Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa, by David Livingstone

Appendix. — Book Review in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, February, 1858.

Livingstone’s Travels in South Africa.55

55 ‘Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa’. By David Livingstone, LL.D., D.C.L. 1 vol. 8vo. With Maps and numerous Illustrations. Harper and Brothers.

‘Travels and Discoveries in North and Central Africa’. By Henry Barth, Ph.D., D.C.L. 3 vols. 8vo. With Map and numerous Illustrations. Harper and Brothers.

These two works, each embodying the results of years of travel and research, entirely revolutionize all our theories as to the geographical and physical character of Central Africa. Instead of lofty mountains and sandy deserts, we have a wide basin, or rather series of basins, with lakes and great rivers, and a soil fertile even when compared with the abounding exuberance of our own Western valleys and prairies.

Barth, traveling southward from the Mediterranean, explored this region till within eight degrees of the equator. Livingstone, traveling northward from the Cape of Good Hope, approached the equator from the south as nearly as Barth did from the north. He then traversed the whole breadth of the continent diagonally from the west to the east. His special researches cover the entire space between the eighth and fifteenth parallels of south latitude. Between the regions explored by Barth and Livingstone lies an unexplored tract extending eight degrees on each side of the equator, and occupying the whole breadth of the continent from east to west. Lieutenant Burton, famous for his expedition to Mecca and Medina, set out from Zanzibar a few months since, with the design of traversing this very region. If he succeeds in his purpose his explorations will fill up the void between those of Barth and Livingstone.

Dr. Livingstone, with whose travels we are at present specially concerned, is no ordinary man. The son of a Presbyterian deacon and small trader in Glasgow; set to work in a cotton factory at ten years old; buying a Latin grammar with his first earnings; working from six in the morning till eight at night, then attending evening-school till ten, and pursuing his studies till midnight; at sixteen a fair classical scholar, with no inconsiderable reading in books of science and travels, gained, sentence by sentence, with the book open before him on his spinning-jenny; botanizing and geologizing on holidays and at spare hours; poring over books of astrology till he was startled by inward suggestions to sell his soul to the Evil One as the price of the mysterious knowledge of the stars; soundly flogged by the good deacon his father by way of imparting to him a liking for Boston’s “Fourfold State” and Wilberforce’s “Practical Christianity”; then convinced by the writings of the worthy Thomas Dick that there was no hostility between Science and Religion, embracing with heart and mind the doctrines of evangelical Christianity, and resolving to devote his life to their extension among the heathen — such are the leading features of the early life of David Livingstone.

He would equip himself for the warfare and afterward fight with the powers of darkness at his own cost. So at the age of nineteen — a slim, loose-jointed lad — he commenced the study of medicine and Greek, and afterward of theology, in the University of Glasgow, attending lectures in the winter, paying his expenses by working as a cotton-spinner during the summer, without receiving a farthing of aid from any one.

His purpose was to go to China as a medical missionary, and he would have accomplished his object solely by his own efforts had not some friends advised him to join the London Missionary Society. He offered himself, with a half hope that his application would be rejected, for it was not quite agreeable to one accustomed to work his own way to become dependent in a measure upon others.

By the time when his medical and theological studies were completed, the Opium War had rendered it inexpedient to go to China, and his destination was fixed for Southern Africa.

He reached his field of labor in 1840. Having tarried for three months at the head station at Kuruman, and taken to wife a daughter of the well-known missionary Mr. Moffat, he pushed still farther into the country, and attached himself to the band of Sechele, chief of the Bakwains, or “Alligators”, a Bechuana tribe. Here, cutting himself for six months wholly off from all European society, he gained an insight into the language, laws, modes of life, and habits of the Bechuanas, which proved of incalculable advantage in all his subsequent intercourse with them.

Sechele gave a ready ear to the missionary’s instructions.

“Did your forefathers know of a future judgment?” he asked.

“They knew of it,” replied the missionary, who proceeded to describe the scenes of the last great day.

“You startle me: these words make all my bones to shake; I have no more strength in me. But my forefathers were living at the same time yours were; and how is it that they did not send them word about these terrible things? They all passed away into darkness without knowing whither they were going.”

Mr. Moffat had translated the Bible into the Bechuana language, which he had reduced to writing, and Sechele set himself to learn to read, with so much assiduity that he began to grow corpulent from lack of his accustomed exercise. His great favorite was Isaiah. “He was a fine man, that Isaiah; he knew how to speak,” he was wont to say, using the very words applied by the Glasgow Professor to the Apostle Paul. Having become convinced of the truth of Christianity, he wished his people also to become Christians. “I will call them together,” he said, “and with our rhinoceros-skin whips we will soon make them all believe together.” Livingstone, mindful, perhaps, of the ill success of his worthy father in the matter of Wilberforce on “Practical Christianity”, did not favor the proposed line of argument. He was, in fact, in no great haste to urge Sechele to make a full profession of faith by receiving the ordinance of baptism; for the chief had, in accordance with the customs of his people, taken a number of wives, of whom he must, in this case, put away all except one. The head-wife was a greasy old jade, who was in the habit of attending church without her gown, and when her husband sent her home to make her toilet, she would pout out her thick lips in unutterable disgust at his new-fangled notions, while some of the other wives were the best scholars in the school. After a while Sechele took the matter into his own hands, sent his supernumerary wives back to their friends — not empty-handed — and was baptized.

