"Vessel of Last Resort" (1995) Jeffrey Taylor, Atlantic Monthly

Taylor went to Africa in the spirit of the Great Anglo-American explorer and adventurer Henry Morton Stanley who led an expedition up the Congo in 1876 in search of the source of the Nile and the lost British missionary, Dr. Livingstone. ("Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"). Taylor was after the "primal truth of the Congo" (2). He hoped to test his character against the rigor of the ultimate African experience: paddling the Congo in a dugout canoe from Kinsangami to Kinshasha.

What did he find on the Congo in 1995?

Choose details from Taylor's vivid descriptions of his barge voyage upriver and then judge for yourself what remains of the Congo Stanley encountered in 1876.

(1) Describe Kinshasha, Zaire's capital city.

(2) Describe the barge on which Taylor traveled upriver.

(3-4) Describe life on board the barge after it had taken on its full load of passengers.

  • Why do these people risk their lives on this rancid, disease infested barge?
  • What does it feel like to bathe in Congo river water? (QUOTE)
  • Describe the millenia old trade pattern in which the passengers engage as they travel upriver. 

(4-6) How does life on board change as the barge reaches the equatorial rain forest.

  • What happens at noon?
  • Describe the flora and fauna Taylor observes.
  • To what evening delicacies do the passengers treat themselves?
  • Describe sunset on the river. (QUOTE)
  • Describe the thunderstorm after the barge runs aground.
  • What is eternal about the Congo?

(7) When the barge passes one impoverished village, natives in rags paddle furiously towards them.

  • How does the boat owner drive them off?
  • What do the villagers think of mondele like Taylor?


  • Can you discern what life was like on the Congo for millenia?
  • In what primary way has life changed since the arrival of the Europeans?