Gateway to the Classics: The Story of H. M. Stanley by Vautier Golding
The Story of H. M. Stanley by  Vautier Golding

Livingstone's River

On November 5th, 1876, Stanley left Nyangwé to follow Livingstone's great river towards the sea. Livingstone had taken measurements of its height above the sea-level; and, if his levels were correct, it could not reach the Nile without flowing uphill. Stanley's object was to see whether this mighty stream, which Livingstone's native guides had called a long lake full of islands, would turn out to be the Congo.

With Tippu Tib and his men as an escort, Stanley and his caravan plunged into the thick forest of Mitamba, which lay before them for many miles. Behind them they left the brilliant tropical sunshine, and for days and days they marched in twilight. The tops of the forest timber were so matted with leaves and creepers that the sun was shut out; while a pioneer party with axes had to cut a path through the thick undergrowth for the load-bearers. Every morning from dawn till ten o'clock the dew dripped off the trees like heavy rain and soaked everything through, while the soil became slippery with muddy clay. There were many wild beasts, monkeys and snakes; and one day they killed a python twice as long as an average man.

They passed through several villages, but the natives seemed more like wild animals than men. In one of their main streets Stanley counted 186 skulls set on the ground in a double row, grinning at each other across a pathway ten feet wide. At first he thought he was in cannibal country, but that was a horror to come a few days later. The bones proved to be those of the gorilla, called "soko" by the natives, who are fond of its flesh.

In a fortnight they reached the river again at a point only forty-one miles from Nyangwé, and all were nearly worn out with the toil of forcing their way through the forest. Not quite three miles a day was a hopeless rate of travel; so Stanley now put some of his men into the boat, and went forward by river. The rest of the party with less to carry could now move faster along the bank.

Villages were very frequent; but at first the people fled into the woods howling their war-cry, "Ooh-hu-hu-hu-hu!" Here and there among the deserted huts the explorers saw horrible sights that told them they were now in cannibal country. Farther down the river the natives were fiercer and bolder, and seldom a day passed without an attack on the boat; for in their cruel ignorance the men of this godless land looked on the stranger as prey for a feast.

Smallpox and other sickness broke out, and soon there were seventy-two cases on the list. All that Stanley could do was to take them into the canoes and doctor them as best he could. At Ikondu they were lucky enough to find an old deserted canoe, which had been made out of a single tree of enormous size; when mended and fitted up as a "hospital ship" it held no less than sixty people.

The farther they went, the worse things became. No food could be bought; and almost every day they had to run the gauntlet through poisoned arrows and spears, while the big war-drums were seldom silent for long. At last Tippu Tib and the land party were delayed in the woods and dropped two days' march behind. The natives of Vinya Njara took the chance and attacked the boat in force with a fleet of canoes.

While the rifles were driving back the canoes, Stanley landed a party with axes, who soon made a rough camp, with a stockade and shelters of brushwood. Here all took refuge, and then for two hours they withstood a furious attack from the land side. Long after their repulse the natives kept on shooting poisoned reed arrows from the cover of the forest; but if any one was struck, Stanley at once burnt the wound with caustic and the poison did little harm.

At night each half of the band kept watch in turn, while two men with buckets of water were told off to douse the heads of the worn-out watchers, whose eyes were heavy with sleep. At dead of night a native was seen creeping on his stomach like a lizard towards the camp. The brave Uledi, coxswain of the Lady Alice, at once wriggled out through the stockade and crept stealthily behind the enemy like a cat stalking a bird. Nearer and nearer the native crawled, thinking how well he was doing it, when Uledi suddenly pounced on his back, pinned him by the arms and hustled him into camp. The howls of the prisoner brought on another furious attack from the forest; and, while the natives were being driven back, one of the riflemen was killed by a spear.

Stanley learnt from the captive that there was a village just a few hundred yards downstream; and at dawn he and his little band went quickly down the river and took it by storm. They soon fortified the village and carried the sick into huts; and then they defended themselves till midday, when with a desperate sally they drove the natives far into the woods. Three hours were now spent in cutting the cover all round the village; then at last the weary and famished men took half-an-hour for rest and food before they began to make marksman's nests all round the village. All night long poisoned arrows whizzed into the village, while the thumping of big war-drums roused the country on both sides of the river.

