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

The Zambesi Expedition

I N 1858 Livingstone once more set sail for the Cape, taking his wife with him, but leaving his children behind. At Cape Town the people were anxious to make amends for their former unkindness to him, and now did all they could to give him a happy welcome.

Continuing his voyage in the Pearl,  up the east coast of Africa, he reached the mouth of the Zambesi, which enters the sea through many channels between low and swampy islands covered with thick jungle. The first thing to be done was to find out the deepest and safest of these channels, and many days were spent in sounding the depths of the water by sinking a lump of lead on the end of a line. An outlet called the Kongoné proved to be the best, and up this channel they took the Pearl.

Left and right the banks lay dark under the dense mangrove thicket, or shone bright with shrubs and flowers beneath tall palms and fern-trees, and forest timber laden and twined with creepers. Strange birds wheeled in bright flocks above them, or flashed in single brilliance across the stream. Here and there were open stretches where startled buffalo and zebra made off into the long grass, or a lazy rhinoceros could be heard wallowing and grunting out of sight among the giant reeds.

To those who had not seen this country before, it was indeed a new fairyland of wonders. The native huts were built high in the air upon long stakes, with ladders reaching from their doorways to the ground. Down these the natives came scrambling in eager haste to see the Pearl.  Some of them took her for a floating village, and others asked if she was hollowed out of a single tree-trunk like their own canoes.

When the river became too shallow for so large a ship, Livingstone landed his stores on an island, and then went forward in a small steamer sent out by the Government for use on the Zambesi. The steamer proved to be a failure. She had been built to burn wood instead of coal; but it took all her crew three days to cut enough fuel to drive her for two days. She was so slow that native canoes easily outstripped her; and she snorted, and creaked, and wheezed to such an extent that she was nicknamed the Asthmatic.

This was a most grievous drawback to the expedition, but Livingstone, as usual, made the best of it. He took his stores to Shupanga, a Portuguese village near the point where the Zambesi is joined by another fine river called the Shiré. Then by slow degrees he made his way up stream to Teté, where he had left his Makololo bearers on his former visit. They were overjoyed to see him again: some of them rushed to embrace him, but others cried out, "Don't touch him, you'll spoil his new clothes." People had told them that Livingstone would never return, but the Makololo knew he would never break his word. "We trusted you," they told him, "and now we shall sleep."

Twenty miles above Teté the river broke through a chain of hills, and at this point the Asthmatic  was stopped by the Kebrabasa Rapids. The river ran swiftly down a narrow valley, with the current broken here and there by jagged rocks or smooth water-worn boulders. At this season the river was at its lowest, and Livingstone decided to explore the rapids on foot; for he thought it might yet be possible for small steamers to pass them when the river was full.

Accordingly, he and his fellow-explorer, Dr. Kirk, set out with a native guide and some of the Makololo to make the matter sure. They followed up the bed of the river as best they could, taking measurements and notes as they went. Sometimes their way was over smooth terraces of rock, sometimes they scrambled over boulders, and once they had to wade up to their waists in spite of the risk of crocodiles. At night they slept under trees, and were lucky enough to be left alone by wild beasts, though a native across the river was killed one evening by a leopard.

When at last they reached the head of the rapids, their guide declared that now there was nothing but smooth water before them. Thinking their difficult task was at an end, they began to return, but that night two natives came into camp, and said there was another rapid a few miles up stream.

Taking three of the Makololo with them, Livingstone and Kirk went back again to settle the question. They found a narrow gorge, whose sides rose steeper than a gable roof from the river to the skyline, 2000 feet above them. Up this they scrambled, cutting their way through the prickly scrub, and crawling over the face of the sloping cliff. The sun struck into the gorge with such force, that the rocks reeked like heated steel; and the climbers' hands could hardly bear their grip long enough to gain firm foothold. Even the Makololo, whose naked soles were hard and tough as shoe-leather, limped with the pain of their burnt and blistered feet. They turned to Kirk, and said that Livingstone no longer had a heart, and must be stark mad to try and climb where no wild animal would go. Losing all heart, they wanted to lie down and sleep in the hollows, but Livingstone's pluck and spirit carried them through.

