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Livingstone's Letter from Bambarre

A Multispectral Critical Edition

All letter images and text published by permission of Peter and Nejma Beard. Licensed for use under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License. ©2010

*Beta Edition, 2010
*First Edition, 2011


David Livingstone to Horace Waller, 5 February 1871
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Page 2r

PS. to Waller – It is not worth while noticing anything fr[om]
Burton any more than from Cooley
– they make statements only [to] 
lug themselves forward to the public – For your private information 
I tell you that my party consisted of fifteen Muhamadans 
six pagan Hindoos six christians & four Heathen
the Moslems 
were by far the worst in every respect – The christians had the mis 
fortune to have been born slaves in their own tribes & had recieved the 
worst training in the world from Moslem slavetraders but behaved 
better than the Moslems till we came into close contact with Moslems 
again – the Heathen had been in the Portuguese service and were 
infinitely inferior to heathen Makololo in consequence – I have 
heard gentlemen from India speak of native christians with 
contempt because they had never seen any save the vile 
scum that hangs about camps which may be called moral 
cess pools – I have seen the native christians in India which 
these silly gentlemen pretend to describe and they are as different 
from the "Masters caste" men who say "I drink brandy" as one 
can concieve – I have travelled with all sorts of Africans 
and I can without hesitation assert that the native Christians 
are out of sight better than either Moslems or heathen – only 
let them understand thoroughly that they are servants and 
must work as hard as slaves – They are not gentlemen and 
you will have trustworthy & generally truthful attendants – 
The trouble you will have with them is just what all have with 
English servants and every other
– I am to be judged by the work done

I am truly thankful that there is some prospect of the 
suppression of the East African slave trade as carried on 
by the Sultans subjects
– I have heard but little of the details 
but I believe a great deal is owing to the exertions of our 
friend Kirk
on whom for his share may Heavens 
rich blessing descend – the sights I have in this journey 
seen of slaving make my blood run cold and I am not 
easily moved or very Sentimental – I cannot call the Arabs 
[text inserted:] it is the trade that is cruel and certainly is vil[e]
cruel – but ^ few are like those wretches the Kilwa traders 
or the atrocious Portuguese of Tette whose murder and 
arson you witnessed
– But it is an awful traffic and 
can be congenial only to the Devil and his angels – If our 
statesmen stop the frightful waste of human life in this 
region and mitigate the vast amount of human woe 
that accompanies it they will do good on the large scale 
and cause joy in Heaven – The whole horrible system 
North of Rovuma & Cape Delgado is to support the Sultan 
of Zanzibar who is said to be by no means very greedy 
of money save to uphold his little court & attendants
["]The system South of a point South of Cape Delgado for 
                          [text inserted:] Arabs
that is the boundary claimed by the ^ Portuguese is kept up 
not to injure the rights of the crown of Portugal" so said 
one not supposed capable of abetting an atrocity
the Governors D’Almrida destroyed our work & people 
The most startling disease I have seen among 
slaves is not earth or clay eating which too is a disease 
per se but what really seems to be brokenheartedness 
It does not attack those who have been slaves in their own 
land but those who have been free – I saw a party taken 
across Lualaba by a slaver and when they saw this mighty 
river roll between them and home they seemed to lose all 
heart – Twenty one who were then considered safe were 
unchained   all scuttled off to the mountains but eight 
still in the chain and in good health died in three days


Critical Notes 
(keyed to passages in blue)

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It is not … Cooley   Waller wrote to Livingstone that "Cooly [sic] has crowed over your grave and called you an ass, Burton, through his wife has called you a fool for liking Arabs 'niggers' and disliking Musselmen […]" (Waller 1869a). For the latter allusion, see I. Burton 1869.

Burton   During the East African Expedition of 1856-59, Burton and Speke became the first Europeans to see Lake Tanganyika (both men) and Lake Victoria (Speke only). Although unable to prove so definitively, Speke rightly asserted that Lake Victoria was the "source" of the Nile. Burton countered Speke’s claim by collaborating with the geographer James M’Queen to publish The Nile Basin (1864), which argued – incorrectly and on rather insubstantial grounds – that Lake Victoria was not one lake but several and that Lake Tanganyika was the true source of the Nile. Livingstone disputed the claims of both men. Moreover, he was ill disposed towards Burton for a variety of reasons, foremost among them being Burton’s contempt for Africans. Livingstone believed that "if he could prove the geographical theories of both [Burton and Speke] to have been wrong, thus making their discoveries seem insignificant, it would be a victory for his own views, on the benefits of trade and Christianity, over Burton’s pessimistic assumption that Africans were immutably ‘unprogressive and unfit for social change’" (Jeal 1973:286, see also 282-87). 

