Livingstone's 1871 Field Diary

A Multispectral Critical Edition

Representing the Nyangwe Massacre (cont)
As a result, the 1871 Field Diary offers a fascinating glimpse into Livingstone’s mind at the moment of the greatest crisis in his final travels. Despite his familiarity with slavery in Africa, the scale of the Nyangwe massacre exceeds his range of experience, and he struggles to come to terms with the event. Resistance by the Arab traders to clarify the underlying motives for the massacre, the chaotic order of Livingstone’s successive 15 July diary entries, and his unprecedented shift to hourly entries on 16 July all underscore his deep vulnerability and confusion at the moment of the massacre.
Still other moments reveal Livingstone’s conflicted thoughts regarding an appropriate response to the violence and his potential culpability for at least some of it. For instance, Livingstone assists whatever African villagers come to him for help, as both the 1871 Field Diary and 1872 Journal make clear. In anger, he also considers an extreme response that is out of character and that he would change in the 1872 version: "I went over to Dugumbe and proposed to catch the bloodhounds who fired in the chitoka and on the canoes and put their heads on poles" (1871a:297b/148; see previous page for the 1872 version).
Figure 1. Livingstone, 1871 Field Diary, 297b/148, detail, spectral ratio.
Yet Livingstone also makes decisions of questionable merit, as when he sends his men with a flag to assist Manilla’s brother (1871a:297b/147), not local villagers as the 1872 version would have it. More significantly, the structuring of events in the 1871 Field Diary foregrounds the possible role of Livingstone’s Banian slaves in the massacre.
As noted earlier, Livingstone had previously instructed the Banian slaves to bind and flog the headman Kalenga when the latter "bamboozled" Livingstone out of the payment for a canoe (1871a:297b/134). Yet Livingstone compressed this incident and moved it away temporally from the Nyangwe massacre when producing the 1872 Journal. It is not clear why Livingstone made this revision, although he may have feared that readers of his Journal might believe that his violence towards Kalenga offered some sort of model for the Arabs. Livingstone notes as much in the 1871 Field Diary: "I must not be the first to do what may be called injustice [ – ] The Arabs would like to see me using force" (1871:297b/135).
In writing up the 1872 Journal, Livingstone also made other changes to his representations of the Banian slaves. For instance, he deliberately revised one particularly damning passage from 30 April 1871. In the 1871 Field Diary, Livingstone records a report of some Arab traders a few days distant being in need of assistance. Although called on to send help to them, Livingstone writes, "I refused to send my slaves because they would only add to the confusion and murder – If they go anywhere I must go with them or murder is certain" (1871a:297c/123).
Figures 2, 3, 4. Livingstone, 1871 Field Diary, 297c/123, detail,
in color (top) and processed (pcar and pcolor) versions.
In the 1872 Journal, he incorporates this comment into an earlier entry, 25 April, and rewords it as follows: “I declined – because no matter what charges I gave my Banian slaves would be sure to shed human blood” (1872a:671). Most obviously, such revisions help diminish the original sentiments, and there is the temporal distancing once more. Livingstone’s motives for these revisions again remain unknown. Certainly the original passage is at odds with his usual complaints about the resistance of the slaves to further exploration and their attempts to slander him before the inhabitants of Nyangwe – relatively mild complaints when compared to the unrevised passage. Or, put another way, Livingstone’s overall presentation of the Banian slaves becomes more benign – however contemptuous it might still seem – when the passage regarding their murderous tendencies is reworded.
In the 1872 Journal, the consistency of such "benign" representations serves at least one significant narrative purpose. It gives Livingstone grounds to refute the accusation leveled by Arab slave traders that the Banian slaves had a role in carrying out the Nyangwe massacre:
Two wretched Moslems asserted "that the firing was done by the people of the English" I asked one of them why he lied so and he could utter no excuse – no other falsehood came to his aid as he stood abashed before me and telling him not to tell palpable falsehoods left him gaping (1872a:694).
In the 1871 Field Diary, the representation of this moment and Livingstone’s response is much more ambiguous:
shot after shot followed on the terrified fugitives = great numbers died – and a worthless Moslem asserted that all was done by the people of the English – This will spread though the murderers are on the other side plundering and shooting – It is awful – terrible (1871a: 297b/146)
Although Livingstone’s prose may imply a refutation, explicitly he fails to foreclose the possibility that his slaves took part in the Nyangwe massacre. Moreover, the difference between the two versions again helps to foreground a larger pattern of apparent revision.
Figure 5. Livingstone, 1871 Field Diary, 297b/146, detail, spectral ratio. Livingstone significantly revised this passage for the 1872 Journal.
Dorothy Helly has written eloquently of the public impact of Livingstone’s description of the Nyangwe massacre in the 1871 letter to Earl Granville:
Livingstone’s vivid characterization of the wholesale bloodshed that could disrupt daily life in Africa as a consequence of the slave trade came at a crucial moment. His words fed into a well-planned campaign recently launched within antislavery circles to stir up public clamor for ending the seaborne slave trade that supplied the Middle East and the island of Zanzibar and its sources on the adjacent East Coast of Africa (1987:26).
British abolitionists achieved this objective just one year after the publication of Livingstone’s letter, with the signing in June 1873 of the treaty between Britain and the Sultan of Zanzibar for the suppression of the slave trade. Livingstone and his cause, writes Helly (1987:27), "would thereafter remain synonymous, just as Wilberforce’s name had come to symbolize the antislavery cause on the Atlantic coast of Africa earlier in the century."
Figures 6, 7. Livingstone, 1871 Field Diary, 297c/133,
in color (left) and spectral ratio (right) versions. One of the
most difficult pages of the diary to transcribe, even with
the benefit of spectral image processing.
The 1871 Field Diary – only now made available through spectral imaging and processing – opens a new dimension in our understanding of these historical developments. It is not unreasonable to suppose, given the revisions cited above, that Livingstone’s slaves had a part in inciting the Nyangwe massacre or, at least, that Livingstone feared that their actions and his own had helped launch the chain of violent events that led to the massacre. As a result, he sought to downplay these points when revising the 1871 Field Diary to produce the 1872 Journal.
Of course, we cannot confirm this hypothesis without the discovery of more evidence. However, if true, it would mean that by bringing these Banian slaves to Nyangwe, Livingstone – however inadvertently – helped occasion the horrific event that transformed the trajectory of his final travels in Africa and that established the image of the tireless abolitionist crusader that we remember today.
The Manuscript