Finding the River Niger, Part 5: Conclusion & Naming the Niger
Clapperton himself returned to Kano in July of 1826 to resume his initial effort to trace the Niger’s course, but could proceed no further on account of the war between Sultan Bello, the leader of Sokoto, and El-Kanemi who managed Bornu. Following several months’ of detainment by Bello, Clapperton died possibly of malaria and dysentery. On this trip, however, he had with him a certain impressionable man named Richard Lander, to whom it would now fall the task of finally tracing the Niger for the Europeans.
By 1826, with all the information thus collected regarding the Niger, it was quite evidentiary that the theories of those who supposed that the river discharged itself into the Altantic Ocean carried substantial weight. Now, it was known that the great river did not run a course into the Lake Chad, that it turned southwards after Gao farther north and that it continued its southward course to Bussa. In addition, no positive results had emanated from the expedition sent to trace its course from the Congo. This dampened the claim that it ran a course to the Congo. Nevertheless, the one final trip was needed to quell curiosities.
Richard Lander, who had accompanied Clapperton as his servant on his previous journey, was elected by the government to lead the latest expedition to the Niger. Lander went with his brother, John. In 1830, Richard and his brother landed at Badagry and marched inland through the Yoruba country to Bussa, the lower end of River Niger. From Bussa they traced a course in a boat down the river, and after several days and a series of troubling encounters with the locals found themselves in the Atlantic, eventually answering years of questions regarding the Niger’s course. Lander released an account of his travel in the oddly long-titled book, Journal of a second expedition into the interior of Africa, from the Bight of Benin to Soccatoo by the late Commander Clapperton of the Royal Navy to which is added The Journal of Richard Lander from Kano to the Sea-Coast Partly by a More Easterly Route.
The course of the river was now known and completely mapped, and was occasion for a lot of journal papers and articles. Few years later Macgregor Laird & Richard Lander were leading a team on a trade expedition into modern-Nigeria via the Niger from the south, marking the first of so many British trips to follow. Determining how to Niger flowed took the modern Europeans nearly 50 years and several deaths of brave explorers. Such was the dread at that time that to announce oneself as interested in making the trip inland into Africa was as good as announcing one’s last wish. Of all the explorers who died in their attempt to “find” the Niger, Park, undoubtedly, stands out. His determination, spirit and unbounded attachment to the river he called after its native name, Joliba, no doubt earned him a defining legacy in the histories penned after Lander’s exploit. Today, some have famously labelled him “the Father or discoverer of the Niger,” even though he probably died with the erroneous belief that the river maintained a course into the Congo.
Now, as we come to the river’s name itself, it should become obvious that this river did not entirely deserve its name of “Niger”. Park called it Joliba; Laing referred to it as the Quorra. None of the natives who lived around the Niger called it the Niger, except maybe on the prompting of the wandering Europeans. Sultan Bello, the then Sultan of Sokoto, continually referred to the “Kworra”. So who christened it the Niger? Investigations point to ancient references which discussed the great river in the Sudan and referred to it by a variation of the local name for “river”. The etymology of the word derives from several native words to the regions around the river which all meant “stream”, “river” or “Great River”. Ptolemy and other ancient writers evidently picked on these and in their histories elicited the curiosity of 18th/19th century geographers about a certain river called the Niger. Thus, while the locals continued to refer to the great river by the names they had given it (Kworra/Quorra/Joliba), Europeans were stuck with the Niger. Narratives after narratives of many an explorer later, “Niger” was forced on the river and the name seemed to fit. Can an argument be made that had the natives written their histories themselves, today’s River Niger could as well have been River Joliba? Arguably yes!
- Martin Leake; Is the Quorra, Which Has Lately Been Traced to Its Discharge into the Sea, the Same River as the Nigir of the Ancients?; The Journal of the Royal Geographical Society of London, Vol. 2 (1832), pp. 1-28; : http://www.jstor.org/stable/1797752
- Josiah Conder; The Modern Traveller, A Description of the Various Countries of the Globe, Vol 22.; James Ducan,
- Flora L. Shaw (Lady Lugard); A Tropical Dependency; James Nisbet & Co. Limited (1905)
- K. Meek; The Niger and the Classics: The History of a Name; Journal of African History, Vol 1. No 1.; 1960
- Park, Mungo; Travels in the Interior of Africa; 1858; A. and C. Black, Edinburgh
- D.W Jeffreys; Arab Knowledge of the Niger’s Course; Journal of the International African Institue;
- John M. Carland; The Colonial Office and Nigeria, 1898-1914; 1985
- William N. M. Geary; Nigeria Under British Rule; 1965
- Robert Jameson, James Wilson, Hugh Murray; Narrative of discovery and adventure in Africa; J & J Harper; 1832
- Denham, Clapperton & Oudney; Narrative of Travels and Discoveries in Northern and Central Africa in the Years 1822,1823 & 1824, Vol I & II;1828
- Leo Africanus; The History and Description of Africa, Vol I; 1600
- William Allen, T.R.H Thomson; A Narrative of the Expedition to the River Niger in 1841; Richard Bentley; 1848
- Richard Lander: Records of Clapperton’s last expedition to Africa. Cass, London 1967