Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa Part 43

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It was now October--the close of the hot season. The thermometer stood at 100 Deg. in the shade; in the sun it sometimes rose to 130 Deg.

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 ma.s.s 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 subst.i.tute 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 const.i.tutes 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, bra.s.s wire, beads, and, in a word, "any other beautiful thing he might see," furnishing him with a considerable quant.i.ty 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 gra.s.s. 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 s.p.a.ces. 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 pa.s.sed, 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 a.s.sured 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 quant.i.ty 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 a.s.sociate with the negro race. In all his long pilgrimage Livingstone saw scarcely a trace of the brutal rites and b.l.o.o.d.y superst.i.tions 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, pa.s.sed 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 bra.s.s 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.

Appendix.--Notes to etext.


The names Loanda and Zambesi are given in most modern texts as Luanda and Zambezi.

In three cases, the spelling used in the original was distracting enough that it has been changed: musquito > mosquito, hachshish > hashish, and nomade > nomad.

In three other cases, two variant spellings of a word were used in the text. These were made uniform in accordance with the modern standard.

They were: water-buck > waterbuck, Mosambique > Mozambique, and imbody > embody.

Other notes on terms: Livingstone often refers to ground-nuts--this is the British term for a peanut. Mutokwane ('Cannabis sativa') must be some variety of marijuana.


As the symbols for the British Pound (a crossed L), Degrees (small circle, in the upper half of the line of text), and fractions cannot be represented in ASCII, the following standards have been used:

Pounds: written out, and capitalized, AFTER the number of pounds, rather than before it. Hence "L20" becomes 20 Pounds. (where L represents the Pound symbol.)

Degrees, Minutes, Seconds: "Degrees", when used alone, is either spelled out or abbreviated "Deg."--but is always capitalized where it replaces the symbol. When a location is given with a combination of degrees and minutes, or degrees, minutes, and seconds, [d] is used to denote the symbol for degrees, ['] represents minutes, and ["] represents seconds--these latter two are the common symbols, or at least as similar as ASCII can represent. For an example, lat. 9d 37' 30" S. would be lat.i.tude 9 degrees 37 minutes 30 seconds south. All temperatures given are in Fahrenheit.

Fractions: Where whole numbers and fractions are combined, the whole number is separated from the fraction with a dash. For example, in Chapter 21: 16 ounces and 2-19/20 drams would translate as 16 ounces and two-and-nineteen-twentieths drams. Incidentally, Livingstone uses British measurements, which sometimes differ from the American.

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Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa Part 43 summary

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