500 Capp Street at 20th, now private residence
“It is with feelings of the greatest diffidence that I place the following pages before the public; but those of my friends who happen to have heard of my rather unique experiences in the wilds have so often urged me to write an account of my adventures, that after much hesitation I at last determined to do so.”
J. H. Patterson.
“The Man-Eaters of Tsavo”.
If you were an explorer in the middle of the last century and probably all of the centuries before, it was important for you to explore only what was thought to be there. Certainly you would not have wanted to make a discovery that could not be understood in the place that you were to return to. I recall hearing in Kenya about the Masai Chieftains on the Athi Plains who send their strongest warriors to the top of the Kilimanjaro to fetch the white rock. The returning warriors would explain to their chiefs, before their heads were cleaved, that they had taken the shimmering rock that burned the fingers, and that it had disappeared gradually on the journey.
In 1849 a missionary named Johann Krapf transgressed the infested Tsavo that connects the coastal region near Mombasa with the higher Wakamba country that is closer to Nairobi. Krapf climbed to a high place and from there saw to his North two snow covered peaks. This was the discovery of Mt. Kenya, seen from the first time by a white man. When Krapf’s report reached London, it could not be accepted by the Royal Geographic Society for it was thought impossible that snow could exist on the equator. An eminent member of the time, a W.D. Cooley wrote: “…dogmatic assertion proves nothing; of reasonable evidence of perpetual snow there is not a tittle offered.” Krapf died in 1881 two years before another explorer Joseph Thomson substantiated his earlier discovery.
I never construed that Johann Kampf was an artist, where he might have been, rather of him as a man who did what he was able to do, and from his particular place of ability made observations. The important men are those who do what they do best as individuals. They become the movers and shakers, and if their ideas survive their actions, which is the substance of history, then we call them Masters, for they were the contemporaries of a former time.
A friend of mine said to me that what we learn from history is that we never learn from history. It is so. For our expectations are based on a reference, and we ignore our perfections choosing something to pursue other that what we do best. If we don’t know what we do best then we examine that which survive in us, become involved with it and give it a form. For the artist it is not so much a matter of making art as it is the allowance of a vision. Art lets us see things that may have been obscured by the sciences. Art lets us make observations of things that were always there, and if the things are not there then it really doesn’t matter for it is just a little soon, and still it doesn’t matter. (Ireland 1978)