my party consisted … Heathen   Livingstone’s figures are not correct. Before taking on African porters on the mainland, Livingstone began his last expedition (1866-73) with a party of thirty-six men: "I have 13 Sepoys – 10 Johanna men – 9 Nassick boys – 2 Shupanga men – 2 Waiyao" (Livingstone 1866-72:18 Mar. 1866; 1874,1:8-9). The Sepoys were from the Bombay Marine Battalion and were under the command of an Indian corporal; the "Nassick boys" had been selected on the advice of Sir Bartle Frere, then Governor of Bombay, from a government-run school for freed slaves in Nashik, India. The Johanna men had been hired with the assistance of the British Consul at Johanna (Anjouan), Comoros, while the Shupanga (Susi and Amoda) and Yao (Chuma and Wikatani) had been taken by Livingstone to India after his previous African expedition (1858-63) and collected just prior to this one (Jeal 1973:296).

the Moslems … every other   Livingstone revisits and elaborates on many of the sentiments expressed here in an undated entry in his diary (1870-71b:XX; 1874,2:74-76).

the Heathen had been in the Portuguese service   When they first met Livingstone in August 1858, Susi and Amoda were employed in the service of Major Tito Sicard, the Commandant of Tete, who was then stationed in Shupanga. Chuma and Wikatani were former Portuguese slaves freed by Livingstone’s party and the members of the Universities Mission in July 1861 (Livingstone and Livingstone 1865:31-32, 355-59; Seaver 1957:328-29, 388-90). 

heathen Makololo   An African tribe that occupied the general area of the Upper Zambesi River basin during the period in question. Flint (2003:394, 402) describes them as "a composite horde resulting from the assimilation of peoples from groups conquered by the Bafokeng under the leadership of the charismatic and astute Sibituane," and notes that the group "had migrated in stages from an area close to modern-day Lesotho as part of the dispersals referred to as ‘the Difaqane’ in south-eastern Africa, across the High Veldt, then west and north through present-day Botswana." Livingstone developed a good relationship with both the tribe and their leader. He traveled with Makololo attendants during his famous trans-African journey of 1852 to 1856 and set them at the center of his scheme to develop Africa through Christianity, commerce, and civilization (Livingstone 1857; Wisnicki 2009). Livingstone abandoned all his plans for the Makololo during the ill-fated Zambesi Expedition (Jeal 1973:147-148).

I have seen … describe   Livingstone visited India in mid 1864 after the Zambesi Expedition, and again from late 1865 to early 1866, just before his final expedition to Africa.

I am truly thankful … subjects   Waller had written to Livingstone at length of this possibility (Waller 1869a, 1869b). For a detailed study of the slave trade, see Sheriff 1987. The Sultan to whom Livingstone refers is Said Majid (r.1856-70). Although Said Majid died in October 1870 and was succeeded by Said Barghash (r.1870-88), it is unlikely that Livingstone was aware of this development when he wrote his letter to Waller.

the exertions of our friend Kirk   Livingstone and Kirk became friends on the Zambesi Expedition and Livingstone’s interest in abolition had a strong influence on Kirk, as became evident when the latter became acting Consul and Political Resident at Zanzibar in 1870. Unfortunately, Stanley wrongly came to believe that Kirk had not done his best to select the men for Livingstone mentioned in this letter, and as a result eventually turned Livingstone against his former friend. Kirk’s own abolitionist efforts culminated in 1873 when he persuaded Said Barghash to sign an anti-slavery treaty that effectively closed Zanzibar’s notorious slave market and provided for the protection of all liberated slaves (Coupland 1968: 38-61; McMullen 2004).

the Kilwa traders   Kilwa served as "the premier slave port of the East African coast, with nearly 90 percent of the slaves originating from it." By the 1860s Kilwa exported nearly 19,000 slaves annually (Sheriff 1987:163).

the atrocious Portuguese … witnessed   Waller, who had been in Africa from 1861 to 1864 as part of the Universities Mission, had a particularly good opportunity to witness the activities of the Portuguese slave traders during his five-month stay at the mission station on Mount Morambala (Livingstone and Livingstone 1865:472-73).

