Stories of adventurism

Stories of adventurism

As a small African boy, I loved many novels of adventure from all over. I was keen to improve my English language. One such novel that I enjoyed immensely was by the English writer, H. Rider Haggard. It is called King Solomon’s Mines. It is a novel of 1885.
I know that many boys of my generation read it too. It is an Englishman’s novel with an African setting. It has since been turned into an exciting film.

In Kings Solomon’s Mines, three white men, Allan Quatermain, Sir Henry Curtis and Captain Good, have to find Henry’s renegade brother, Neville, in the interior of Africa, by all means.
Neville is believed to have gone to Kukuanaland in the interior. He disappeared whilst searching for the legendary King Solomon’s Mines. But, the journey to Kukuanaland is almost impossible because there is a desert to be crossed first and the Kukuanas do not allow strangers in their country.
Allan Quatermain is a hunter based in South Africa. He meets Sir Henry Curtis and Captain Good, who are searching for Curtis’s brother. By coincidence, Quatermain has a sketchy map of the so-called King Solomon’s mines’ location, given to him many years earlier.

Curtis and Good ask Quatermain to guide them to the area. Quatermain thinks the expedition is likely to lead to nothing but his death. Nevertheless, he agrees to guide it after Curtis offers to pay for his son’s education in return for finding his brother.
Quatermain organises the expedition, taking on supplies, guns, and a Zulu guide, Umbopa. The expedition travels to the edge of a desert. Quatermain’s map shows an oasis halfway across the desert, and a pair of rounded mountains known as ‘Sheba’s Breasts’. The expedition sets off on foot. Despite the map, they nearly die of thirst in the desert and cold in the mountains.

Eventually, the expedition reaches the ancient road that leads to the mines. The King of Kukuanaland has ordered all strangers to be killed. Quatermain demonstrates his firearms and spins a tale to the Africans about him and colleagues being “from the stars.” With that, he overawes the local people. They reach Kukuanaland’s capital where Kukuanaland’s king is called Twala. He is a violent and bloodthirsty leader.
Twala is on record as having murdered his own brother to seize the crown and drove the deposed king’s wife and son into the desert to die. His chief supporter is an ancient witch named Gagool who helps maintain a reign of terror in Kukuanaland.

Interestingly, Umbopa, Quatermain’s ‘Zulu’ guide, reveals that he is in fact the son of the previous king of Kukuanaland. Umbopa, it now appears, accompanied the expedition in the hope of returning to his homeland and regaining his inheritance as the rightful king. Quatermain and his friends agree to help Umbopa overthrow Twala.
Umbopa is heavily outnumbered by forces loyal to Twala. However, Umbopa uses superior tactics, and the rifles and fighting prowess of the expedition members, to defeat Twala. Twala is finally killed in single combat with Curtis. Victorious, Umbopa ascends the throne of Kukuanaland, promising a new era of justice and enlightened rule.

The witch, Gagool, reluctantly leads the expedition to King Solomon’s mines. Deep inside a mountain, she reveals a treasure room full of gold, diamonds and ivory. While the expedition members are admiring these metals, Gagool attempts to trap them. She triggers a secret mechanism that closes a huge stony door, but is herself crushed by the descending stone. Trapped in the treasure room, and with little food, water or light, the expedition prepares to die. Quatermain realises that as the air is not running out, there must be a connection to the surface. The team regather their strength and search for a secret passageway. Eventually they find it and escape, although only with a few handfuls of diamonds from the vast treasure hoard.

But when you become awake, you see that generally the nineteenth century European novels of Africa have at their centre, at least, a journey by European characters across parts of Africa. Exploration, hunting, treasure identification and acquisition and settling of African feuds and rivalries by these Europeans, is a staple motif.
For example, in the works of Stevenson, Conrad, Kipling, Haggard, Buchan and others, the European is on a journey away from Europe into non-European lands and seas. It is important to note that the exploration and occupation of the empty spaces, as the adventure genre would have it, demanded bravery and endurance on the part of the European characters.

Most of what became, for instance, the British Africa had first been identified by these pathfinders like Moffat and Livingstone and some small-time traders. European powers later came in to make effective occupation at the invitation of such groups because these groups were beginning to compete with people from other nations with similar motives as theirs. These groups turned to European governments for “political and military assistance.”
In that context, adventurism in the European novel of Africa, is not an isolated innocent feature. It is part of the growth and development of imperialism.

