Emil Holub - first cartographer of the Victoria Falls
03.02.2005 / 11:40
CZECH TRAVELLER EMIL HOLUB - THE FIRST CARTOGRAPHER OF THE VICTORIA FALLS „Even the greatest literary masters would certainly have fallen silent facing such majestic and everchanging scenery. Human being is totally incapable of describing Mother Nature where she performs with such a might
CZECH TRAVELLER EMIL HOLUB
- THE FIRST CARTOGRAPHER OF THE VICTORIA FALLS
"Even the greatest literary masters would certainly have fallen
silent facing such majestic and everchanging scenery. Human being
is totally incapable of describing Mother Nature where she performs
with such a might as at the Victoria Falls - there, Man just has to
adore her!" wrote Emil Holub (1890:398) about the famous Victoria
Falls he visited twice, in 1875, and - together with his newlywed
wife - ten years later.
During his first great African voyage in 1875 (the main aim of which was to cross the Zambezi and travel to the Barotseland and further on, preferably up to Luanda) Holub saw the visit to the Falls as an unwilling obstruction and time loss, but his host - famous trader George Westbeech resident in Pandamatenga (now on the border of Botswana and Zimbabwe) - persuaded Holub to join him and his friends in a trip there. Although this being at first unwanted trip, Holub truly fell in love with the falls and he spent all his time there busy working on study of the region and the falls itself. The first published result of his work was a booklet he published in Grahamstown in 1879, the first such work on the Victoria Falls ever published. The other important Holub s work was the detailed map of the Falls and the surrounding region (which is now in the archives of the Náprstek Museum of Asian and African Cultures in Prague), which he had drawn in 1875. Holub tried to be as accurate as possible and spent a lot of time measuring and drawing of it.
For nowadays unknown reasons, Holub did not mention the drawing of the map in his booklet and therefore it was not until 1880, when the professional re-drawing of it was published in both Czech and German edition of his first travelogue Seven Years in South Africa. The English translation which appeared in London the following year was praised for Holub s detailed accounts of the lands and the people of this part of Southern Africa, and became a standard reference work on the Zambezi region. Alas, it was not a complete translation of the original, and it lacked more than a third of original drawings, and three of four enclosed maps from the German and Czech editions were missing... among those missing was also a map of the Victoria Falls! We can only speculate why exactly this merely two-colour map has been ommited (and also a detailed plan of the upstream Zambezi starting from the Old Sesheke and a map of a road between Shoshong and the Zambezi), while full colour uninovative and not very detailed map of the whole of Southern Africa has been included. The reason might be that the English edition gives "emphasis on the hunting adventures and descriptions of the nature" while the Czech and German ones emphasize "descriptions of cultures and customs" (Kandert 1998:7). It is thus not surprising that the existence of this first Victoria Falls map is not properly known and even such a renowned historian as W. V. Brelsford in 1975 did not compare English edition with the original ones and criticised Holub for his unjustified publication of maps, which are not "describing hitherto unexplored country" (Brelsford 1975:XX), while showing only " beautifully executed maps of the Transvaal and other parts of Africa" (Brelsford 1975:XIX)
Emil Holub came to see the Victoria Falls already twenty years after David Livingstone, but such a trip - although not into the unknown lands - was then still a real adventure. Without George Westbeech - who could be given the honorary title of the first guide to the Victoria Falls - neither Holub, nor the rising number of visitors could visit the falls. Majority of them traveled there with Westbeech or his partners, or at least with his support and advise - therefore the number of visitors increased so significantly in the mid-1870s.
R. Sampson, who some fifty years ago tried to put together a list of all early visitors to the falls and the territory comprising the today s Zambia, counted less than fifty Europeans who saw the Victoria Falls in between 1855 and 1875 (of which as much as ten saw the falls in 1875). Of all these, only four were not British subjects - two were Germans (traveller and explorer Mohr in 1870, and hunter and heavy drinker Schinderhutte in 1873), one Norwegian (and/or Danish) trader Anderson in 1875 and an Austro-Hungarian citizen of Czech origin Emil Holub (Sampson 1956, Tabler 1966).
