Congo River Location Facts Africa

Congo River Location Facts Africa

Countless tributaries swell the great Congo River on its long curve to the Atlantic from grasslands on the border of the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zambia. They drain an area of rainforest and high grassland roughly the size of India. On its 2920-mile (4700km) journey, the river meanders through mangrove swamps and dense jungle, thunders over rapids and cataracts, and gathers such force that it spills about 41,700 tons of water a second into the sea. Its discharge is second only to the Amazon’s.

So the mighty river remained unknown to most of the world for nearly 400 years. To 19th-century Europeans, this was the ‘darkest Africa’. According to the novelist Joseph Conrad in 1899, in his Heart of Darkness, it was a country of nightmarish horrors’. Originally named Zaire, the river was renamed the Congo by European explorers in the 17th century, after the Kongo people. In 1971 the former Belgian Congo was renamed Zaire, and the river also took the name. Since 1997, both country and river have reverted to Congo.

Congo River

David Livingstone, the 19th-century Scottish missionary and explorer, thought that the Congo was the head-stream of the Nile, or perhaps the Niger. But horrific tales of cannibals living in the forest depths deterred even the intrepid Livingstone from trying to prove his theory. Not until 1876-7 did the Welsh-born American explorer Henry Morton Stanley venture along the river to establish its true identity.

Congo River

The headwaters of the Congo are known as the Lualaba River, only parts of which are navigable. It flows north-wards at first, through rocky gorges, then meanders through reed-fringed swamps and marshes to enter Lake Kisale, the haunt of egrets, ospreys, kingfishers and local fishermen.

At Kongolo the ever-quickening river had spread its girth sixfold to 1600ft (500m), and the bridge spanning the river is the only one for the next 1740 miles (2800km). Beyond lies a steep gorge with waterfalls and seething whirlpools – the Portes d’Enfer )gates of Hell). It was from Nyangwe that Stanley began his trip down the Congo in October 1876, after a two-year journey from the east coast of Africa. From Nyangwe it took Stanley nine months to reach the river mouth, and on the way, his party fought battles with people living in riverside villages.

Congo River

Stanley was engaged in battle when he heard the sound of a waterfall ahead. It proved to be the first of seven that together dropped the river 200ft (60m) in about 56 miles (90km). It took the party nearly a month to get around them, Stanley named the falls after himself, but they are now called Boyoma Falls. They have the greatest discharge of any waterfall in the world – around 166,850 tons a second. Beyond the falls Stanley founded a settlement, which he also named after himself – Stanleyville. He noted that the local fisherman caught large numbers of fish by means of poles and conical wicker baskets.

Congo River

From Kisangani, where the Congo curves westwards, the river is the main traffic route to Kinshasa, the nation’s capital, just over 1000 miles (1600km) downstream. On the way it turns south-west, winding through a dense rainforest alive with the chattering of monkeys and the stretch of the Congo River takes in more tributaries, including the Lomani, Aruwimi, Tshuapa, Oubangui and the Sangha – all contributing to the already vast volume of the Congo.

Elsewhere it merely slows down, and in midstream canoes and dugouts surround it like swarms of insects. Within minutes boat decks are piled high with goods such as dried fish, antelope, fruit and smoked monkey carcasses. The Floating village moves on until the next flotilla arrives.

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