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Livingstone's Early Explorations

by Claud Field
The happy warrior—Adventure with a lion—Marked for life—The alarmed chieftain—Seohell and his whip—Obstructive Boers—Discovery of Lake Ngami—The waterless desert—Death of Sebituane—From Linyanti to Loanda—Petticoat government—An athletic princess—Terrors of the magic-lantern—Mice for supper—Swimming for life—First sight of the sea.

David LivingstoneWordsworth's well-known poem of the "Happy Warrior" reads like an unconscious prophecy of Livingstone, especially the two lines:

"Who comprehends his trust, and to the same
Keeps faithful with a singleness of aim."

In Livingstone's case that aim was to open up Africa to civilisation and Christianity. When he landed at Cape Town in 1841, he found the missionaries massed together at the southern extremity of the continent, while inland lay vast regions utterly unexplored. After residing for a time at Kuruman, where he married Dr. Moffat's daughter, and secluded himself for six months among the natives in order to learn the language perfectly, he removed to Mabotsa. Here his famous adventure with a lion took place. He was shooting at the animal when it sprang at him and caught him by the shoulder, and they both came to the ground together. Growling horribly, the lion shook him as a terrier dog shakes a rat. Fortunately a native firing at him distracted his attention. He left Livingstone to attack the native, and bit him in the thigh, but soon afterwards fell dead from the musket-balls which he had already received. Eleven of his teeth had penetrated the upper part of Livingstone's arm, and had crunched the bone into splinters. So serious was the injury that a false joint had to be made, and this served to identify his body when it was brought home from Africa to be buried in Westminster Abbey.

Not long afterwards he moved to Kolobeng, the headquarters of a chief named Sechelé, with whom he became very friendly. When he first heard from Livingstone the truths of Christianity, he said, "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 they did not send them word about these things sooner?" When Livingstone spoke of his intention of carrying the Gospel to the regions beyond, the chief said, pointing to the great Kalahari desert: "You never can cross that country to the tribes beyond; it is utterly impossible even for us black men, except in certain seasons, when more than the usual supply of rain falls, and an extraordinary growth of water-melons follows."

His first idea of the way to spread Christianity among his followers was certainly naïve: "If you like I shall call my headman, and with our whips of rhinoceros hide we will soon make them all believe together." After instructing him for a considerable time, Livingstone baptized him. Great numbers came to see the ceremony. Some thought, from foolish rumours which had been circulated, that converts to Christianity were made to drink an infusion of dead men's brains, and were astonished to find that only water was used.

Unfortunately at this time a severe drought took place, and the natives, as usually happens in such cases, attributed it to the presence of the missionary. "We like you," said the uncle of Sechelé to him, "as well as if you had been born among us; you are the only white man we can become familiar with; but we wish you to give up that everlasting preaching and praying: we cannot become familiar with that at all." They were confirmed in this prejudice by the fact that rain often fell on the hills ten miles away, while not a drop reached them.

Another and more serious obstacle was the treatment of the natives by the Boers, who believed, or professed to believe, that the natives had no souls, and therefore impressed them as slaves without scruple. They told Livingstone that he might as well go and preach to "the baboons on the rocks." Their animosity was further aroused by the fact that the English traders sold the natives arms and ammunition. They were actually planning an attack to seize these, when Livingstone went to the Boer commandant and prevailed upon him to defer it. But later on, in Livingstone's absence, the Boers made an attack on Kolobeng and plundered his house in revenge, smashing his stock of medicines, and tearing his books to pieces. Finding his work so hindered by the Boers, Livingstone prepared for his first long journey, in the hope of discovering Lake Ngami, of which rumours had reached him. He was accompanied by two English travellers, Oswell and Murray, and left Kolobeng on 1st June 1849. A neighbouring chief, Sekomi, sent a message of strong dissuasion. Where are you going? you will be killed by the sun and thirst, and then all the white men will blame me for not saving you." Other natives were not behind in expressing their surprise at the three travellers daring to enter the waterless region. "Have these hunters, who come so far and work so hard, no meat at home?"