Mr. Livingstone’s station was in the region since rendered famous by the hunting exploits of Gordon Cumming. He vouches for the truth of the wonderful stories told by that redoubtable Nimrod, who visited him during each of his excursions. He himself, indeed, had an adventure with a lion quite equal to any thing narrated by Cumming or Andersson, the result of which was one dead lion, two Bechuanas fearfully wounded, his own arm marked with eleven distinct teeth-marks, the bone crunched to splinters, and the formation of a false joint, which marred his shooting ever after.

Mr. Livingstone has a republican contempt for the “King of Beasts”. He is nothing better than an overgrown hulking dog, not a match, in fair fight, for a buffalo. If a traveler encounter him by daylight, he turns tail and sneaks out of sight like a scared greyhound. All the talk about his majestic roar is sheer twaddle. It takes a keen ear to distinguish the voice of the lion from that of the silly ostrich. When he is gorged he falls asleep, and a couple of natives approach him without fear. One discharges an arrow, the point of which has been anointed with a subtle poison, made of the dried entrails of a species of caterpillar, while the other flings his skin cloak over his head. The beast bolts away incontinently, but soon dies, howling and biting the ground in agony. In the dark, or at all hours when breeding, the lion is an ugly enough customer; but if a man will stay at home by night, and does not go out of his way to attack him, he runs less risk in Africa of being devoured by a lion than he does in our cities of being run over by an omnibus — so says Mr. Livingstone.

When the lion grows old he leads a miserable life. Unable to master the larger game, he prowls about the villages in the hope of picking up a stray goat. A woman of child venturing out at night does not then come amiss. When the natives hear of one prowling about the villages, they say, “His teeth are worn; he will soon kill men,” and thereupon turn out to kill him. This is the only foundation for the common belief that when the lion has once tasted human flesh he will eat nothing else. A “man-eater” is always an old lion, who takes to cannibalism to avoid starvation. When he lives far from human habitations, and so can not get goats or children, an old lion is often reduced to such straits as to be obliged to live upon mice, and such small deer.

Mr. Livingstone’s strictly missionary life among the Bakwains lasted eight or nine years. The family arose early, and, after prayers and breakfast, went to the school-room, where men, women, and children were assembled. School was over at eleven, when the husband set about his work as gardener, smith, or carpenter, while his wife busied herself with domestic matters — baking bread, a hollow in a deserted ant-hill serving for an oven; churning butter in an earthen jar; running candles; making soap from ashes containing so little alkaline matter that the ley had to be kept boiling for a month or six weeks before it was strong enough for use. The wife was maid-of-all-work in doors, while the husband was Jack-at-all-trades outside. Three several times the tribe removed their place of residence, and he was so many times compelled to build for himself a house, every stick and brick of which was put in place by his own hands. The heat of the day past, and dinner over, the wife betook herself to the infant and sewing schools, while the husband walked down to the village to talk with the natives. Three nights in the week, after the cows had been milked, public meetings were held for instruction in religious and secular matters. All these multifarious duties were diversified by attendance upon the sick, and in various ways aiding the poor and wretched. Being in so many ways helpful to them, and having, besides, shown from the first that he could knock them up at hard work or traveling, we can not wonder that Livingstone was popular among the Bakwains, though conversions seem to have been of the rarest. Indeed, we are not sure but Sechele’s was the only case.

A great drought set in the very first year of his residence among them, which increased year by year. The river ran dry; the canals which he had induced them to dig for the purpose of irrigating their gardens were useless; the fish died in such numbers that the congregated hyenas of the country were unable to devour the putrid masses. The rain-makers tried their spells in vain. The clouds sometimes gathered promisingly overhead, but only to roll away without discharging a drop upon the scorched plains. The people began to suspect some connection between the new religion and the drought. “We like you,” they said, “but we wish you would give up this everlasting preaching and praying. You see that we never get any rain, while the tribes who never pray have an abundance.” Livingstone could not deny the fact, and he was sometimes disposed to attribute it to the malevolence of the “Prince of the Power of the Air”, eager to frustrate the good work.

The people behaved wonderfully well, though the scarcity amounted almost to famine. The women sold their ornaments to buy corn from the more fortunate tribes around; the children scoured the country for edible roots; the men betook themselves to hunting. They constructed great traps, called ‘hopos’, consisting of two lines of hedges, a mile long, far apart at the extremities, but converging like the sides of the letter V, with a deep pit at the narrow end. Then forming a circuit for miles around, they drove the game — buffaloes, zebras, gnus, antelopes, and the like — into the mouth of the hopo, and along its narrowing lane, until they plunged pell-mell in one confused, writhing, struggling mass into the pit, where they were speared at leisure.

The precarious mode of life occasioned by the long drought interfered sadly with the labors of the mission. Still worse was the conduct of Boers who had pushed their way into the Bechuana country. Their theory was very simple: “We are the people of God, and the heathen are given to us for an inheritance.” Of this inheritance they proceeded to make the most. They compelled the natives to work for them without pay, in consideration of the privilege of living in “their country”. They made regular forays, carrying off the women and children as slaves. They were cowardly as well as brutal, compelling friendly tribes to accompany them on their excursions, putting them in front as a shield, and coolly firing over their heads, till the enemy fled in despair, leaving their women, children, and cattle as a prey.

So long as fire-arms could be kept from the natives the Boers were sure of having it all their own way. But traders came in the train of the missionaries, and sold guns and powder to the Bechuanas. Sechele’s tribe procured no less than five muskets. The Boers were alarmed, and determined to drive missionaries and traders from the country.

In course of time Mr. Livingstone became convinced that Bibles and preaching were not all that was necessary. Civilization must accompany Christianization; and commerce was essential to civilization; for commerce, more speedily than any thing else, would break down the isolation of the tribes, by making them mutually dependent upon and serviceable to each other.

