Tanganyika by Giles Foden, to be published by Michael Joseph on September 30 at "16.99.

To order a copy for "16.14 (RRP "16.99) with free UK p & p, call the Guardian Book Service on 0870 836 0875, or go to

It will be Book of the Week on Radio 4 in the week beginning October 25.

Extract ID: 4771