Gateway to the Classics: The Story of David Livingstone by Vautier Golding
The Story of David Livingstone by  Vautier Golding

In the Heart of Africa

I N March 1866 Livingstone landed near the mouth of the Rovuma, and, at the age of fifty-three, began the seven long years of hardship, misery, and pain that wore him to his death. Thirty-six bearers came with him, of whom thirteen were Sepoys from Bombay, and ten were natives of Johanna. Livingstone was very anxious to find some beast of burden which could stand the poison of the tsetse-fly; and for this experiment he brought with him some camels, Indian buffaloes, mules, donkeys, and a calf. Carrying stores was the great difficulty in his travels, and a few hardy beasts of burden, instead of a number of unruly knaves, would have saved him from the terrible want he afterwards had to suffer.

It was not long before his troubles began. The Sepoys had charge of the animals, and neglected them so shamefully that one by one the poor creatures died. Livingstone found he could not trust one of the thirteen out of his sight, and at last they grew so troublesome that he sent them back to the sea. His next discovery was that the ten natives from Johanna were rascals and thieves; and one of them, Musa, who had worked in the Lady Nyassa,  turned out the worst of the lot. Moreover, the country had been ravaged by slavers, and food grew scarcer and scarcer, till at length they lived mainly on maize and the few pigeons and guinea-fowl shot by the way.

The signs of the slave trade were terrible. Here, as in the valley of the Shiré, nothing seemed too brutal to be done. Even women were tied to trees and left to starve, because they were too worn out to trudge any longer.

Most of the slavers in this district were Arabs, and they did all they could to make trouble for Livingstone. He reached Nyassa in August, at a point half-way up its eastern shore, and here he wanted to cross; but all the boats were in the hands of the slavers, and Livingstone could get nothing to take him over.

Determined not to be beaten, he walked round the south end of the lake, and, on crossing the Shiré, he came upon ground that he had passed before. Old times and old friends came into his mind, and he wondered sadly if all their labour had been wasted. He thought also of his faithful Makololo, and longed to have them in the place of his present bearers.

After passing round the south end of Lake Nyassa, he took a north-westerly direction, and came to the village of a chief named Marenga. Here they met an Arab slaver, who cunningly invented a story in the hope of frightening Livingstone's bearers from going any farther. He told Musa that a savage Mazitu chief was in front of them, killing all who passed his borders, with great cruelty. Musa believed this story, and refused to go onward. Livingstone tried to convince the coward that there were no Mazitu in the district, but all his efforts were useless. Musa and the other nine Johanna natives deserted in a body; but the rest of the bearers, much to the Arab's disappointment, remained faithful.

From Marenga's Livingstone pushed on towards Lake Tanganyika, and his hardships daily grew greater. Owing to the slave trade, food was scarce, and the natives had little to sell. For many days the explorer lived on African maize, helped down with milk from some goats he had brought for the purpose. The next misfortune was the loss of his goats, and this left him to break and loosen his teeth on the tough, hard maize, while he dreamed of delicious and savoury dinners.

This want of food made him very weak, and, moreover, the toils of the march were great. Often he had to wade through marshes up to the waist; and after the burning day, with its clouds of flies, there came the damp heat of night, with clouds of mosquitoes bringing fever in their poisonous bite. All this was trouble enough, but worse still happened.

One day a native bearer, possibly bribed by a slaver, disappeared with Livingstone's medicine-chest, and he was now left defenceless against fever. Soon he became so ill that he sometimes lay insensible on the ground; but still his pluck carried him through, and at last, in April 1867, he reached Chitembé's village, on Lake Tanganyika, where he found rest and better food.


Often he had to wade through marshes up to the waist.

Meanwhile, Musa and the other Johanna natives had gone back to Zanzibar. They knew they would get no pay if their bad conduct was found out, so they swore that Livingstone was dead, and therefore they were obliged to return. Musa made up a clever story describing how Livingstone had been attacked by natives, and had died fighting bravely, while the faithful Johanna men, after escaping from the fight, had returned at nightfall to bury their beloved master. Musa repeated this lie so skilfully that every one believed him; and even Dr. Kirk, who was now at Zanzibar, was taken in completely. The tale was told at home in the papers, and all his countrymen were grieving for his loss, when an Englishman, Edward Young, began to doubt the story. Young had been on the Lady Nyassa  with Musa, and knew that the rascal's word could never be trusted. He laughed at the idea of a coward like Musa returning after a fight to bury any one, and he found other faults in his story.

