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Travels in West Africa

3.77  ·  Rating details ·  742 ratings  ·  69 reviews
In 1893, defying every convention of Victorian womanhood, Mary Kingsley set off alone for West Africa to collect botanical specimens. Unaccompanied except for native guides, she plunged boldly into forbidding jungles, often the first European--and almost always the first white woman--ever to arrive. Undaunted by tales of ferocious cannibals, she made friends with the tribe ...more
Paperback, 384 pages
Published July 15th 2002 by National Geographic (first published 1897)
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3.77  · 
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 ·  742 ratings  ·  69 reviews

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That was an excruciating read! I can't imagine why other reviewers are so enamoured of this book! Admittedly, Kingsley was a remarkable woman for her time, but she is also a remarkable idiot when it comes to her so-called theories about "the African". By the end of the book, I had completely lost any admiration for this woman who did so many incredible things, but couldn't think an original thought to save her life.

So here are a few gems:

I own I regard not only the African, but all coloured race
Oct 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
Just came across a lovely bit, as Kingsley laments people's over-reliance on water filters to protect them from the many diseases rampant in Africa:

"A good filter is a very fine thing for clearing drinking water of hippopotami, crocodiles, water snakes, catfish, etc., and I dare say it will stop back sixty per cent. of the live or dead African natives that may be in it; but if you think it is going to stop back the microbe of marsh fever--my good sir, you are mistaken."

Roughly contemporary with
I wanted to like this book and at a different point in my life I would probably have enjoyed it. I actually did enjoy what I read - about 60 pages, but I simply did not want to read anymore. Mary Kingsley is a fascinating person but her comments are very late 19th century colonial comments for the most part. I think I would prefer a biography of Kingsley. And one gift to myself in retirement is not reading what I don't want to (most of the time)
Jul 31, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Armchair adventurers
(From my review):

A most remarkable woman

If you enjoyed Katherine Hepburn's spunky performance in "The African Queen" or delight when Elizabeth Peters' fictional Amelia Peabody prods a villain with her trusty umbrella, you will undoubtedly enjoy the real adventures of Mary Kingsley in Africa. At thirty years of age, her parents having both died, the sheltered Miss Kingsley set off for the continent that had for so long ruled her imagination. Setting herself up as a trader in West Afric
Bruce Hesselbach
Oct 19, 2012 rated it really liked it
A remarkably fearless explorer and scientist, Mary Kingsley traveled to areas where the mortality rate among Europeans was extremely high, to cannibal villages, and to rivers full of crocodiles. One of her amazing feats was to climb Mount Cameroon (13,255') by a new route through constant rain. When her native guides gave out, she made the final ascent by herself in heavy, cumbersome Victorian dress.
Her writing style is a bit uneven. At her best she can be enormously witty and entertaining, as
Laura McDonald
Sep 21, 2009 rated it really liked it
What a long book, but Kingsley's excellent sense of humor makes the dry parts bearable. She's at her best when writing in travel journal style. Can you believe this woman went alone, in 1893, to remote areas in West Africa crawling with cannibal tribes? Some areas had never been visited by a white man, much less a white woman. Her views on African problems and issues at the time are very sensible and logical to the modern reader; she never falls into the trap of basing her opinions on prejudice. ...more
Jul 26, 2012 rated it really liked it
What Mary Kingsley did was pretty incredible.... in 1893, she decided -- skirts and all-- to travel to West Africa to explore, collect fish and learn more about the religion of native people. Her account "Travels in West Africa" follows her adventures as she traipses through the jungle, paddles down rivers in canoes, and hikes up a mountain in the Cameroons in a storm. Her spirit of adventure and pluck is incredibly admirable and pulls together a wide ranging story, as she travels across the cou ...more
Kathryn Raphael
Jun 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my all time favorite books.

It was written in the 1890s, so it takes a few pages to get into the period English, but I was fascinated right away.

This is a hilarious, well written, thought provoking autobiography filled with adventure and touching accounts of humanity at it's finest.
I didn’t read all of this, but I’m taking it as a read to account for all of the other reading I do for uni that can’t be counted towards my Goodreads goal!

