Africa, Livingston's Discoveries

Livingstone's African Discoveries

Author Livingstone, David; Hughes, Thomas

By Thomas Hughes

Before the middle of 1852 Livingstone was ready to start on the journey

which resulted in the opening of routes from Central Africa to the West and

East coasts; but the way was still beset with difficulties. The missionary

societies were regarded as unpatriotic by the authorities at the Cape; and

he, as the most outspoken of critics, and the most uncompromising denouncer of

the slave-trade and champion of the natives, came in for a double share of

their suspicion. On the other hand, his brethren gave him only a half-hearted

support and doubted his orthodoxy. He found great difficulty even in

procuring ammunition. A country postmaster whom he had accused of

overcharging, threatened an action at the last moment, which he compromised

rather than be detained. As it was, he had anticipated his meagre salary by

more than a year, and had to be content with very inferior oxen, and a wagon

which required constant mending throughout the journey. On June 8, 1852, he

at last got away, taking with him a Mr. Fleming, the agent of his friend Mr.

Rutherford, a Cape merchant, in the hope of by degrees substituting legitimate

traffic for that in slaves.

The heavy Cape wagon with its ten poor oxen dragged heavily onward.

Livingstone had so loaded himself with parcels for stations up-country, and

his wagon and team were so inferior, that he did not reach Kuruman until

September. Here he was detained by the breaking of a wheel.

The journey to Linyanti by the new route was very trying. Part of the

country was flooded, and they were wading all day, and forcing their way

through reeds with sharp edges with hands all raw and bloody. On emerging

from the swamps, says Livingstone, when walking before the wagon in the

morning twilight, I observed a lioness about fifty yards from me in the

squatting way they walk when going to spring. She was followed by a very

large lion, but seeing the wagon she turned back.

It required all his tact to prevent guides and servants from deserting.

Everyone but himself was attacked by fever. I would like, says his journal,

to devote a portion of my life to the discovery of a remedy for that terrible

disease, the African fever. I would go into the parts where it prevails most

and try to discover if the natives have a remedy for it. I must make many

inquiries of the river people in this quarter. Again in another key Am I on

my way to die in Sebituane's country Have I seen the last of my wife and

children, leaving this fair world and knowing so little of it

February 4, 1853 I am spared in health while all the company have been

attacked by fever. If God has accepted my service, my life is charmed till my

work is done. When that is finished, some simple thing will give me my

quietus. Death is a glorious event to one going to Jesus.

Their progress was tedious beyond all precedent. We dug out several

wells, and each time had to wait a day or two till enough water flowed in for

our cattle to quench their thirst.

At last, however, at the end of May, he reached the Chobe River and was

again among his favorite Makololo. He has dropped from the clouds, the

first of them said. They took the wagon to pieces and carried it across on

canoes lashed together, while they themselves swam and dived among the oxen

more like alligators than men. Sekeletu, son of Sebituane, was now chief,

his elder sister Mamochishane having resigned in disgust at the number of

husbands she had to maintain as chieftainess. Poor Mamochishane! After a

short reign of a few months she had risen in the assembly and addressed her

brother with a womanly gush of tears. 'I have been a chief only because my

father wished it. I would always have preferred to be married and have a

family like other women. You, Sekeletu, must be chief, and build up our

father's house.'

On November 11, 1853, he left Linyanti, and arrived at Loanda on May 31,

1854. The first stages of the journey were to be by water, and Sekeletu

accompanied him to the Chobe, where he was to embark. They crossed five

branches before reaching the main stream, a wide and deep river full of

hippopotami. The chief lent me his own canoe, and as it was broader than

usual I could turn about in it with ease. I had three muskets for my people,

and a rifle and double-barrelled shotgun for myself. My ammunition was

distributed through the luggage, that we might not be left without a supply.

