In 1768, an eccentric Scottish nobleman named James Bruce set off on a lengthy journey to Ethiopia to see for himself the source of the Blue Nile (see Map 22.1). On his return to Europe in 1783, Bruce found that few would believe his stories of the splendours of Ethiopia and, in particular, its royal court at Gondar (see Figure 22.1). Bruce’s revelations did not fit the prejudiced European view of Africa as a mass of primitive and disorganised societies, little more than a source of slaves. Despite centuries of coastal trading contact, Europeans were still remarkably ignorant of Africa, its peoples and their history. European interest in Africa, however, was about to be awoken.
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