They had immense difficulty in crossing the desert, owing to the scarcity of water, and were often tantalised by mirages, which appeared so real, that not only the Europeans but the natives were deceived by them. On the 1st August, they reached the shores of Lake Ngami, which had never before been seen by European eyes.

Livingstone would gladly have gone farther north, but was forced to return to Kolobeng by the want of supplies. In April 1850, he again started for the lake with Mrs. Livingstone and her three children. They had a terrible experience in crossing the desert, as the supply of water in the waggons had been wasted by the carelessness of their servants. For four days they could find none, and the children nearly died of thirst. Not one syllable of upbraiding was uttered by their mother," says Livingstone, "though the tearful eye told the agony within. In the afternoon of the fifth day, to our inexpressible relief, some of the men returned with a supply of that fluid, of which we had never before felt the true value." The difficulties of the desert march were increased by the presence of the tse-tse fly, which destroyed forty-three fine oxen.

Arrived at the north of Lake Ngami, Livingstone made the acquaintance of Sebituane, chief of the Makololo, a remarkable man, who, by his courage and audacity, held all the surrounding tribes in awe. He was pleased with the proof of confidence the missionary had shown in bringing his children. Unfortunately, he was soon taken ill, and Livingstone was afraid to treat him medically, lest in the event of his death he should be blamed by his people. To Livingstone's distress, this occurred soon afterwards, and Sebituane was succeeded by his son, Sekeletu, who also became a warm friend of the missionary.

During this expedition Livingstone discovered the Zambesi, which had previously been supposed to rise much farther to the east. Not being able to find a healthy station where to settle Mrs. Livingstone and his family, Livingstone resolved to send them home before he proceeded further inland. Accordingly, he accompanied them to Cape Town in 1852, and set out again with a very sorry equipment of waggons and oxen, owing to scarcity of funds, for the interior. He crossed the Kalahari Desert again to the west, giving the Boers, who were violently opposed to his missionary explorations, a wide berth. The Makololo were startled at his coming again among them, and said: He has dropped among us from the clouds. We Makololo thought no one could cross the Chobe without our knowledge, but here he drops among us like a bird." They took the waggons to pieces and carried them across the river on a number of canoes lashed together. The whole population of Linyanti, the chief town of the district, numbering between six and seven thousand, turned out to see the waggons in motion, having never seen such a thing before. Sekeletu sent the court herald to greet them, who, leaping and shouting at the top of his voice, roared out: "Don't I see the white man? Don't I see the comrade of Sebituane? Don't I see the father of Sekeletu? We want sleep. Give your son sleep, my lord!" (sleep meaning security from foes). Soon after his arrival at Linyanti, Sekeletu asked him to mention anything he wanted, offering to give him freely any object required. When Livingstone said his object was to teach him and his people Christianity, the chief replied that he did not wish to learn the Book, "for he was afraid it might change his heart, and make him content with only one wife like Sechelé."

At one of the religions services which Livingstone held for the natives, the women behaved with great decorum, but in kneeling down many bent over their little ones, and the children, in terror of being crushed, set up a simultaneous yell. Sekeletu was urgent in pressing Livingstone to take presents, but he refused, as he did on other occasions, from the conviction that it was degrading for a religious teacher to take gifts from those whose spiritual welfare he professed to seek. Failing to find a healthy spot for a settlement near Linyanti, Livingstone determined to open up a way to Loanda on the west coast, or, as he wrote to his father-in-law, Dr. Moffat, "perish in the attempt." A "picho" or native assembly was held to deliberate on the arrangement for his march. One diviner tried to frighten his followers from accompanying him, and said: "Where is he taking you to? The white man is throwing you away? Your garments already smell of blood." Sekeletu, however, laughed at him, and twenty-seven men, were deputed to accompany Livingstone. He was convinced that no permanent elevation of a people can be effected without commerce, and that the opening of a route to the coast was therefore of the greatest importance.

Only a man of indomitable courage would have undertaken such a journey, through utterly unknown regions and tribes for eight hundred miles, being already weakened by constant attacks of fever. If he looked up quickly, he was seized with a strange giddiness; everything appeared to rush to the left, and if he did not catch hold of some support, he fell heavily to the ground. "But," he says in his journal, "I had always believed that if we serve God at all, it ought to be done in a manly way, and I was determined to succeed, or perish in the attempt to open up this part of Africa. The Boers, by taking possession of all my goods, had saved me the trouble of making a will."

