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The Lion's Den




Africa, in 1927, remains a land of mystery and adventure. In 1888, the land mass of Africa was divided up colonially between the major European powers, and extensive exploration for valuable trade goods, exotic wildlife, and unknown cultures began in earnest. After World War I, Germany’s possessions in Africa were split between France and Britain, shifting the balance of power on the continent largely in favor of these two empires.

The “Dark Continent” is so called not only because of the complexion of its natives, but because of its relative obscurity as far as Americans and Europeans are concerned. While the late 19th and early 20th centuries saw a great number of forays into the jungles and deserts, the vast majority of the interior remains wild and unknown. Railway systems seldom extend far from the coasts or major cities; diseases such as malaria, sleeping sickness, disentary and cholera are rampant. Natives in many areas are hostile to white explorers, and it is still common for entire expeditions to certain areas of Africa to simply disappear, never to be seen again. Africa is a dangerous place, not for the squeamish or faint of heart. And yet, vast treasures and mysterious knowledge awaits those who persevere to plumb the depths of Darkest Africa! Do you dare to risk it?

As most of Africa is under the control of European colonial powers, the monetary systems of African colonies parallel those of their controlling countries. Spanish Morocco uses Spanish money, French Morocco uses francs, and so on. Remember that especially in larger cities, different types of currency may abound, and it should not be too hard to get a hotelier in Tangier to take pounds sterling (at an unfavorable rate, of course!) Places in the interior are far less likely to accept odd currencies; natives in some areas may have no interest in paper money or European coins at all, preferring to barter for useful items such as guns, tea, coffee, and alcohol. Travelers would do well to keep this in mind, and may perhaps wish to carry extra trade goods specifically for this purpose.

Africa in the 1920’s is experiencing a “boom” of archaeologists and anthropologists anxious to probe its mysteries. North Africa in particular sees a large number of professional explorers emerge in this decade, along with an entire native industry supporting their work. Travelers in Egypt, Morocco, Algeria, Kenya, and the Congo might expect to meet like-minded individuals going their way in any given year; if not, there will certainly be a number of natives and expatriate Europeans who have been on such explorations before and could be paid to assist and advise in outfitting a trip to the interior. Maps are essential, either purchased or borrowed from the colonial government (if possible.) Other concerns include money; government permits; specially constructed cars for driving in the worst of conditions; establishment of depots in the desert for replenishing gasoline, food, water, and ammunition; tents, tools, guns, cameras, film, radios, and boxes for transporting valuable antiquities; gifts for trading with natives; and, if available, military protection.

Women explorers are certainly not unheard of in 1927. However, most American or European women who come to Africa are usually companions to their husbands, who are there in some official or professional capacity. These women may either spend their time in the cities, attempting to re-create a sense of European civility in the midst of African “barbarism,” or they may gamely accompany their husbands on lion hunts, missionary outings, and trips across the interior. A woman traveling without a husband would be viewed with some surprise; a woman traveling alone would most likely be viewed as insane. The dangers of Africa are really no different for women than for men, though the results of the danger may vary: a Tuareg ambush of a caravan would certainly result in the death of any white men captured, but women might be sold or ransomed rather than killed outright. Still, most native warriors who might attack an expedition are unlikely to stick at killing anyone, be they man, woman, or child, and being a woman is no guarantee of preferential treatment!

Unless otherwise specified, presume that the only methods of travel available are by hired car or pack animal. Railways are even now stretching across the wilds of Africa, but many of these lines are incomplete in 1927. Likewise, telegraph lines do not reach into the interior, for the most part, and paved roads are a rare thing. In the north, cars are the best choice for exploration of the Sahara; in the jungles of west and central Africa, travel by donkey or on foot is one’s best hope. The plains of east and southern Africa are a mixture of accessibility, with car, rail, and foot all being necessary at times. Consult individual countries’ descriptions for specific details.


"(Morocco is) a civilization rich in types and models unchanged for centuries, ... ideas and
customs, moral and physical aspects of mankind that are eternal simply because they have
never changed...” —Andre Chevrillon, Marrakech dans le palmes, Paris, 1920

Most of Morocco in 1927 is a colony of France. The principal languages of the region are French and Arabic, along with native dialects. The largest cities in Morocco are Rabat and Casablanca (Dar el Beida) on the coast, and the inland cities of Fez, Marakesh, and Mequinez. The Atlas mountain range dominates the landscape. France controls the area through a strong military presence, consisting mostly of the famed French Foreign Legion and mercenary Berber tribesmen. During the teens and twenties the Moroccan people have chafed under the rule of the colonial protectorate, and in November of this year King Mohammed V is crowned; his reign will lead to eventual independence for the kingdom of Morocco.

