The African Safari is a tradition which goes back many years. The word safari has its root in the Arabic word safar which roughly translated means to make a journey. This was then borrowed into Swahili as safari and simply cane to mean to travel. In its original context a safari would refer to any kind of travel and was often used in the context of travelling long trade routes. The modern connotations of khaki shorts, pith helmets and great adventure only came later.
The earliest African safaris were therefore not relaxing holidays but where in fact trading operations. The Arabic and African cultures established great trade routes between them on which large caravans of traders would travel across vast distances to trade their wares. The rich resources of Africa meant that many profitable and highly prized objects were traded throughout Africa on those early African safaris.
As colonisation began European trade caravans quickly joined in on a large scale. European safari caravans were generally very large and required huge numbers of staff to crew them and vast amounts of supplies to sustain them. Some of the routes they travelled became known to be particularly treacherous and required very careful and skilful navigation and bartering to get through safely. This was particularly true as they began to trade increasingly in slaves as well as other precious materials.
It was only with the ending of the slave trade that the purpose of African safaris shifted from one of trade and commerce to one of adventure and exploration. it was at this point that naturalists and explorers such as William John Burchell and Gustav Fischer redefined what it meant to go on safari. They went on exploratory travels throughout Africa identifying and cataloguing new animals that they encountered.
It was also at this time that African safaris became known for another popular pursuit, namely hunting. African safaris soon became synonymous with hunting trips with many enthusiastic hunters travelling to Africa in the hopes of bagging the most impressive trophies.
It was this era of African safaris that gave us the connotation of adventure and exploration that are still associated with safaris today. Ironically we also have these early hunters to thank for much of the conservation movement concerned with African wildlife today. This is because many of the great hunters kept great records of their time in Africa. Their stories, writings, drawings and paintings crated a greater awareness of Africa igniting the idea of conserving it for generations to come.
Nowadays African safaris are simply considered a luxury holiday option. While they might still be associated with adventure most of the wildlife shooting is done with cameras and the treacherous travelling by trade caravan has been replaced with landrovers. The modern African safari involves game drives and walking tours, cocktails at sunset and catered meals under the African stars. But if you long for the iconic African safaris of yesteryear do not despair, for while the pith helmets might be in short supply the khaki shorts still abound.