Our chief hopes for food were in our guns. I carried twenty pounds of beads

worth forty shillings, a few biscuits, a few pounds of tea and sugar, and

about twenty pounds of coffee. One small tin canister, about fifteen inches

square, was filled with spare shirts, trousers, and shoes, to be used when we

reached civilized life, another of the same size was stored with medicines, a

third with books, and a fourth with a magic lantern, which we found of much

service. The sextant and other instruments were carried apart. A bag

contained the clothes we expected to wear out in the journey, which, with a

small tent just sufficient to sleep in, a sheepskin mantle as a blanket, and a

horse rug as a bed, completed my equipment. An array of baggage would have

probably excited the cupidity of the tribes through whose country we wished to


The voyage up the Chobe, and the Zambesi after the junction of those

rivers, was prosperous but slow, in consequence of stoppages opposite

villages. My man Pitsane knew of the generous orders of Sekeletu, and was

not disposed to allow them remain a dead letter. In the rapids, the men

leaped into the water without the least hesitation to save the canoes from

being dashed against the obstructions or caught in eddies. They must never be

allowed to come broadside to the stream, for being flat-bottomed they would at

once be capsized and everything in them lost. When free from fever he was

delighted to note the numbers of birds, several of them unknown, which swarmed

on the river and its banks, all carefully noted in his journal. One extract

must suffice here Whenever we step on shore a species of plover, a plaguy

sort of public-spirited individual, follows, flying overhead, and is most

persevering in its attempts to give warning to all animals to flee from the

approaching danger.

But he was already weak with fever; was seized with giddiness whenever he

looked up quickly, and, if he could not catch hold of some support, fell

heavily - a bad omen for his chance of passing through the unknown country

ahead - but his purpose never faltered for a moment. On January 1, 1854, he

was still on the river, but getting beyond Sekeletu's territory and allies, to

a region of dense forest, in the open glades of which dwelt the Balonda, a

powerful tribe, whose relations with the Makololo were precarious. Each was

inclined to raid on the other since the Mambari and Portuguese half-castes had

appeared with Manchester goods. These excited the intense wonder and cupidity

of both nations. They listened to the story of cotton-mills as fairy dreams,

exclaiming How can iron spin, weave, and print Truly ye are gods! and

were already inclined to steal their neighbors' children - those of their own

tribe they never sold at this time - to obtain these wonders out of the sea.

Happily Livingstone had brought back with him several Balonda children

who had been carried off by the Makololo. This, and his speeches to Manenko,

the chieftainess of the district and niece of Shinte, the head chief of the

Balonda, gained them a welcome. This Amazon was a strapping young woman of

twenty, who led their party through the forest at a pace which tried the best

walkers. She seems to have been the only native whose will ever prevailed

against Livingstone's.

He intended to proceed up to her uncle Shinte's town in canoes she

insisted that they should march by land, and ordered her people to shoulder

his baggage in spite of him. My men succumbed, and left me powerless. I was

moving off in high dudgeon to the canoes, when she kindly placed her hand on

my shoulder, and with a motherly look said, 'Now, my little man, just do as

the rest have done.' My feeling of annoyance of course vanished, and I went

out to try for some meat. My men, in admiration of her pedestrian powers,

kept remarking, 'Manenko is a soldier,' and we were all glad when she proposed

a halt for the night.

Shinte received them in his town, the largest and best laid out that

Livingstone had seen in Central Africa, on a sort of throne covered with

leopard-skin. The kotla, or place of audience, was one hundred yards square.

Though in the sweating stage of an intermittent fever, Livingston held his own

with the chief, gave him an ox as his mouth was bitter from want of flesh,

advised him to open a trade in cattle with the Makololo, and to put down the

slave-trade; and, after spending more than a week with him, left amid the

warmest professions of friendship. Shinte found him a guide of his tribe,

Intemese by name, who was to stay by them till they reached the sea, and at a

last interview hung round his neck a conical shell of such value that two of

them, so his men assured him, would purchase a slave.

Soon they were out of Shinte's territory, and Intemese became the plague

of the party, though unluckily they could not dispense with him altogether in

crossing the great flooded plains of Lebala. They camped at night on mounds,

where they had to trench round each hut and use the earth to raise their

sleeping places. My men turned out to work most willingly, and I could not

but contrast their conduct with that of Intemese, who was thoroughly imbued

with the slave spirit, and lied on all occasions to save himself trouble. He

lost the pontoon, too, thereby adding greatly to their troubles.

They now came to the territory of another great chief, Katema, who

received them hospitably, sending food and giving them solemn audience in his

kotla surrounded by his tribe. A tall man of forty, dressed in a snuff-brown

coat with a broad band of tinsel down the arms, and a helmet of beads and

feathers. He carried a large fan with charms attached, which he waved

constantly during the audience, often laughing heartily - a good sign, for a

man who shakes his sides with mirth is seldom difficult to deal with.

I am the great Moene Katema! was his address; I and my fathers have

always lived here, and there is my father's house. I never killed any of the

traders; they all come to me. I am the great Moene Katema, of whom you have

heard. On hearing Livingstone's object, he gave him three guides, who would

take him by a northern route, along which no traders had passed, to avoid the

plains, impassable from the floods. He accepted Livingstone's present of a

shawl, a razor, some beads and buttons, and a powder-horn graciously, laughing

at his apologies for its smallness, and asking him to bring a coat from

Loanda, as the one he was wearing was old.