*It is important to note that while Morocco is under the protectorate of France, the United States and Britain maintain what are called “extra-terretorial rights” in Morocco. This means, in essence, that American and British citizens are not subject to the Moroccan legal system, but rather to their native consul. An American arrested in Morocco for a minor crime will be quickly discharged with a polite apology, where a Spaniard or German would be subjected to lengthy examination and possible prosecution.*

Spanish possession of the Tangier penninsula and surrounding terretory dates back centuries, to Spain’s world domination as a colonial power. It consists of 7,700 square miles and includes the capital city of Tangier. Principal languages are Spanish, French, Arabic, and English (owing to the British possession of the Strait of Gibraltar just north of Tangier.)

This is Spain’s only sizable possession on the African continent. Rio del Oro is 109,200 square miles in area, and its capital city is Villa Cisneros. Principal languages are native dialects, Arabic, and Spanish. Rio de Oro is largely unexplored outside the coastal region at this time, and is considered a vast and dangerous wasteland by European explorers. It is populated by the Sanhadjas, a mysterious tribe whose ancestors conquered as far north as Spain in the middle ages. Rio del Oro is said to conceal ancient ruined cities of this empire, such as Sibgilmessa; tombs of the lost Zenagas tribe nestle in the mountains, awaiting discovery by intrepid adventurers.

Algeria is not in fact a colony, but a part of France itself. Politically Algeria is represented in the French governing body as if it were part of the French mainland, and its residents are considered French citizens. Algeria consists of 222,180 square miles, and its capital is Algiers. Other coastal cities are Constantine and Bone. The principal languages are French and Arabic. Northern Algeria is well-served by railroad.

Tunisia, or just Tunis, is a French colony; its principal languages are French and Arabic. It is 50,000 square miles in area. The railroads of Algeria continue into Tunis, and most of the coastal cities are presently connected by rail. Tunis is also the name of the capital city. Tunisia and Algeria have both been extensively mapped by the French military, though these maps may not be easily available to the lay person without a recommendation from their government.

Tripoli is one of Italy’s three colonial possessions in Africa. It is largely desert, and not greatly commercially productive. It consists of two regions: Tripolitania in the west, and Cyrenaica in the east. The western capital is Tripoli, due south of Sicily; the eastern capital is Bengazi. Tripoli has an area of 406,000 square miles. The principal language is Arabic, with Italian spoken in the major cities.

Egypt in 1927 is an independent, sovereign state. The king of Egypt is Sultan Ahmed Fuad Pasha, who has ruled since 1922. British declaration of Egypt’s sovereignty included some important concessions concerning Britain’s interests in the area, and the British still have a hand in Egypt’s government. Chief languages are Arabic, English, and French. Transportation in Egypt is mainly by river (the Nile) or by rail, there being nearly 2500 miles of state-owned track for both freight and passenger lines. Agriculture is the main industry of Egypt, with grain, cotton textiles, tobacco, and sugar being its major exports. Cairo is the capital (pop. 791,000); other principal cities are Alexandria (pop 445,000), Port Said(pop 91,000), Tanta, Damanhur, Medinet el-Faium, and Mellawi.

“If you are saved, tell all that I died thinking I knew the Sahara, but it was not so. Remember—the Sahara is always the Sahara! It will always remain so.” —General Laperrine’s last words to his companions, upon his death in the desert.

The Sahara is one of the most dangerous landscapes on earth. Even in 1927, death in the Sahara is never far off. Not just sand, the Sahara has some roads, rock formations, and a number of oases. To wander away from roads or guides is to invite certain doom, as only those very familiar with the desert can navigate effectively through it. Countless stories abound of those who died from thirst and madness not more than 5 miles from salvation. Those who travel into the Sahara must have guides, protection from raiders, and sufficient food and water for the trip. If a long trip is planned, it is common practice to send a first caravan ahead of the main one, in order to set up supply depots along the route. A lucky soul in desperate straits might come across one of these depots, unused, and thus save himself from the horrible fate that has claimed so many in this, the world’s largest desert.

The Tuareg are a savage tribe of nomads, much feared by the explorers of North Africa throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries. They ride both horses and large white camels. The Tuareg are known for their ferocity, and for their violent predations of both military and commercial expeditions into the mountains of Algeria and Tunisia. In 1881, one Colonel Flatters and his sizable retinue were betrayed by Tuareg guides and ambushed near Tin Tarabin. Some of the men managed to conduct a safe retreat, only to be poisoned by their remaining native guides the following evening. The Tuareg maintained full control of their territory until 1902, when they were defeated by the French military in a gruesome battle pitting machine guns against Tuareg swords and rifles. Now, in 1927, the Tuareg are less prominent, but far better armed than they were in 1902; they are still despised and feared by both white explorers and their native assistants.

“Berber” is a catch-all term for many different tribes of North Africans. They are true North African natives, being descended from the indigenous peoples who predated the Roman occupation of this area. Some Berbers are swarthy and arabic-looking; others have almost European features, being tall, light skinned, and blue-eyed. The Berbers travel througout North Africa; they also have permenant cities and towns throughout the Atlas mountains and foothills.
The Berbers have their own language, but most speak Arabic as well.

