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David Livingstone and the Victorian Encounter with Africa
David Livingstone and the Victorian Encounter with Africa
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Black Livingstone: A True Tale of Adventure in the Nineteenth-Century Congo
Black Livingstone:
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Dr. Livingstone

Exploring unknown territory

Stanley and Livingstone are always mentioned together and most of the time it is in the very same anecdote from their only meeting. They were among the first white men in the so-called dark continent and had sympathy for each other, but were indeed two very different personalities. Both made way for the European exploitation and colonialism, but in comparison with Henry Stanley, Livingstone was an angel. Many people today think of these men as adventurous "heroes", while the people of Africa even today struggles with the consequences of their harmful ideologies.

David Livingstone, missionary famous for exploring a great part of sub-Saharan Africa.


March 19, 1813, Scotland


May 1, 1873, Chitambo, (in Zambia)

Missionary work in Africa

David Livingstone came from a poor family in Lanarkshire, Scotland. He entered the Missionary society in London to study medicine. In 1840 he had a chance to go to Cape Town and in the following years he traveled all over southern Africa. He was driven by the missionairy work, but as he developed a desire to explore deeper into the continent. Victoria Falls was one of the many names he could put on the map when he moved forward to spread the word of God.

Livingstone, as many before and after, thought that the only hope for Africa was development and "civilization" in European-style. He was shocked to see the horrors of the slave trade. 20 million Africans were sold as slaves between 1450 and 1880. Four times as many were killed during the hunt for slaves all over the continent (Source: "Congo -formoder jeg", Peter Thygesen, 2001)

The slavery was abolished in America by 1863 and in Europe several years earlier, but illegal slave trade still went on. Livingstone wanted a final stop for the slavery -and argued that there were much more profitable ways of exploiting the continent. In 1856 he returned to England for a few years, to publish books, which created a public debate about the moral issues of the slave trade. The British had stopped their own involvement in slave trade many years before, but it was the words of Livingstone that opened the eyes of most people. Livingstone was fighting slavery with "Christianity, Commerce and Civilization." He wanted to do good for the Africans, but in fact he never respected them as equal human beings. Nobody asked the Africans what they wanted.

After abolishing slavery, the Europeans started to look more into other ways of making business in Africa. A myth was created: Africa as a "dark continent" -a place that needed to be explored. Industrialization had changed Europe and made way for a wish of expansion. The general idea was that whenever a new part of Africa was explored it practically belonged to whatever European state came first. Earlier the interest had mostly been about buying slaves, but now the Europeans sought minerals and other valuable ressources. Still so today.

It was of course the Africans who did most of the work on these "European expeditions". The Africans were not only carriers, but often served as guides and translators in the land very well known to themselves. Even Livingstone was arrogant enough to describe the Africans as "wild" and "humans of a lower form". In fact Livingstone was not even the first European to walk the central African soil. Portuguese traders had been there a few years before him, but Livingstone claimed they were mulattos - thereby implying that the achievement didn't count.

Dr. LivingstoneAbout 10 years later Livingstone had become quite famous because of his fascinating books selling in huge numbers all over the world. As many others he became obsessed with finding the source of the Nile and even though he was getting old, he accepted going on a new expedition. A previous journey to Zambia had become an economic failure, so money was also a factor. The source of the Nile was a great mystery for scientists at the time. In fact it had been a huge mystery even before biblical time. Scientists and explorers were obsessed with mapping every inch of the globe and it was important to discover an easy way into the continent. The dream was to "open the continent" through waterways and make way for traders and missionaries. This time the expedition was sponsored by the British Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Geographical Society. Everybody wanted to find a way of crossing Africa from East to West. Of course the Africans had their ancient trade routes crossing all over Africa - but this fact was again completely ignored by all white explorers.

Livingstone and the African followers he depended on, walked deep into the heart of Africa. After September 1869 nobody heard news from him. Rumors were that he had been killed by Africans.

Dr. Livingstone, I presume?

Henry Morton Stanley was a young and very ambitious American journalist who had already made himself a name in the newspaper business. He took the task of searching after Livingstone for the New York Herald. Other expeditions were sent out with the same mission -to rescue Livingstone if possible or find evidence of his death. He picked up the track of Livingstone at Lake Tanganyika. The two explorers finally met on November 10, 1871 in Ujiji in the present-day Tanzania. As the story goes, Stanley's first words, when approaching the only other white man in this part of Africa, was: "Dr. Livingstone, I presume?"

A heart for Africa

Livingstone was fighting for the rights of the Africans and probably had the best intentions. But then again... Some of the worst things imaginable has been done with the best intentions. In spite of their differences the two explorers got along well and continued together for four months before Stanley returned to London. Livingstone finally died in Zambia in 1873 without solving the mystery of the Nile. His devoted "crew" of Africans carried his body for five months, back to the East African coast. The corpse were transported to Zanzibar where Livingstone also had started this final journey. Livingstone's African helpers adored him and they insisted that he was going to be buried in England. The remains of Livingstone's body was shipped of and buried with pomp and circumstance in Westminster Abbey, London. An African, Jacob Wainwright, was among the men carrying the coffin -as he had done all the way from Zambia.

A Cathedral was build in 1877 on the place of the slave market in Stone town, Zanzibar. I was told by local guides that the heart of Livingstone is buried here. Another story goes that his heart was buried in a metal box under the three where he died in at Lake Bangwelo in Zambia. But maybe his soul found peace in the Anglican Cathedral. In the same year as Livingstone died, the British finally managed to put an end to the Sultan's slave trade from Zanzibar. Between 1450 and 1880 more than 20 million Africans had been sent abroad as slaves -and about four times as many were killed. The slave trade and exploitation of the colonies boosted the international economy to the benefit of Europe and USA. It even took a civil war before USA would give up the profitable slavery.

Livingstone was close, but he did not manage to find the source of the Nile. The Nile has several sources in the central/eastern Africa. The main source is Lake Victoria but it has connections all the way from Ruvyironza River which is found a little north of Lake Tanganyika. Henry Morton Stanley was the first to circumnavigate Lake Victoria and map the area in 1875. Stanley himself made a heroic image of Livingstone in his books and articles and he felt that he should be the one to pick up where Livingstone left. Stanley was later to become a mass murderer for King Leopold of Belgium.



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