Mary Kingsley was a fascinating woman and her travels through colonial Africa as a white, Victorian woman throw up some interesting discussions. Plus, she’s funny.
Kingsley's book covers her travels to West Africa in the 1890s. She describes her adventures canoeing up ravines and rapids, walking through swamps and mangroves, climbing a 13 000 ft mountain and dealing with missionaries, traders and the locals who include cannibals. All this by herself with just a small band of native carriers that she has to manage, coerce and trick into doing what she wants. And all to collect samples of fish.

Initially she did not seem enamoured by the locals but gradually
May 06, 2009 rated it really liked it
Kingsley is possibly unique in her perspective as a single white woman traveling alone in Africa in the late 19th century. While her views on race and culture are more narrow than ours, I think she conveys considerably more respect for the Africans she works with and considerably less Victorian judgmentalism than most of her contemporaries. Her style is witty and often self-deprecating.
Feb 11, 2011 marked it as to-read
Shelves: memoir
Mary Kingsley is a 30 something late-Victorian woman who inherits money on her parent's death and decides to head off to West Africa. There, never changing out of her petticoats, but without an English escort, she tells a witty tale of her adventures.
Feb 11, 2011 rated it did not like it
Not interesting enough to be an adventure.
Not descriptive enough to be a travel book.
Not funny or witty enough to be a good read.
May 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: africa, memoir
An unlikely adventurer, Mary Kingsley took off for research exploration in West Africa. Her love for good sailing vessels quickly draws the reader into a comfortable cojourner role and, now settled into that role, into the joys of her exquisite descriptions of both the horrid and beautiful views along the rivers and paths travelled.

Her courage and strength of character lead to places most would fear, most notably the chief homes of notorious cannibal Fan tribes and to Mount Cameroon's summit. H
Aaron Eames
Nov 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Kingsley’s account has all the adventure of an H. Rider Haggard yarn coupled with the wit of Bernard Shaw, and outdoes them both. The indomitable lady plunges into the jungle in search of scientific specimens, all in her skirts, which incidentally save her life after a fall into a spike-pit, accompanied only by local guides, who she “chaperones” and whose customs she records with a genuine (if often satirical and Victorian) sympathy, and with her calling-cards, leaving one at the peak of a mount ...more
Jul 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Travels in West Africa / Mary Kingsley. The term is extremely overused today, but Mary Kingsley (1862-1900) was truly amazing. A British adventurer/trader /author, she had a deep interest in Africa and Africans. This personal account of her 1894-1895 journey is considered a classic: it has never been out of print. Her fine sense of humor, her high tolerance of discomfort and risk, her intense curiosity, and her liberal appreciation of individuals and tribes are on display. She had a particular i ...more
Linda Hartley
Racist, sexist and of its time. I found it an interesting read when I could get past her racist theorising. She has a fairly modern conversational style and a way of writing which makes it easy to accept her world view unthinkingly, only to find oneself suddenly reading the most outrageous racist slurs. I was interested in her story, a lone white woman surviving in Africa at the end of the 19th. by trading and living on her wits. I think I would rather have read a biography really but this was f ...more
Jan 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Really liked this classic of travel literature. I had put off reading it for some time as I expected it to be interesting but dry, but instead I found it very humorous as well as interesting. My only complaint was there was only 1 map & it only covered part of the travels she writes about in the book. So glad I finally got around to reading this book by a truly amazing woman
Apr 29, 2019 rated it it was ok
Not sure how I feel about this book- some of her comments! But does provide an interesting account of English 19th century superiority
Iñaki Tofiño
Kind of funny sometimes, extremely witty... One cannot expect her not to be racist, which she was, but somehow she departs from the common discourse of her time.
Jan 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
so much detail
underrated in history--
Oct 21, 2012 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: All fans of jungle thrillers
Recommended to Katherine by: Michelle
I had never heard of Mary Henrietta Kingsley before, and I'm really glad that I have now read her book and know about this courageous woman.

