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The Continent of Africa 409

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THE CONTINENT OF AFRICA 409. The Dark Continent.—Africa is not like any continent we have yet studied.

Although in shape it is somewhat like North and South America, being narrow est at the southern end, its highest mountains are on the eastern instead of the western side. (See Fig. 400.) Un like Europe, its greatest length is from north to south. It also differs from Europe in that it is warmest in the north- ' ern and central parts.

A few years ago the maps of Africa had big patches of plain white paper in the middle, to show that no one in Europe or in America knew what was there. Until recently Africa had been shut up like a clam in its shell for thousands of years. White men called it the dark continent, partly because its people are nearly all dark in color, but chiefly because we knew so little about the country.

Why did not the people of Europe explore Africa as they explored North America? Africa was much nearer to them than America was. In fact, Europe almost touches Africa at the Strait of Gibraltar. You can sail across from Europe to Africa between breakfast and dinner. Why, then, did the people of Europe neglect Africa? One reason is that it is hard to travel far into northern Africa. This is because a short dis tance from the Mediterranean Sea is the Sahara, the largest desert in the world. (Fig. 31.) This desert has kept men out of the central part of Africa, for it is very hard indeed to cross, as we shall presently see.

You may wonder why men did not sail up the big rivers of Africa, as explorers sailed up the rivers of South America and North America. Boats cannot go up the African rivers because in them there are falls and rapids near the sea. Most of Africa is a plateau from a quarter to half a mile high, and the rivers tumble down from this plateau to the narrow plain along the sea. There are so many fevers and other diseases on this low plain along the coasts of Central Africa that it is dangerous for white men to cross it. Back of the un healthful coast, there is in Central Africa a your school can tell about the American, Commodore Decatur, and his trouble with the Barbary pirates in the year 1803.

The countries of Europe now control most of North Africa, and the slave busi ness has been stopped there, but it still goes on in some parts of Africa where white men do not rule. For a long time, even white men went to the west coast of Africa and bought slaves from the Arab traders, or caught the people themselves and took them as slaves to Brazil, the West Indies, and America. You can now see why the natives of Africa sometimes drove out the white men who wanted to visit their country.

410. We know South the time of a Portuguese sailor named Vasco da Gama discovered the great forest region, a jungle much like that in South America. (Sec. 269.) You remember how difficult it is for the white man to travel through such thick forests, because it is so hot there. Besides there are many fierce wild animals and poisonous insects, and no good roads at all.

There is another good reason why white men did not go into Africa. The people there were dangerous. The Arabs, who are scattered all over North Africa, have been slave traders for many centuries. The roving band who bought the little boy Joseph, away back in Old Testament times, were Arabs from this part of the country, and were just like the Arabs we find there to-day. Before the year 1800, these Arabs of North Africa often captured European and American ships in the Mediterranean Sea, and kept the sailors as slaves. Per haps some student in the history class in Cape of Good Hope and found a new way to India by sailing around the point of Africa. You can see by the map that the Cape of Good Hope is in the temperate zone where there is some frost. Unlike northern Africa, South Africa had no Arab inhabitants. This made it safe for ships to stop there and for several hundred years ships going from Europe to India stopped at South Africa for fresh food and water. For all of these reasons, it has not been hard for people to know southern Africa well.

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