It was well known that northward, beyond the desert, lay a great lake, in the midst of a country rich in ivory and other articles of commerce. In former years, when rains had been more abundant, the natives had frequently crossed this desert; and somewhere near the lake dwelt a famous chief, named Sebituane, who had once lived on friendly terms in the neighborhood of Sechele, who was anxious to renew the old acquaintance. Mr. Livingstone determined to open intercourse with this region, in spite of the threats and opposition of the Boers.

So the missionary became a traveler and explorer. While laying his plans and gathering information, the opportune arrival of Messrs. Oswell and Murray, two wealthy Englishmen who had become enamored with African hunting, enabled him to undertake the proposed expedition, Mr. Oswell agreeing to pay the guides, who were furnished by Sechele.

This expedition, which resulted in the discovery of Lake Ngami, set out from the missionary station at Kolobeng on the 1st of June, 1849. The way lay across the great Kalahari desert, seven hundred miles in breadth. This is a singular region. Though it has no running streams, and few and scanty wells, it abounds in animal and vegetable life. Men, animals, and plants accommodate themselves singularly to the scarcity of water. Grass is abundant, growing in tufts; bulbous plants abound, among which are the ‘leroshua’, which sends up a slender stalk not larger than a crow quill, with a tuber, a foot or more below the surface, as large as a child’s head, consisting of a mass of cellular tissue filled with a cool and refreshing fluid; and the ‘mokuri’, which deposits under ground, within a circle of a yard from its stem, a mass of tubers of the size of a man’s head. During years when the rains are unusually abundant, the Kalahari is covered with the ‘kengwe’, a species of water-melon. Animals and men rejoice in the rich supply; antelopes, lions, hyenas, jackals, mice, and men devour it with equal avidity.

The people of the desert conceal their wells with jealous care. They fill them with sand, and place their dwellings at a distance, that their proximity may not betray the precious secret. The women repair to the wells with a score or so of ostrich shells in a bag slung over their shoulders. Digging down an arm’s-length, they insert a hollow reed, with a bunch of grass tied to the end, then ram the sand firmly around the tube. The water slowly filters into the bunch of grass, and is sucked up through the reed, and squirted mouthful by mouthful into the shells. When all are filled, the women gather up their load and trudge homeward.

Elands, springbucks, koodoos, and ostriches somehow seem to get along very well without any moisture, except that contained in the grass which they eat. They appear to live for months without drinking; but whenever rhinoceroses, buffaloes, or gnus are seen, it is held to be certain proof that water exists within a few miles.

The passage of the Kalahari was effected, not without considerable difficulty, in two months, the expedition reaching Lake Ngami on the 1st of August. As they approached it, they came upon a considerable river.

“Whence does this come?” asked Livingstone.

“From a country full of rivers,” was the reply; “so many that no man can tell their number, and full of large trees.”

This was the first actual confirmation of the report of the Bakwains that the country beyond was not the large “sandy plateau” of geographers. The prospect of a highway capable of being traversed by boats to an unexplored fertile region so filled the mind of Livingstone that, when he came to the lake, this discovery seemed of comparatively little importance. To us, indeed, whose ideas of a lake are formed from Superior and Huron, the Ngami seems but an insignificant affair. Its circumference may be seventy or a hundred miles, and its mean depth is but a few feet. It lies two thousand feet above the level of the sea, and as much below the southern border of the Kalahari, which slopes gradually toward the interior.

Their desire to visit Sebituane, whose residence was considerably farther in the interior, was frustrated by the jealousy of Lechulatebe, a chief near the lake, and the expedition returned to the station at Kolobeng. The attempt was renewed the following year. Mrs. Livingstone, their three children, and Sechele accompanied him. The lake was reached. Lechulatebe, propitiated by the present of a valuable gun, agreed to furnish guides to Sebituane’s country; but the children and servants fell ill, and the attempt was for the time abandoned.

A third expedition was successful, although the whole party came near perishing for want of water, and their cattle, which had been bitten by the ‘Tsetse’, died.

This insect — the ‘Glossina moritans’ of the naturalists — deserves a special paragraph. It is a brown insect about as large as our common house-fly, with three or four yellow bars across its hinder part. A lively, buzzing, harmless-looking fellow is the tsetse. Its bite produces a slight itching similar to that caused by the mosquito, and in the case of men and some species of animals no further ill effects follow. But woe to the horse, the ox, and the dog, when once bitten by the tsetse. No immediate harm appears; the animal is not startled as by the gad-fly; but in a few days the eyes and the nose begin to run; the jaws and navel swell; the animal grazes for a while as usual, but grows emaciated and weak, and dies, it may be, weeks or months after. When dissected, the cellular tissue seems injected with air, the fat is green and oily, the muscles are flabby, the heart is so soft that the finger may be pushed through it. The antelope and buffalo, the zebra and goat, are not affected by its bite; while to the ox, the horse, and the dog it is certain death. The mule and donkey are not troubled by it, nor are sucking calves, while dogs, though fed upon milk, perish. Such different effects produced upon animals whose nature is similar, constitute one of the most curious phenomena in natural history.

