But it was – and continues to be – the most debilitating malady of the continent. My workers and staff (here in Burundi) regularly report sick due to a bout of malaria, which invariably keeps them out of circulation for about a week or more.
Although Africans, on the whole, have less severe attacks than Westerners, it is, nevertheless, very bad. By some quirk of my own genetic structure, I am ‘immune’ to malaria (though some years ago in Sudan I may have had cerebral malaria – no way to tell at that time.)
An important feature of colonial writers was their increasing interest, over the years, to empirically document what they saw and experienced, and this is a good example:
The first evil results experienced from the presence of malaria are confined bowels and an oppressive languor, excessive drowsiness, and a constant disposition to yawn. The tongue assumes a yellowish, sickly hue, coloured almost to blackness; even the teeth become yellow, and are coated with an offensive matter. The eyes of the patient sparkle lustrously, and become suffused with water. These are sure symptoms of the incipient fever which shortly will rage through the system.
Sometimes this fever is preceded by a violent shaking fit, during which period blankets may be heaped on the patient’s form, with
but little amelioration of the deadly chill he feels. It is then succeeded by an unusually severe headache, with excessive pains
about the loins and spinal column, which presently will spread over the shoulder-blades, and, running up the neck, find a final lodgment in the back and front of the head.
Usually, however, the fever is not preceded by a chill, but after languor and torpitude have seized him, with excessive heat and throbbing temples, the loin and spinal column ache, and raging thirst soon possesses him.The brain becomes crowded with strange fancies, which sometimes assume most hideous shapes.
Before the darkened vision of the suffering man, float in a seething atmosphere, figures of created and uncreated reptiles, which are metamorphosed every instant into stranger shapes and designs, growing every moment more confused, more complicated, more hideous and terrible. Unable to bear longer the distracting scene, he makes an effort and opens, his eyes, and dissolves the delirious dream, only, however, to glide again unconsciously into another dream-land where another unreal inferno is dioramically revealed, and new agonies suffered.
Oh! the many many hours, that I have groaned under the terrible incubi which the fits of real delirium evoke.
Oh! the racking anguish of body that a traveller in Africa must undergo!
Oh! the spite, the fretfulness, the vexation which the horrible phantasmagoria of diabolisms induce!
The utmost patience fails to appease, the most industrious attendance fails to gratify, the deepest humility displeases.
During these terrible transitions, which induce fierce distraction, Job himself would become irritable, insanely furious, and choleric. A man in such a state regards himself as the focus of all miseries.
When recovered, he feels chastened, becomes urbane and ludicrously amiable, he conjures up fictitious delights from all things which, but yesterday, possessed for him such awful portentous aspects. His men he regards with love and friendship; whatever is trite he views with ecstasy. Nature appears charming; in the dead woods and monotonous forest his mind becomes overwhelmed with delight.
I speak for myself, as a careful analysation of the attack, in all its severe, plaintive, and silly phases, appeared to me. I used to amuse myself with taking notes of the humorous and the terrible, the fantastic and exaggerated pictures that were presented to me–even while suffering the paroxysms induced by fever.
- Travellers ‘need malaria warnings’ (confused.com)
- Malaria risks: travelling safely with the correct medication (savemoney247.co.uk)
- Modified vaccine shows promise in preventing malaria (medicalxpress.com)
- Mosquito Resistance to Bednets Fuels Malaria Worries (nlm.nih.gov)