It is a little slow at the beginning. The preface is a good introduction (so don't skip it!), which leads you to Mary's life and circumstances that leads her to start traveling in West Africa in the late 1800s at the age of 30. In those days, where no single woman traveled to West Africa for the sake of it, Mary was one of a kind and when you read this book
May 01, 2013 rated it really liked it
Read this book as an arm chair traveler. I have wanted to go to African and see the place where man first strode on two feet and left Africa at the horn in Yemen and spread across the globe. I wanted to see dawn over the Serengeti Plain and lions, giraffes and elephants in the wild. I wanted to see the Great Rift Family which is splitting Africa in two and see Mt. Kilimanjaro. Alas, stage 4 cancer precludes international travel with its concomitant risk of disease that my compromised immune syst ...more
This was one plucky lady. Mostly excellent narrative of her adventures in locations from a time long past. Her observations and opinions from extensive visits into the interior and along the coast remain a record of the attitudes, beliefs and expectations of an imperialist culture convinced of it's own superiority. Her scathingly pithy, sometimes complimentary reflections on the local characters she met give good insight into the person she was and the folks who lived and visited west Africa. Mu ...more
Gerald Sinstadt
May 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: travel
Mary Kingsley was a truly astonishing woman. She was a Cambridge graduate with a genuine desire to contribute to the store of man;s knowledge. In this book she writes about her trave;s in the 1890s to fulfil a passionate desire to get to know West Africa.

Not only did she succeed in that objective, she made many friends among people she frequently refers to as "savages," she learned to master a canoe made from a hollowed-out tree trunk (falling out of it on a number of occasions), she collected p
Carol Wakefield
Oct 06, 2013 rated it liked it
Marvelous woman. If the book had only recounted Mary's travels ,that would have been enough. In the late 1890s Mary, with a small inheritance took herself , a mind with a scientific bent, a fortunate constitution and amazing energy and visited the English colonies of west africa. Her treks, accompanied by local tribal members took her by foot through jungles, swamps and up a 13000ft peak, plus along rivers by native canoe. Wading through chest deep swamps? Well one does have to wring out ones sk ...more
Kevin Pedersen
Nov 28, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: world-tour
Earlier this year, I read Mungo Park's "Travels Into The Interior Of Africa" which was okay as a primary source historical document, but I thought this was better. The writing is more evocative and detailed and Kingsley tries really hard to get a sense of the culture she is moving through as she goes -- while admitting that she is almost certainly getting some key details wrong. Her descriptions of the natural beauty of the land and the religious (fetish) customs are vivid. And her sense of humo ...more
Jun 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Mary Kingsley wrote this book as an account of her travels through the West African bush as a thirty year old Englishwoman traveling alone in 1895. She had lived an extremely sheltered life until her parents died, then she decided to continue her father's study of fetishes in Africa and also was commissioned collect fish and lizards for the British Museum.

Her descriptions of her relations with the various tribes, including her favorite cannibals, is fascinating. I enjoyed her descriptions of the
Simon Dobson
Sep 24, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: bonanza
A great insight into a period now long in the past. Mary Kingsley was clearly ahead of her time, not only in her independent travel but also in her perceptions of indigenous cultures in Africa and the coastal islands. But she was also distinctly of her time in the casual assumptions of sex and race that at times get rather wearing. The sensation is somewhat like reading a Rider Haggard novel: the same sense that the author means well and is impressed by the cultures being described while at the ...more
Sep 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: travel
This is an absolutely delightful telling of Mary Kingsley's adventures among the tribes of west Africa. She doesn't go into detail about the disasters and tribulations as you will find in other travel books. But with more wit and humor she still tells of the difficulties in getting about and dealing with the Africans as well as the whites she meets.

If you are somewhat squeamish, you might want to skip the 4 chapters on African religion, spirits and gods. I wish I had.

To get about in that type of
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Kingsley was born in Islington, London on 13 October 1862, the daughter and oldest child of doctor, traveler, and writer George Kingsley and Mary Bailey.

Kingsley wrote two books about her experiences: Travels in West Africa (1897), which was an immediate best-seller, and West African Studies (1899), both of which granted her vast respect and prestige within the scholarly community. Some newspapers
“I remember one of my tutors saying, 'Always when on a long march assume the attitude you feel most inclined to, as it is less tiring.” 2 likes
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