Sebituane, who had heard of the approach of his visitors, came more than a hundred miles to meet them. He was a tall, wiry, coffee-and-milk colored man, of five-and-forty. His original home was a thousand miles to the south, in the Bakwain country, whence he had been driven by the Griquas a quarter of a century before. He fled northward, fighting his way, sometimes reduced to the utmost straits, but still keeping his people together. At length he crossed the desert, and conquered the country around Lake Ngami; then having heard of white men living on the west coast, he passed southwestward into the desert, hoping to be able to open intercourse with them. There suffering from the thirst, he came to a small well; the water was not sufficient for his men and his cattle; one or the other must perish; he ordered the men to drink, for if they survived they could fight for more cattle. In the morning his cattle were all gone, and he returned to the north. Here a long course of warfare awaited him, but in the end he triumphed over his enemies, and established himself for a time on the great river Zambesi. Haunted with a longing for intercourse with the whites, he proposed to descend the river to the eastern coast. He was dissuaded from this purpose by the warnings of a native prophet. “The gods say, Go not thither!” he cried; then turning to the west, “I see a city and a nation of black men — men of the water; their cattle are red; thine own tribe are perishing, and will all be consumed; thou wilt govern black men, and when thy warriors have captured the red cattle, let not their owners be killed; they are thy future tribe; let them be spared to cause thee to build.” So Sebituane went westward, conquered the blacks of an immense region, spared the lives of the men, and made them his subjects, ruling them gently. His original people are called the Makololo; the subject tribes are styled Makalaka.

Sebituane, though the greatest warrior in the south, always leading his men to battle in person, was still anxious for peace. He had heard of cannon, and had somehow acquired the idea that if he could only procure one he might live in quiet. He received his visitors with much favor. “Your cattle have all been bitten by the tsetse,” he said, “and will die; but never mind, I will give you as many as you want.” He offered to conduct them through his country that they might choose a site for a missionary station. But at this moment he fell ill of an inflammation of the lungs, from which he soon died.

“He was,” writes Mr. Livingstone, “the best specimen of a native chief I ever met; and it was impossible not to follow him in thought into the world of which he had just heard when he was called away, and to realize somewhat of the feeling of those who pray for the dead. The deep, dark question of what is to become of such as he must be left where we find it, believing that assuredly the Judge of all the earth will do right.”

Although he had sons, Sebituane left the chieftainship to his daughter Mamochisane, who confirmed her father’s permission that the missionaries might visit her country. They proceeded a hundred and thirty miles farther, and were rewarded by the discovery of the great river Zambesi, the very existence of which, in Central Africa, had never been suspected. It was the dry season, and the river was at its lowest; but it was from three to six hundred yards broad, flowing with a deep current toward the east.

A grander idea than the mere founding of a missionary station now developed itself in the mind of Mr. Livingstone. European goods had just begun to be introduced into this region from the Portuguese settlements on the coast; at present slaves were the only commodity received in payment for them. Livingstone thought if a great highway could be opened, ivory, and the other products of the country, might be bartered for these goods, and the traffic in slaves would come to an end.

He therefore resolved to take his family to Cape Town, and thence send them to England, while he returned alone to the interior, with the purpose of making his way either to the east or the west coast.

He reached the Cape in April, 1852, being the first time during eleven years that he had visited the scenes of civilization, and placed his family on board a ship bound for England, promising to rejoin them in two years.

In June he set out from Cape Town upon that long journey which was to occupy five years. When he approached the missionary stations in the interior, he learned that the long-threatened attack by the Boers had taken place. A letter from Sechele to Mr. Moffat told the story. Thus it ran:

“Friend of my heart’s love and of all the confidence of my heart, I am Sechele. I am undone by the Boers, who attacked me, though I had no guilt with them. They demanded that I should be in their kingdom, and I refused. They demanded that I should prevent the English and Griquas from passing. I replied, These are my friends, and I can not prevent them. They came on Saturday, and I besought them not to fight on Sunday, and they assented. They began on Monday morning at twilight, and fired with all their might, and burned the town with fire, and scattered us. They killed sixty of my people, and captured women, and children, and men. They took all the cattle and all the goods of the Bakwains; and the house of Livingstone they plundered, taking away all his goods. Of the Boers we killed twenty-eight.”

Two hundred children, who had been gathered into schools, were carried away as slaves. Mr. Livingstone’s library was wantonly destroyed, not carried away; his stock of medicines was smashed, and his furniture and clothing sold at auction to defray the expenses of the foray. Mr. Pretorius, the leader of the marauding party, died not long after, and an obituary notice of him was published, ending with the words, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.”

Leaving his desolate home, Livingstone proceeded on his journey. On the way he met Sechele, who was going, he said, to see the Queen of England. Livingstone tried to dissuade him.

“Will not the Queen listen to me?” asked the chief.

“I believe she would listen, but the difficulty is to get to her.”

“Well, I shall reach her.”

And so they parted. Sechele actually made his way to the Cape, a distance of a thousand miles, but could get no farther, and returned to his own country. The remnants of the tribes who had formerly lived among the Boers gathered around him, and he is now more powerful than ever.

It is slow traveling in Africa. Livingstone was almost a year in accomplishing the 1500 miles between Cape Town and the country of the Makololo. He found that Mamochisane, the daughter of Sebituane, had voluntarily resigned the chieftainship to her younger brother, Sekeletu. She wished to be married, she said, and have a family like other women. The young chief Sekeletu was very friendly, but showed no disposition to become a convert. He refused to learn to read the Bible, for fear it might change his heart, and make him content with only one wife, like Sechele. For his part he wanted at least five.

Some months were passed in this country, which is described as fertile and well-cultivated — producing millet, maize, yams, sweet potatoes, cassava, beans, pumpkins, water-melons, and the like. The sugar-cane grows plentifully, but the people had never learned the process of making sugar. They have great numbers of cattle, and game of various species abounds. On one occasion a troop of eighty-one buffaloes defiled slowly before their evening fire, while herds of splendid elands stood, without fear, at two hundred yards’ distance. The country is rather unhealthy, from the mass of decayed vegetation exposed to the torrid sun.

