Posts Tagged ‘intoafrica2011’

Dispatches from Africa, Part 5: Togo to Ghana

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Smithsonian Study Leader Francisco Dallmeier has been a conservation biologist with the Smithsonian Institution for the past 24 years. Dr. Dallmeier is the director of Smithsonian’s Center for Conservation Education and Sustainability (CCES), part of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI). CCES provides research and conservation approaches for sustainable development and world-class professional and academic programs for conservation practitioners. Here, he shares a few dispatches from Into Africa: From Namibia to Ghana. Click here to read the other dispatches  from this journey.

Tuesday March 15, 2011: Lomé, Togo

We arrived in Lomé to another loud drumming and dancing group of beautifully dressed local performers, including two stilt walkers. The Togolese Republic is bordered by Ghana to the west, Benin to the east and Burkina Faso to the north. It extends south to the Gulf of Guinea where Lomé, the capital is located. Togo covers an area of approximately 22,000 sq mi with a population of approximately 6.7 million. Togo is a tropical, sub-Saharan nation, highly dependent on agriculture. While the official language is French, there are many other languages spoken in Togo. The largest religious group in Togo is those with indigenous beliefs. From the 11th to the 16th century, various tribes entered the region from all directions. From the 16th century to the 18th century, the coastal region was a major trading centre for Europeans in search of slaves, earning Togo and the surrounding region the name “The Slave Coast.” In 1884, Germany declared Togoland a protectorate. After World War I, rule over Togo was transferred to France. Togo gained its independence from France in 1960. In 1967, Gnassingbé Eyadéma led a successful military coup, after which he became president. At the time of his death in 2005, Eyadéma was the longest-serving leader in modern African history, after having been president for 38 years. In 2005, his son Faure Gnassingbé was elected president.

Lomé is the capital of Togo and was once claimed to be the Paris of Africa. It is situated in the Bay of Benin. The name comes from alomé – the Ewe name for the trees that produce chewing sticks, which once grew in abundance here. There are still reminders of European colonial rule which are quite evident in the old town. However, indigenous tradition retains its significance.

We drove for about 45 minutes east to Agbodrafo where we were met by His Majesty Chief Assiakoley, an older man dressed in a white robe and a white cap. After the greeting ritual with several members of his community we learned about the special significance of the elaborate canes that two gentlemen in his entourage carried. We then walked to the Maison des Esclaves, where a few people entered the basement prison of the slave house.

We then drove to the banks of Lake Togo to crossover to Badougbe village. The countryside was surrounded by numerous plantations with plenty of mango trees, coconut palms, and Indian almond trees. We crossed Lake Togo in pirogues. Pied Kingfishers were having a successful day while fishermen repeatedly cast their large throw-nets between the traffic of pirogues transporting people, motorcycles and goods. Once in Badougbe village we visited the local school and presented the headmaster with several packets of school supplies kindly donated by some of our guests as well as by Corinthian II. The multitude of khaki-clad school kids welcomed us in their classrooms. We were entertained by drumming and colorful folkloric dance performance by the village men and women. On the way back to the lake we observed a monitor lizard tied up by a gasoline selling post.

After lunch we visited the fetish market with monkey skulls, voodoo dolls, dried toads, antelope horns, crocodile skins, grigri charms, leopard pelts, dead owls, tethered live eagles, and a few owls, hawks and vultures. We struggled with the smell of partially decomposing animal parts and with the concept of mass killing of animals as traditional rituals to address illness and spiritual needs. Unfortunately, many of these products are made out of threatened or endangered species. We drove through the city and passed the Togo/Ghana border post and Independence Square and had time to shop at the local artisans market.

During the evening, Captain Boczek held his Farewell Cocktail Party and dinner, joined by the United States Ambassador to Togo, Patricia Hawkins, along with her husband Richard Hawkins, the Deputy of Chief of Mission Ellen Thorburn and Political Officer John Kmetz and his wife Loretta Bass.

