In 1935 Graham Green traveled from the West African Coast of Sierra Leone, through French Guinea, and into the depths of the Liberian Forest, a region unmapped at the time and labeled with the foreboding word, Cannibals, as the only descriptor as to what he would discover in his travels through the region. Greene’s travels were hardly pure back-country roughing since he was able to hire men to carry his mosquito net, cooking supplies, and a case of whiskey that he drank religiously throughout the 4 week, 350 mile trek. However, despite the bourgeois background to Green’s travels, his purpose was purely exploratory for the sake of learning and other than a brief period near the end when he was suffering with fever, he trekked the entire distance on foot.
Greene traveled into independent Liberia at a time when Europe had already divided up Africa for her own profit and he chose Liberia to explore because it was a nation founded by freed US slaves that presented a unique glimpse of an independent Africa. In his travels he faces a lot of hardship with bats, rats, and cockroaches ever present in the villages the stayed in and chiggers digging their way beneath his finger and toenails. Not all was hardship as Greene discovered many a unique native peoples, each with their own distinct dress, dance, and hospitality. He did not come across any cannibals, but he did encounter devils, spiritual shamans wearing masks that exert great power over the native people. The use of the word devil is only a fault in the English translation of his guides and Greene explains that these devils could very easily be described as angels for their purpose was not a distinction of good or evil, but as guides into the spiritual world.
“In a Christian land we have grown so accustomed to the idea of a Spiritual war, of God and Satan, that this supernatural world, which is neither good nor evil, but is simply Power, is beyond all comprehension.” (176)
It is in these passages depicting the practices of the Liberian people that Greene explores the purpose of his travel through this country. Despite his longing for the comforts of his Western culture, Greene discovers a raw bond of humanity that cannot be found in the Western world. It is in these discoveries that Greene is encouraged with an intense longing to live and make the best of his life – and in reading Journey Without Maps that longing is made clear through Greene’s introspective perspective that makes this a worthwhile read.