After due consideration, Livingstone resolved to make his way to Loanda, a Portuguese settlement on the western coast. Sekeletu, anxious to open a trade with the coast, appointed twenty-seven men to accompany the traveler; and on the 11th of November, 1853, he set out on his journey.

Three or four small boxes contained all the baggage of the party. The only provisions were a few pounds of biscuits, coffee, tea, and sugar; their main reliance being upon the game which they expected to kill, and, this failing, upon the proceeds of about ten dollars’ worth of beads. They also took with them a few elephants’ tusks, which Sekeletu sent by way of a trading venture.

The river up which they paddled abounds in hippopotami. These are in general harmless, though now and then a solitary old bull who has been expelled from the herd vents his spleen by pitching into every canoe that passes. Once their canoe was attacked by a female whose calf had been speared, and nearly overturned. The female carries her young upon her back, its little round head first appearing above the surface when she comes up to breathe.

By the order of the chief the party had been furnished with eight oxen for riding, and seven intended for slaughter. Some of the troop paddled the canoes, while others drove the cattle along the bank.

African etiquette requires that a company of travelers, when they come in sight of a village, shall seat themselves under a tree, and send forward a messenger to announce their arrival and state their object. The chief then gives them a ceremonious reception, with abundance of speech-making and drumming. It is no easy matter to get away from these villages, for the chiefs esteem it an honor to have strangers with them. These delays, and the frequent heavy rains, greatly retarded the progress of the travelers.

They had traveled four months, and accomplished half of their journey before encountering any show of hostility from the tribes through which they passed. A chief, named Njambi, then demanded tribute for passing through his country; when this was refused he said that one of Livingstone’s men had spit on the leg of one of his people, and this crime must be paid for by a fine of a man, an ox, or a gun. This reasonable demand was likewise refused, and the natives seemed about to commence hostilities; but changed their minds upon witnessing the determined attitude of the strangers. Livingstone at last yielded to the entreaties of his men and gave them an ox, upon the promise that food should be sent in exchange. The niggardly chief sent them only a small bag of meal, and two or three pounds of the meat of their own ox.

From this time they were subject to frequent attempts at extortion. The last of these was made on the banks of the River Quango, the boundary of the Portuguese possessions. A Bashinje chief, whose portrait is given by Mr. Livingstone, made the usual demand of a man, a gun, or an ox, otherwise they must return the way they came. While negotiations were in progress the opportune arrival of a Portuguese sergeant freed the travelers from their troubles. The river was crossed, and once on Portuguese territory their difficulties were over.

At Cassange, the frontier settlement, they sold Sekeletu’s ivory. The Makololo, who had been accustomed to give two tusks for one gun, were delighted at the prices they obtained. For one tusk they got two muskets, three kegs of powder, large bunches of beads, and calico and baize enough to clothe all the party.

On the 31st of May, after more than six months’ travel, Livingstone and his companions reached the Portuguese sea-port of Loanda. The Makololo were lost in wonder when they first caught sight of the sea. “We marched along,” they said, “believing that what the ancients had told us was true, that the world has no end; but all at once the world said to us, I am finished, there is no more of me.” Still greater was their wonder when they beheld the large stone houses of the town. “These are not huts,” they said, “but mountains with caves in them.” Livingstone had in vain tried to make them comprehend a house of two stories. They knew of no dwellings except their own conical huts, made of poles stuck into the ground, and could not conceive how one hut could be built on the top of another, or how people could live in the upper story, with the pointed roof of the lower one sticking up in the middle of the floor. The vessels in the harbor were, they said, not canoes, but towns, into which one must climb by a rope.

At Loanda Livingstone was attacked by a fever, which reduced him to a skeleton, and for a while rendered him unable to attend to his companions. But they managed very well alone. Some went to the forest, cut firewood, and brought it to town for sale; others unloaded a coal-vessel in the harbor, at the magnificent wages of a sixpence a day. The proceeds of their labor were shrewdly invested in cloth and beads which they would take home with them in confirmation of the astounding stories they would have to tell; “for,” said they, “in coming to the white man’s country, we have accomplished what no other people in the world could have done; we are the true ancients, who can tell wonderful things.”

The two years, at the close of which Livingstone had promised to rejoin his family, had almost expired, and he was offered a passage home from Loanda. But the great object of his expedition was only partially attained. Though he had reached the west coast in safety, he had found that the forests, swamps, and rivers must render a wagon-road from the interior impracticable. He feared also that his native attendants would not be able to make their way alone back to their own country, through the unfriendly tribes. So he resolved, feeble as he was, to return to Sekeletu’s dominions, and thence proceed to the eastern coast.

In September he started on his return journey, bearing considerable presents for Sekeletu from the Portuguese, who were naturally anxious to open a trade with the rich ivory region of the interior. The Board of Public Works sent a colonel’s uniform and a horse, which unfortunately died on the way. The merchants contributed specimens of all their articles of trade, and a couple of donkeys, which would have a special value on account of their immunity from the bite of the tsetse. The men were made happy by the acquisition of a suit of European clothes and a gun apiece, in addition to their own purchases.

In the Bashinje country he again encountered hostile demonstrations. One chief, who came riding into the camp upon the shoulders of an attendant, was especially annoying in his demands for tribute. Another, who had quarreled with one of Livingstone’s attendants, waylaid and fired upon the party. Livingstone, who was ill of a fever, staggered up to the chief, revolver in hand. The sight of the six mouths of that convenient implement gaping at his breast wrought an instant revolution in his martial ideas; he fell into a fit of trembling, protesting that he had just come to have a quiet talk, and wanted only peace.

