Theodore Roosevelt and his African safari



America’s 26th president Theodore Roosevelt, was a politician and stateman who seemed larger than life. His swashbuckingly style, his love of sport and outdoor activities, his earlier “Rough Rider” military exploits, and his capacity to grab the headlines made him immensely populat with the mass newspaper readership – especially within English-speaking world.

Theodore Roosevelt’s 1909 African safari  was a very grand affair, which took him away from America for over a year. Despite the professed and apparently worthy aim of collecting specimens in the interest of the advance of natural science and for the instruction of a curious public, what Roosevelt in effect did was to shoot them dead first.

Roosevelt landed in Mombasa with his son Kermit in April 1909. He, at the head of a African safari mission including 250 porters and guides, hunted all over the British East Africa, into the Belgian Congo and back to the Nile ending in Khartoum, Sudan. One of his companions was Frederick Selous, British with a great reputation for killing big game. At first world-wide known hunter, explorer and military man, Selous later developed serious concerns about need to preserve a sustainable balance in the world of  nature. The ex-president thoroughly enjoyed himself.

Theodore Roosevelt

That is how he described how warriors of the Nandi tribe hunt and kill a lion: “One by one the spearmen came up, at a run, and gradually began to form a ring around the lion. Each, when he came near enough, crouched behind his shield, his spear in his right hand, his fierce, eager face peering over the shield rim. As man followed man, the lion rose to his feet. His mane bristled, his tail lashed, he held his head low, the upper lip now drooping over the jaws, now drawn up so as to show the gleam of the long fangs. He faced first one way and then another, and never ceased to utter his murderous grunting roars. It was a wild sight; the ring of spearmen, intent, silent, bent on blood, and in the centre the great man-killing beast, his thunderous wrath growing ever more dangerous”

Between them, he and Kermit killed over 500 animals, including, among the big game, 17 lions, 20 rhinoceroses and 11 elephants. One photograph shows the proud father and son sitting atop a huge, magnificent but slaughtered buffalo.

Roosevelt’s accounts reveal what it was all about: “The rhino saw me and jumped to his feet with the agility of a polo pony. As he rose I put in the right barrel, the bullet going through both lungs. At the same time he wheeled, the blood spouting from his nostrils, and carried straight on… I struck him with my left hand barrel, the bullet piercing his heart… The great bull rhino, still head towards us, dropped just 13 paces from where we stood. This was a wicked charge, for the rhino meant mischief”.

Note the alleged “wickedness” of the rhinoceros, a sin justifying his killing, and a projection not too far removed from the depiction of countless indigenous people as untamed barbarians badly in need of the imposition of firm but fair imperial rule and the full panoply of the European-based “civilising mission”.

After the year long African safari hunt, Theodore Roosevelt visited England for the funeral of King Edward VII in 1910. Then he proceeded to Norway to accept the Nobel Peace Prize for his part in ending the Russo-Japanese War. He returned to United States in June, 1910.