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The Morden African Expedition

Identifier: Film Collection no. 222

Scope and Contents

Filmed during the AMNH Morden African Expedition, 1947. The purpose of the expedition was to collect artifacts to fill the gaps in the AMNH anthropology collection, and to study and film the Turkana people of northern Kenya. The six reels of film that comprise the expedition material are discussed individually. New York; Cape Town; Lodwar, Kenya The arrival in Cape Town, South Africa, of the freighter, Robin Luxford, from New York, signals the beginning of the expedition's journey through Africa. After a brief look around Cape Town the expedition team, consisting of co-leaders William James Morden and Irene Morden, AMNH anthropologist Ralph Kepler Lewis, and their staff and friends, travels through Transkei, a native reserve, where they examine the customs and dwellings of the local people. Continuing on towards Lodwar, Kenya, they visit the vast gold fields of the ancient world at the Zimbabwe ruins in Mashonaland, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and the grave of Cecil John Rhodes in the Matapo Hills of Zimbabwe. At Broken Hill, the Mordens join up with their native safari staff and the whole expedition team travels to Nairobi, visiting several small towns along the way. The bustling streets of Nairobi provide the expedition's last encounter with city life before they head for the desolate area of Lodwar in search of the Turkana people. The clothing and customs of the Turkana are carefully studied and filmed on this trip by Lewis. The Turkanas tend their goats and brand them with the initials GR, the government brand which stands for George Rex (King George VI, the King of England at that time). At a ngoma, or dance celebration, they join in a jubilant jumping dance and an elephant dance. An excursion to Lake Rudolph reveals the life of native paupers who have been moved to the area by the government. They survive as best they can on palm nuts and fish from the lake. Kenya; Zanzibar The Mordens visit Potha Farm, a beautiful colonial estate in Machakos, Kenya, that belongs to their friends, the Percivals. The servants on the farm engage in spinning and weaving, and present their finished products for the visitors to see. Making its way to the arid Northern Frontier District, the expedition team encounters several Kikuyus along the road carrying heavy loads on their backs by tumplines. Once in the Northern Frontier District they stop to film a jumping dance performed by the local Turkanas. Following a tour of the major sights in Zanzibar, the expedition leaves for Tanaland to hunt elephant. Brush and wooden track is laid out forming a causeway over which the expedition trucks traverse the land luggers. The ivory tusks of a bagged elephant are weighed at 65 pounds each and an ear is fleshed and rubbed with salt. Animals appearing in the film are: Defassa waterbucks, hammerkops, domesticated bulls, grey parrots, dromedary camels, oryxes, Grevy's zebras, Grant's gazelle, reticulated giraffes, elephants, and weaverbirds. Game Animals of Masai Most of this reel consists of animal scenes, but because of color shift and the distance at which it was filmed, this footage is not particularly useful to the researcher. Preliminary shots of safari travel, the campsite and Masai people quickly lead into footage of the following animals: baboons, spotted hyenas, bat-earred foxes, jackals, Thomson's gazelles, impalas, wildebeests, secretary birds, marabou storks, hartebeests, topi, zebras, warthogs, ostriches, giraffes, rhinoceroses, and a lion pride. Uganda; Ruanda-Urundi; Belgian Congo Ripon Falls in southwest Uganda, now submerged by Owen Falls Dam, were surrounded by quaint hotels with English gardens. The Morden expedition began this leg of the trip at Ripon Falls filming panoramic views of the lush countryside. Near Kabalo they visit a livestock market in an enormous barn-like structure. At Lake Kivi in Kisinyi, Rwanda, harbor activitiestake place amid the picturesque scenery of the Virunga Mountains. Continuing on into the Belgian Congo (now Zaire) the expedition encounters Bambuti pygmies in their Ituri Forest village and sees, in the distance, the Mountains of the Moon, their peaks veiled in mist. The animals that appear on this reel are: crowned cranes, Egyptian geese, waterbucks, topi, hartebeests, Cape buffalos, impalas, hippopotamuses, elephants, marabou storks, and butterflies. Down the Nile The Nile River, as it flows over 3,000 miles from Lake Victoria to the Mediterranean Sea, assumes new names periodically and offers endless scenery along the way. The Morden expedition sailed much of the course of it, starting at Murchison Falls, and going through Pakwach, Nimule, Juba, Kosti, Khartoum, and Omdurman. The Victoria Nile, as the Nile proper is known, is filmed as the water pours from Murchison Falls and drops 118 feet into Lake Albert. As the expedition's chartered boat leaves Lake Albert to sail down the White Nile, the staff lounges on the boat deck, watching crocodiles, white herons, and elephants along the shore. At Pakwach they board a Nile steamer, the Lugaard, and proceed down the White Nile past miles of papyrus swamps. At Nimule they disembark for an overland trip to Juba, where they continue their trip on the Nazir through Kosti to Khartoum and Omdurman. The expedition leaves Khartoum for Wadi Halfa by train, watching the sights of the Nubian Desert along the way. By government plane they cross the Libyan Desert for El Adem, their point of departure from Africa. Malta; Europe; and Home on the Queen Mary The return trip of the Morden expedition included stops at Malta, Marseilles, Cannes, Paris, and England before they boarded the Queen Mary and sailed to New York. This last reel consists of footage of these cities and of the countryside they went through.


  • 1947

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

Not available through interlibrary loan. Contact AMNH Library Special Collections for terms of access.


6 Film Reels (118 minutes) : silent, black and white ; 16 mm.

2 Videocassettes (U-Matic (118 minutes)) : silent, black and white ; 3/4 in.

Physical Characteristics and Technical Requirements

3/4 in., U-Matic, viewing copy


Original format: 16 mm. print.



William James Morden, photographer.

The Morden African Expedition, 1947
Iris Lee
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Repository Details

Part of the Museum Archives at the Gottesman Research Library Repository

American Museum of Natural History
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