It was Holub s zeal and scientific interests which probably persuaded Westbeech to give him all possible support he could provide. He was helping Holub during his first venture into the interior as well as during his second trip a decade later. It was undoubtedly not a good business for him at all, as - after Holub barely survived his trip into the Ila territory in 1886 - Westbeech (not for the first time) lent Holub animals and servants to get safely to Shoshong (now Botswana). When the animals eventually died on the road, Westbeech mentioned it in his diary with sadness: " here was a great loss to me again." (Westbeech 1963:90), but he, however, never mentioned it to Holub with whom he exchanged many letters before and after and kept him inform about news from the Barotseland (two letters are published in Krámský 1947:85-86).
Westbeech - with no doubt - liked Holub very much, probably because he saw the importance of his scientific work for promoting and opening this part of Southern Africa for European influence. If Westbeech could read Holub s second travelogue published in 1890, two years after trader s sudden death, he would find that his investment in Czech traveller was right as Holub prophetically wrote: "The country belonged to the most beautiful sceneries we had ever seen during all our travels, in spite of the fact that we were travelling there in the winter-time when plenty of trees were half leafless and grass was not as green as in the rainy season. Nowadays, Albert s Land [name, which Holub - with no success - proposed for Matabeleland and adjacent parts of Botswana] is still very poorely inhabited, although as for the soil characteristics, it might become a second Texas, if only there did not rage malaria there! Her fertile soil would bear all kinds of European crops and most of tropical plants as well," and "I dare say, anyway, the time of removing the veil, which still covers the Falls, is not too remote. I conclude that the whole Albert s Land falls sooner or later under the British protectorate, and then the Natural Zambezian Wonder would become target not only for scholarly masters and educated travellers as it has happened with famous wonders at the Yellowstone and Missouri river basins or the valley of Yosemite in California which only 25 years ago were totally unknown." (Holub 1890:399)
Such Holub s texts with no doubt opened Central South Africa for more European influence, therefore Westbeech supported Holub and his alikes - the only thing Westbeech was unhappy with Holub was his nationality, as once he noted: "...though I wish it had been Englishmen instead of Austrians exploring the interior from this side." (Westbeech 1963:55).
How it happened that some Czech from then Austro-Hungarian
empire could get as far and as deep into the soon-to-be British
domains in South Central Africa? Although the Austrian empire once
in the 1790s tried to occupy parts of today s Mozambique (and
Austrian marines even shortly succeeded to push off the Portuguese
from Delagoa Bay), the empire itself had no interest and also not
strength enough to take part in colonial ventures anywhere in the
world. It had consuls in South African ports and/or in Sudan
already in the 19th century, but it was Holub s personal interest
which took him to Africa.
Born on October 4, 1847 in a lower middle class family as a son of a physician in a small Bohemian town of Holice (Holitz in German), the chance that Emil Holub would become an important explorer of Africa was close to none. But then came German edition of David Livingstone s diaries into his hands, and his fate was determined. Since then - as he mentions in his memoirs - he was literally obsessed with Africa, the Zambezi and those unknown peoples living in the heart of the Black continent. With no tradition of studying Africa south of the Sahara neither in Bohemia nor in the whole of Austro-Hungarian empire, he had no chance to find any significant support and he had to fight his way to Africa by himself.
While - following Livingstone - studying medicine at Charles University, Prague, Holub became a part of a circle around Vojta Náprstek, man of many occupations, talents and ideas, one of the promotors of Czech national progress and supporter of Czech communities all over the world. Náprstek befriended Holub and with his assistance, limited though it was, Holub could fulfill the first part of his dreams - to get to his beloved Africa.