At last, after a scramble so steep and dangerous that they took three hours to climb one mile, the party reached a spot overhanging the rapid. Here the cliff dropped a hundred feet sheer into the stream, and rose like a wall just a short stone's-throw across it. Into this narrow pass the whole wide river was crowded, and the current sped swiftly down, broken here and there into a white fleece by a ridge of jutting rock. They saw the flood-mark, eighty feet up the opposite cliff. But Livingstone turned away in keen disappointment; for though a powerful steamer might stem the rapid at high flood, the river was useless as a waterway for most of the year.

In 1859 Livingstone turned his attention to a branch of the Zambesi, called the Shiré. This river came slowly winding down a broad and fertile valley of forest and of plains, which stretched on either hand towards wooded hills with bare mountain-peaks beyond. Its banks were thick with leaf and blossom, and the air was filled with the scent of flowers, the song of birds, and the endless murmur of bees. Yet, as they passed up stream in the midst of all this beauty, the explorers could see the savage Manganja natives lurking behind trees, with bent bows, ready to shoot them down with barbed and poisoned arrows. Nothing happened, however, till the steamer came opposite the village of a chief named Tingané, who was a terror to the Portuguese, and had never yet allowed any man to pass his borders.

Here a crowd of five hundred Manganja lined the bank and ordered them to stop. Some of the savages even began to take aim with their fatal arrows, and it looked as though a terrible death would fall upon the explorers whether they obeyed or not. Livingstone at once went fearlessly on shore. He knew that he came for love of God, and he believed that he would not die till God no longer needed him to work on earth.

Calm and smiling, as if in a playground full of children, he walked through the bloodthirsty mob to their chief, and told him that the steamer was English and not Portuguese. Then he explained that the English wished to put down the cruel slave trade, and make it easier for black men to sell their cotton and ivory for cloth and beads.

Tingané liked the idea of this, and wished to hear more. Livingstone told him how the white man's book said that all men and women were sons and daughters of God, and therefore must not be treated with cruelty and unkindness. Thus Tingané was completely won over to friendship. He called his people together, and told them that the great white chief and healer of men had come with a good message, and might pass his borders in peace.

After this there was no more trouble with the Manganja, and the leaky Asthmatic  puffed and panted safely up the river, scaring out of their wits the wild animals upon its banks. Now and then a clumsy hippopotamus, startled out of its sleep, would splash out of the water and tear into the jungle. Antelopes and zebras fled over the plains, and once the explorers disturbed a herd of more than eight hundred elephants. Wicked-looking crocodiles would sometimes dash for the steamer with open jaws; but, on finding that it was not good to eat, they would dive to the bottom like stones. The river was deep and free from sandbanks for 200 miles, but here the steamer was once more stopped by a chain of rapids stretching over 40 miles. These Livingstone named the Murchison Cataracts, and from this point he made two journeys on foot.

On the first trip he climbed over the mountains to the eastward, and found Lake Shirwa, whose waters were stagnant and bitter. His native guide told him there was a much larger lake to the northward; so Livingstone, after returning for supplies, once more started from the Murchison Cataracts in search of it.

The way led over the highlands of the Manganja country towards the head of the Shiré valley. The natives were warlike, but Livingstone had no trouble with them, and easily bought all the food he wanted with a few yards of calico or a handful of beads. The women wore their hair quite short, and disfigured themselves with a large ring of ivory or tin through the upper lip. The men kept their hair long, and did it in as many fashions as white women. Sometimes they stiffened it with strips of bark into the likeness of a buffalo's horn or tail; sometimes they shaved off patches in the shape of some wild animal, and then thought themselves very beautiful.

At last, on September 16, 1859, Livingstone came upon the magnificent Lake Nyassa, stretching away to the skyline like an inland sea. Out of its waters the River Shiré ran smooth and deep all down the long valley to the Murchison Cataracts. Forty miles of road could easily be made past these falls, and then the great Nyassa would be open to the sea. The uplands of the Shiré valley were healthy and fertile, and here at last was the place where a colony of Christian emigrants might teach and show the Africans a life of righteousness and industry. Moreover, Livingstone saw that, as all the slave traffic had to cross the river or the lake, a single small steamer could soon put an end to the trade.

He therefore wrote home, and promised £2000 from the price of his book to be spent in sending out suitable emigrants. At the same time he asked the Government for a new vessel to replace the dying Asthmatic, and he also offered £4000 towards a little steamer for Lake Nyassa. In the meantime, while waiting their arrival, he kept his promise to the Makololo, and started up the Zambesi to take them home to Linyanté.

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