"I never knew of a morning in Africa when I awoke that I was not happy"
Papa on Safari in Tanganyika territory
Africa of my Dreams
For those of us who have stumbled upon Africa—we can think
of almost every reason to stay and almost no reason to leave.In fact, when we are away from her, we
think nothing of where we are but only whence we came--the sights and sounds
that make up our dreams form the lifeblood of this continent.
It was Hemingway in Green Hills of Africa, who said “I had
not yet left, but when I awoke in the night I missed her already.”Unlike any other continent Africa pulls
at me and will not let go.
I’m not sure what it was or, for that matter when it was,
that I first contemplated Africa. As a young boy growing up in Southern
California, I can recall sitting in my Grandfather’s den and peering up at the
mounted heads gathered from so many African hunting adventures. My Grandfather
had traveled extensively throughout Africa.He had a collection of books by many of Africa’s greatest
hunters and travelers; there was Livingstone, Selou, Stanley, Bell, Patterson,
Grey, Blixen, and countless others to entertain me.However, I don’t feel it was these books or the images
within my Grandfather’s den that so captivated my attention.
What propelled me on this African road of discovery is
something that I have asked myself many times. Up until several days ago I had
(at least in my own mind) not known the answer.I’ve hashed it out often enough--there was the crossing of
North Africa while on leave from the Military—just months after my 21st
birthday—the journey by jeep and donkey from Rabat through the High Atlas; the
trip across the Chalbi Desert to Kenya’s Lake Turkana, the excursion along the
edge of the Sahara with the Tuareg Salt Caravan, and that hunting expedition to
Central Africa. But again, those brief sojourns were not the catalyst.
Had I not found a misplaced photograph, I might still be
hashing it out—searching for that exact moment when Africa took hold of my
soul.I was telling a story to a
friend (who has since become my wife) about the beauty that is Africa. We
talked at length about the Zambezi Valley, the Serengeti, The Luangwa River and
the Mara triangle.I had promised
to show her a personal collection of photographs that portrayed the beauty I
had known.Some days later as I
sifted through the many photos that I had taken and collected over the years—a
photograph fell from the pile.
The photograph was taken in Uganda and
showed a gentleman of rather small stature crouching over an old typewriter
sitting across from two Africans.The name on the photograph read Edward Henry Winter.It was this man, a Professor of
Anthropology at the University of Virginia, who so engrossed me in Africa.Born in the eastern U.S., schooled at
Harvard, Oxford, and the London School of Economics, Dr. Winter was educated
during Africa’s colonial period -- yet he was entirely unpretentious,
un-biased, and non-racial in his approach to all things African.
My reason for placing the blame of this African love affair
on Dr. Winter has nothing to do with his capacity as an Anthropologist, but
more from the stories and the hair-raising adventures Dr. Winter found himself
in. It was his stories and the way in which he relived them that gave me this
desire, this longing for Africa.
Ed told me such engrossing and wonderful stories that were
different from those I had read as a young boy in my Grandfather’s
den--different characters, different emotions.Ed spoke of an Africa and Africans with depth and feeling.Unlike anything I had heard before,
these stories were from a period of Africa’s past that was beautiful and
“Africa made me” Ed used to say. It was a phrase I was to
hear up until the time I too left in search of my Africa, this Africa of my
These dreams I speak of were part real and part fantasy;
but, mostly they were inspired by the Africa Ed spoke of.This was an Africa where cattle-raiding
Iraqw wandered past your camp fire; where the roar of lions gathering before
the evening hunt echoed through the bush; where the sounds of day slowly gave
way to the sounds of the night – where ancient African kingdoms lay buried,
their treasures yet to be found.However, the one image that comes to mind more that any other is that
from a photograph given to me by Ed.The photograph shows a Tanzanian herdsman standing stork-like on a
sun-drenched plain – his cattle in the background.This was an image more than any other that was to mold my
dreams and thoughts.It was to me
an image of real beauty; the colors of Africa combined with the lean muscular
shape of the herdsman standing against the evening sky.
There was another side to this photograph--Ed had told me,
as had others.The Africa in the
photo now ceased to exist.Human
encroachment — so-called advances and modernization, wars, and famine had
removed the last vestiges of a way of life that had persisted for hundreds of
years.The traditional life, the
tribal life, was no more.
I wanted to believe otherwise—if this was so, if the old
Africa had molded itself into the new with no in between--then I had to find
out myself.If it was not so, if
there were still pockets of Africa where I might find this image, than I had
to.I had to find the Africa that
was vanishing, if not already gone from the Africa that made Edward Henry
Winter—this Africa of my dreams!
Since first writing those words and long after the evening
that Dr. Winter gave me that photograph, there have been many journeys, many expeditions, and many
safaris.Dr. Winter has since
passed away and I have traveled widely with the memory of his words inside
me.In some ways I believe I
found the Africa that I was looking for.The Africa that Ed had spoken of and recounted to me had changed—both
for the better, and for the worse!The Africa of my dreams took me from the barren and arid hills of the
Somali Coastline to the Kaonde tribal area above Zambia’s Kafue National
Park—from the Luangwa Valley further in the east to the elephant hill’s of
Zimbabwe—from the Congo crisis and the turmoil in Ruanda and Burundi to the
multi-ethnic elections in South Africa.In between, I have scribbled in my diary, made notes, and taken
photographs of what I have seen.
4th of June 2000
Iraqw with cattle - Tanzania
Nairobi, Kenya - catching up on my diary entries - 2008
Barabaig country - Tanzania
The Elders - Tanzania
Barabaig country - Tanzania
All photographs and material on this site copyright (c) Tommy Allen and Ontheflyexpeditions unless otherwise noted. Photographs of Earnest Hemingway are in the public domain and are utilized here for Educational use only. Photographs of Peter Beard are likewise for Educational and historical purposes only. Painting on Tribute to Jasper Evans page is taken from a photograph that I took in 2006 - the painting is the sole property of the Evans family and is presented here only as a lasting tribute to the memory of Jasper Evans.