These Bashinje have more of the low negro character and physiognomy than any tribe encountered by Livingstone. Their color is a dirty black; they have low foreheads and flat noses, artificially enlarged by sticks run through the septum, and file their teeth down to a point. A little further to the south the complexion of the natives is much lighter, and their features are strikingly like those depicted upon the Egyptian monuments, the resemblance being still further increased by some of their modes of wearing the hair. Livingstone indeed affirms that the Egyptian paintings and sculptures present the best type of the general physiognomy of the central tribes.

The return journey was still slower than the advance had been; and it was not till late in the summer of 1855 that they reached the villages of the Makololo, having been absent more than eighteen months. They were received as men risen from the dead, for the diviners had declared that they had perished long ago. The returned adventurers were the lions of the day. They strutted around in their gay European suits, with their guns over their shoulders, to the abounding admiration of the women and children, calling themselves Livingstone’s “braves”, who had gone over the whole world, turning back only when there was no more land. To be sure they returned about as poor as they went, for their gun and their one suit of red and white cotton were all that they had saved, every thing else having been expended during their long journey. “But never mind,” they said; “we have not gone in vain, you have opened a path for us.”

There was one serious drawback from their happiness. Some of their wives, like those of the companions of Ulysses of old, wearied by their long absence, had married other husbands. They took this misfortune much to heart. “Wives,” said one of the bereaved husbands, “are as plenty as grass — I can get another; but,” he added bitterly, “if I had that fellow I would slit his ears for him.” Livingstone did the best he could for them. He induced the chiefs to compel the men who had taken the only wife of any one to give her up to her former husband. Those — and they were the majority — who had still a number left, he consoled by telling them that they had quite as many as was good for them — more than he himself had. So, undeterred by this single untoward result of their experiment, the adventurers one and all set about gathering ivory for another adventure to the west.

Livingstone had satisfied himself that the great River Leeambye, up which he had paddled so many miles on his way to the west, was identical with the Zambesi, which he had discovered four years previously. The two names are indeed the same, both meaning simply “The River”, in different dialects spoken on its banks. This great river is an object of wonder to the natives. They have a song which runs,

“The Leeambye! Nobody knows

Whence it comes, and whither it goes.”

Livingstone had pursued it far up toward its source, and knew whence it came; and now he resolved to follow it down to the sea, trusting that it would furnish a water communication into the very heart of the continent.

It was now October — the close of the hot season. The thermometer stood at 100° in the shade; in the sun it sometimes rose to 130° During the day the people kept close in their huts, guzzling a kind of beer called ‘boyola’, and seeming to enjoy the copious perspiration which it induces. As evening set in the dance began, which was kept up in the moonlight till long after midnight. Sekeletu, proud of his new uniform, and pleased with the prospect of trade which had been opened, entertained Livingstone hospitably, and promised to fit him out for his eastern journey as soon as the rains had commenced, and somewhat cooled the burning soil.

He set out early in November, the chief with a large body of retainers accompanying him as far as the Falls of Mosioatunye, the most remarkable piece of natural scenery in all Africa, which no European had ever seen or heard of. The Zambesi, here a thousand yards broad, seems all at once to lose itself in the earth. It tumbles into a fissure in the hard basaltic rock, running at a right-angle with the course of the stream, and prolonged for thirty miles through the hills. This fissure, hardly eighty feet broad, with sides perfectly perpendicular, is fully a hundred feet in depth down to the surface of the water, which shows like a white thread at its bottom. The noise made by the descent of such a mass of water into this seething abyss is heard for miles, and five distinct columns of vapor rise like pillars of smoke to an enormous height. Hence the Makololo name for the cataract, ‘Mosi oa tunye’ — “Smoke sounds there!” — for which Livingstone, with questionable taste, proposes to substitute the name of “Victoria Falls” — a change which we trust the world will not sanction.

From these falls the country gradually ascends toward the east, the river finding its way by this deep fissure through the hills. Every thing shows that this whole region, for hundreds of miles, was once the bed of an immense fresh-water lake. By some convulsion of nature, occurring at a period geologically recent, this fissure was formed, and through it the lake was drained, with the exception of its deepest part, which constitutes the present Lake Ngami. Similar indications exist of the former existence of other immense bodies of water, which have in like manner been drained by fissures through the surrounding elevations, leaving shallow lakes at the lowest points. Such are, undoubtedly, Tsad at the north, Ngami at the south, Dilolo at the west, and Taganyika and Nyanja, of which we have only vague reports, at the east. This great lake region of former days seems to have extended 2500 miles from north to south, with an average breadth, from east to west, of 600 or 700 miles.

The true theory of the African continent is, that it consists of a well-watered trough, surrounded on all sides by an elevated rim, composed in part of mountain ranges, and in part of high sandy deserts. Livingstone, who had wrought out this theory from his own personal observations, was almost disappointed when, on returning to England, he found that the same theory had been announced on purely geological grounds by Sir Roderick Murchison, the same philosopher who had averred that gold must exist in Australia, long before the first diggings had been discovered there.

