To the Heart of the Nile: Lady Florence Baker and the Exploration of Central Africa

To the Heart of the Nile: Lady Florence Baker and the Exploration of Central Africa

by Pat Shipman


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Hungarian born Florence Baker first met her future husband Sam Baker as she was being sold in a slave auction in the Ottoman Empire in 1859. Writing for a general audience, Shipman (anthropology, Pennsylvania State U.) recounts that rescue and her future adventures with her husband traveling through Africa seeking the source of the Nile River at the behest of the British Empire. Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060505578
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 12/28/2004
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 448
Sales rank: 749,387
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.01(d)

About the Author

Pat Shipman is the author of eight previous books, including The Man Who Found the Missing Link and Taking Wing, which won the Phi Beta Kappa Prize for science and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Award and named a New York Times Notable Book for 1998. Her numerous awards and honors include the 1996 Rhone-Poulenc Prize for The Wisdom of the Bones (written with Alan Walker). Her most recent book is To the Heart of the Nile: Lady Florence Baker and the Exploration of Central Africa. She is currently an adjunct professor of anthropology at Pennsylvania State University and lives in State College, Pennsylvania.

Read an Excerpt

To the Heart of the Nile
Lady Florence Baker and the Exploration of Central Africa

Chapter One

I Am Not A Slave

The nubile girls would be sold in January 1859. It was the wish of the matriarch of the Finjanjian family, Finjanjian Hanim. She was one of Viddin's top licensed dealers in white slaves and prided herself on her merchandise. Finjanjian Hanim had an uncanny ability to spot a promising girl at a very early age, train her for the harem, and then sell her at puberty for a top price.

Admittedly, Viddin was not the site of a major trade in white slaves, even within the Ottoman Empire in Europe. Men who were sent to Viddin as pasha, or governor, were being punished for some misdeed. The hanim had not the stature of the members of the Slave Traders Guild in Constantinople or Cairo, who might manage to place a girl in the Imperial Harem. Viddin had no equivalent of the incredible Topkapi Palace with its extensive harem. However, Finjanjian Hanim had succeeded in producing some girls of excellent quality who had gone into large and prestigious harems, enhancing the wealth and social standing of the Finjanjian family. They had climbed far from the days when they were simple porcelain sellers, the trade that gave them their family name.

January was the usual time for selling the most attractive girls, and the hanim now had a girl of exceptional quality to sell: Florenz. A young blond beauty, Florenz had been raised and trained most carefully for ten years. She took lessons in mathematics, reading and writing, geography, music, and all the womanly arts alongside the hanim's own granddaughters in the harem. Finjanjian Hanim had taken great care to see that Florenz retained her knowledge of Hungarian and German, the languages of her natal family, as well as learning Arabic, the lingua franca of the harem. Knowing European languages was a highly prized accomplishment in girls these days. Watching the girl with a critical eye in the hamman, the baths, the hanim was sure Florenz had reached puberty and the height of her attractiveness. It was time for her to put on the veil in public.

Another year might put a fuller bosom and a more womanly shape on the girl, but Finjanjian Hanim had another reason for deciding to sell Florenz now. A new immigration law had been passed in Constantinople, which offered highly favorable terms to those who would immigrate to the Ottoman Empire. As long as the immigrants pledged their loyalty to the empire, they would even be permitted to practice their own religions freely. Finjanjian Hanim feared that this opportunity would tempt a flood of immigrants from Circassia and Georgia, where ethnic Russians were harassing the natives and trying to drive them out.

As concubines, Circassian and Georgian girls were always much sought after because of their fair coloring and beauty. Sometimes they were kidnapped for the harem trade, abducted in raids, or taken as trophies of war. Circassian or Georgian girls were also sold by their parents, which carried no dishonor. A life in the harem was much easier and more luxurious than the ceaseless work that awaited girls as the wives of poor farmers. And if such families came into the province in numbers, what better way was there for them to raise cash for a new start than to offer a fair daughter to a slave trader? The market in white slave girls could be ruined by an influx of Circassians and Georgians; better to sell Florenz now than wait.

She notified the other members of the Slave Traders Guild first of all, in case they wanted to enter girls of their own into the sale. A number of girls of lesser quality would fatten the audience and make Florenz look better by comparison. Discreet notices were placed in the newspapers in Constantinople, Sofia, Viddin, and Vienna. Brochures were sent to potential buyers, and gossip carried the news farther into Europe. Finjanjian Hanim fantasized happily about the possible attendees and the money she would make.

As the mother of the master of the household, Finjanjian Hanim ruled over the haremlik, the secluded part of the house where all the women and children lived in cloistered isolation. Her title in the harem was Sultana Validé, and she was esteemed more highly than anyone else, even the master's first wife. A favorite Turkish proverb said "A man has but one mother but might have many wives." She decided who would be sold and when. She decided who lived where in the haremlik and who got an extra supplement to her pasmalik, or "slipper money." Now she thought that Florenz should be allowed the great privilege of new and expensive clothes for the auction.

Florenz did not know why she was being so favored, but some of the other girls of the harem were given clothes too. Her friend, the Sultana Validé's granddaughter, had been given beautiful new garments only a few weeks earlier before she received a visit from a goruçu, one of the older women who acted as marriage brokers. Florenz wondered if she too would soon receive a visit from a goruçu. She did not much like the idea, but she had to marry, she supposed, and that was how it was done. Her only hope was that the husband the Finjanjians found for her would be a kind and lovable man. The Sultana Validé, a woman of some perception, never mentioned the upcoming sale to Florenz, thinking the girl might make trouble.

