Speke’s Adventure with a Beetle on Lake Tanganyika, c.1862

Bugs are a continuous problem here in Africa, though generally one learns ways to adapt. That, however, was not always the case with 19th Century explorer, as explained in this blog entry by Samuel Baker:
Sublime Kabobs and Thousands of Bugs in Eastern Sudan, 1861 .

It is now the beetle season here along Lake Tanganyika, and so to celebrate this interesting happening below is another entry about bugs, this one by John Henning Speke.

Beetle on the front door here on Lake Tanganyika. Too large for the ear, though...

In the following extract, Speke is camping on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, not far from where we are located.

Speke, John Henning – What Led to the Discovery of the Nile. 1864

At night a violent storm of rain and wind beat on my tent with such fury that its nether parts were torn away from the pegs, and the tent itself was only kept upright by sheer force. On the wind’s abating, a candle was lighted to rearrange the kit, and in a moment, as though by magic, the whole interior became covered with a host of small black beetles, evidently attracted by the glimmer of the candle.

They were so annoyingly determined in their choice of place for peregrinating, that it seemed hopeless my trying to brush them off the clothes or bedding, for as one was knocked aside another came on, and then another; till at last, worn out, I extinguished the candle, and with difficulty—trying to overcome the tickling annoyance occasioned by these intruders crawling up my sleeves and into my hair, or down my back and legs—fell off to sleep. Repose that night was not destined to be my lot.

One of these horrid little insects awoke me in his struggles to penetrate my ear, but just too late: for in my endeavour to extract him, I aided his immersion. He went his course, struggling up the narrow channel, until he got arrested by want of passage-room. This impediment evidently enraged him, for he began with exceeding vigour, like a rabbit at a hole, to dig violently away at my tympanum. The queer sensation this amusing measure excited in me is past description.

I felt inclined to act as our donkeys once did, when beset by a swarm of bees, who buzzed about their ears and stung their heads and eyes until they were so irritated and confused that they galloped about in the most distracted order, trying to knock them off by treading on their heads, or by rushing under bushes, into houses, or through any jungle they could find. Indeed, I do not know which was worst off. The bees killed some of them, and this beetle nearly did for me. What to do I knew not.

Neither tobacco, oil, nor salt could be found: I therefore tried melted butter; that failing, I applied the point of a penknife to his back, which did more harm than good; for though a few thrusts quieted him, the point also wounded my ear so badly, that inflammation set in, severe suppuration took place, and all the facial glands extending from that point down to the point of the shoulder became contorted and drawn aside, and a string of boils decorated the whole length of that region.

It was the most painful thing I ever remember to have endured; but, more annoying still, I could not masticate for several days, and had to feed on broth alone. For many months the tumour made me almost deaf, and ate a hole between the ear and the nose, so that when I blew it, my ear whistled so audibly that those who heard it laughed. Six or seven months after this accident happened, bits of the beetle—a leg, a wing, or parts of its body—came away in the wax.

It was not altogether an unmixed evil, for the excitement occasioned by the beetle’s operations acted towards my blindness as a counter-irritant, by drawing the inflammation away from my eyes. Indeed, it operated far better than any other artificial appliance.

To cure the blindness I once tried rubbing in some blistering liquor behind my ear, but this unfortunately had been injured by the journey, and had lost its stimulating properties. Finding it of no avail, I then caused my servant to rub the part with his finger until it was excoriated, which, though it proved insufficiently strong to cure me, was, according to Dr Bowman, whom I have since consulted, as good a substitute for a blister as could have been applied.


John Henning Speke Source: Wiki German


About dianabuja

With a group of BaTwa (pygmy) women potters, with whom we've worked to enhance production and sales of their wonderful pots - fantastic for cooking and serving. To see the 2 blogs on this work enter 'batwa pots' into the search engine located just above this picture. Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
This entry was posted in Africa-Central, Colonialism, Explorers & exploration, Wildlife. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Speke’s Adventure with a Beetle on Lake Tanganyika, c.1862

  1. Pingback: can fish from lakes malawi, tanganyika and victoria live in one tank (100gallons) 4ft x 2ft x 2ft? | Plastic Fish Tanks

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