(Correne Coetzer/edit TS) “When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land," Bishop Desmond Tutu famously is quoted. "They said, 'Let us pray.' We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.”
Julian's expeditions in Africa started in 1997 and led him to people like Jane Goodall, Richard Leakey and President Robert Mugabe. "A lot of the problems that Africans face today can be linked backed to the tools of oppression they learned from the colonizers," the anthropologist tells ExplorersWeb.
In this second part of the interview Fisher talks about safety issues, and the insight he has gained from the kingdoms.
ExplorersWeb: How do you prepare for trouble?
Julian: As for my expeditions throughout Africa that began back in 1997, they have been well calculated. Back in 1999 my wife and I were actually on a bus heading to Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda for gorilla trekking.
As we travelled away from the city the numerous military checkpoints gave us a bad feeling, something felt wrong and so we got off that bus and headed back to Kampala. That same week a group of tourist were rounded up in a luxury lodge and marched away into the forest where they were slaughtered by displaced rebels.
In recent years I have been researching an event that occurred during the period referred to as The Scramble for Africa in the Katanga Province of Demographic Republic of Congo. That part of the Congo is light years away from the headline grabbing issues around Lake Kivo.
When I walked across Africa during my EQUATORIA - A Walk Across Africa 2011 expedition l walked along a route from the coast of Mozambique to the coast of Zambia-Angola. I absolutely felt that the people I encountered were simply shocked to see a Muzungu walking through their villages.
Ultimately what stopped me on that deal was exactly what I wanted to bring attention to, that being the landmines that littered the landscape.
ExplorersWeb: Tell us a bit about interesting tribes that you had come across and what you learned from them.
Julian: In southern Egypt and northern Sudan they were the Nubians. In Uganda it will be the kingdoms of Bunyoro, Karagwe and Buganda. In the Congo they have been the Garanganze.
What I have gained insight into is that the kingdoms of Africa were doing just fine until the colonizers arrived with their religion and their desires to exploit the people and their land. A lot of the problems that Africans face today can be linked backed to the tools of oppression they learned from the colonizers. In many ways, they have become their brother’s keeper, exploiting those around them as the colonizers exploited generations past.
As an Anthropologist, I am not there to cast judgment; I am moving through at a point in their history to hopefully document with an indiscriminate eye. My job is to relay to others in the future what I see and witness during this time that I took to go and see with open eyes.
ExplorersWeb: You also met Jane Goodall. What was that like?
Julian: Over the years I have had extended conversations with some colorful people to include President Robert Mugabe in Harare, Zimbabwe, on the occasion of his birthday; Dr Richard Leakey as we drove around a Kenyan national park in his SUV; a noted scientist for The Center For Disease Control in Côte d'Ivoire as we discussed why mosquitoes don’t transmit the HIV/AIDS virus; on stage with Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega while he waged a failed attempt to become President; and the great train robber, Ronnie Biggs, while he was still a fugitive living in Rio.
I also had the luck to be able to sit with Dr. Jane Goodall one afternoon at the British Embassy in Vienna and conduct a ‘one on one interview’ with her. I had the opportunity to ask her any question I wished, on camera, without even the hint of a time restraint.
I found her to be the most gentle and compassionate person I have ever met. The footage was gathered for a documentary entitled Primate Questions of Conservation about how the quest to protect the Mountain Gorillas in Western Uganda is endangering the survival of the Batwa Pygmies. The Batwa have lived alongside the Mountain Gorillas for 20,000 years, but now both are facing extinction.
I came away from that experience similar with the feeling that I had been in the presence of greatness. Luckily my wife, son and daughter were there with me as well as a few friends that I cherish. Dr. Jane took the time to sign books and encourage us all to make a difference.
I think that audience with her ultimately made a huge difference in my approach to my work; for us explorers have this incredible opportunity and it would be a tragedy to squander it away…
ExplorersWeb: What attracts you to Africa?
Julian: It’s the drums I heard in 2008 when we were trekking in a remote section, off the beaten trail, deep in the Rwenzori Mountains, the fabled, Mountains of the Moon.. Our team was exhausted; they had been supporting and protecting me for weeks.
We were following the Lamia Creek down from Mount Stanley to the Semliki River and on to Lake Albert to prove that the Rwenzoris were indeed a true source of the Nile. It was the factoid that I read back then in my research, that if Sir Samuel Baker had taken more time to travel to the southern end of Lake Albert and seen the Semliki River flowing into Lake Albert, quite possibly he would have returned to The Royal Geographical Society and argued passionately that the Rwenzoris were the true source of the Nile. I am a believer that water sources come from the elevations.
Africa has a rhythm that I simply have never found any other place on this planet. It’s those drums that our team heard days out from the end of our trek; it’s those drums of Africa that continue to pull me back…
Hobbies: Watching my kids grow
Favorite music: The Corklickers (old time Appalachian mountain music)
Favo Food: Tacos from the bus station in Chetumal, Mexico
Favo Website: ExplorersWeb.com
Latest read book: Tom Jeals ‘Explorers of The Nile’
Best expedition yet: The one I am planning after this one…
Dream destination: Mars
Home town: Gars Am Kamp, Austria (born in Greenwood, South Carolina, USA)
TEDx Speech in Innsbruck, Austria, June, 2012, entitled, Dream Big and Dare to Fail – Exploring Beyond A Culture of Contest.
Related, previous story and personal website
Back to Africa: ExWeb interview with Julian Monroe Fisher
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