East African Ground Maps

Sabatele's Map of the Main Caravan Routes in East Africa

Sabatele’s map of the main caravan routes in East Africa. Paper and pencil. This map with its southerly orientation traces the main caravan routes across Tanzania, with the terminus points placed at Dar es Salaam. Size of the original: unknown. Current location: unknown. Photograph courtesy of the Archiv Museum fur Volkerkunde za Leipzig (Neg. Af 0 1428; from the originial glass plate negative).

The scene of Africans drawing ground maps to the profound surprise of Europeans is a recurring theme of the exploration literature. The German geographer Karl Weule was “overwhelmed” by the number of maps members of his caravan produced during a six-month research expedition through German East Africa in 1906. Between marches, he supplied his carriers with paper and pencils to see what they would draw. This is the map made by a Mambwe man named Sabatele, originally from the southern shore of Lake Tanganyika near the present Tanzania-Zambia border. The map, which traces caravan routes across Tanzania, was made in Lindi at the very beginning of Weule’s expedition. Weule notes that Sabatele’s map was oriented with south at the top, but he turned it around 180 degrees “in order to bring it into agreement with our maps.”

Source: The History of Cartography, Volume 2, Book 3: Cartography in Prehistoric, Ancient, and Medieval Europe and the Mediterranean. Edited by David Woodward and G. Malcolm Lewis ©1998

Locations on this map:
1. “Mawopanda,” Dar es Salaam
2. “Lufu,” the Ruvu River, a large river frequently crossed on the main caravan road by Wanyamwezi carriers, one of whom created this map
3. “Mulokolo,” Morogoro, the terminus for the central railway at the time
4. “Mgata,” Makata, plain between the Uluguru and Rubeho mountains, a swamp during the rainy season
5. “Kirosa,” Kilosa
6. “Balabala,” the caravan road
7. “Mwapwa,” Mpwapwa, the old caravan center, once the last stop on the inland march before the great alkali desert, Marenga Mkali, and hostile Ogogo
8. Mutiwe, a stream near Kilimatinde
9. Kilimatinde, a mountain
10. Kasanga
11. Kondoa-Irangi
12. Post of Kalama, in Iramba (Mkalama?)
13a. “Tobola,” Tabora, with the new boma (enclosure/fort)
13b. “Tobola ya zamani,” Old Tabora with the former boma
14. Ujiji on Lake Tanganyika
15. Mwanza on Lake Victoria

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