Wednesday March 16 and Thursday March 17, 2011: Ghana

The Republic of Ghana with a population of over 25 million people is bordered by Ivory Coast to the west, Burkina Faso to the north, Togo to the east, and the Gulf of Guinea to the south. The word Ghana means “Warrior King” from the ancient Ghana Empire. Ghana was inhabited in pre-colonial times by a number of ancient predominantly Akan kingdoms and trade with European states flourished after contact with the Portuguese in the 15th century, and the British established the Gold Coast Crown colony in 1874. The Gold Coast achieved independence from the United Kingdom in 1957. Ghana is the second largest producer of cocoa in the world and is home to Lake Volta, the largest artificial lake in the world by surface area.

Tema is the country’s most important seaport where as recently as the 1950s was only an obscure fishing village that was founded by Kpeshie fisherman who migrated to the area from present-day Nigeria. The bustling harbor city supports a population of over 500,000, as well as most of the country’s major industries. Accra is the lively capital of Ghana and was once a major center of the gold and slave trade. It has long been the industrial backbone of the nation. The city started life in the 15th century, when the Ga people who still live in the area, settled on the west side of the Korle Lagoon.

The first stop in Ghana was to visit the peculiar and multiple designs of the Casket Makers where we had the opportunity to view a collection of caskets carved into different objects, depicting the traditional African belief in the continuation of one’s profession or a new one after death. We spent a while at the Jaynii Streewise Foundation where we donated some basic school accessories to a needy group. In return they drummed and danced and sang for us. A brief stop at the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum was followed by a final spree of shopping at the craft market. Lunch was complimented by a first-class open air cultural fair dance and drumming demonstration. The next visit was to the National Museum of Archaeology and Ethnography. As we passed the Military Hospitals, a ‘flock’ of fruit-eating bats relocated positions on the tree for shaded and cooler areas.

On Thursday we visited the Aburi Botanical Gardens located 20 miles north of Accra. The Garden was opened in 1890 on a site previously occupied by a sanatorium built in 1875 for Gold Coast Government Officials. In 1890 William Crowther, a student from the Royal Botanical Gardens, in Kew, London was appointed the garden’s first curator. We enjoyed the multiple trees representing native and exotic species including cinnamon, quinoa, cocoa, and tress planted by the Queen of England and the Prince of Wales. After the visit to the gardens we drove to the Mampong Centre for Scientific Research situated at the Akwapim Ridge. The center has over 32 years of research on herbs and concoctions whose therapy pre-date modern medicine. We visited the labs and learned about the many products to cure tropical diseases.

The travel to the airport in Accra left us all feeling nostalgic about the travel experiences that happened a mere few weeks ago.

Click here to start planning your own journey to Africa.

Dispatches from Africa, Part 4: Cameroon to Benin

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

Smithsonian Study Leader Francisco Dallmeier has been a conservation biologist with the Smithsonian Institution for the past 24 years. Dr. Dallmeier is the director of Smithsonian’s Center for Conservation Education and Sustainability (CCES), part of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI). CCES provides research and conservation approaches for sustainable development and world-class professional and academic programs for conservation practitioners. Here, he shares some more dispatches from Into Africa: From Namibia to Ghana. Click here to read the other dispatches  from this journey.

Friday March 11 and Saturday March 12, 2011. Limbé, Cameroon

We arrived in Limbé by 7:30 am near Mount Cameroon, which was hidden by clouds. The broken peninsula is a row of equatorial forest covered small islands. Limbe is situated at the foot of Mount Cameroon in the Gulf of Guinea in the east and Bioko Island, which is part of Equatorial Guinea, in the West. Mount Cameroon and Bioko Island are part of the dominant volcano formation of the region. Limbé was founded in 1858 when the Baptist Missionary Society of London purchased land around Ambas Bay from King William of Bimbia. The city was known as Victoria until 1982.

