Africa through Emil Holub's eyes, on show at the Klementinum

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Emil Holub- known by Czechs as a great explorer - ventured to Africa, in the 19th century, when little was known of the far off land. Recognised internationally as a respected figure, his name appears on the UNESCO list for his reports and description of the cultures of South and Central Africa between the 1870s and 1880s. This year is the centennial anniversary of his death and in his honour, Prague's Klementinum library has set up an exhibition of material collected on his African journeys. At the opening of the exhibition, Radio Prague's Nicole Klement spoke to professor Josef Kandert, curator of the African collection at the Naprstek Ethnographic Museum about Emil Holub and his work.

"Emil Holub is a stereotype of a traveller and discoverer. He was a natural historian specialised in medicine and also a big collector of ethnographic and zoological items. He made two visits to South Africa in 1870s and then again in mid 1880s."

What type of books are on exhibit here in the Klementinum library? Are they journals, are they documentation of what he saw in Africa?

"They are everything you mentioned. He was the author of two travel books and also of many articles, he prepared lectures and so on. He also prepared, in Vienna and in Prague at the beginning on 1890s, a big exhibition which influenced the memory of the Czech nation and made him Bohemia's greatest traveller."

Why is the Klementinum library hosting the exhibit?

"This year many different events commemorating Emil Holub are being prepared by Czech institutions."

Out of all of the pieces - the books, the artefacts - that are here on display, which is your favourite?

"Probably his paintings. He was also a painter, according to me a little bit of a naive painter but all his paintings are very nice. He painted everything he saw."

I heard that the first time he went to Africa in the 1870s he went on his own. Is that true?

"He was a fresh graduate and he decided to follow in David Livingston's footsteps- to be the Czech David Livingston."

And, do you think he succeeded?

"Yes I think so, in fact he was not as great a discoverer as Livingston but he managed to collect big collections which are very important to this day."

Author: Nicole Klement
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