Historical Overland Travel: Kalahari


Words & Pictures by Adam Cruise

Kalahari Eldorado

Countless adventurers have  searched in vain for a ‘lost city’ in the Kalahari, supposedly discovered in 1885 by showman Gilarmi Farini. Writer and environmentalist Adam Cruise weighs the evidence…

In 1885, the extraordinary Signor Gilarmi Antonio Farini arrived in South Africa for a protracted trip into the recesses of the Kalahari. A Canadian showman, his real name was William Leonard Hunt, and his rise to fame began as a daredevil walker of the tightrope: he performed across the face of the Niagara Falls before large crowds. After an accident, he changed tack and concentrated on showing exhibits of unusual human and animal forms. Part of that show was a ‘display’ of the diminutive ‘Earthmen’ – none other than the Bushmen, or San-speaking people, of the Kalahari. Keen to ‘obtain more little people’, and seduced by tales of diamonds and good hunting, Farini and Lulu (his adopted son and former high-wire assistant) sailed to Cape Town.

They then trekked into the hinterland, at that time a blank space on the maps of even the world’s most eminent cartographers. While no great discovery of Livingstone’s sort was made during the trip, G.A. Farini nonetheless presented an informed paper to the Royal Geographic Society, as well as to corresponding societies in Berlin and Paris, about the Kalahari and the benefits of cattle-ranching there. He also wrote ‘Through the Kalahari Desert’, a galloping book about his adventures hunting game, collecting plant specimens and meeting the bands of Korana, Griqua, Basters, Herero, the Tswana-speakers of the Kgalagadi, detached Boers, itinerant tradesmen, vagabonds and others along the way. Lulu, it turned out, was

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