Our morning visit took us through several villages, local markets and miles of oil palm plantations with no original rainforest left. We arrived in Buéa where the Tole Tea Plantation is located. The area is over 1000 meters above sea level and located on the lower slopes of Mount Cameroon. Between 1901 and 1909 Buéa was the German colonial capital and still maintains some of the German colonial architect including the current palace used by the president that was built by the German architect Jesco von Puttkamer. The plantation is about 4 km from Buéa and it is several hundred hectares carefully trimmed by the harvesting crews. Men and women cut the fresh tea leaves by hand or pruning tools and gathered the leaves into large baskets on their backs. The young tea leaves were then placed into big sacs that were transported by trucks to the drying tables in the metal roof buildings.

After lunch at the Fini Hotel, we visited the Limbe Wildlife Center. The Wildlife Center was established in 1993 by the Pandrillus Foundation and the Government of Cameroon. It houses gorillas, mandrills, red-capped mangabeys, chimpanzees, and various reptile and bird species that often come here as orphan young animals.

Across from the Wildlife Center we had a tour of the Limbe Botanical Gardens founded in 1892 by a group of German horticulturists as an acclimatization centre for the introduction of exotic crop species such as coffee, cocoa, rubber, oil palm, banana, teak and sugar-cane for distribution in Cameron and other German colonies. It was the most important tropical botanic gardens in the world. The Garden hosts a herbarium, laboratories, classrooms, a museum, a library and staff accommodation. The British took over the responsibility for the Garden from 1920 to 1932 under the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. In 1988, a British-Cameroonian partnership led to the renovation and development of the 48 hectares of the Garden. The role of the Limbe Botanic Garden has evolved to conservation, education, science, tourism and recreation. We enjoyed the living collection of many old trees that were the prototypes of the propagation program.

Back on board and before dinner I led a discussion on the functioning and future prospects of the Limbé Wildlife Center and the complex issue of managing wildlife populations in captivity and controlling bush meat hunting while protecting conservation areas.

Saturday March 12, 2011. Limbé, Cameroon

We visited the Molyko Banana Packaging Unit and plantation and learned the complex process of how bananas are processed and packaged with international standards before they are sent to Europe. From here we drove to Bova Village to discover some local Cameroon way of life with the Bakweri people; the indigenous people of Buéa. After lunch the group split up to visit the Mount Cameroon lava flow site or to chill at the beach. The ecological succession of the site was impressive after a 12 years old lava flow. Much of the area is covered by pioneering plants that are colonizing the area and abundant mosses. Several lizards were also observed on the rocky terrain.

Sunday March 13, 2011. Sailing from Cameroon to Benin

We had a busy day at sea starting off with my lecture on Conservation and development in Central Africa: Challenges and Opportunities. In the afternoon George Brooks offered a talk on European conquests and colonial rule. Then Marius Burger showcased the Southern African Reptile Conservation Assessment program. This was followed by Roger Mitchell who presented a short discussion on the volcanic eruption of Mount Cameroon in 1999. One of the highlights of the day was being serenaded by Marguerite and Robert Marsh, accompanied by Eddie on the piano.

Monday March 14, 2011. Benin, Cotonou

The Republic of Benin borders Togo to the west, Nigeria to the east and Burkina Faso and Niger to the north. The majority of the population is located in the southern coastline. The capital of Benin is Porto-Novo and the government offices are based in the country’s largest city of Cotonou. Benin covers an area of approximately 110,000 square kilometers (42,000 sq mi), with a population of approximately 9.05 million. Benin is a tropical, sub-Saharan nation, highly dependent on agriculture. The official language of Benin is French, however, indigenous languages such as Fon and Yoruba are commonly spoken. The largest religious group in Benin are the Roman Catholics, followed closely by Muslims, Vodun, and Protestants. The land of current-day Benin became known as the Slave Coast during the early 17th century.  In 1892 France took over the area and renamed it French Dahomey. In 1960, Dahomey gained full independence from France, bringing in a democratic government for the next 12 years.


