· Daniele Comboni in the heart of the continent of ‘terra incognita’ ·
The 37th Week of Euro-Mediterranean religious history is being held from 2 to 5 September at the Villa Cagnola in Gazzada Schianno, in the province of Varese, Italy. The theme of this year’s event is “Missions in Africa. The challenge of inculturation”.
In his presentation, Gianpaolo Romanato highlights that mid-19th-century Africa was a largely uncharted continent. Next to nothing was known about the area from the Sahara Desert to the Cape. The geography, history and populations that inhabited the continent, the languages spoken, social and economic forms, courses of its rivers, the bearings and heights of its mountains, the existence of lakes all continued to be shrouded in darkness. This endless black hole was often indicated on maps by the expression terra incognita.
There were many justifications for Europe’s ignorance of Africa: the difficult harbours, the hot and unbreathable climate, the illnesses that rendered it unlivable for Europeans, the impenetrable vegetation, the difficulties in navigating its rivers, the desert barrier and the monopoly that Arabs exercised over trade routes. Then there was the ignominious slave trade, which for centuries made Africa seem to be simply a source of manpower. Supplying the slave trade required only coastal bases and had no need of moving inland.
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