“I traveled—always on foot, and unaccompanied by other white men—about 8,000 miles. I shot, stuffed, and brought home over 2,000 birds, of which more than 60 are new species, and I killed upwards of 1,000 quadrupeds, of which 200 were stuffed and brought home, with more than 60 hitherto unknown to science. I suffered fifty attacks of the African fever, taking, to cure myself, more than fourteen ounces of quinine. Of famine, long-continued exposures to the heavy tropical rains, and attacks of ferocious ants and venomous flies, it is not worth while to speak.” —Paul du Chaillu
American Explorer in Africa writes “Stories of the Gorilla Country”
Now for something completely different. Heritage History features many outstanding authors, and several who had first hand adventures in foreign lands, but even among our most exceptional authors, Paul du Chaillu is a stand-out. Du Chaillu was one of the first western explorers of Central Africa, and upon his return to civilization, he authored several scholarly accounts of his travels, but his real masterpiece was a five book series written for children about his adventures in the jungles of Africa. They were very popular during the late 19th century, and we are determined to help re-introduce his works to modern readers.
The reason du Chaillu’s “Stories of the Gorilla Country” series is near the top of our list of favorite books has a great deal to do with its utterly unique and inimitable character. Written by one of the earliest American explorers of equatorial Africa, it has all of the attractions of a good Tarzan style adventure story, combined with the reflective philosophy of Robinson Crusoe. Du Chaillu’s work differs from both of these however, in that it is the true account of the first American explorer to live among the interior tribes of equatorial Africa for an extended time. The author traveled by himself into the interior Africa, and lived with the natives for many years. In almost every situation, du Chaillu was the first white person ever encountered by these tribes. He was not a missionary. He was not affiliated with or sponsored by any government, university, church, or royal society. He was not attempting to develop the country for trade. He was merely a curious adventurer who was willing to risk his life many times over for the opportunity to see things no white man had seen before.
Paul du Chaillu was the son of a French-American trader who owned a trading station on the coast of Gabon in central Africa, and he accompanied his father on several long-term trips to Africa. He had much of his education at the Christian missions in the region, where he met and befriended dozens of natives and learned several of their languages. When du Chaillu was still a very young man, his father died. Instead of inheriting his successful trading business, du Chaillu decided to become an explorer, and embarked on a three-year journey into the interior jungles of central Africa. During his travels he lived with, hunted with, and befriended dozens of native Africans, learned several more languages, and collected hundreds of specimens of wildlife. He had innumerable adventures of such fantastic drama that upon his return to civilization, many who heard his tales believed that they were utterly fanciful.
After returning to America for several years, during which time he wrote an account of his adventures, he prepared for a new expedition across Africa, starting near the Congo Basin with the intention of exploring all of central Africa by foot. (This was over fifteen years before Stanley navigated the Congo River). The trials and tribulations of this unsuccessful expedition make the fifth and final book in his series somewhat darker in character than the earlier four, but all five taken together are delightfully riveting. Du Chaillu comes across as a sincere and curious fellow, greatly delighted by many of the sights and characters that he encounters. His approach, when writing for young people, is to explain his own reactions to difficult situations rather than to criticize the actions of others, and a great many of his escapades have humorous or ironic conclusions. One could not possibly invent a more interesting fictional hero.
Modern writers tend to be hypersensitive about negative stereotypes of Negroes, and the desire to be politically correct often stifles an honest portrayal of basic human frailties. Du Chaillu’s work is utterly devoid of such posturing. He grew up in Africa among the natives and knew them intimately as friends, hunting companions, mentors, protectors, nurses, and sometimes fiends and tyrants. He was an adventurer, not a professor. He lived among the natives not to study them, but to explore with them. Du Chaillu formed fast and lasting friendships among the natives, and his descriptions of them evince a deep understanding of human strengths and frailties. His personal descriptions are often humorous and sometimes tragic, but they are never dull, and they never descend into patronizing generalities.