Dispatches from Africa, Part 3: São Tomé

Wednesday, March 30th, 2011

Smithsonian Study Leader Francisco Dallmeier has been a conservation biologist with the Smithsonian Institution for the past 24 years. Dr. Dallmeier is the director of Smithsonian’s Center for Conservation Education and Sustainability (CCES), part of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI). CCES provides research and conservation approaches for sustainable development and world-class professional and academic programs for conservation practitioners. Here, he shares some more dispatches from Into Africa: From Namibia to Ghana. Read the other dispatches from this journey.

Monday March 7, 2011. São Tomé

We arrived in São Tomé around 6:00 and with an early rain. Several dolphins welcomed the ship and a beautiful mist and clouds covered the island. The archipelago of São Tomé and Príncipe comprises the two main islands and dozens of tiny islets scattered about 180 miles off the west coast of Gabon. The islet of Rolas straddles the Equator. After disembarking via Zodiacs, we traveled through the densely vegetated slopes of the island’s mountain. The volcanic island has a very fertile soil and altitudinal gradient that makes it very favorable to all kind of tropical plants including coffee and cocoa. The steep slopes have extensive coffee plantations shaded with very tall trees. The São Nicolao waterfall is a beautiful sight surrounded with a large variety of ferns, mosses and many other plant species thriving in the humid environment. Buffet lunch at the “Pestana Hotel” was excellent with a variety of tropical fruits.

At the Mote Café plantation, once a prolific colonial agricultural state, we visited the complex building and machinery to transport, dry and grind the coffee beans. Several local people performed colorful local dances with music from traditional instruments. In the afternoon we visited the cathedral while a musical funeral drove by.

The national museum has a wealth of colonial artifacts from the colonial times including European furniture and weapons used during that time. The fort that hosts the museum has a magnificent view of the bay and contains several old cannons. From the museum we continued our visit to the fishing village of Panfuto where dozens of large dugout canoes in all conditions filled the shore line. Many fishermen were preparing the nets for the night fishing and others played cards while waiting for the right time for departure. On the way back from the fishing village we enjoyed the “Danza Congo” at the “Plaza of Independence.” Men and women dressed with masks and colorful costumes performed an artistic and complex carnival dance.

Tuesday March 8, 2011. Príncipe

Príncipe is the smaller of the two major islands of São Tomé and Príncipe. It has an area of 136 square kilometers and a population of around 5000 people. Its highest peak is the Pico de Príncipe that rises to 948m in a dense forest area that is part of the Obo National Park. The northern and center part of the island were formerly coffee and cocoa plantations and have now reverted to forest. The town of Santo Antonio is the capital of Príncipe with an estimated population of 1500 people.

We arrived in Príncipe very early in the morning and soon after several fishing dugout canoes began to arrive after night fishing. Several of the villagers installed their canoes by the M/V Corinthian IIwith loads of fresh fish, coconuts, bananas, and many other fruits.  Disembarkation was by Zodiacs and we had the opportunity to observe all different lava formations partially eroded over years from the ocean. We arrived at the beautiful Bom Bom island resort and large beach to drive to Santo Antonio. The town has colorful houses from the colonial times and a lively market with fresh fish and vegetables. This day was the last day of carnival and also International Women’s Day  and celebrated with colorful dances, food and drinks. We also visited the once magnificent colonial housing and coffee processing building that supported the economy of that time. The buildings have been abandoned and overgrown by vegetation.

In the evening I presented the lecture on “Smithsonian’s Ten Years of Biodiversity Research and Conservation Program in Gabon”.