Sekeletu had commissioned Livingstone, when he reached his own country, to purchase for him a sugar-mill, a good rifle, different kinds of clothing, brass wire, beads, and, in a word, “any other beautiful thing he might see,” furnishing him with a considerable quantity of ivory to pay for them. Their way lay through the country of the Batoka, a fierce tribe who had a few years before attempted “to eat up” Sebituane, with ill success, for he dispersed them and took away their cattle. Their country, once populous, is now almost desolate. At one of their ruined villages Livingstone saw five-and-forty human skulls bleaching upon stakes stuck in the ground. In the old times the chiefs used to vie with each other as to whose village should be ornamented with the greatest number of these ghastly trophies; and a skull was the most acceptable present from any one who wished to curry favor with a chief. The Batoka have an odd custom of knocking out the front teeth from the upper jaw. The lower ones, relieved from the attrition and pressure of the upper, grow long and protruding, forcing the lower lip out in a hideous manner. They say that they wish their mouths to be like those of oxen, and not like those of zebras. No young Batoka female can lay any claim to being a belle until she has thus acquired an “ox-mouth”. “Look at the great teeth!” is the disparaging criticism made upon those who neglect to remove their incisors. The women wear a little clothing, but the men disdain even the paradisiacal fig-leaf, and go about in a state of absolute nudity. Livingstone told them that he should come back some day with his family, when none of them must come near without at least putting on a bunch of grass. They thought it a capital joke. Their mode of salutation is to fling themselves flat on their backs, and roll from side to side, slapping the outside of their naked thighs.

The country abounds with game. Buffaloes and zebras by the hundred grazed on the open spaces. At one time their procession was interrupted by three buffaloes who came dashing through their ranks. Livingstone’s ox set off at a furious gallop. Looking back, he saw one of his men flung up into the air by a toss from one of the beasts, who had carried him on his horns for twenty yards before giving the final pitch. The fellow came down flat on his face, but the skin was not pierced, and no bone was broken. His comrades gave him a brisk shampooing, and in a week he was as well as ever.

The border country passed, the natives grew more friendly, and gladly supplied all the wants of the travelers. About the middle of December, when their journey was half over, they came upon the first traces of Europeans — a deserted town, a ruined church, and a broken bell inscribed with a cross and the letters I. H. S., but bearing no date. A few days after they met a man wearing a hat and jacket. He had come from the Portuguese settlement of Tete, far down the river. From him they learned that a war was going on below, between the Portuguese and the natives. A chief, named Mpende, showed signs of hostility. Livingstone’s men, who had become worn and ragged by their long journey, rejoiced at the prospect of a fight. “Now,” said they, “we shall get corn and clothes in plenty. You have seen us with elephants, but you don’t know what we can do with men.” After a while two old men made their appearance, to find out who the strangers were. “I am a Lekoa (Englishman),” said Livingstone. “We don’t know that tribe,” they replied; “we suppose you are a Mozunga (Portuguese).” Upon Livingstone’s showing them his long hair and the white skin of his bosom they exclaimed, “We never saw so white a skin as that. You must be one of that tribe that loves the black men.” Livingstone eagerly assured him that such was the case. Sekwebu, the leader of his men, put in a word: “Ah, if you only knew him as well as we do, who have lived with him, you would know how highly he values your friendship; and as he is a stranger he trusts in you to direct him.” The chief, convinced that he was an Englishman, received the party hospitably and forwarded them on their way.

The frequent appearance of English goods showed that they were approaching the coast, and not long afterward Livingstone met a couple of native traders, from whom, for two small tusks, he bought a quantity of American cotton marked “Lawrence Mills, Lowell”, which he distributed among his men.

For another month they traveled slowly on through a fertile country, abounding in animal life, bagging an elephant or a buffalo when short of meat. Lions are numerous, but the natives, believing that the souls of their dead chiefs enter the bodies of these animals, into which they also have the power, when living, of transforming themselves at will, never kill them. When they meet a lion they salute him by clapping their hands — a courtesy which his Highness frequently returns by making a meal of them.

In this region the women are decidedly in the ascendant. The bridegroom is obliged to come to the village of the bride to live. Here he must perform certain services for his mother-in-law, such as keeping her always supplied with fire-wood. Above all things, he must always, when in her presence, sit with his legs bent under him, it being considered a mark of disrespect to present his feet toward her. If he wishes to leave the village, he must not take his children with him; they belong to his wife, or, rather, to her family. He can, however, by the payment of a certain number of cattle, “buy up” his wife and children. When a man is desired to perform any service he always asks his wife’s consent; if she refuses, no amount of bribery or coaxing will induce him to disobey her.

On the evening of March 2, Livingstone, tired and hungry, came within eight miles of the Portuguese settlement of Tete. He sent forward the letters of recommendation which he had received from the Portuguese on the other side of the continent. Before daylight the following morning he was aroused by two officers and a company of soldiers, who brought the materials for a civilized breakfast — the first of which he had partaken since he left Loanda, eighteen months before. “It was,” he says, “the most refreshing breakfast of which I ever partook.”

Tete stands on the Zambesi, three hundred miles from its mouth. The commandant received Livingstone kindly, supplied his men with provisions for immediate use, gave them land upon which to raise future supplies, and granted them permission to hunt elephants in the neighborhood on their own account. Before long they had established a brisk trade in fire-wood, as their countrymen had done at Loanda. They certainly manifested none of the laziness which has been said to be characteristic of the African races. Thirty elephant tusks remained of those forwarded by Sekeletu. Ten of these were sold for cotton cloth for the men. The others were deposited with the authorities, with directions that in case Livingstone should never return they should be sold, and the proceeds given to the men. He told them that death alone should prevent him from coming back. “Nay, father,” said the men, “you will not die; you will return, and take us back to Sekeletu.”

