"they can't trade without using some kind of craft on that lot of fresh water - steamboats"
Steamboat on the Congo River (c. 1905)
Public DomainSteamboat on the Congo River (c. 1905) - Credit: Henry Wellington Wack

A steamboat (or steamer) is a vessel in which the primary method of propulsion is steam power, typically driving propellers or paddlewheels. The term steamboat usually refers to smaller steam-powered boats working on lakes and rivers; larger, ocean-going vessels are called steamships.

Known by Congolese of the period as 'house that walks on water', or kutu kutu after their distinctive sound, Congo steamboats were either sidewheelers or sternwheelers. Usually they were long and narrow, with the shallow draft needed to clear the many sandbars on the main river and its tributaries. All had awnings against the tropical sun, sometimes with wire netting hung to protect the captain and helmsman from arrows.

 

The steamboat Princesse Clémentine (1900)
Public DomainThe steamboat Princesse Clémentine (1900) - Credit: René Vauthier
Map showing navigable steamer routes of the Congo and its tributaries
Public DomainMap showing navigable steamer routes of the Congo and its tributaries - Credit: J. W. Addison