Dispatches from Africa, Part 2: Angola to São Tomé and Príncipe

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

Smithsonian Study Leader Francisco Dallmeier has been a conservation biologist with the Smithsonian Institution for the past 24 years. Dr. Dallmeier is the director of Smithsonian’s Center for Conservation Education and Sustainability (CCES), part of the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (SCBI). CCES provides research and conservation approaches for sustainable development and world-class professional and academic programs for conservation practitioners. Here, he shares some more dispatches from Into Africa: From Namibia to Ghana, where he’ll be leading Smithsonian travelers until March 17th. Read the dispatches  from the first few days of the journey.

Thursday March 3, 2011. Lobito, Catumbela and Benguela, Angola

Our first stops in Angola were Lobito, Catumbela, and Benguela, which are pretty and relaxed towns several hundred kilometers south of Luanda, the capital. The first Portuguese landed on the Benguela coast around 1601 in search of the silver and copper mines. Lobito at the time was one of the finest natural harbors on the African coast and its deep water port linked with the Benguela Railway. Mineral exports from the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia coupled with corn exports from the Bie Plateau, made Lobito Angola’s chief port before it was taken by Luanda. Lobito was built on a sand-spit and reclaimed land and the town was founded in 1843 by order of Maria II of Portugal. Benguela started as a Portuguese fort and became an official town in 1617. This town was a trading post for black African slaves, sold to Portuguese merchants who sent them to Brazil for cheap agricultural labor. The city is the capital of Benguela Province, and the second most populous city.

During the forty-minute drive to Benguela from Lobito we observed construction everywhere including a new airport, the recently built stadium, a new bridge and many other buildings. These were all signs of very rapid economic development. The first stop was at the government palace, an old thick-walled building typical of the old Portuguese architecture, that houses important government meetings and events. It has beautifully landscaped gardens with tropical palms and fig trees. The building is located close to the ocean. Next to the government building is the slavery museum—a large building that was once used to gather, hold, and process slaves before transport to Europe or America. The tall building and large open areas now host a collection of wooden art and two very old jeep vehicles. Outside the building, we enjoyed a music and dance performance by local musicians.

We drove by the new cathedral and visited the 1748 Portuguese church of Nossa Senhora do Popul, and were impressed with the very old architecture and beautiful wooden structures, made from wood from Brazil. The last stop before boarding Corinthian II was the old fort in the small town of Catumbela that is under reconstruction and which provides a great view of the area and the port.

Friday March 4, 2011. Luanda, Angola

Angola, the “Republic of Angola,” is 481,351 square miles, and is slightly less than twice the size of Texas. The country has some 1,000 miles of coastline on the South Atlantic. There is an estimated 10 million people, a population density of 18 people per square mile, with much higher density in the cities and more urbanized areas. The population overall is very young, less that 3% over the age of 65 and 43% below the age of 15. Forty-two percent of the population over 15 can read and write.

First to settle the Angola region were the Bushman, then the Bantu. The area now known as Angola was a part of the 13th-century Kingdom of Congo, which stretched over a large range of southwest Africa. The aristocratic “Mani” people held power over a unit of designated land, in a system much like feudalism. In 1483 the Portuguese established trade relations with the King of Congo; firearms and Christianity for slaves, minerals, and ivory. The Portuguese settled on Luanda (now the capital city of Angola). However, Spain occupied Portugal, and the Dutch took the opportunity to take Luanda in 1641. The slave trade from Angola was important to Portugal, so the Portuguese in Africa built up an army and took Luanda back, as well as the rest of the Angola territory in 1665. In the 1950s, residents of the “Overseas Province of Angola” began to demand rights. After many years of conflict, the nation gained its independence on November 11, 1975. After gaining independence, Angola was launched into a civil war between the aforementioned groups until 2002 when a ceasefire was called. Currently, Angola has a modified republic with a president, a prime minister, and a Council of Ministers. In 2010 a new constitution was adopted, giving more and ultimate power to the President, who is elected by a majority vote in parliament. Economically, Angola depends on fish and fish products, mineral resources, and oil export. Angola provides 9% of US oil.