At last the Royal Geographical Society sent Young to Africa to find out the truth. He went up the Shiré in a steel boat called the Search,  and his bearers carried her in pieces past the Murchison Cataracts. Then, launching her again on the Upper Shiré, he made his way by Lake Nyassa to Marenga's country. Here he found out the utter falsehood of Musa's story, and learnt that Livingstone had been seen alive on his way to Tanganyika.

Young now returned to England; and, though his news was mainly good, yet many people were still very anxious about the explorer's safety. In one way Musa had done his master a good turn without the least intention. For so much had been said in the papers about Livingstone, that people began to see how great was his work and how noble his life.

All this time Livingstone knew nothing either of Musa's lies or of Young's gallant search. While at Chitembé's village he heard of a chain of lakes joined by a big river, and he started westward to find them. Slave-raiding was going on all over the country that lay before him; but in spite of this Livingstone discovered Lake Moero, in November 1867, after suffering terribly from illness and want of food. A beautiful river, called the Luapula, ran into the lake at the south, and out again to the north. Down stream, to the northward, the natives said the Luapula reached a long lake of many islands; while up stream, to the southward, they said it came from a large lake, called Bangweolo.

Livingstone decided to look for Bangweolo first. Setting out from Moero in a southerly course, he came to the village of Kazembé, a chief who punished his people by cutting off their hands and ears. At Kazembé's he fell in with an Arab trader, Mohammed Bogharib, who at once took a great liking to the explorer. Mohammed asked him to dine, and Livingstone sat down on a mat to a feast of vermicelli and oil, meal cakes and honey; and then, the first time for many months, he warmed his heart with a bowl of good coffee and sugar.

From the accounts of the natives, Bangweolo was only ten days' march from Kazembé's, but now Livingstone's bearers refused to go onward. Five only remained faithful to the kindest master they ever had, and with these the journey was begun. It was the same tale of hardship and toil, want and suffering; and, since the theft of his medicine-chest, there was nothing to soothe the fever or ease the pain. Yet through all this his patient faith and quiet valour carried him on, and, in July 1868, he came upon the beautiful Lake Bangweolo. There were islands dotted about in it, and Livingstone visited some of them in a native canoe; but, when he wanted to paddle across the lake, his canoe-men refused. They were afraid of being made slaves.

Indeed, the curse of slavery seemed everywhere in the land. On his way to Bangweolo, Livingstone had passed some slaves trudging along in their slave-sticks, yet singing as they went. Their only hope was death; and they were looking forward with revengeful joy, because they ignorantly believed their spirits could return and kill their captors. The meaning of their chant was, "Oh, you send me to the sea-coast, but my yoke is off in death; back I'll come to haunt and kill you." Then, as a chorus, they hissed between their teeth in bitter hatred the names of those who had robbed them of their freedom.

Livingstone now struggled back to Kazembé's, utterly worn out with toil, hunger, and fever. Here he found Mohammed Bogharib on the point of returning to Ujiji, and he gladly accepted the Arab's kind offer of an escort thither. Ujiji stood upon the eastern shore of Tanganyika, and also was on the main slave-route to Zanzibar. Before leaving Zanzibar, in the February of 1866, Livingstone had arranged with Dr. Kirk to send stores, medicine, letters, and newspapers to await him at Ujiji, and now he looked forward to news of his children, and relief from sickness and pain.

The journey was a terrible one; for Livingstone grew worse and worse, till at last he grew dazed with fever and pain, and lost count of the days. Mohammed saved his life by having him carried in a hammock till they reached the west shore of Tanganyika, and took canoe to Ujiji. The voyage of eighteen days, and the hope of his letters and medicine, revived him greatly, and he landed at Ujiji with joy. But the two men in charge of his stores had sold nearly all of them for ivory and slaves, and his medicines and mails had been left at Unyanyembé, thirteen days distant, while the road there was blocked by a slave war.

It was now March 1869, and he had not seen a white man's face, or heard of his children, for three years.

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