On May 18, 1872, 25-years old Emil Holub set his foot on South African soil. With almost nothing except of his medical instruments and learned knowledge he landed in Cape Town and got into interior, where - he hoped - could earn some money by practising his medical profession. He finally settled in Dutoitspan not far from Kimberley, where he found endless stream of more or less financially saturated patients. Although this not being the best possible option, medical practice gained Holub so much needed, though limited, financial independence and necessary additional money, he planned to use for his future travels and explorations.
Mere ten months after his arrival in the Cape, Holub tested his abilities to travel inside the continent on the first two-month trip, which took him up to the Vaal River and region close to today s Johannesburg. He found the test was successful, that s why he left Dutoitspan in November 1872 once more - this time Holub got as far as Shoshong. Both Holub s early trips were filled with writting, measuring, noticing, painting, drawing and... collecting. Collecting everything from ethnographical exhibits to animals, from birds to rock paintings. "Of all my curiosities, of which I brought back forty cases closely packed," Holub wrote later on, "I considered my etnographical specimens, 400 in number, the most valuable, but in addition to these I had a great collection of insects, horns, plants, reptiles, skins of quadrupeds and birds, minerals, skeletons, spiders, crustaceans, mollusks and fossils." (Holub 1881b:423).
While the first two trips took Holub to the furthermost outposts of European settlements, it was still not an exploration he dreamt of. It was only the third voyage which changed Emil Holub into a well-known traveller. On March 1875 he got up to Pandamatenga, the northernmost European post, the trading place organized by George Westbeech, the last stop before the Zambezi. With no doubt there had to be some kind of affinity on first sight between these two men, as Westbeech did from the very beginning the utmost to help Holub. If there has not been the friendship between the two men, Holub could probably never crossed the Zambezi, but Westbeech saw him a different kind of European, the kind he with no doubt met only rarely in Pandamatenga. Thus he informed the Lozi paramount chief (litunga) Sipopa and asked him for permission for Holub to visit and explore a bit more of his kingdom.
Litunga Sipopa received Holub with pleasure and gave him his support. For Holub the most wanted was Sipopa s approval for him to travel deep into Barotseland, as the only European who got beyond Old Sesheke (now Mwandi on Zambian side of the Zambezi) and its immediate surroundings before him was David Livingstone. Sipopa was naturally more prepared to deal with traders and hunters, and Holub was a man of difference, therefore it took Holub weeks of persuading to receive litunga s approval. Sipopa did not like the Holub s plan to go upstream the Zambezi as far as possible and later on travel towards Angola, and tried his best to change Holub s mind, but with no success. He noted bad season, malaria etc., but Holub seemed not listening. After a tiring trip when he had to cross literarlly hundreds of rapids and after losing one of his boats with precious collections, he contracted deadly form of malaria and had to return after getting close to the entrance to the Barotse plains. His detailed map of this part of the Zambezi is with no doubt the first of this part of the river creating nowadays a border between Zambia, Botswana and Namibia (and its fate is the same as the Victoria Falls one - it is missing in the English edition of Holub s book and thus unknown outside Central Europe).
Holub s return to the diamond fields was very much welcomed as he returned to the medical profession once more because of a lack of sufficient funds to get back to Europe with all his collections. In addition to his practice, he wrote numerous articles in local press, gave talks and even make a small exhibition of various artifacts from around the Zambezi in Kimberley. In 1879 he succeeded to collect enough finances from his work and donations organized in Bohemia, and returned to Prague. In Europe he has been received with an ovation, his 200+ pages book on Lozi and Mbunda people Eine Culturskizze des Marutse-Mambunda-Reiches in Süd-Central-Afrika (probably the first ethnographical monograph on African ethnic group) was well received and he started working on his 2-volume travelogue Seven Years in South Africa, which was swiftly published in German, Czech and English.