To avoid heavy loads, he only took a few biscuits, a few pounds of tea and sugar, and about twenty of coffee. One small tin canister about fifteen inches square was filled with spare shirts, trousers and shoes, to be used when he reached civilisation again; another of the same size was stored with medicines; a third with books, and a fourth box contained a magic-lantern, which was found of much service.

Proceeding up the Zambesi in canoes, he arrived among the Balonda tribe ruled over by a female chief, Nyamoana. She sent her daughter Manenko, a strapping young woman of twenty, to escort him to her brother, the chief Shinto. Manenko was something of a virago. When Livingstone was making ready his packages, she said the men whom she had ordered for the service would not arrive till the next day. Annoyed at the delay, Livingstone ordered the packages to be put into the canoes at once; but Manenko was not to be circumvented in this way. She came forward with her people, seized the luggage, and declared she would carry it in spite of him. His followers laid down their load, and Livingstone, left powerless, was moving off in high dudgeon to the canoes, when she placed her hand on his shoulder and said: "Now, my little man, just do as the rest have done." Amused at her masterfulness, he forgot his feelings of annoyance, and went off with his gun to spend the time in trying for some game.

When they started, this stalwart princess marched in front as leader, and at a pace with which few of the men could keep up. Livingstone, mounted on ox-back, followed close behind, and asked her why she did not clothe herself, as it was raining. She answered that a chief ought not to appear effeminate, but must always wear the appearance of robust youth, and bear hardships without wincing. His men, in admiration of her pedestrian powers, kept remarking, "Manenko is a soldier," and they were all glad when she proposed a halt to prepare their night's lodging on the banks of a stream.

As they went north, they found themselves in the dense gloom of the Central African forest, through which they had to pass by a narrow way cut by the axe. Immense climbing plants entwined themselves like boa-constrictors around gigantic trees, and often stood erect by themselves, having choked the trees by which they had been supported. Although drenched with rain and often suffering from fever, Livingstone says he found this dense gloom refreshing after the scorching glare of the Kalahari Desert. Even here, he could never see water thrown away without feeling that they were guilty of wasting it, having so often in the desert experienced the enormous difficulty of finding it.

At Shinté's town, he came upon Portuguese slave-traders for the first time. His followers, who had never seen these men-sellers before, exclaimed: "They are not men; they are beasts who treat their children so."

At the place of audience, they found the chief Shinté on a sort of throne covered with a leopard's skin. He was dressed in a check jacket and a kilt of scarlet baize, edged with green; strings of large beads hung from his neck, and his limbs were covered with iron and copper armlets and bracelets; on his head he wore a helmet of beads neatly woven together, and crowned with a great bunch of goose-feathers by way of crest.

On learning that "Shinté's mouth was bitter for want of ox-flesh," Livingstone presented him with an ox, to his great delight, but the masterful Manenko hearing of it, came up with the air of an injured person, and explained that, The white man belonged to her; she had brought him here, and therefore the ox was hers, not Shinté's." Upon this she ordered her men to bring it, had it slaughtered, and presented her uncle with a leg only. Shinté did not seem at all annoyed at her interference.

Here Livingstone exhibited his magic-lantern. The first picture shown was the sacrifice of Isaac, and the women listened silently to his explanation of it, but as the slide was being withdrawn, the uplifted knife seemed moving towards them, and they thought it was to be sheathed in their bodies instead of Isaac's. They all shouted: "Mother! Mother!" and rushed off, tumbling pell-mell over each other, and nothing would induce them to return. Shinté, however, sat bravely through the whole, and afterwards examined the instrument with interest. It was the only mode of instruction Livingstone was ever pressed to repeat. The people came long distances to see the pictures and hear the explanations.

When Livingstone took his departure, Shinté, as a sign of friendship, hung a conical shell round his neck, "an article in regions far from the sea of as great value as the Lord Mayor's badge is in London." He also gave him a native guide named Intemese, who proved a great plague to the traveller, and lied on all occasions to save himself trouble.

