Accounts of Equatorial Africa

In reading Gabrielle Vassal’s 1925 book Life in French Congo, for this British Medical Journal piece in June (subscription required) Dalrymple noted some of the same irritating attitudes to Africans he has pointed out in his own travel writings:

It is fair to say that she did not think much of the people there. “The black of Equatorial Africa is nonchalant, lazy, indifferent to his own and to his employer’s welfare.” There is only one thing worse than an Equatorial African servant, and that is a European one: “One is not exempt from servant worries even in Equatorial Africa, but perhaps it is more satisfactory to have men who are slow and badly trained than a quick, deft woman in Europe who leaves you in the lurch at a moment’s notice.”

She describes with irritation the inefficiency and incompetence of the labourers who were then constructing the Brazzaville to Pointe Noire railway, without noticing that their labour was forced and that their death rate was high (up to 20 000 are now believed to have died)—though she did note that they were chronically ill and malnourished. The photographs in her book show the people everywhere to be unutterably miserable.

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