The idea of imperial occupation was not popular in England before the 1880s but writings that portrayed empty spaces in Africa, as done by Haggard in King Solomon’s Mines and uninhabited rich islands as in Stevenson’s Treasure Island, definitely fuelled, gradually, ideas of occupation and settlerism.
In fact, the trend had been established as far back as 1719 by the likes of Daniel Defoe where the fateful shipwreck on the shores of a desert island is not really tragic but a rehearsal of settling, coping with new environments and battling to reintroduce English life and culture on a non-English island.
The concept of controlling territory, it should be understood, has been at the centre of human history. Greek and Roman expansionism, for instance, remain as towering examples. The adventure story in question told readers about vast empty territories “out there” in very subtle and salient ways and sparked that human desire for acquiring territory.

It is important to note that the exploration and occupation of the empty spaces, as the adventure genre would have it, demanded bravery and endurance on the part of the European characters.
In King Solomon’s Mines, Kukuanaland is a haven of evil. Twala, at the pinnacle of society, is a usurper. Gagool the prophet and reservoir of history is a prophet of darkness. Scragga, who should epitomise youth and perpetuation of society, is bloody thirsty. Beautiful girls are sacrificed to selfish, destructive gods and fetishes. The Kukuans, a nation with long traditions, surprisingly gets to hear about the eclipse of the moon for the first time through the white men. The list of African negatives in this novel is endless.

The implication of the above is that the Africans are less deserving of their land. They are meant to be an accident on the terrain or the dirty flies perching on a cake. In fact, that the black savages live side by side with the diamond rich “King Solomon’s Mines” adds on to the spirit of adventure. Suppressing the savage in order to have access to this wealth makes the adventure and the sacrifice more fulfilling to the European adventurers. In that context, the black man’s fight to repel intrusion becomes synonymous with darkness’s tendency to refuse light.

The war in King Solomon’s Mines is manipulated to appear like a war to restore the Kukuan throne to the rightful heir, Umbopa, when it is actually a war to open up the diamond mines to the Europeans and to allow them free access to search for Henry’s brother.
The adventure story is performing an imperial ideological function through hidden points of view. First, it has justified the idea of going out to the “New World”. Second, it has made the white man the subject of the whole process.
This is also seen in the way the narrative insists that the white characters in the wild glance backwards to see how the metropolis regards their activities.

In King Solomon’s Mines, the white adventurers are not merely fascinated by the new things they meet as individuals but they are fascinated as English Victorian men. For instance, Good’s Victorian regalia in the middle of the African jungle is cause for amusement to his colleagues:
“But perhaps the most curious looking of the three…, was Captain John Goo. There he sat upon a leather bag, looking just as though he had come in from a comfortable day’s shooting in a civilized country, absolutely clean, tidy and well dressed… He even sported a collar, of which he had a supply, made of white gutta fercha.”

The adventure form, besides defining the non-European as savage, goes on to qualify one form of savage from another. Twala and Umbopa are basically savages because they are non-Europeans. However, Umbopa is less savage because he has accepted white presence, ways and friendship.
Umbopa is a “noble” savage because he has already been absorbed, conquered and now constitutes no serious threat. It is Twala, who is still prepared to fight and resist white presence who is still the real savage.
Haggard generally has a fascination for Zulus in all his African stories. He associates them with physical strength, as shown by his association of Umbopa and Umslopogaas’ big builds with being Zulu. He also thinks that Zulus are the most proverbial African people. Zulus acquired a stately position in African history for having a strong imperial reputation, through Shaka. For Haggard, the Zulus, of all African tribes, come closest to the English concept of an imperial, noble people as themselves (the English).

Umbopa is helped onto the throne by the English men and it is obvious that Kukunaland has become an English colony of sorts. Of course Umbopa insists on killing his subjects once in a while and only when it is necessary. Kukuanaland is on the road to civilisation, under Europe’s tutelage. The implication is that history in Africa begins with Europe.
In these novels where hunting is an immediate hobby, it is surprising that acquisition of treasure – ivory, gold and diamonds – is offered a peripheral attention. In King Solomon’s Mines, the three white men ask to see the diamond reserves as the very last thing.

Yet these individuals actually open up new lands to Empire and fly its flag on foreign soils and hills.
Sir Henry Rider Haggard was born June 22, 1856, Bradenham, Norfolk, England. He was an English novelist best known for his adventure novels that captured the attention of the public with his African adventure stories like King Solomon’s Mines, She Allan Quatermain (1887), Nada the Lily (1892), Queen Sheba’s Ring (1910), Marie (1912), and The Ivory Child (1916).

Memory Chirere

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