During the 19 century, the search for the Source of the Nile was a fascination for intrepid explorers, mostly Europeans. The search was driven by the need to know. Other explorers sought fame and resources.
Names like Burton, Livingstone, Speke and Stanley quickly come to mind. These explorers are viewed as the pioneers of adventure travel, which today generates several hundred billions of dollars annually and helps underpin the airlines industry.
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO), global adventure travel is projected to be in excess of USUS$1.3 trillion by 2023.
Last year the Uganda Civil Aviation Authority (UCCA) celebrated the 75th anniversary of the International Civil Aviation Organisation under the theme ‘connecting the world’ and installed a plaque at the Source of the Nile in Jinja, Eastern Uganda.
The special plaque reads in part, ‘The Source of the Nile’ an international iconic tourism site that attracts many visitors, most of them, air transport users’.
The race to find the source of the Nile was eventually won by John Hanning Speke in August, 1858. The local African communities were obviously quite aware of the site for generations. But for the geographic kingpins in London, there was a need for checking and double-checking, which involved other explorers, one of them, Henry Morton Stanley who put up the fort.
The remains of the structure are found atop a hill inside Lutoboka and Bunjazi Forest reserves that forms a belt along Lake Victoria. It is here that Stanley pitched camp in 1875 on a mission to confirm Speke’s discovery. According to records, on November 17th, 1874, when Stanley marched away from Bagamoyo, in present-day Tanzania, he was retracing his own steps of 1871 along the well-worn caravan route used by Burton and John Speke in 1857.
“The objects of the Anglo-American Expedition, which Stanley led, jointly sponsored by the New York Herald and the London Daily Telegraph, were to complete the work of Livingstone, who had died the previous year. He was to fill in the gaps in the discoveries of Speke and Grant,” the article published on October 10, 1968 reads.
The article continues, “Speke had proved that Lake Victoria was a source of the Nile, but he had not explored the great lake: was it one large lake or a series of lakes? Was there any connection between it and Lake Tanganyika? Did the Lualaba, which Livingstone had traced to its source in Lake Bangweolo, find its way to the Nile, the Niger, or the Congo, which had been traced only to the cataracts 170 miles from its mouth by Captain Tuckey in 1816?
“Livingstone believed that it joined the Nile. And what happened to all the water in Lake Tanganyika? For it to remain fresh, there must be an outlet. These were the geographical enigmas that Stanley set out to explain. More specifically, he intended to circumnavigate and map the two great lakes, and trace the course of the Lualaba to its outfall in the sea”.
For this purpose, Stanley was equipped with a ten-oared boat, specially built of Spanish cedar by James Messenger of Teddington. Constructed in five sections for porterage over the 700 miles (about 1120 kilometres), to Victoria Nyanza, the Lady Alice, as Stanley christened it, was 40 feet long, 6 feet wide and 30 inches deep.
During the expedition, one of the places where they camped, was in the forest reserve on Bugala Island. Stanley had a house built, using stones and mud as building materials, easily available on the Island.
According to Ivan Ssenyonjo, a guide with Victoria Forest Resort hotel, the house comprised of six rooms, big enough to cater for all his eight people he moved with from the coast. Stanley is believed to have spent two years at this place which later took on the status of a fort he used as a base to survey Lake Victoria and its surroundings.
Unfortunately, due to long term neglect, the place has been falling apart. Indeed, it is a tribute to the people who originally built it that it has stood the test of inclement weather for over a century. A huge tree believed to be about 100 years old has grown in the middle of the remains. Stanley wrote in his book Through the Dark Continent, ‘the savage only respects force, power, boldness, and decision’. Perhaps this is another reason why his fort still remains standing after compelling the locals to build a strong abode.
To get there, you take a well-designed nature walk away. Along the route, there are edible fruits such as the ginger-rilly, amakusu, amakuba, wondo and so on. The fruits are also a favourite treat for the primate residents you will see enroute.
The forest is the home to black-faced Velvet monkeys, monitor lizards, sitatungas, cane-rats and several bird species. Where the fort stands is considered by the locals as the ‘eye of the forest’, because it is on the top of a hill overlooking the forest and lake. There is a camping area for tourists.
“They come and put up tents and enjoy the place because it is peaceful and calm,” Ssenyonjo told Nnyonyi. Some even leave a mark in the area to be remembered. They put up placards on the big tree with their names. Among them is ‘Prince Butannaziba YL (PhD)’ who placed his placard at the highest point. The other is ‘Maryanne Nakamya from Utrecht, Netherlands’.