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Emil Holub

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Emil Holub

Emil Holub
MUDr. Emil Holub
Born October 7, 1847
Died February 21, 1902
Citizenship Austria-Hungary
Nationality Czech
Fields ethnography
Alma mater Prague University
Known for Africa
Emil Holub (October 7, 1847 – February 21, 1902) was a Czech physician, explorer, cartographer, and ethnographer in Africa. In a 2005 poll, he was voted #90 of the 100 greatest Czechs.

Early life

Holub was born in Holice in eastern Bohemia (then within the Austrian Empire, now the Czech Republic) in the family of municipal doctor. After studying at German-language grammar school in Žatec (Saaz), he was admitted at Prague University where he obtained a degree as a doctor of medicine (1872).

Expeditions in Africa

Inspired to visit Africa by the diaries of David Livingstone, Holub travelled to Cape Town, South Africa shortly after graduation and eventually settled near Kimberley to practise medicine. After eight months, Holub set out in a convoy of local hunters on a two-month experimental expedition, or "scientific safari", where he began to assemble a large natural history collection.

In 1873 Holub set out on his second scientific safari, devoting his attention to the collection of ethnographic material. On his third expedition in 1875, he ventured all the way to the Zambezi river and made the first detailed map of the region surrounding Victoria Falls. Holub also wrote and published the first book account of the Victoria Falls published in English in Grahamstown in 1879.

After returning to Prague for several years, Holub made plans for a bold African expedition. In 1883, Holub, along with his new wife and six guides, set out to do what no one had done before: explore the entire length of Africa from Cape Town all the way to Egypt. However, the expedition was troubled by illness and the uncooperative Ila tribesmen and Holub's team was forced to turn back in 1886.

Holub mounted two highly successful exhibitions, in 1891 in Vienna and in 1892 in Prague. Frustrated that he was unable to find a permanent home for his large collection of artefacts, he gradually sold or gave away parts of it to museums, scientific institutions and schools.

Later Holub published a series of documents, contributing to papers and magazines, and delivering lectures. His early death came in Vienna on February 21, 1902, from lingering complications of malaria and other diseases he had acquired while in Africa.

In 1952, the movie Velké dobrodružství (Great Adventure) was filmed about Holub's expeditions.

Commemorations of Holub's legacy

  • In 1949, a monument to Holub by Jindřich Soukup was unveiled in his hometown of Holice
  • In 1970, the town of Holice opened a museum dedicated to Emil Holub near the main post office with an associated monument nearby.
  • On February 20, 2002 the Czech National Bank issued a CZK 200 silver coin commemorating the 100th anniversary of Dr. Emil Holub's death
  • Between 2002–2006 Embassy of the Czech Republic in Harare organized a few activities to commemorate Emil Holub [1]
  • In September 2005, exactly 130 years since Holub's first visit to the Victoria Falls, a statue of his created by Zimbabwean sculptor Last Mahwahwa was unveiled [2] by Ambassador of the Czech Republic Mr. Jaroslav Olša, jr. [3] and Ambassador of the Republic of Austria Mr. Michael Brunner in front of the National Museum of Zambia in Livingstone, the city adjacent to the Victoria Falls


  • (Reprinted (1975), Johannesburg: Africana Book Society.)


Further reading

In German

Gabriele Riz: Leben und Werk des Afrikaforschers Emil Holub. 1847–1902. Diplomarbeit. Universität Wien, Wien 1985.

In English

  • Dark Deeds. Some Hunting Memoirs of the Nineteenth Century Czech Traveller Emil Holub (ed. Rob S. Burrett. Gweru: Mambo Press 2006)
  • The Culture and Society in South Africa of 1870s and 1880s - Views and Consideration of Dr. Emil Holub (Josef Kandert. Prague: Naprstek Museum 1998)
  • Emil Holub's Travels north of the Zambezi (ed. Ladislav Holý. Manchester: Manchester University Press 1975)
  • The Victoria Falls. A few Pages from the Diary of Emil Holub, M.D., written during His third Trip into the Interior of Southern Africa (Grahamstown: no publisher, reprinted Bulawayo: Books of Zimbabwe 2004)

In Czech

  • (Also in Romanian edition as (1963) La nord de Zambezi. Bucureşti: Editura Tineretului.)

External links

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