Since his return Holub immediately started working on his next voyage to Africa. His success brought him - though limited - support of Austro-Hungarian emperor. He was allowed to plan a bigger, better equiped and longer expedition. Holub s aim was to cross Africa Northbound, from Cape to Cairo. In 1883 he left Prague with his new collaborators who were carefully selected among the members of Austrian army - Czechs Josef Špíral and Antonín Halouzka (often mistakingly referred as Haluška), Hungarian János Fekete and Austrians Karl Bukacz, Oswald Söllner and Ignacz Leeb, and - last but not least - his only eighteen-year-old wife Rosa.
Holub s first trips in the 1870s were poorly prepared and planned, but Holub had an incredible luck. This time, it was otherwise. Even an ordinary trip from Shoshong to Pandamatenga did not go smoothly as part of his animals died after having eaten a poisonous plant, and a bad luck haunted Holub further on: Špíral and Bukacz died of malaria shortly after arrival to the Zambezi, and Halouzka had to be sent back to Europe due to his poor health. Thus even before entering the Barotseland, where the real exploration should begin, the expedition was decimated, but this did not stop Holub - he wanted to get further...
Unfortunately the Barotseland was not the same as a decade ago - after an assassination of litunga Sipopa, the "civil war" broke down and it was only recently that litunga Lewanika emerged as a new paramount chief. The country was devastated and Lozi kingdom lost a lot of her powers, also the size of a territory controlled by a new litunga Lewanika diminished, as some of the neighbouring ethnic groups used Lozi weakness to become - though still formerly subordinate - more independent.
This was at the most the case of the Lozi western neighbours - the Ila (or Mashukulumbwe as Holub and his contemporaries referred to them). Holub was literally obsessed by Ila and wanted to get to their country and be the first European to cross it although there was a better and more straightforward way towards lake Bangweulu than crossing the Luangwa river swamps. Lewanika warned Holub, but he did not listen, although the Ila have been known not only for their treacherous nature (even the famous F. C. Selous who travelled through their territory only two years after Holub, lost everything including his rifle there, and barely saved his life as these "warlike-looking savages" (Selous 1893:215) wanted to kill him), but everybody who entered their territory from the Barotseland was naturally understood as dangerous spy and enemy.
The Lozis and Tongas were of Holub s support, but after entering the Ila territory, the expedition encountered more and more problems. The climax came shortly after crossing swamps of the Kafue river, near the village named Galulonga and on the foots of the small mountain range, which Holub named after emperor Franz Josef (nowadays known as Bulala Hills, South of the main Lusaka-Mongu road). During an attack on Holub s camp, Söllner was deadly wounded, all Holub s possessions were looted and Holub, his wife Rosa, Fekete and Leeb and no more than five hands had to turn back almost emptyhanded.
Torturous barefoot walk through the enemy territory back to the Tongas and later on across the Zambezi to Pandamatenga was undoubtedly the most difficult Holub s voyage. Shattered dreams, three dead companions, and significant portion of his invaluable collections and diaries with documentation lost forever, had to haunt Holub during their return.
Although the expedition seems to be extremely unsuccessful, Holub returned to Prague and Vienna as a hero. His new two-volume travelogue saw immediate editions in Czech, German and Hungarian (and abbreviated modern editions in English and Russian), he was being invited all over Europe and the United States to deliver speeches about his travels.
Holub s big African exhibtions in Vienna and Prague in 1891 and 1892, which were visited by incredible number of 364,043 visitors (Dlouhý 1940:54) were scientifically successful, but unfortunately not in the terms of financial self-sufficiency. Life-size model of the complete Sipopa s court in Old Sesheke and its inhabitants have been exhibited with addition to 513 stuffed animals, 2,300 birds etc. Even the transport of these tens of thousands of pieces from Vienna to Prague took Holub incredible number of 72 train waggons! At the end almost bankrupt Holub had to sell parts of his collections, although he wanted it to remain as a complete set. What has not been sold, he gave free of charge to various institutions and schools around the Central Europe. Buildings and figurines were destroyed and thus the size and grandeur of the exhibition could be nowadays assessed only from photographs taken at both venues.
