Wednesday January 30 2013

Reliving Sir Samuel Baker’s voyage to Uganda

Reliving Sir Samuel Baker’s voyage to Uganda

David Baker (left), Sir Samuel Baker’s great-grandson, and his daughter Melanie Baker at Murchison Falls, retracing their ancestor’s expedition footsteps on January 27, 2012. Photo by Martin ssebuyira. 

By Martin Ssebuyira

Samuel Baker has for long been renowned for having “discovered” or found the “source” of River Nile at Albert Nyanza (Lake Albert) and led the fight against slave trade in northern Uganda among other expeditions in the 1880s as taught in Uganda’s history.

Long after Samuel Baker’s expeditions were left in the books of history, his great-great grandson David Baker came to Uganda to re-trace his ancestor’s expeditions last week.

In company of renowned anthropologist and modern day African explorer, Julian Monroe Fisher, David Baker, 73, and his daughter Melanie Baker came to Uganda for a 10-day ethnographical research project entitled, The Great African Expedition to revive or re-trace their ancestor’s findings and make them relevant to today’s society. The team that jetted in on January 18 kicked off their expedition by visiting Masindi and Hoima towns where they met the Omukama of Bunyoro, Solomon Gafabusa Iguru, at his palace in Hoima town.

The team then proceeded to Sir Samuel Baker Secondary School in Gulu built in memory of the great explorer, years after he had left Uganda. They also visited Fort Patiko, a legacy to the work of the explorer and anti-slave trade campaigner.

The team looked through the writings of Sir Samuel Baker and compared them with their findings. With Samuel Baker’s diaries and maps, the team set off to discover the view of the great explorer from where he named the then Lake Mutanzige, Albert Nyanza.

“In his dairy, he said, he saw a great lake in the south and mountains in the south west that are the Congo mountains that is the exact view we stood at and put GPRS coordinates and named it the Baker’s view,” says David Baker, who is a consultant in Aviation Regulatory affairs in the UK.

Away from Baker’s view, was a visit to the bottom of the Murchison Falls in the Murchison Falls National Game Park that according to the modern day explorers were not very different from what Baker wrote in his diaries.

“In his dairy, he saw about 27 crocodiles in a corner near the spectacular falls that the guides have told me are the crocodile banks with about seven crocs and I after had a sight of the great Murchison Falls as it was written 150 years back,” he adds.

The place offers a beautiful scene of waters flowing through a 23-inch-wide cleft in the rocks to plunge 148 feet below forming a spectacular rainbow and foam with steam that Sir Samuel Baker had named the Murchison falls in honour of the then president of the Royal Geographical Society.

At the bottom of the falls, is an exciting hiking experience up the falls that is about 1.5km to reach the top of the falls that according to the Bakers still gives an impression of what their ancestor could have seen according to his dairy notes.

The Uganda Wildlife Authority wants to develop all the historic tourism activities based on the discoveries that have been made during the Baker’s visit.

“Sir Samuel Baker came and named Lake Albert and Murchison Falls in 1864, nearly 150 years ago and it’s remarkable that David Baker had been able to return to the country to re-trace the footsteps of his ancestor, one of the key historical figures. One of the places the great African Expedition unearthed was a place referred to as Baker’s View somewhere in Kabwoya Wildlife Reserve where Sir Samuel Baker stood as he watched the beautiful view of Lake Albert that has not been known that we want to utilise as a great tourism attraction,” Dr Andrew Ggunga Sseguya, Uganda Wildlife Authority Executive Director notes.

He says, they will partner with Royal Geographical Society and any other partners to draw attention to all areas that have been covered by the Great African Expedition.

Sir Samuel Baker first sighted Lake Albert on March 14, 1864 and then sought to establish the fact that the lake poured significant volumes of water into the famous River Nile.

He identified the place where the White Nile enters the lake, and then christened the lake “Albert,” after England’s Prince Regent.

Then, upstream, he “discovered” the mighty Murchison Falls, where the Nile flows through a 23-inch-wide cleft in the rocks to plunge 148 feet below, forming a spectacular rainbow. Baker named the falls in honour of the then president of the Royal Geographic Society, Sir Roderick Murchison.

Julian Monroe Fisher, a great modern day explorer, says he started the Great African Expedition to compare the 19th century ethnographical research documentation of the African tribal kingdoms along the rivers and lakes gathered during the expeditions of the Victorian age explorers with the realities of 21st century Africa.

He reveals that he started his journey in March 2012, travelling on an overland journey up the Nile River from Cairo, Egypt to Khartoum, Sudan. He was however stopped by the Sudan government and crossed to the world’s newest nation of South Sudan to start re-tracing Baker’s expedition.

“I needed to get Samuel Baker’s Dairies for proper exploration and asked permission from the remaining members of Baker’s family and that is how I found David Baker,” he says.

He says the Royal Geographical Society linked him to David Baker and invited him to come to the expedition in Uganda.

David Baker is a retired group Captain who has also had a career in the Aviation industry and now a consultant on regulatory affairs. In the 70s’s, he served as an attaché Denmark, Finland and Sweden.