A FEMALE AFRICAN EXPLORER
Mrs. Sheldon, an American lady, contemplates exploring Central Africa with a body guard of soldiers, who will be negresses
She was not yet a widow when she started out on her epic journey in 1891 and, most importantly, Mrs. Mary [or May] French-Sheldon, known to the Africans as "Bebe Bwana", in 1910, became the one of the first women to be appointed a Fellow of the Geographical Society.
Mrs. Sheldon’s best-known work is a well-illustrated book about her first foray, called “Sultan to Sultan: Adventures among the Masai and other tribes of East Africa 1892”. From her book, it seems her ambition to take women porters wasn’t all that successful, as she says :
She goes to describe one tiny woman who ate so much she ended up “like a fatted pig” by the end of the safari and who was always in danger of being washed away when they crossed rivers so that Mrs Sheldon had to detail a male porter to look after her.
Although I had been strongly advised to take women porters to wash and for other duties, I found the few that I had were a perpetual nuisance. They were always inciting disputes among the porters, and resorted to all sorts of measures to win from them portions of food and other things which they coveted.
One worthy addition to Mrs. Sheldon’s book is that unlike the books of most male explorers, she has taken the trouble to carefully list all 153 names of every porter or askari (soldier) who helped her.
|Unnamed female porters|
However, I have this to say of the women porters, they compared admirably with the men both in staying qualities and strength, doing their day’s march with no more complaining, besides having superficial duties either incumbent upon them or volunteered, which the men had not.
Maybe there is some descendant in East Africa who knows what happened to some of the five women porters: Lidia, Beda, Suzzan, Burt Hamis and Burt Hamis Mzuria, but it is most unlikely as native people like them who helped white explorers are all long lost to history.
Mrs. Sheldon's book can be found at the Internet Archive, and she is also the subject of a recent feminist biography "The White Queen" by Tracey Jean Boisseau, published by Indiana University Press.
All images from "Sultan to Sultan" and the Library of Congress.
|Mrs. Sheldon's Guns|