Next morning the fight began again, both from the forest and from a large fleet of canoes in the river; but, thanks to their defence works, Stanley's men easily held their own. Later on in the day Tippu Tib came up, and the natives retreated in their canoes behind an island across the river. Late that night, when the enemy seemed to be sleeping, Stanley sent Pocock with four canoes across the river to wait in the channel below the island. He himself crossed higher upstream with the Lady Alice  and her crew; then, floating silently down in the shadow of the wooded bank, they cut adrift all the canoes they could find. As fast as they drifted down Pocock and his men picked them up, till in the end thirty-six fine canoes were towed back to camp in triumph. Next morning the natives made peace and brought food for Stanley's men, and then their canoes were returned.

The voyagers now rested a week at Vinya Njara; and Christmas was spent in canoe racing, while Tippu Tib gave a modest feast to all the men. Tippu Tib now broke his agreement, and refused to go any farther than this point; and on December 28th Stanley started again down the river with his party reduced to 149, of whom only forty had guns.

Fighting began again the very next day, and a new war-cry told the explorers that they were among a different people. They had passed through the country whose war-cry was "Ooh-hu-hu-hu-u-u!" and now they were in the land of "Bo-bo-bo-bo-o-o!" The cannibal natives attacked boldly in canoes, shouting savagely, "Meat! meat! Aha! Now we shall have plenty of meat! Bo-bo-bo-bo-o-o! No sooner had the strangers driven off one set than the fight was taken up by the villages downstream. In vain did Stanley hold up necklaces and coils of wire while shouting "Sen-nen-eh! sen-nen-eh!"—the native word for peace. "Shall we give up so much meat for a few shells and some copper?" was the scornful reply.

Opposite one village a large canoe, 85 feet long, whose crew were painted half white and half red with broad black bars across, came dashing towards the Lady Alice. Stanley's men fired a volley at short range and then rushed the boat at the canoe. The natives escaped into the water, but Stanley caught the canoe and added it to his fleet.

On January 4th they heard in front of them the roar of rushing waters, and came to a series of seven cataracts with rapids between them, and they named them the "Stanley Falls." Where it was possible, the boat and canoes were run down the foaming current with a few men inside to steer them, while they were steadied with ropes of twisted rattan cane held by the men on the bank. When the dashing torrent was too dangerous, a path was cleared through the jungle with axes, and the canoes were dragged over land.


A large canoe came dashing towards the Lady Alice.

It took more than three weeks to pass the Stanley Falls; for at almost every cataract they had to fight for a footing on the bank before they could begin their work. The ropes frequently broke, and once a canoe got adrift. Zaidi, the man who was steering it, was all but swept over a cataract, but just managed to cling to a rock on the lip of the fall. Brave Uledi and Marzouk were let down the stream in a tethered canoe; but the moment Zaidi caught the rope thrown by one of the gallant pair the canoe broke adrift. Luckily she dashed against a rocky islet between Zaidi and the shore. Uledi and Marzouk sprang out and hauled Zaidi after them; and here they remained all night with a swirling rapid around them through which no man could possibly swim. Next morning, after many failures, the men on shore managed to get a rope over to the island, where Uledi quickly made it fast to a rock. Then one by one the three castaways pulled themselves hand over hand through the racing waters, and reached the bank, half drowned but safe.

After clearing the Stanley Falls they had a fight every day for five days, and came to a people who had a new war-cry but still called for "meat." The voyagers had left behind them the land of "Ooh-hu-hu-hu" and "Bo-bo-bo-bo," and were now come to the realms of "Yaha-ha-ha-a-a." To their great surprise they came, on February 8th, to a place called Rubunga, where the people were quite friendly and gave them bananas and fish. Stanley asked their chief what the river was called at this part of its course, and the answer was "Congo."

At length, after more than thirty fights, they fought their last battle; and as their enemies used muskets, they knew that the country was now reached by trade from the west coast. Three days later the river ran into a wide basin surrounded by white chalk cliffs and full of islands. This they named Stanley Pool; and, passing on, they soon knew by the sight of mountains and the sound of rushing water, that more cataracts were ahead. The hardest of their toil was yet to come, for these were the rapids now known as the Livingstone Falls.

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