In the nineteenth and early twentieth century, much that was known about Africa in the Czech lands and the rest of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was introduced by Bohemia's greatest traveller Emil Holub. A doctor of medicine and natural historian, Holub had a passion for ethnography and exotic animals. He travelled around South and Central Africa in the late nineteenth century, bringing back travelogues, paintings, maps and other important documents. Europeans are well informed about his life and work from numerous exhibitions and lectures given in the course of the last century. Now for the first time, a travelling exhibition gives Africans themselves a chance to see how they were perceived in far-away Europe.
South Africa, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana are all hosting the Emil Holub exhibition, which was organised by the Czech and Austrian Embassies in Central Africa. The idea to introduce Emil Holub to those countries came from Jaroslav Olsa, Czech Ambassador to Zimbabwe:
"I thought we should find something that the countries around the Zambezi River have in common with the Czech lands and Emil Holub was the logical answer. His travelogues published in the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s in English, German, Czech, and Hungarian are still read today in Southern Africa. That is why we saw no reason not to promote him in these countries as well and remind the Zambians and Zimbabweans that not only David Livingston was an important traveller and explorer in this part of the world."
Fifteen panels reflect on the life and work of Emil Holub. Visitors learn about his childhood years, how his interest in Africa grew, his travels to the continent in the 1870s and 1880s, and his most important travelogues and scientific books. To Ambassador Olsa, it was especially important to hold the exhibition in Zambia:
"The Zambians are well aware of Emil Holub. They know he was one of the first who spent quite some time at the royal court of the Lozi kings. The Lozis were still the important minority in Zambia and they still have their own semi-autonomous kingdom in the cultural sense and he published a number of books about them and it was him who brought the knowledge about the Lozis and their kingdom to European circles."
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