From this point troubles multiplied, and they began to be seriously

pressed for food. The big game had disappeared, and they were glad to catch

moles and mice. Every chief demanded a present for allowing them to pass, and

the people of the villages charged exorbitantly for all supplies. On they

floundered, however, through flooded forests. In crossing the river Loka,

Livingstone's ox got away from him, and he had to strike out for the farther

bank. My poor fellows were dreadfully alarmed, and about twenty of them made

a simultaneous rush into the water for my rescue, and just as I reached the

opposite bank one seized me by the arms and another clasped me round the body.

When I stood up it was most gratifying to see them all struggling toward me.

Part of my goods were brought up from the bottom when I was safe. Great was

their pleasure when they found I could swim like themselves, and I felt most

grateful to those poor heathens for the promptitude with which they dashed in

to my rescue. Farther on, the people tried to frighten them with the account

of the deep rivers they had yet to cross, but his men laughed. 'We can all

swim,' they said; 'who carried the white man across the river but himself' I

felt proud of their praise.

On March 4th they reached the country of the Chiboques, a tribe in

constant contact with the slave-dealers. Next day their camp was surrounded

by the nearest chief and his warriors, evidently bent on plunder. They paused

when they saw Livingstone seated on his camp-stool, with his double-barrelled

gun across his knees, and his Makololos ready with their javelins. The chief

and his principal men sat down in front at Livingstone's invitation to talk

over the matter, and a palaver began as to the fine claimed by the Chiboque.

The more I yielded, the more unreasonable they became, and at every fresh

demand a shout was raised, and a rush made round us with brandished weapons.

One young man even made a charge at my head from behind, but I quickly brought

round the muzzle of my gun to his mouth and he retreated. My men behaved with

admirable coolness. The chief and his counsellors, by accepting my invitation

to be seated, had placed themselves in a trap, for my men had quietly

surrounded them and made them feel that there was no chance of escaping their

spears. I then said that as everything had failed to satisfy them they

evidently meant to fight; and if so, they must begin, and bear the blame

before God. I then sat silent for some time. It was certainly rather trying,

but I was careful not to seem flurried, and, having four barrels ready for

instant action, looked quietly at the savage scene around. The palaver began

again, and ended in the exchange of an ox for a promise of food, in which he

was wofully cheated. It was impossible to help laughing, but I was truly

thankful that we had so far gained our point as to be allowed to pass without

shedding blood.

He now struck north to avoid the Chiboque, and made for the Portuguese

settlement of Cassange through dense forest and constant wet. Here another

fever fit came on, so violent that I could scarcely, after some hours' trial,

get a lunar observation in which I could repose confidence. Those who know

the difficulties of making observations and committing them all to paper will

sympathize with me in this and many similar instances.

At this crisis, when the goal was all but at hand, obstacles multiplied

till it seemed that after all it would never be reached. First his riding ox,

Sindbad - a beast blessed with a most intractable temper, and a habit of

bolting into the bush to get his rider combed off by a climber, and then

kicking at him - achieved a triumph in his weak state, when the bridle broke,

and down I came backward on the crown of my head, receiving as I fell a kick

on the thigh. This last attack of fever reduced me almost to a skeleton. The

blanket which I used as a saddle, being pretty constantly wet, caused

extensive abrasion of the skin, which was continually healing and getting sore


Then the guides missed their way and led them back into Chiboque

territory, where the demands of the chief of every village for a man, an ox,

or a tusk, for permission to pass, began again. Worst of all, signs of

mutiny began to show themselves among the Batoka men of his party, who

threatened to turn back. He appeased them by giving them a tired ox to be

killed at the Sunday's halt. Having thus, as I thought, silenced their

murmurs, I sank into a state of torpor, and was oblivious of all their noise.

On Sunday the mutineers were making a terrible din in preparing the skin. I

requested them twice to be more quiet as the noise pained me, but, as they

paid no attention to this civil request, I put out my head and, repeating it,

was answered by an impudent laugh. Knowing that discipline would be at an end

if this mutiny was not quelled, and that our lives dependent on vigorously

upholding authority, I seized a double-barrelled pistol and darted out with

such a savage aspect as to put them to precipitate flight. They gave no

further trouble. Every night now they had to build a stockade, and by day to

march in a compact body, knowing the forest to be full of enemies dogging

their path, for now they had nothing to give as presents, the men having even

divested themselves of all their copper ornaments to appease the Chiboque

harpies. Nothing, however, disturbed us, and for my part I was too ill to

care much whether we were attacked or not. They struggled on, the Chiboque

natives, now joined by bodies of traders, opposing at every ford, Livingstone

no longer wondering why expeditions from the interior failed to reach the

coast. Some of my men proposed to return home, and the prospect of being

obliged to turn back from the threshold of the Portuguese settlements

distressed me exceedingly. After using all my powers of persuasion, I

declared that if they now returned, I should go on alone, and returning into

my little tent, I lifted up my heart to Him who hears the sighing of the soul.

