Basenji history begins thousands of years ago in Africa, specifically in the Congo; "basenji" is a Congolese word that loosely translates to "dog of the bush." Anthropologists believe this breed is a direct descendant of the Gray Wolf, and that Basenjis are closely related to Dingoes, since the breeds share a number of physical and behavioral traits.
Historians contend that the Basenji's origin can be traced as far back as the ancient Egyptians, as drawings on the walls of the tombs of Egyptian pharaohs depicted dogs believed to be of the Basenji type. In any case, historians think Basenjis have been used for thousands of years as small-game hunters; since they don't bark, they were likely prized for their quietness while tracking and chasing birds and rodents.
The Basenji breed went largely undiscovered outside Africa until the mid-nineteenth century, when European scientists found the dogs living with Congolese tribes. One such scientist was German botanist Dr. Georg Schweinfurth, who discovered these dogs while studying the plants of Central Africa. Schweinfurth later wrote about Basenjis, which he discovered living with African Pygmies: "...A small breed resembling the wolf-dog, but with short sleek hair, they have ears that are large and always erect, and a short curly tail like that of a young pig. They are made to wear little wooden bells around the neck so they should not be lost in the long steppe-grass." Attempts were made to export the dogs to Germany, but the initial attempts failed, as the dogs died of disease.
By the turn of the twentieth century, though, Basenjis were known throughout Europe and North America, though they were still considered rare. In 1939, the Basenji Club of Great Britain was established in England, and the American Kennel Club officially recognized the breed in 1943. Today, Basenjis are still fairly rare worldwide; the breed ranks 88th out of 190 breeds recognized by the AKC.