Wanting to learn if he can communicate with deceased loved ones, adventurer and trader Allan Quatermain seeks a meeting with the feared Zulu witch-doctor Zikali, who tells Allan to seek out a great white sorceress who rules a hidden kingdom far to the north, and he charges Allan to take a message to her. He also gives Allan a necklace with a strange amulet, carved in Zikali's own likeness. Zikali claims it has great magical powers that will protect Allan on his journey, but he must on no account take it off.Allan is initially scornful of Zikali's claims, and sets off for the coast, but a series of odd events force him to go north in spite of his own wishes. On the journey he encounters Umslopogaas, a fearsome Zulu warrior chieftain. Umslopogaas tells Allan that he has discovered that he is about to be deposed and murdered, so he decides to leave his village and accompany Allan on his quest. Allan is again sceptical, but a few days later Umslopogaas and his band of warriors meet up with Allan's party, and Umslopogaas cements their friendship when he saves Allan from being killed by a lion.Journeying into unknown country, they come to a remote settlement called "Strathmuir" run by a Scot, Robertson, a drunkard and former sea captain, who lives there with his beautiful daughter Inez. Her Portuguese mother had died years earlier and her father has now taken native wives and sired several children with them. A few days later, Robertson takes Allan on an expedition to hunt hippopotamus, but as they return they are intercepted by Allan's servant, Hans, who had stayed behind. He reports that, in their absence, Strathmuir has been attacked by a band of cannibal warriors from the north, who have killed and eaten many of the villagers (including Robertson's wives and children) and kidnapped Inez.