Gerhard Rohlfs was born in Vegesack near Bremen in 1831. He was a frequent traveler in Africa, and in 1865-67 he became the first European to travel from north Africa across the Sahara to the west African coast, from Tripoli to Borno, then through Bauchi and Keffi to Loko, thence down the Benue to its confluence with the Niger at Lokoja, which he reached on 28 March 1867. From there, he proceeded upstream along the Niger to Raba, delivering presents to Masaba of Nupe. From Raba, he traveled overland through Yorubaland to Lagos. In 1868 he published an account of the first half of this journey, from north Africa to Borno, in Petermann's Mitteilungen. In 1872 his account of the second half, “Gerhard Rohlfs' Reise durch Nord-Afrika vom Mittelländischen Meere bis zum Busen von Guinea, 1865 bis 1867, 2. Hälfte: von Kuka nach Lagos (Bornu, Bautschi, Saria, Nupe, Yoruba),” also appeared in Petermann's. A later publication, Quer durch Afrika, which appeared in 1874-75, covered the entire journey.
Rohlfs' accounts of his travels in west Africa south of the Sahara have up to now been greatly neglected. The works mentioned above have never been published in English translation, which no doubt goes some way to explain this neglect. Rohlfs' information on his stay in Kuka (the capital of Borno) and his visits to Bauchi and Nupe have been cited by some scholars, at least. Very few, however, appear to have consulted his description of the last leg of his 1866-67 journey, in which he proceeded from the Niger south through Yorubaland to Lagos, visiting Share, Ilorin, Iwo, Ibadan, and parts of Ijebuland on the way.