Traveller acclaimed in Britain and the United States was not a prophet at home. Accepted by the Austrians, he found his Czech compatriots unable to give him so needed support. The National Museum in the Czech capital Prague refused his collection even as a free gift as a mere heap of curios of no value (sic!) with an exception of a few stuffed animals, and Holub soon retired to Vienna, the home of his beloved wife. Haunted by returning attacks of malaria and other tropical diseases, he died on February 21, 1902 at the age of 55, only a few months after he received so awaited pension. His wife Rosa, who never married again, kept memories of him alive until her death more than half a century later - she passed away at the age of 90 on September 29, 1958. She saw the real wild unexplored Africa, and lived till the times when in the 1950s "there, where she and Emil used to slosh through unexplored swamps of the Kafue river, she now might have celebrated the 25th anniversary of the establishment of the National park dwelling in a luxurious tourist lodges and taking part in a motorized safari drives." (Adámek + Olša, jr. 2004:29)
Almost all among those Europeans who went as far as the threshold of Southern Africa in the 1870s and 1880s differed very much from Holub. By and large they saw little of virtue in African cultures. Their observations were usually biased, frequently contradictory, and often simply wrong as they often assessed the information obtained very uncritically and with no aim to study systematically. Majority of these visitors had their main aim outside the scientific field: the faith was most important for the missionaries, it was a profit for the traders, thrill of the unknown for the sportsmen, and colonial expansion for the soldiers. Thus, Emil Holub was among these Europeans a rara avis. Not only a diary-writer in the best of British tradition, but an untiring collector and chronicler of this part of the world. He was not the only scientist who visited these parts of Africa, but definitely the most systematic and hard-working one. He was not a real " explorer" (except of a few hundred kilometres between the Old Sesheke and the Kafue river he did not travel where no European set foot before), but his scientific skills and perfectionalism to cover every possible detail of the countries he visited, his zeal in writing notes about literally everything he saw and heard, his measurement and notes, made him an invaluable source of knowledge.
Emil Holub made a difference in studying Southern Africa - he should be remembered both as the last of the old explorers of the continent, the last who could get to the places unknown, but in the same moment as the first modern scientist - the first etnographer, cartographer and ornithologist of Africa.
copyright Jaroslav Olša, jr., 2004
Adámek, H. + Olša, jr., J. (2004): "Poslední z prvních." [The Last of the First]. National Geographic Česká republika (Praha), No. 7.
Brelsford, W. V. (1975) - see Bibliography of Emil Holub
Dlouhý, J. (1940): Dr. Emil Holub. Holice: Městská rada.
Holub, E. (1881b) - see Bibliography
Holub, E. (1890a) - see Bibliography
Kandert, J. (1998) - see Bibliography
Krámský, J. (1947): Dílo a osobnost Dra. Emila Holuba v dopisech cizinců. [Work and Personality of Emil Holub in letters sent by foreigners]. Kladno: Pašek a spol.
Sampson, R. (1956): They Came to Northern Rhodesia. Being a record of persons who had entered what is now the Territory of Northern Rhodesia by 31st December, 1902. Lusaka: Northern Rhodesia Government.
Selous, F. C. (1893): Travel and Adventure in South-East Africa Being the Narrative of the Last Eleven Years Spent by the Author on the Zambesi and its Tributaries, with an Account of the Colonisation of Mashunaland and the Progress of the Gold Industry in that Country. London: Rowland Ward and Co.
Tabler, E. C. (1966): Pioneers of Rhodesia. Cape Town: C. Struik.
Westbeech, G. (1963): "The Diaries of George Westbeech 1885-1888." In: Tabler, E. C. (ed.): Trade and Travel in Early Barotseland. The Diaries of George Westbeech 1885-1888, and Captain Norman MacLeod 1875-1876. London: Chatto and Windus.
This article has originally been published in facsimile of The Victoria Falls. A few pages from the Diary of Emil Holub, M. D., Written during his Third Trip into the Interior of Southern Africa. Bulawayo: Books of Rhodesia 2004.