The whole horrible system … Zanzibar   Sheriff (1987:190) notes that, with some qualifications, "[b]y the early 1870s, the boundaries of the commercial empire [of Zanzibar] extended from Tungi Bay near Cape Delgado, passing to the south of Lake Nyasa, as far as Linyati in the Caprivi Strip in Namibia. From there it extended northwards through Katanga and down the Lomami to its confluence with the Lualaba. The boundary then extended to the northern end of Lake Tanganyika, and northwards again to include much of Uganda and Kenya, terminating at the Benadir of Somalia." 

the Sultan of Zanzibar … attendants   Livingstone’s assessment sidesteps a much more complex situation. In addition to his dependence on Britain to bolster his power, Said Majid also struggled financially. For instance, in 1869 his total revenue was $345,000 per annum, but expenditure on his army of mercenaries alone accounted for $108,000; on the Sultan’s death in 1870, Kirk valued Majid’s assets at $610,000 and deficits at $843,000, representing a significant overall deficit of $233,000 (Coupland 1968:71).

["]The system South … Portugal   In other words, the formal boundary claimed by Zanzibar was just south of the Rovuma River. The determination of the boundary had apparently been made partly when, during the Zambesi Expedition, Livingstone considered using the Rovuma as an alternative to the Zambesi River: "no sooner was it proposed that we should go to the Rovuma, than the Governor-General d’Almeida hastened up to Zanzibar, and tried to induce the Sultan [Said Majid] to agree that the river [be] made the boundary between him and the Portuguese. This movement […] was happily frustrated by Colonel Rigby [H.M. Consul and Political Resident at Zanzibar]; and the Governor-General had to be content with Cape Delgado as the extreme limit of Portuguese claims northward" (Livingstone and Livingstone 1965:241). In fact, Portuguese colonial settlement did extend to the Rovuma (Newitt 1995:279) and to this day the river forms a large part of the formal boundary between Tanzania and Mozambique.

so said one … unchecked   During the period of Livingstone’s Zambesi Expedition, João Tavares d'Almeida was Governor-General of Mozambique, while his brother, António Tavares d'Almeida, was Governor of Tete. Livingstone’s comments here (including the canceled passage) allude to the fact that both were ardent supporters of the slave trade, although the former professed "to have an intense desire to suppress" the trade and as a result had "gained a character for uprightness among the officers of H.M. cruisers" (Livingstone and Livingstone 1965:420-21).

The most startling … three days   Livingstone here refers to an incident in which Said bin Habib took a large number of slaves in revenge for the death of his brother in Rua. In his journal, Livingstone (1866-72:Dec. 1870; 1874,2:93-94) writes that the slaves endured captivity until they saw "the broad river Lualaba roll between them and their free homes [–] they then lost heart" and died within a matter of days, despite having plenty of food to eat. Contemporary medical historians have questioned Livingstone’s diagnosis: "Although people would agree that severe grief could cause death by a direct effect on the heart, from the medical standpoint there is little proof of the existence of such a condition" (Gelfand 1957:258).

Clay or earth eating   Geophagy is a subject of considerable research in the fields of anthropology and tropical medicine. It is called "safura" by Livingstone (1870-71b:LXIII; 1874,2:83). Although the practice originates as a behavioral response to physiological stress, especially the instinctive craving for sources of essential minerals, among other nutrients, Hunter (1973:185) suggests that "[o]ver time, […] in certain societies, more elaborately organized and sophisticated institutional forms emerge." The ingestion of clay, which may contain both parasites and toxins, can result in the symptoms that Livingstone (1870-71b:LXIII-LXV; 1874,2:83-84) describes: "The feet swell flesh is lost and the face looks haggard. The patient can scarcely walk for shortness of breath and weakness and he continues eating till he dies." The source and preparation of the clay can determine the risk of infection. While infection from parasites such as ascarid worms and hookworm is common where topsoil is consumed, "there are few reports of infections routinely associated with geophagy by pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa, probably because women take clays from 60 cm to 90 cm below the soil surface and, at least some of the time, they bake the clays" (Callahan 2003). Clay eating was certainly known in Livingstone’s day and earlier. In Travels in the Interior Districts of Africa – a book Livingstone carried with him during at least part of his last journey (see Livingstone 1874,2:175) – Mungo Park (1799:327) writes, "This practice is by no means uncommon amongst the Negroes; but whether it arises from a vitiated appetite, or from a settled intention to destroy themselves, I cannot affirm." Curiously, in Nicholas Nickleby, Dickens (1839:68) also mentions clay eating in a chapter on "Dotheboys Hall" (see note for "Two great friends … afterwards" above, page 1r): "Nicholas distended his stomach with a bowl of porridge, for much the same reason which induces some savages to swallow earth – lest they should be inconveniently hungry when there is nothing to eat."

Note on the Text