Presently the head man came in. 'Do not be disheartened,' he said, 'we will

never leave you. Wherever you lead, we will follow. Our remarks were only

made on account of the injustice of these people.' Others followed, and with

the most artless simplicity of manner told me to be comforted. 'They were all

my children; they knew no one but Sekeletu and me, and would die for me they

had spoken in bitterness of spirit, feeling they could do nothing.'

On April 1st they gained the ridge which overlooks the valley of the

Quango and the Portuguese settlements on the farther bank. The descent is so

steep that I was obliged to dismount, though so weak that I had to be

supported. Below us, at a depth of one thousand feet, lay the magnificent

valley of the Quango. The view of the Vale of Clyde, from the spot where Mary

witnessed the Battle of Langside, resembles in miniature the glorious sight

which was here presented to our view.

On the 4th they were close to the Quango, here one hundred fifty yards

broad, when they were stopped for the last time by a village chief and

surrounded by his men. The usual altercation ensued; Livingstone refusing to

give up his blanket - the last article he possessed except his watch and

instruments and Sekeletu's tusks, which had been faithfully guarded - until on

board the canoes in which they were to cross. I was trying to persuade my

people to move on to the bank in spite of them, when a young half-caste

Portuguese sergeant of militia, Cypriano di Abren, who had come across in

search of beeswax, made his appearance and gave the same advice. They marched

to the bank - the chief's men opening fire on them, but without doing any

damage - made terms with the ferrymen, with Cypriano's help, crossed the

Quango, and were at the end of their troubles.

Four days they stopped with Cypriano, who treated them royally, killing

an ox and stripping his garden to feast them, and sending them on to Cassange

with provisions of meal ground by his mother and her maids. I carried

letters from the Chevalier du Prat of Cape Town, but I am inclined to believe

that my friend Cypriano was influenced by feelings of genuine kindness excited

by my wretched appearance.

At Cassange they were again most hospitably treated, and here, before

starting for Loanda, three hundred miles, they disposed of Sekeletu's tusks,

which sold for much higher prices than those given by Cape traders. Two

muskets, three small barrels of powder, and English calico and baize enough to

clothe my whole party, with large bunches of beads, were given for one tusk,

to the great delight of my Makololos, who had been used to get only one gun

for two tusks. With another tusk we purchased calico - the chief currency

here - to pay our way to the coast. The remaining two were sold for money to

purchase a horse for Sekeletu at Loanda. Livingstone was much struck both by

the country he passed through and the terms on which the Portuguese lived with

the natives. Most of them had families by native women, who were treated as

European children and provided for by their fathers. Half-caste clerks sat at

table with the whites, and he came to the conclusion that nowhere in Africa

is there so much good-will between Europeans and natives as here.

The dizziness produced by his twenty-seven attacks of fever on the road

made it all he could do to stick on Sindbad, who managed to give him a last

ducking in the Lombe. The weakening effects of the fever were most

extraordinary. For instance, in attempting to take lunar observations I could

not avoid confusion of time and distance, neither could I hold the instrument

steady, nor perform a simple calculation. He rallied a little in crossing a

mountain range. As they drew near Loanda the hearts of his men began to fail,

and they hinted their doubts to him. If you suspect me you can return, he

told them, for I am as ignorant of Loanda as you; but nothing will happen to

you but what happens to me. We have stood by one another hitherto, and will

do so till the last.

The first view of the sea staggered the Makololo. We were marching

along with our father, they said, believing what the ancients had told us,

that the world had no end; but all at once the world said to us 'I am

finished; there is no more for me.'

The fever had produced chronic dysentery, which was so depressing that

Livingstone entered Loanda in deep melancholy, doubting the reception he might

get from the one English gentleman, Mr. Gabriel, the commissioner for the

suppression of the slave-trade. He was soon undeceived. Mr. Gabriel received

him most kindly, and, seeing the condition he was in, gave up to him his own

bed. Never shall I forget the luxurious pleasure I enjoyed in feeling myself

again on a good English bed after six months' sleeping on the ground. I was

soon asleep; and Mr. Gabriel coming in almost immediately after, rejoiced in

the soundness of my repose.

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