Chapter X. Notes on the Nzadi or Congo River.
And first, touching the name of this noble and mysterious stream. Diogo Cam, the discoverer in 1485, called it River of Congo, Martin von Behaim Rio de Padrao, and De Barros "Rio Zaire." The Portuguese discoveries utilized by Dapper thus corrupted to the sonorous Zaire, the barbarous Nzadi applied by the natives to the lower bed. The next process was that of finding a meaning. Philippo Pigafetta of Vicenza,[FN#10] translated Zaire by "so, cioe Sapio in Latino;" hence Sandoval[FN#11] made it signify "Rio de intendimiento," of understanding. Merolla duly records the contrary. "The King of Portugal, Dom John II., having sent a fleet under D. Diego Cam to make discoveries in this Southern Coast of Africa, that admiral guessed at the nearness of the land by nothing so much as by the complexion of the waters of the Zaire; and, putting into it, he asked of the negroes what river and country that was, who not understanding him answered 'Zevoco,' which in the Congolan tongue is as much as to say 'I cannot tell;' from whence the word being corrupted, it has since been called Zairo."
D'Anville (1749), with whom critical African geography began, records "Barbela," a southern influent, perhaps mythical, named by his predecessors, and still retained in our maps: it is the Verbele of Pigafetta and the Barbele of Linschoten, who make it issue either from the western lake-reservoir of the Nile, or from the "Aquilunda" water, a name variously derived from O-Calunga, the sea (?), or from A-Kilunda, of Kilunda (?) The industrious compiler, James Barbot (1700), mentions the "Umbre," the modern Wambre, rising in the northern mountains or, according to P. Labat, in a lake: Dapper (1676), who so greatly improved the outline of Africa, had already derived with De Barros the "Rio Zaire" from a central reservoir "Zaire," whose island, the Zembre, afterwards became the Vambere, Wambre, and Zambere, now identified through the Zambeze with the Maravi, Nyassa or Kilwa water. The second or northernmost branch is the Bancora of modern maps, the Brankare of Pigafetta, and the Bancari of Cavazzi; it flows from the same mountain as the Umbre, and Duarte Lopez (1560) causes it to mingle with the Zaire on the eastern borders of Pango, at the foot of the Sierra del Crystal. In certain modern maps the Bankare fork is called "Lekure,"and is made to receive the "Bambaye." The Barbela again anastomoses with the Luba (?) or northern section of the Coango, including its influent, the Lubilash; the Kasai (Kasabi) also unites with the Coango, and other dotted lines show the drainage of the Lualaba into the Kasai.
The Portuguese, according to Vasconcello, shunning all fanciful derivations, were long satisfied to term the Congo "Rio de Patron" (Rio do Padrao) from the first of memorial columns built at its mouth. In 1816 Captain Tuckey's expedition learned with Maxwell that the stream should be called, not Zaire, but Moienzi Enzaddi, the "great river" or the "river which absorbs all other rivers." This thoroughly corrupted name, which at once found its way into popular books, and which is repeated to the present day even by scientific geographers, suggested to some theorists "Zadi," the name of the Niger at Wassenah according to Sidi Harriet, as related by the American, James Riley, of the brig "Commerce," wrecked on August 28, 1815: others remembered "Zad" which Shaykh Yusuf (Hornemann), misleading Mungo Park, learned to be the Niger east of Tinbuktu, "where it turns off to the southward." I need hardly say that this "Zadi" and "Zad" are evident corruptions of Bahr Shady, Shary, Shari, Chad, Tsad, and Chadda, the swampy lake, alternately sweet and brackish, which was formerly thrown by mistake into the Chadda River, now called the Binue or Bimuwe, the great eastern fork of the Negro-land Nile: the true drainage of the Chadda in ancient times has lately been determined by the adventurous Dr. Nachtigal. Mr. Cooley[FN#12] applied, as was his wont, a superficial knowledge of Kibundo to Fiote or Congoese, and further corrupted Moienzi Enzaddi to Muenya (for Menha or Menya) Zinzadi-this Angolan "emendation," however, was not adopted.
The natives dwelling upon the Congo banks have, as usual in Africa, no comprehensive generic term for the mighty artery of the West Coast. Each tribe calls it by its own name. Thus even in Fiote we find "Mulango," or "Lango," the water; "Nkoko," the stream, "Mwanza," the river, and "Mwanza Nnenne," the great river, all used synonymously at the several places. The only proper name is Mwanza Nzadi, the River Nzadi: hence Zaire, Zaire, Zahir, Zaira the "flumen Congo olim Zaida" (C. Barle) - all corruptions more or less common.