Luanda is situated about a quarter of the way down to Angola’s Atlantic coast. It is a vast and sprawling city, and the gap between rich and poor is very evident. The shiny new tower blocks owned by the oil companies stand in stark contrast to the modest living quarters where the vast majority of Luandans live. Luanda is the capital and largest city of Angola with a population of at least 5 million. Luanda is a seaport and administrative center. Until 1836, Luanda was a main center for slave trade. Most people speak Portuguese and one third of the population of Angola lives in Luanda. The main exports are coffee, cotton, sugar, diamonds, iron, and salt.  57% of the population lives in poverty.

The visit to the city included driving past the impressive National Bank Building constructed in a colonial style with clay roof tiles and an impressive façade. We continued to the Museum of Anthropology, housed in a typical colonial building with a fascinating collection of masks representing many of the traditional rituals including circumcision, traditional hunting tools, baskets to process, store, and transport products and babies, traditional musical instruments, and a variety of pottery artifacts for cooking and other uses. I led the Portuguese-English translation of the tour at the museum for and was interviewed by the local TV station about the nature of the visit to the Museum and its value for education.

From the museum we walked, escorted by the police, to the Church of the Remedies which was built by the city merchants in 1655. It was the first and oldest cathedral for Congo and Angola. The cathedral hosts many 200-300 year old saints and we were greeted by Father Apolonio and the gospel choir of the ladies dedicated to support church events and mission. Father Apolonio provided a detailed history of the church which I translated to English, that included the damage caused during the country’s civil war.

We visited the Fortaleza which was the 17th-century Portuguese Fort that provides a comprehensive view of the city and the many new buildings under construction. The fort is now the military museum that hosts old military equipment and statues of Angolan and Portuguese heroes. The museum was currently being remodeled. We had a delightful lunch at the Moulin Rouge restaurant located by the beach at Ilha de Luanda.  Upon arrival, we were greeted by a colorful carnival dance and drum music performance by local dancers. We dined with David Brooks, the Deputy Chief of Mission of the U.S. Embassy, who provided a short overview of Angola and the challenges and opportunities that this beautiful country offers.

After lunch we visited a local school and orphanage, Mama Maxima, which is home to 120 children, age between 3 and 19 years old. Other children from the nearby communities attend school at this location where they spend time learning English, cooking, sewing and mending clothing, participating in manual service, and religious practice. The voluntary teachers are mostly from the oil companies and the organization is run by the Catholic Church of Santa Barbara and is under the responsibility of the nuns. On the way back from the Mama Maxima home, we stopped at the Mausoleum Monument, constructed to honor the first president of Angola. The professional police escort service took us back to port and we sailed for Pointe Noire, Congo around 6 pm.

Note: Several people visited the Kissama National Park that is 3 million acres in size bordered by the north, Cuanza River and by the south, Longa River. Operation Noah’s Ark is an attempt to repopulate the park with wildlife from other regions including Northern Botswana to Kissama.

Saturday March 5, 2011. Pointe Noire, Republic of Congo

Saturday morning found us navigating the waters of Angola and Congo and crossing the mouth of the Congo River. The Congo River is the 10th longest river in the world and the deepest at more than 7850 feet deep. It crosses the equator twice and over 30 million people depend on the river.

We observed numerous oil rigs from Angola with large flares to the side, oil tankers and many support ships. In the morning, we had a lecture by Vincent Resh on “How African Rivers and Lakes Work” and a panel discussion with Vincent Resh, George Brooks and Francisco Dallmeier on “Central and West Africa African Art.

We arrived at the waters of Pointe Noire close to 2:00 pm and enjoyed the diversity of fishing vessels, oil industry vessels contrasted with several fishermen in dug out canoes spreading the nets. Pointe Noire (Black Point) is the second largest city of the Republic of Congo with 663,400 inhabitants and an autonomous Department since 2004. Before this date, it was the capital of the Kouilou region (now department). It is the main commercial center of the country and is situated on a headland between Pointe Noire Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The name originated from the Portuguese navigators who saw a block of black rocks on the headland in 1484. The city is the essential center of the oil industry in Congo-Brazzaville, one of the main producers in Central Africa. Congolese oil has been largely exploited by the French company Elf Aquitaine since its discovery in 1980. Pointe Noire is also known for its fishing industry.