An overwhelming majority of North Africa’s population are Moslem, and many are of Arab descent. At this time, North African Moslems are commonly called Moors, and their culture and architecture is referred to as Moorish. Middle Eastern ways blend with both the native Berber culture and the colonial European influence to create a melting pot unique on the African continent. North African cuisine favors lamb, couscous, vegetables, and cups of highly sweetened mint tea. Wine is readily available, despite the Islamic prohibition against the consumption of alcohol.

The climate of coastal North Africa is typically Mediterranean, balmy and pleasant during the day and cool at night for most of the year. It can be a bit cold and wet in the winter months, November to April. The interior has more climatic extremes, from the chill conditions in the highlands of the Atlas range to the unbearable heat of the Sahara desert.

Scorpions and snakes are the animals most feared by explorers in North Africa. There are a wide variety of species of both these creatures, and many are dangerous (though not all, obviously!)

Major Points of Interest in North Africa
Tangier—The city of Tangier actually has an international status, seperate from the Spanish control of Northern Morocco.

Casablanca (Dar el Beida)—Casablanca is the busiest port on the Moroccan coast. Very modern in construction, the city has an excellent bus system, good roads, and plenty of hireable cars. Native flavor remains in the cafes and shops of the Medina, and in the red light district of the Bouz-Bir. Casablanca also sports an aviation field, providing regular aeroplane service to Toulouse, France. (pop. 102,000)

Fez—Located in a well-watered valley in the lowlands of the Grand Atlas, Fez is one of Morocco’s busiest cities. The city is dominated by Fort Chardonnet, a French military outpost built just after the French secured control of the country in 1912. Fez is remarkable for the Fondouk Nejjarine, a beautifully tiled and sculpted marketplace, where much daily business of the city is conducted. The Fez river flows beneath the city in a dozen covered channels, and the city is rife with fountains, hydrants, drains and gutters which continually pour water, making this seem a true paradise before the harshness of the desert and mountains to the south. (pop. 71,000)

Marrakesh—Marrakesh, former capital of the kingdom of Morocco,is the largest city in the country. It lies at the foot of the Atlas mountains. Walled, like most North African cities, it sprawls over quite a large area; beneath its streets are a maze of cisterns and sewers. The central plaza is called the Djemaa el Fna, and is constantly packed with traders, performers, tourists, soldiers, snake charmers, and thieves. Anything available in Morocco could surely be purchased on the streets of Marrakesh. (pop. 140,000)

Rabat—This is the governmental seat of French Morocco, and is similar to Casablanca in structure and architecture. A museum to Moroccan culture and native crafts can be found in what was once a school for the training of pirates, located near the Kasbah gate. Rabat’s markets are famed for the quality of their woven rugs. (pop. 31,000)

Algiers—The capital city of Algeria, Algiers is a home-away-from home for its many French residents, who outnumber the native Algerians by a considerable percentage! Its villas and streets have a distinct French flavor; its climate is pleasant, and it is known for its splendid gardens and city squares. The old quarter, upslope from the dominantly French harbor area, retains some of the more traditional North African atmosphere in its souks and mosques.



The Atlas Mountains—covered with cedar and evergreen trees and perpetually capped with snow, the Atlas mountains rise 2000 feet higher than the American Sierras. Its plateaus and valleys are home to the sedentary Berber tribes. The northern foothills are scrub and brush, while the southern foothills give way to the Sahara.

The Mountain of Snakes—a mountain which in ancient times was a salt quarry, now riddled with mining tunnels and dangerous pitfalls. The surface of this mountain is a veritable honeycomb of snake dens, primarily those of the nadjda, or cobra. In the hours between the heat of the day and the cold of the night, the snakes emerge from their dens in the thousands to hunt and warm themselves on the rocks. Anyone venturing to explore the labyrinth of salt tunnels takes his life in his hands. Natives refer to this as “the cursed place,” and avoid it.

The Meteorite—In the desert near In Salah lies an enormous meteorite. The Tuareg fear it greatly, and will not go near it.


Aphrodesium—these ruins, near Hammamet in Tunisia, bear testament to the cult of Tanit, a Lybian goddess worshipped in ancient Carthage. Rumors persist of a survival of her cult among the Tuareg and Berber natives, who are said to practice dreadful rites of death and disfigurement upon themselves and other unfortunates. There are also rumors that direct descendants of the Carthaginians still exist today, worshiping their old gods and manipulating the local tribesmen to do their bidding.

Atlantis—some scholars believe that geological evidence points to the possibility that a great mass of land disappeared beneath the sea off the coast of Rio Del Oro in prehistoric times. Could this be the famed continent of Lost Atlantis? Even now, expeditions are being mounted to explore this possibility.

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