He remained at Tete a month, waiting for the close of the sickly season in the low delta at the mouths of the river, and then descended to the Portuguese town of Kilimane. Here he remained six weeks, when an English vessel arrived with supplies and money for him. Two of his attendants only had come down the river. They begged hard to be allowed to accompany him to England. In vain Livingstone told them that they would die if they went to so cold a country. “That is nothing,” said one; “let me die at your feet.” He at last decided to take with him Sekwebu, the leader of the party, to whose good sense, bravery, and tact he owed much of his success. The sea-waves rose high, as the boat conveyed them to the ship. Sekwebu, who had never seen a larger body of water than the shallow Lake Ngami, was terrified.

“Is this the way you go?” he inquired.

“Yes; don’t you see it is?” replied Livingstone, encouragingly.

When Livingstone reached his countrymen on the ship he could scarcely speak his native language; the words would not come at his call. He had spoken it but little for thirteen years; and for three and a half, except for a short time at Loanda, not at all.

Sekwebu became a great favorite on shipboard, but he was bewildered by the crowd of new ideas that rushed upon his mind. “What a strange country this is,” he said, “all water!” When they reached Mauritius, he became insane, and tried to jump overboard. Livingstone’s wife had, during her visit to their country, become a great favorite with the Makololo, who called her ‘Ma Robert’ — “Robert’s Mother” — in honor of her young son.

“Come, Sekwebu,” said Livingstone, “we are going to Ma Robert.” This struck a chord in his bosom.

“Oh yes,” said he; “where is she? Where is Robert?” And for the moment he seemed to recover.

But in the evening a fresh accession of insanity occurred. He attempted to spear one of the crew, and then leaped overboard, and, though he could swim well, pulled himself down, hand over hand, by the cable. His body was never recovered.

From Mauritius Livingstone sailed for England, which he reached on the 12th of December, 1856 — four and a half years after he had parted from his family at Cape Town.

He was received with unwonted honors. The President of the Royal Geographical Society, at a special meeting held to welcome him, formally invited him to give to the world a narrative of his travels. Some knavish booksellers paid him the less acceptable compliment of putting forth spurious accounts of his adventures, one at least of which has been republished in this country. Livingstone, so long accustomed to a life of action, found the preparation of his book a harder task than he had imagined. “I think,” he says, “that I would rather cross the African continent again than undertake to write another book.” We trust that he will yet do both. He would indeed have set out on another African journey nearly a year ago to conduct his faithful Makololo attendants back to their own country, had not the King of Portugal relieved him from all anxiety on their account, by sending out directions that they should be supported at Tete until his return.

Our abstract does, at best, but scanty justice to the most interesting, as well as most valuable, of modern works of travel. It has revolutionized our ideas of African character as well as of African geography. It shows that Central Africa is peopled by tribes barbarous, indeed, but far from manifesting those savage and degrading traits which we are wont to associate with the negro race. In all his long pilgrimage Livingstone saw scarcely a trace of the brutal rites and bloody superstitions of Dahomey and Ashanti. The natives every where long for intercourse with the whites, and eagerly seek the products of civilized labor. In regions where no white men had ever been seen the cottons of Lowell and Manchester, passed from tribe to tribe, are even now the standard currency. Civilized nations have an equal interest in opening intercourse with these countries, for they are capable of supplying those great tropical staples which the industrious temperate zones must have, but can not produce. Livingstone found cotton growing wild all along his route from Loanda to Kilimane; the sugar-cane flourishes spontaneously in the valley of “The River”; coffee abounds on the west coast; and indigo is a weed in the delta of the Zambesi. Barth also finds these products abundant on the banks of the Benuwe and Shari, and around Lake Tsad. The prevalent idea of the inherent laziness of the Africans must be abandoned, for, scattered through the narratives of both these intrepid explorers are abundant testimonies of the industrious disposition of the natives.

Livingstone, as befits his profession, regards his discoveries from a religious stand-point. “The end of the geographical feat,” he says, “is the beginning of the missionary enterprise.” But he is a philosopher as well as a preacher, recognizing as true missionaries the man of science who searches after hidden truths, the soldier who fights against tyranny, the sailor who puts down the slave-trade, and the merchant who teaches practically the mutual dependence of the nations of the earth. His idea of missionary labor looks to this world as well as the next. Had the Bakwains possessed rifles as well as Bibles — had they raised cotton as well as attended prayer-meetings — it would have been better for them. He is clearly of the opinion that decent clothing is of more immediate use to the heathen than doctrinal sermons. “We ought,” he says, “to encourage the Africans to cultivate for our markets, as the most effectual means, next to the Gospel, of their elevation.” His practical turn of mind suffers him to present no fancy pictures of barbarous nations longing for the Gospel. His Makololo friends, indeed, listened respectfully when he discoursed of the Saviour, but were all earnestness when he spoke of cotton cloths and muskets. Sekeletu favored the missionary, not as the man who could give him Bibles and tracts, but as the one by whose help he hoped to sell his ivory for a rifle, a sugar-mill, and brass wire.

Livingstone’s missionary scheme is accommodated to the actual state of things. It rests quite as much upon traders as preachers. He would open a communication by the Zambesi to the heart of the continent. Upon the healthy, elevated region overlooking the low, fertile basin he would establish trading posts, supplied with European wares. We can not wonder that the directors of the Missionary Society looked coldly upon this scheme, and wrote to him that they were “restricted in their power of aiding plans connected only remotely with the spread of the Gospel;” nor can we regret that Livingstone, feeling his old love of independence revive, withdrew from his connection with the Society, for the purpose of carrying out his own plans. With all respect for the worthy persons who manage missionary societies, we can not but believe that the man who led so large a party across the African continent will accomplish more for the good cause when working out his own plans than he would do by following out their ideas.

This web edition published by:

The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005


Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:38