Once in Pointe Noire, we drove for about one hour through a busy and colorful town. People were preparing for carnival, the markets were busy and many small houses offered meals and drinks with loud music. Traffic was very busy and the escort vehicles provided a great service in speeding up the traveling. We first arrived at the Museum of Diosso, a small museum that was the former residence of the King of Loango, a nation comprised of seven tribes in what is now the Congo. Behind the main Museum building, there are four similar abandoned buildings which housed the Royal Wives and the kitchen. We were greeted at the museum by its curator Mr. Kimfoko and assistant Mr. Taty. The first room of the museum houses a very detailed exhibition about the slave trade that prospered in this region. The exhibition also documents the flow of goods, both material and human. Several collections of artifacts from various tribes such as hunting tools, baskets, musical instruments, and masks for different rituals illustrated the cultural and historical traditions of the Kingdom of Loango and the recent history of Pointe Noire.

After the visit of the Museum we visited the Diosso Gorge, a vast and deep rock formation caused by erosion and one of the most visited sites in Congo where you can see the red clay erosion walls and the green forest vegetation in the lower end. We drove back through the busy town streets escorted by a skillful motorcycled policeman.  The town was loud with music and many people eating and drinking in front of houses along the road. We were on board of the M/V Corinthian IIabout 6:30 pm and started sailing to São Tomé.

Sunday March 6, 2011. At sea sailing to São Tomé and Príncipe

São Tomé and Príncipe are only 87 miles apart, 155 and 140 miles wide respectively with a population of about 176,000 inhabitants.  The islands are part of an extinct volcanic mountain range which provides good soil for sugar, coffee, and cocoa. In 1908, the islands were the world’s largest producer of cocoa. The country is the second smallest country in Africa and the smallest Portuguese speaking country in the world. It was originally colonized by Portuguese, and it gained independence and has a multiparty democracy since 1990. The capital and largest city is São Tomé.

Today the program included lectures by George Brooks on “Symbiosis of Slaving and Legitimate Commerce during the 19th Century,” Vincent Resh on “São Tomé and Príncipe: Islands as Laboratories of Evolution,” Heather Arrowood on “Gabon: The Lake Oguemouen Ecotourism Project” and Drs. Brook, Resh, Dallmeier and Marius Burger provided a discussion session on “the ecological, environmental, social and economic variations of the region already travelled from Namibia to the Ecuador.”

Into Africa: Who Was Diego Cão?

Monday, July 5th, 2010

Elephants at a watering hole.    Photo: Leo Dos Remedios

Europeans have sought riches in the Congo for centuries. As we planned our Into Africa cruise, part 3 of our 4-part Grand African Voyage exploring this fascinating continent, we wondered which European first explored the famed Congo River. It turns out that the first European exploration dates back to the 15th century, led by a Portuguese explorer named Diego Cão.

Born around 1450 as an illegitimate son in Vila Real, Portugal, Cão was one of the most remarkable explorers from the Age of Discovery, and led two voyages sailing along the west coast of Africa. In the late summer of 1482, Cão reached the mouth and estuary of the Congo River, at what is now Shark Point, Angola, and marked it with a stone pillar known as a padrão – declaring the area sovereign to Portugal.

Today, the pillar still exists but has fallen to pieces. Yet, the people of Angola are very aware of Diego Cão, as he was responsible for Angola’s colonization, and continued close ties to Portugal.

If you had lived in the 15th Century, would you want to be an explorer?

Check out Africa in the 21st century from Namibia to Ghana on our Into Africa tour, as well as our other tours on the Grand African Voyage, departing in 2011!