A man who encompassed Africa back and forth on his own
Can you imagine completing a travel 40 000km long on the African continent on foot and by such means as bike, horse, camel and boat. You are about to meet someone who did it at the beginning of the 20th century – Kazimierz Nowak the pioneer of Polish reportage.
Kazimierz Nowak was born in 1897 in Stryi, a city which nowadays belongs to Ukraine. After The Great War he moved to Poznań, where he took up his first job as a clerk. In his free-time he enjoyed long bike rides around Poland where he took a lot of photos. In 1922 he got married and soon after his daughter and son were born. However, his professional situation wasn’t as joyful as his family situation. Kazimierz was looking for a job for a long time but the search was unsuccessful. Finally in 1925 he moved overseas to work as a press correspondent and photographer in order to earn money to provide for his family. Once he reached Tripolitania in North Africa he dreamt of traversing the whole continent from North to the South. His unusual dream had to be postponed for a while because poor financial situation and sickness stopped him from making it come true.
He didn’t give up his dreams. In 1931 he left his hometown Poznan on his 7 year old bike and set off for his dreamed excursion. At the end of 1931 he found himself in Tripoli, todays Libya, from where he headed southwards to the Cape Aghullas, the south end of African continent, at a distance from Tripoli of approximately 11 000 km!
I bet none of you would ever come up with such a method to provide for family especially at that times. In practice it looked as follows: from the places he passed by, he wrote articles and took photos which were sent to his wife in Poland and then published by the newspapers and magazines.
The lone traveller visited several tribal villages where he met the local people living very primitive lives, such as Pigmy peoples and Tuaregs. It is certain that for the locals the white man who moved on a strange two-wheel thing was a really uncommon and confusing phenomenon, but Kazimierz never met with any hostility or threat from the inhabitants. Just the opposite: the people he met motivated him to complete his journey and cheered him up when he missed his home and beloved family. In fact, it was the white people who were colonizing the continent who got him down. Instead of sleeping in cities full of white people he preferred to keep away from civilisation and enjoyed the nights under his humble tent in the abundant wildlife. He always opposed the colonialism, he was against the exploitation of the continent by the white people and it is a very probable reason why his funds were so short. He funded the excursion by himself and refused any money from the colonialist companies.
In 1934 he reached the South End of Africa - Cape Aghullas. This extremely brave and confident man chose a different route back and set off despite being affected by malaria with hardly any money left. As he reported later after arriving to Poland: Brits offered him a free return journey in the first class but he refused and preferred to complete his journey alone discovering the wilderness and uncharted beauty of the African continent.
In the middle of the desert of South-Western Africa his bicycle fell to pieces. He had no other option but to find another means to return. He met a Pole residing in Gumuchab from whom he bought two horses. He rode them until he reached Angola where he received a bike from a Polish aristocrat Zamoyski. At some point his bike was not usable anymore and he switched it for a boat on which he sailed down the unpredictable and fast-flowing rivers. After an accident on a Kaveve cataract he lost his new means of transport. Forced to walk for hundreds of kilometres, Nowak reached Lulua, where he bought another boat, In September 1935 in Leopoldville nowadays Kinshasa he ended his two-months’ lonely voyage along the rivers of Lulua, Kassai and Kongo. Then he switched to bicycle but when he reached French Equatorial Africa, the authorities didn’t give him a permission to cross the Sahara Desert alone. He then bought a dromedary and constructed his own caravan on the camel’s back. The ride took five months till he reached Uargala. The last part 1000 km to Algiers he covered by bike.
Nowak finished his journey in 1936 covering a distance of almost 40 000km. He spent only a handful of remaining money for new clothes and a boat passage back to Europe. It is unimaginable for us today that once he reached France’s shores he had to struggle to get to his own homeland. The ongoing tensions on the old continent halted him in France. He had hardly any money, so in desperation he sold the photos from Africa. He travelled to Paris and there obtained a visa permitting him to return to Poland.
Nowak found himself again around his beloved family. When he returned he started giving lectures, and interviews, exhibiting his photos. He planned to gather all materials into one book. He dreamt of another journey to India and South-Eastern Asia but his dreams did not come true as a result of his unfortunate death at the age of 40. Bad physical health and poor immune system caused by malaria led to his death less than one year after his return to Poland.
Kazimierz Nowak is for sure an example of a man who was not afraid of going after his dreams. The obstacles and limitations by that time didn’t matter for him. Till the end of his days he remained loyal and devoted to the two things he loved most in life family and travelling. He was also an inspiration for those who want to espouse their own path and realize their own unusual dreams.
Bibliography and if you want to read more:
- Biografia [Internet]. Kazimierznowak.pl, Available from: http://kazimierznowak.pl/biografia/ [Accesed 29 November 2017]
- Kazimierz Nowak i Afryka na archiwalnych zdjęciach z lat 30. XX wieku - fotografie legendarnego podróżnika do obejrzenia w internecie [Internet], Available from: http://podroze.onet.pl/aktualnosci/kazimierz-nowak-i-afryka-na-archiwalnych-zdjeciach-z-lat-30-xx-wieku-fotografie/w89l1 [Accessed: 29 November 2017]