April 5, 2017
On the eve of the 2nd world war, Britain’s colonial empire was made up of 45 territories, 2 million square miles and 50 million inhabitants. All but 300,000 square miles of the Empire was in tropical Africa, where there where no less than 14 territories all staffed by members of the Colonial Service. You may ask what this has to do with Safari – well this is where it all began.
If you were a University student in the late 1800’s, you would most likely finish your schooling and would then be posted into her Majesty’s Colonial Services. Most were from Middle-Class homes or they were brought up in the British tradition of service. This for most was an absolute honor and of all the colonies, Africa was a favorite. Filled with a romantic sense of adventure, many young men were drafted into service and posted across the continent. From Sudan to Nigeria, back across to Kenyan East Africa and all the way through the central interior to the Cape.
Once selected for duty you had the opportunity to choose your destination. There were the notoriously harsh environments likened to much of Central African and there where the easy living destinations such as Nigeria. A personal favorite was East Africa. Before departing by ship on one of the many Elder Dempster & Co liners, a young man would spend his final hours kitting up at the likes of a Walters & Co of Oxford or a JG Plumb and Sons of Westminster. From Bowler hats to Khaki drill tunics and mosquito boots or the traditional teak and canvas campaign chair, the new recruits would satisfy themselves with all the necessary gear for the adventure ahead.
The chosen area of service was headed up by a District Commissioner. They were the hardened men that had served many campaigns and knew their districts well. In the absence of military support, what power, what influence and what effect you had with the local Chiefs and Medicine Men was entirely established through trust, and that came through knowledge. So it was very important that the District Commissioner knew them well and they knew him and his entourage well. This knowledge was acquired by touring through the district. It’s this specific word touring, that was loosely understood as journey and translated into Swahili as Safari. From this, we now have a word that has subsequently been used to define a Billion dollar tourism industry some 100 years later.
The original purpose for Safari, was completely administration focused. It was easy to manage affairs around the boma or station area, but it was only by going from Village to Village, looking round houses, talking with the people, looking at their crops, doing census and taking taxes, that it was possible to find out how the people where and what they where thinking.
Whatever it was called, traveling about the districts had a romantic mystique and a grand sense of adventure. Being out in the African bush with a crackling fire and a pink gin, watching the sunset over the plains game from your teak chair or staring at the starry night sky from your canvas tent, this is the true origin of the Swahili word.
Touring, or Safari was seen as the single most important aspect of the British Empires administration and for this reason became the most common talking point. On Safari the Commissioner would hunt to feed the many porters and these specific stories slowly but surely found fame around the fire. Over years of embellished tales, the Empires wealthy wished to also indulge in the romance of Africa. To tour under canvas, hunt great beasts of the bush and journey where few had ever been. No longer about administration, the journey is now embodied with images of Africa’s most dangerous game, vast stretched of unexplored wilderness and exhilarating scenes to take your breath away. This is the origin of Safari.
A new and modern take on Safari would suggest the following :
Safari: Unveiling the African Adventure
The term “safari” conjures images of thrilling wildlife encounters, vast landscapes, and the untamed heart of Africa. Rooted in a history that intertwines exploration, colonialism, and conservation, the concept of a safari has evolved over time to become an iconic adventure that captures the spirit of the continent.
Origins and Exploration: 19th Century
The word “safari” originates from the Swahili word “safarī,” which means journey or travel. In the 19th century, during the era of exploration and colonization, European adventurers and big-game hunters embarked on journeys into the African interior. These expeditions were often led by local guides and accompanied by porters, cooks, and other support staff.
Hunting and Colonial Influence: Late 19th to Early 20th Century
During this period, safaris were largely associated with hunting expeditions. Wealthy European hunters sought trophies from the “Big Five” game animals (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros) and other wildlife. This phase of safaris was characterized by luxury camps, skilled trackers, and encounters with Africa’s remarkable fauna.
Conservation and Transition: Mid-20th Century
As the 20th century progressed, a shift occurred in the purpose of safaris. Conservationists and naturalists recognized the need to protect Africa’s dwindling wildlife populations, prompting the establishment of protected areas and national parks. Safaris began to encompass a more eco-conscious approach, emphasizing wildlife viewing, education, and appreciation over hunting.
The Evolution of Modern Safari: Late 20th Century to Present
The latter half of the 20th century saw the rise of sustainable tourism and ecotourism, paving the way for the modern safari experience. Safari lodges and camps emerged, offering comfortable accommodations and guided tours that allowed travelers to observe wildlife in their natural habitats without disturbing them. Local communities also became involved in tourism, leading to economic benefits and greater support for conservation efforts.
Types of Safaris Today:
Today, the concept of a safari has transformed into a holistic adventure that marries conservation, education, and responsible travel. Safaris not only offer a chance to witness Africa’s incredible biodiversity but also contribute to the preservation of its natural heritage. The safari experience reflects the evolution of humanity’s relationship with nature, from the days of exploration and exploitation to a present-day commitment to safeguarding the wonders of the African wilderness.