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The drive to colonize the continent of Africa in the 19th centuries brought the European imperial powers against difficulties which had never been encountered before. One such difficulty is that of the local wildlife in Africa, such as lions or other big game animals. In The Man-Eaters of Tsavo, by Colonel John Patterson, a railway bridge project in East Africa is terrorized by a pair of man-eating lions. This completely true story shows the great difficulty in colonizing Africa by demonstrating the somewhat harsh environment of Africa.
The story begins with Col. John Patterson arriving in Mombassa in March of 1898 on the East African coast. All Patterson knows is that he is supposed to help with the railroad being built across Kenya to Lake Victoria, and eventually Uganda. He quickly receives his orders to proceed to Tsavo, a little over a hundred miles from Mombassa, to help build a bridge over the Tsavo River. Upon his arrival, he realizes the harsh nature of Tsavo, with its thick underbrush and rough terrain. Immediately, Patterson is faced with a number of problems, such as a source for quality stones to help build the bridge and the problem of the lions. The stone problem is quickly solved, but the problem of the lions takes much longer.
The gruesome nature of the attacks by the lions frightens many of the workers when they come across the bloody remains of usually only a head and some bones. It is discovered that there are two lions responsible for the deaths. Patterson, an experienced big game hunter, begins to hunt the lions and thinking that the "Reign of Terror" will end soon. What Patterson doesn't know, is that this hunt for the man eaters won't come to an end for 10 months. Initially, stalking the lions proves the be very difficult in that worker camps cover about a 30 mile stretch of railroad, thus giving the lions a wide territory to hunt and avoid being stalked by Patterson. Bewilderment hits Patterson in that the lions seem to always know where he'll be waiting, and decide to attack a different camp. The man eaters manage to escape every trap set up to kill them.
Some of the workers on the railroad actually manage to escape death in an encounter with the lions.
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Col. Patterson had a few difficulties with the workers. It was mostly the usual stuff about workers trying to find some way out of having to do hard labor. One worker faked being extremely ill and on the verge of death. Some of the other workers, who were mad because of this particular worker's antics, informed Patterson of the falsehood of the illness of this particular worker. After asking for medicine, Patterson wrapped a blanket around the worker's head and lit a fire underneath the bed with some wood shavings. Upon feeling the heat, the worker jumped up and ran out of Patterson's tent. The other workers enjoyed this form of punishment, and got in a few licks with sticks as the worker ran around.
Despite the havoc being wreaked by the lions and the problems with the workers, Patterson diligently pushed on with building the bridge. However, it became increasingly difficult as more and more workers left because of their fear of the lions. Patterson continues to hunt the lions into what is now December of 1898. Col. Patterson finds a good spot to wait for the lions near the carcass of a donkey that the lions were scared off after just starting to eat it. Patterson spots the lion, but the lion also spots Patterson. The two of them are stalking each other figuring out who will make the first move. An owl mistakes Patterson for a branch of a tree and bumps into him. The lion then tries to attack, but Patterson is able to get a shot off and wounds the lion. Patterson follows the lion and manages to get another hit, thusly bringing down the lion. The lion dies out in the brush, and then is taken back to the camp where it is skinned. The other lion is killed roughly two weeks later, taking 6 shots from Patterson to finally bring the lion down after a long and difficult struggle. Upon the news of the lions being killed, the workers return to work on the railroad. The railroad reaches Nairobi shortly thereafter.
This story has been put into movie format on two occasions, the most recent being The Ghost and The Darkness in 1996 starring Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas. Although this book was extremely popular when it was first published, the movies have made the story much more popular (it was my first exposure to the story of the man-eating lions). The movie does capture the basic essence of the terror caused by the lions, but doesn't follow the story as originally told by Patterson, they even create a whole new character. Overall, I enjoy the movie a great deal, but it doesn't follow the actual story close enough for it to be on par with reading the book.
This tale is an autobiographical account of the most famous incident of man-eating animals by the man who hunted them, Col. John Patterson. Patterson was an Irish civil engineer, who had worked on several projects in India. Other than this, there really isn't a whole lot of information about the author, or about why he wrote it. Given the nature of this extraordinary tale, Patterson wrote to share this amazing story with as many people as possible. The last mention of Patterson's name I could find in my research was in 1923, when he sold the skins of the two lions to the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, Ill.
This book fits into the history of modern Africa in that it demonstrates the difficulties faced by imperial powers trying to colonize Africa. This story in particular deals with the building of infrastructure into the interior of the continent. Until the mid to late 1800's, Europeans had really only settled in the coastal areas of Africa. The drive to settle in the interior of Africa was spurred by the finding of natural resources, such as gold in South Africa. The story takes place while building a railroad that would connect a large port city on the coast to the interior to help expedite the exportation of crops, natural resources, and anything else that could be profitable for an imperialist power, in this case Great Britain.
The story also fits into the context of the history of modern Africa in that it also deals with the interaction between white Europeans and the locals, who become the main source for labor along with migrant workers from India. Patterson runs into many problems with the workers, such as the story above. There were even plots to murder Patterson by some of the dissenting workers. Miraculously, Patterson found out about the murderous plots before they were carried through on both occasions. In order to gain the control and respect of the workers again, Patterson had to call in the Railway Police. The attempts on his life soon ended after this, but demonstrated a repeating theme throughout Africa in the 19th century. Patterson needed to use force, along with some fear, in order to get the workers to continue to work.
The Man-Eaters of Tsavo, by Colonel John Patterson, describes in great detail the terrorizing effect of a pair of man-eating lions on a camp of railroad workers in 1898 East Africa. It demonstrates the difficulty imperialist nations, such as Great Britain, faced while trying to develop the infrastructure of the continent in order to take advantage of the wealth of natural resources in the interior of Africa. It also provides an entertaining tale of a battle between man and beast, with man eventually becoming triumphant.