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Sir Samuel Baker: keeping us in the world's mind

By Vision Reporter

Added 9th December 2013 12:05 PM

I plunged into the egodwarfing Murchison Falls some months ago with two purposes. First, there was that desire to feel the pulse of the wilderness and meet Baker’s great grandchildren.

Sir Samuel Baker: keeping us in the world's mind

I plunged into the egodwarfing Murchison Falls some months ago with two purposes. First, there was that desire to feel the pulse of the wilderness and meet Baker’s great grandchildren.

By Titus Kakembo

I plunged into the egodwarfing Murchison Falls some months ago with two purposes. First, there was that desire to feel the pulse of the wilderness and meet Baker’s great grandchildren.

Second, I expected a graphic flashback dating 150 years back in time. Thanks to modern technology, it took just a tap on the tablet screen and GPS, to locate places Sir Samuel Baker visited and hear his  voice as he painted, in his diary, pictures of people he met.

Our team comprised David Baker 73, the great grandson of Sir Samuel Baker and his daughter Melanie Baker. Another notable in our company was a modern-day explorer and anthropologist, Julian Monroe Fischer. He was trekking the African continent, following the routes of the Victorian age explorers, one of whom was Sir Samuel Baker.

Call him a geographical voyeur of sorts, Fischer is a modern explorer of no mean achievements, he was retracing numerous explorers’ routes, by reading through their letters, diaries and the books they wrote. His goal is to compare the life and geographical features in the two worlds separated by a stretch of 150 years or more.

Equipped with a GPS, digital cameras, mobile phones and a tablet embellished with Baker’s diary-we were set. Dressed in faded Jeans, Teeshirts and climbing boots, we embarked on retracing Baker’s footsteps.

It was comparably evident how culture, technology and attitude have changed. Baker certainly had no such luxuries to overcome the wild bush.

At one moment, in the eye of my mind, I saw Baker’s bushy beard and baggy pants held by suspenders beckon me to join him at the horizon.


Modern-day explorer Julian Monroe Fischer (right), planning

On a boat ride, courtesy of Uganda Wildlife Authority we had episodes on a boat cruise. We went up to the bottom of Murchison Falls. We trudged steep slopes, navigated thorny thickets and climbed precarious rocky cliffs.

David continued to flip pages on his tablet before he finally stood still, sucked in a deep breath and read in a  deep baritone.

“The fall of water was snow-white, which had a superb effect as it contrasted with the dark cliffs that walled the river, while the graceful palms of the tropics and wild plantains perfected the beauty of the view,” read David. “This is the very spot. See the falls?”

We were 100 meters away from Murchison Falls, a spot where the River Nile explodes violently through a narrow cleft in the rift valley escarpment to plunge into a frothing pool 43m below.

What Baker senior did not describe and is in place today, is the rainbow in the shadowy landscape. Then there is the sprinkling shower from the River Nile as it continues its journey to the Mediterranean Sea.

History has it that, it was Baker, in honour of the distinguished president of the Royal Geographical Society, who named it the Murchison  Falls. In the 1970s, President Idi Amin Dada renamed it Kabalega Falls and it is still labelled so on some maps.

Courtesy of management, we were accommodated at Paraa Safari Lodge. We then set off to see Lake Albert, whose original name was Mwitanzige. We stood at the exact spot where Sir Samuel Baker stood 150 years ago when he spotted the lake and named it after then British prince Albert. The spot has been baptised Baker’s View.

The ride and trek were punctuated with hours of climbing and slopping, which left David, his daughter Melanie Baker and I feeling limb gnarled and gasping for breath.

Unlike their ancestor, the Bakers met less radical traditional leaders. They visited the Bunyoro towns of Hoima and Masindi, where they met the English-speaking Omukama of Bunyoro, Solomon Gafabusa Iguru, at their palaces.

Their itinerary included a trip to Sir Samuel Baker Secondary School in Gulu, built in memory of the great explorer, years after he had left Uganda. “The reality of this trip to the school is that, what we take for granted in Europe is not in Sir Samuel Baker Secondary school.

I mean things like a meal, furniture, computers, transport to school and learning aides,” said Melanie.  They then visited another Baker legacy, the memories of his battle against slave trade at Fort Patiko.true

Often David would halt, tap the screen and read out another ecstatic description of the times that have flown by. There was an entry about reception of hand shaking, hugs and slave trade at Fort Patiko.

Sir Samuel Baker’s story

Offering more information about the Baker many of us met in history books, David unfurled pages of the family unit of this wanderer.

“On August 3, 1843, he married his first wife, Henrietta Ann Bidgood Martin and together they had seven children,” read David from his tablet. “They were called Charles, Martin, Constance, Edith, Ethel, Jane and John Lindsay Sloan.”

After 13 years of marriage, Baker was widowed at 43 years of age. Adventurous Baker left his four surviving daughters in the care of his unmarried sister, Mary.

Later, Baker was to marry a girl, Florence Barbara, whom he saved from being sold as a slave, destined for the Ottoman Pasha of Vidin. He was outbid by the Pasha, but bribed the girl’s attendants and they ran away in a carriage. Baker and the girl fled to Bucharest and remained in Romania.

She became his lover and wife who accompanied him everywhere, and to Uganda in particular, where she was affectionately nicknamed Anyadwe (Daughter of the Moon) by the Acholi natives who admired her long blonde hair.

Florence refused to stay home, instead following her husband in his travels. She spoke English, Turkish and Arabic, rode camels, mules and horses and carried pistols when in the wild.

She died on March 11, 1916, at the estate she had shared with her husband in Sandford Orleigh, Devon. She was 74 years old and was buried with her husband, who had died 23 years earlier, in  the Baker family vault at Grimley, near Worcester, although her name was never recorded.


Sir Samuel Baker: keeping us in the world’s mind

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