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Mary H Kingsley Experience


In her book 'Travels In West Africa', the British explorer Mary Henrietta Kingsley (13 October 1862 – 3 June 1900) describes an encounter she had in 1895 on Lake Ncovi with a glowing ball of light. She had brought her canoe to the side of the lake so she could wash, or bathe and her account is as follows.

‘While I was finishing my toilet I saw a strange thing happen. Down through the forest on the lake bank opposite came a violet ball the size of a small orange. When it reached the sand beach it hovered along it to and fro close to the ground. In a few minutes another ball of similarly coloured light came towards it from behind one of the islets, and the two waver to and fro over the beach, sometimes circling round each other. I made off towards them in the canoe, thinking — as I still do — they were some brand new kind of luminous insect. When I got on to their beach one of them went off into the bushes and the other away over the water. I followed in the canoe, for the water here is very deep, and, when I almost thought I had got it, it went down into the water and I could see it glowing as it sunk until it vanished in the depths. I made my way back hastily, fearing my absence with the canoe might give rise, if discovered, to trouble, and by 3.30 I was back in the hut safe, but not so comfortable as I had been on the lake. A little before five my men are stirring and I get my tea. I do not state my escapade to them, but ask what those lights were. “Akom,” said the Fan, and pointing to the shore of the lake where I had been during the night they said, “they came there, it was an ‘Aku’” — or devil bush. More than ever did I regret not having secured one of those sort of two phenomena. What a joy a real devil, appropriately put up in raw alcohol, would have been to my scientific friends!’

The question remains, where exactly did this take place. Kingsley used her own phonetic spelling of various places on her travels and mentioned a few times that they were not shown on her map. I can find no mention of Lake Ncovi on our own maps, so it is probably known by another name. She was on the Ogooue River (Ogowe as she spelt it) and she does mention Lambarene Island, so I hope my estimate is somewhere within a hundred miles.


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