The task of describing the East-African Island-World must be regarded as a grateful one in itself, for everything unites in lending an exalted charm to the subject. In these islands Tropical Nature displays her magic in all its fulness, and their history is replete with remarkable incidents. If I were master of the power of expression of a Bernardin de St. Pierre, whose descriptions of the scenes of nature are unsurpassed, I would make the attempt to give an adequate picture of the mighty Tropical Nature – but I feel that I must confine myself to a pale and realistic sketch of that lovely island-world, and I thus stand in need of indulgence.
It is now twelve years since I visited the Seychelles, the Mascarenes and Mauritius, regions which had been till then but little visited. Events have since that time brought the East African Archipelago, especially Madagascar, into the foreground of European interest. As during my journey I had devoted myself almost exclusively to working out special questions of Natural Science, I have been under the necessity of discussing matters foreign to my pursuits.
Fortunately, earlier workers in the same field are not wanting. The Mascarenes, for example, have been described again and again. Alfred Grandidier, of Paris, has devoted his whole life to the exploration of the colossal island of Madagascar, and his magnificent work forms a rich mine of information.
I am personally greatly indebted to this eminent French geographer for having furnished me with effective recommendations to the French authorities in Madagascar and thus eminently facilitating my studies. I am also indebted to him for sending me his portrait, which is inserted in this volume in homage to the great services he has rendered to the investigation of Madagascar. While the manuscript was in the press, there appeared the valuable contributions by the German traveller Dr. Völtzkow on the hitherto imperfectly known islands of Juan de Nova and Aldabra.
It has been considered desirable that the islands lying in the west of the Indian Ocean towards Australia should also be incorporated in this work. I have not visited these islands, but we possess sufficient information about them from recent German, French, and English expeditions, and of this I have made use.
The illustrations are partly from photographs taken by myself. A number of the pictures of Madagascar, many of which have indeed been published in another form, were borrowed by me from the "Revue générale des Sciences", which not long ago published as a special number an excellent paper entitled "Ce qu'il faut connaître de Madagascar". The pictures of the Seychelles are new, and for them I am indebted to the great kindness of Dr. A. Brauer, who took very successful photographs on the spot and forwarded plates to me to make use of.
Other illustrations, admirably executed by Dr. Völtzkow, have also been turned to account.