“WEST COAST OF AFRICA, ABOUT 10 DEGREES SOUTH LATITUDE.”
That, according to the first of Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Tarzan novels, ‘Tarzan of the Apes,’ is where the parents of John Clayton, the future Lord Greystoke and Lord of the Jungle, were shipwrecked, Tarzan was born, and where they died, their infant son being adopted by a ‘great ape.’ Incidentally, those apes were not gorillas, nor seemingly chimpanzees nor even bonobos, but an unknown and more manlike species. But that’s not the point here.
That latitude would place young Tarzan in Angola, not too far south of the mouth of the Congo River. Most of the supporting story would corroborate that being the area in which the book is set—not that Burroughs was any kind of expert—with the natives he encounters being refugees from the Belgian Congo, just to the north. Though Burroughs had his occasional racist moments, he did disapprove of the abuses of the Belgians in Africa and did not hesitate to condemn them.
Although in the later novels Tarzan might seem to be established further north, perhaps in the area of Kenya, with adventures north into Ethiopia, in the early ones he definitely lives further south with his adopted tribe, the Waziri, possibly in what is now Zambia and was then Northern Rhodesia. Or just maybe he was a little further north in the Rwanda-Burundi locale. Many of the stories seem to take place in the mountainous regions bordering the east and south of the Belgian Congo. Opar is somewhere in those mountains, and lost Pal-ul-don with its dinosaurs and tailed ‘humans.’
The Waziri might well have been inspired by the people of Rwanda. Certainly the mountainous jungle terrain through with Tarzan moves at times would suggest that area. But, again, Burroughs was no expert on Africa and probably did little more than glean a few facts from books. He set Tarzan up in true colonial fashion as the master of a wide African estate—somewhere, be it Zambia, Rwanda, or even Uganda or Kenya.
It may be noted that during the First World War, that estate was raided by the Germans (from what was then German East Africa and later Tanganyika). Rwanda-Burundi is definitely in striking distance (the events in “The African Queen” were along its borders), not that motivated soldiers could not have penetrated well into Northern Rhodesia. Uganda or Kenya seems less likely.
Arabs, maybe not so much, and Tarzan does have a problem from time to time with Arab raiders. The term Arabs is used very broadly—Burroughs notes that at least some are black or of mixed ancestry. Calling them Arabs was enough for the stories; generally they were up to no good, after slaves or ivory or, of course, that wealthy Englishman’s secret hoard of gold! It doesn’t really matter much whether such men ever raided as far south as Tarzan’s abode (wherever exactly it was located); they were a plot device.
I really do not favor the Kenyan location for Lord Greystoke’s lands (though Philip Jose Farmer used it). Rwanda seems better, but I definitely don’t discount the possibility of Zambia. That area does give the ape man more room and opportunity for adventure. We can’t ask Edgar Rice Burroughs at this point—and, honestly, he might not have had a clear idea himself. Tarzan simply lived somewhere in that region of central Africa along Congo’s eastern borders.
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