Livingstone's 1871 Field Diary

A Multispectral Critical Edition

Canoes on the Lualaba
Livingstone stayed in Nyangwe from 30 March to 20 July 1871. Much of the time he remained free from fever and ever-ready to depart. He interviewed Arab travellers, their slaves, and local African inhabitants about local geographical details, and he considered possible travel routes. He also attended the market regularly (28 were held during his time in Nyangwe) and took great delight in watching the market sellers at their work: "[May] 12th a set in rain from Nor West did not deter the market today – people came singing and sheltered with mats" (1871a:297b/137).
Figures 1, 2. Fold-out map, details, from Livingstone's Last Journals (1874),
vol. 2. Nyangwe was the western endpoint of Livingstone's travels.
Download of high-resolution TIFF, version 1 (490MB), version 2 (164MB),
or JPEG, version 1 (111MB), version 2 (24MB), of the map.
Such moments offered a relief to his ongoing troubles in Nyangwe with the "Banian slaves," a group of liberated slaves sent to Livingstone by John Kirk, the British Consul at Zanzibar. These slaves continuously aggravated Livingstone, launched forays against local inhabitants, refused to go forward in travel, and, finally, conspired to turn the inhabitants of Nyangwe against Livingstone. The behavior of these men shook Livingstone’s faith in the ability of slaves to be rehabilitated and drew a volley of invectives. Waller later cut the most vituperative of these while editing the 1872 Journal, as Helly has shown (1987:179-81), in particular because the comments also referenced Livingstone’s grievances against John Kirk.
During these early months in Nyangwe, Livingstone also made a sustained attempt to purchase a canoe from the Wagenya fishermen of the Lualaba River. An adequate canoe was crucial for further exploration of the river. Yet the enterprise proved quite frustrating. Its unexpected culmination became one of the key incidents that Livingstone compressed and rewrote when he revised the 1871 Field Diary to produce the 1872 Journal.
Figure 3. A Canoe of the Wenya or Wagenya Fisherman.
Illustration from Stanley 1878,2:116.
In April, the 1871 Field Diary indicates, Livingstone repeatedly failed to secure a canoe or even gain the trust of the local population through his own efforts. In May, he turned to the Arab trader Abed for help, and the two of them tried to negotiate for a canoe with an African chief named Kalenga. The venture not only failed, but also resulted in Livingstone being cheated of a “thousand cowries – three goats beads” when Kalenga revealed that the canoe belonged to someone else and was not his to sell in the first place (1871a:297b/135).
In response, Livingstone attempted to restrain his anger, especially as he knew that the Arabs were watching his every move: "It is very grievous to be cheated after losing nearly three months in the business but Kalenga has no canoe and I must not be the first to do what may be called injustice [ – ] The Arabs would like to see me using force" (1871a:297b/135).
Yet Livingstone could not put the matter to rest. "The conduct of Kalenga to me is not be endured," he notes in the entry of 12 June. "It is the most childish impertinence because he thinks nothing will be done to him but talk as Manyema do & have done for ages” (1871a:297b/137). The next entry follows these developments to their conclusion:
13th chitoka = men off to force Kalenga to reason = if he refuses to refund to bind and give him a flogging – if It [sic] is entirely lost then return and get of my beads to buy another canoe down the river – Kalenga fled – (1871a:297b/137)
It is an astonishing turn of events, a moment that shows Livingstone attempting to harness the violent tendencies of the Banian slaves – tendencies that he otherwise deplores – against a member of the local African population.
Figure 4. Nyangwe from the River. Illustration from Cameron 1877,1:378
In the 1872 Journal, Livingstone removed the Banian slaves from the narrative of this incident and reduced the whole series of interactions with Kalenga to a few sentences in the 20 May 1871 entry:
Abed called Kalenga the headman who beguiled him as I soon found and delivered the canoe he had bought formally to me and went off down the Lualaba on foot to buy the Babira ivory – I was to follow in the canoe and wait for him in the River Luira but soon I ascertained that the canoe was still in the forest and did not belong to Kalenga – On demanding back the price he said let Abed come and I will give it to him – Then when I sent to force him to give up the goods all his village fled into the forest (1872a:680)
The language is restrained. This version lacks the immediacy of the 1871 Field Diary, and Livingstone’s revisions effectively neutralize the final turn of events. Livingstone forestalls any connection a reader might make between the general contours of this incident and the event that would soon become the defining moment of Livingstone’s time in Nyangwe.
Livingstone in 1871 (cont)