The serious difficulties of the march now began. They entered a region where no animal food was to be procured. One of the guides caught a mole and two mice for his supper, and the care with which he wrapped them up in a leaf and slung them on a spear, showed that there was little hope of finding larger game. The chiefs through whose country they were now passing proved covetous, and demanded toll. Livingstone pacified one by sending him the worst shirt in his stock. Another chief named Njambi, of the Chiboque tribe, was not so easily satisfied. He sent an impudent message demanding either a man, an ox, a gun, powder, cloth or a shell; and, in the event of refusal, intimated his intention of preventing their further progress. When this demand was refused, he collected his people and surrounded their encampment, evidently intending to plunder them of everything. Livingstone's men seized their javelins and stood on the defensive, while he sat on his camp-stool with his double-barrelled gun across his knees. Njambi came for a parley, and sat on the ground in front of him. After a lengthy discussion, Livingstone gave him one of his shirts. On Njambi's followers showing dissatisfaction at this, he added a bunch of beads, and again a large handkerchief. The more he yielded, however, the more unreasonable they became. At every fresh demand they shouted and rushed towards him, brandishing their weapons.

In the meantime, Livingstone's Makololo followers, outnumbering the Chiboque party, had quietly surrounded them and made them feel there was no way of escaping their spears. Livingstone then said that as everything had failed to satisfy them, it was evident that they wanted to fight, and that if so, they must begin first and bear the guilt. Calming down at this, and seeing his party outnumbered, the chief said: "If you give us an ox we will give you whatever you wish, and then we shall be friends." Accordingly the ox was given, and in return, two or three pounds of its flesh were sent back with a very small basket of meal! Livingstone adds: "It was impossible to avoid laughing at the coolness of these generous creatures."

Added to these difficulties was the nature of the country and the season of the year. It was during the rains, and they had to flounder through several rivers, holding on by the tails of the oxen. Crossing the river Loke, Livingstone became separated from his ox, and was obliged to strike out for the opposite bank alone. His followers were greatly alarmed on seeing this, and about twenty of them made a simultaneous rush into the water for his rescue. Just as he reached the opposite bank one seized his arm and another clasped him round the body. They expressed great pleasure on finding that he could swim.

Owing to the constant exactions and attacks of the tribes through whose territory they were now passing, Livingstone's men began to get disheartened. Some of them proposed to return home, but he could not endure the prospect of returning when just on the threshold of the Portuguese settlements. After using all his powers of persuasion, he declared to them that if they returned he should go on alone, and retired to his little tent. Thither he was soon followed by the headman, who said "We will never leave you. Do not be disheartened. Wherever you lead we will follow. Our remarks were made only on account of the injustice of these people." Others followed, and with the most artless simplicity of manner told him to be comforted. "They were all my children; they knew no one but Sekeletu and me, and they would die for me; they had just spoken in the bitterness of their spirit, and when feeling that they could do nothing."

At last they arrived at the edge of the high land on which they had been travelling. At the depth of a thousand feet below lay the magnificent valley of the Quango. Livingstone had been so weakened by twenty-seven attacks of fever that in going down the descent he had to be supported by his companions. "Emerging from the gloomy forests of Londa," he says, "this magnificent prospect made us all feel as if a weight had been lifted off our eyelids." Here a Bashinje chief made an attempt at extortion before he would let them pass to the river, but Livingstone, disregarding him, told his men to move on, which they did, though the hostile party opened fire on them, without, however, doing any damage.

Not long afterwards they beheld the sea from the elevated plains of Loanda. The Makololo were much impressed, and in describing their feelings afterwards they remarked, "We were marching along with our father believing that what the ancients had always 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.'"

The large stone houses and churches of Loanda struck them with little less awe. One of them before this had said of Livingstone's house at Kolobeng: "It is not a hut; it is a mountain with several caves in it." Visiting one of the ships in harbour with Livingstone, they said, "It is not a canoe at all, it is a town! And what sort of a town that you climb into with a rope?"

Thus successfully ended the first of those long journeys by which Livingstone, as he said, was resolved "to open up Africa or perish."


Copied for WholesomeWords.org from Heroes of Missionary Enterprise... by Claud Field. Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Co., 1908.

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