As soon as the date of the sale was announced, the kitchen slaves began working extra hours, preparing pastries and other delicacies, squeezing fruits for juice and sherbet concoctions. The finest coffee sets were taken out of storage and cleaned meticulously, the supply of delicately embroidered silk napkins refreshed. Silver utensils were polished to a high shine. Musicians practiced frantically, as they would be stationed discreetly in the main reception room of the selamlik, the public area of the household where men might go, to fill the room with music ...

To the Heart of the Nile
Lady Florence Baker and the Exploration of Central Africa
. Copyright © by Pat Shipman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Table of Contents

Author's Notexiii
1.I Am Not a Slave1
2.Shots, Knives, Yells, Corpses, and Fire18
3.Like a Hawk After a Mouse37
4.A Girl from the Harem48
5.So Absurd an Errand69
6.Heart of a Lion88
7.Sitt, I Be Your Boy105
8.A Perfect Hell125
9.Are the Men Willing to March?144
10.A Gorilla in London162
12.The Water Cabbages Are Moving189
13.My Legs Are But Useless Things200
14.Life So Uncertain Here214
15.A Courageous Lady233
16.Supreme and Absolute Power247
17.My Lady and I Shall Proceed Alone275
18.Not a Gentleman in the Whole of Africa295
19.The Legendary Reputation for Amazonian Qualities318
20.That Disgraceful Outrage335
21.You Promised You Would Never Return Without Me343
22.How Can I Live?360
23.March 11, 1916373
A Note on Archives411
Illustration Credits413

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“An extraordinary achievement of research and imagination.”

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To the Heart of the Nile: Lady Florence Baker and the Exploration of Central Africa 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
cattriona on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was an engaging story of Florence Baker and her husband's explorations in Africa. Although descriptions of her early life in a harem make it sound titillating, this is, in fact, a story of bravery and courage during exploration, not a cheesy sex plot. The Bakers worked tireless to discover the source of the Nile, and to stop the slave trade in Africa, with direct quotations from their travel writings providing much of the story. Fascinating and highly recommended.
ATMNJ More than 1 year ago
I read this book in hard back years ago and am now going to read it again on my Nook. I also just bought it for my collage age grand-daughter. It is a fantastic read about some of the most interesting people during one of the most exciting periods of history. It is a true story that is hard to is filled with mystery, suspense, adventure, love, etc. I highly recommend it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book reads like a novel. But it is the true story of the life of a remarkably strong, loyal and intelligent woman who had a heart for adventure and remarkable courage. It is a rags to riches story with lots of blood and thunder along the way. Her adventures are epic, and the historical information of the Sudan area with its African tribes, Egyptians, English, Turks and Arab cultures who inhabited and occupied it in the 19th Century is helpful in understanding North Africa. I'm surprised it hasn't been made into a film. But then it might not be politically correct.
Guest More than 1 year ago
2004 hardcover... This reader is exposed to author Professor Pat Shipman for the first time... I read Shipman's TO THE HEART OF THE NILE: 'Lady Florence Baker and the Exploration of Central Africa', knowing that exchanges in conversations, emotions and thoughts between the subjects from another century are dependent on imaging and imagination in hypothetical terms. I tackled TO THE HEART OF THE NILE: 'Lady Florence Baker and the Exploration of Central Africa', not knowing what to expect with thought that I might be in for a 'dry' read of history. I knew naught of the heroine, Florence Baker, but pleasurably found a brave human being in the framework of the passages of this tome. The author has brought non-fiction and fiction together by her narrative style, relating Florence and Sam Baker's adventures into initially unknown territories. Non-fiction derived from research of records, journals, and generosity of Baker descendants in sharing of information... Fiction through interpretations of research as the author admits: '... I have attributed thoughts and words to Florence and the people in her life. For those who believe the best biographies contain nothing but documented facts, I beg to disagree.' This reader has found the author's admission of the latter stated eloquently and honestly, as assumptions and imagination remain endemic to many non-fiction writings. It becomes obvious that Professor Shipman resourcefully researched Florence & Sam Baker, bringing them to life through the use of historical facts intermingled with conjecture in the exchanges of a woman rescued from the slave auction block by Sam Baker; educated at an early age in life; passing into adulthood quickly; and taken into the world of travel and adventure. Most impressive is the ability and talents of Professor Shipman to have 'jelled' the saga of Lady Baker, her relationship with her husband, Lady Baker's courage to face adversities in an era when activities of 'women in a man's world' were obscurely and penitentially shunned. A delightful saga of bravery, courage and stamina to explore little-known territories, not just once, but returning a second time with obstacles and impediments no lighter than the first voyage. Professor Shipman has made a large contribution to my reading pleasure as well as extended subject matter. Another book, another education, another path, another author who has impressed this reader solely for her ability to bring to life the humanity of those who have gone before us. To any reader, regardless of her/his taste for non-fiction/fiction historical writings -- 'TO THE HEART OF THE NILE: Lady Florence Baker and the Exploration of Central Africa' is a recommended read -- it is meticulously crafted LIKE FINE CHOCOLATE and researched, creating an educational, informative and enjoyable writing.