Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza and the Exploration of Central Africa

In the latter decades of the 1800s, Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza would explore the region of central Africa, in what is Gabon and the Congo. He would be praised for this thoughtful and compassionate approach towards the African peoples – and eventually be hailed at France’s greatest explorer.


Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza – Part 1
In part 1 of our series, we take a look at central Africa circa 1875, including the institution of slavery, and coming scramble by European powers to explore – and claim – the continent. Brazza will go from the son of an Italian noble family, to being an officer in the French navy. He will then prepare to lead an expedition into the African interior – at the age of only 23.

Download this episode or listen online.

Brazza frees slaves

Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza – Part 2 – The Father of Slaves
In part 2 of our series, Brazza goes to Africa leading an expedition up the Ogowe River. He will return more than three years later – a hero in France – and the Father of Slaves in central Africa.

Download this episode or listen online.


Approximate locations found in episodes #1 and #2

People and Places

  • Pierre Savorgnan de Brazza – Explorer of Africa, including the Ogowe River.
  • Ogowe River (often spelled Ogooué or Ogoway) – River in central Africa that Brazza would explore.
  • Noël Ballay – Doctor on Brazza’s first expedition to Africa.
  • Antoine-Alfred Marche – Naturalist on Brazza’s first expedition to Africa.
  • Victor Hamon – Naval officer who would be the quartermaster on Brazza’s first expedition to Africa.
  • Libraville – French outpost in what is modern-day Gabon.
  • Lambarene – Town on the Ogowe River. Home to Chief Renoke.
  • Renoke – Chief of the Enenga tribe.
  • Enenga – A tribe living along the Ogowe River around the town of Lambarene.
  • Okanda – A tribe living along the Ogowe River.
  • Duma – A tribe living along the Ogowe River.
  • Alima River – Tributary of the Congo. Controlled by the Bobangi people.
  • Passa River – Tributary of the Ogowe.
  • Louis de Montaignac – French admiral who would help Brazza gain admittance into the naval academy.
  • Henry Morton Stanley – African explorer and journalist. Had crossed the continent and mapped the Congo River.


There are not a lot of English language books on Brazza, and I have used the following as my primary sources:

Brazzà, a Life for Africa (2006), by Maria Petringa. This recent biography is the best English-language book I found about Brazza.

Brazza of the Congo: European exploration and exploitation in French Equatorial Africa (1972) by Richard West is a little dated, and not that in depth, but still a worthwhile read about the exploration of the entire region.

Land of Tears: The Exploration and Exploitation of Equatorial Africa (2019) by Robert Harms is a recent, and well-done, look at European colonization of central Africa – and has a long section on Brazza.