Out of Our Minds: Reason & Madness in the Exploration of Central Africa
Drawing on travel accounts--most of them Belgian and German--published between 1878 and the start of World War I, Fabian describes encounters between European travelers and the Africans they met. He argues that the loss of control experienced by these early travelers actually served to enhance cross-cultural understanding, allowing the foreigners to make sense of strange facts and customs. Fabian's provocative findings contribute to a critique of narrowly scientific or rationalistic visions of ethnography, illuminating the relationship between travel and intercultural understanding, as well as between imperialism and ethnographic knowledge.
“tough resistance” this continent had put up to European attempts at penetration. The authors of the ﬁrst call went so far as to state that Europeans themselves were in part responsible for the obstacles to exploration and that their ignorance of Africa was selfinﬂicted: “It would be an honorable task for our time, and its humanist aspirations, to regain knowledge that was lost for Europe through the slave trade, its heaviest guilt. And wherever such goals were to be reached, the German people
a ﬁrst question, was the explorers’ sense of time as history? Pogge’s diary of his trip to the Lunda (1880) and Schütt’s partly questionable travelogue (1881) appeared in a series called Beiträge zur Entdeckungsgeschichte Afrikas (Contributions to the history of the discovery of Africa). It seems odd to call a book, published only a few years after the events it reports, a contribution to history. But at that time, exploration was history, because it made history. To understand such consciousness
is continually open to attacks of fever, diarrhoea, or dysentery. His mental energy ﬂies with his physical, till any sustained thought is impossible, and to pass the time he must dose night and day, except when he is grumbling and defaming the climate. Hard constant work is the great preserver. Sweat out the malaria and germs of disease, and less will be heard of the energy-destroying climate of the tropics. (1:123) By now, little should be left of images we may have held of exploratory travel
self-control should stay at home: “He who only dreams of his return and accepts the present only for the advantages it will bring him later in Europe—who does not open-mindedly live in surroundings that call on all his abilities and powers, all his ingenuity, and his complete self-abnegation—will not produce a single lasting and serious result. Excellent, perhaps, in theory, but in practice if such a person has the misfortune of getting involved, [the experience] will simply make him a sacriﬁcial
grains of hemp into boiling cognac and we all shared it with the highest chiefs who were present. Kalamba’s fate was now tied to ours. He himself, Fabian_151_179 2/28/00 11:22 AM Page 175 Charisma, Cannabis, and Crossing Africa 175 his sister Sangula, as well as Tshingenge and several chiefs wanted to accompany us on our further travels with a large following so that we could look calmly toward the immediate future. (153) A more ingenious extension of the meaning of ﬁre, a more striking