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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
Select a page: 1r   1v   2r   2v     Download:  PDF   XML

Page 2v

[W]hen asked why they did not eat but lay pictures of 
abject misery they pointed to the heart as the seat 
of pain – they point to that organ correctly though 
many think that the heart is under the upper part 
of the sternum or breastbone – I saw many others 
die – some were kindly carried and on expiring were 
laid down on the side of the path – The masters wondering 
why they died and had plenty to eat – I once saw a party 
in the slave yoke singing merrily & thought my 
these fellows have taken to it kindly – they must belong 
to the class to whom 
slavery is the 
natural state 
for which they 
were born – I 
asked the cause 
of their mirth & 
was told that 
they laughed at 
the idea "of coming 
back after death 
and haunting & 
killing those who 
had sold them" 
Some of the words 
I had to enquire 
the meaning of the 
word to "haunt and 
kill by spirit power"

[T]hen it was "oh you 
sent me off to 
Manga but the 
yoke is off when 
I die and back 
I shall come to 
haunt and to kill 
you" Then all 
joined in the 
chorus which was 
the name of each 
vendor as if it 
were "oh Johnny 
Smith Oh Johnny Smith Oh Oh" 
It told not of fun but of the bitterness and tears 
[text inserted:] and on the site of the oppression there was power
of such as were oppressed
^ and they had 
no comforter – "There be higher than they."

I am terribly knocked 
up but this is for your own eye only 
in my second childhood   a dreadful
old fogie – doubtful if I live to see you 
– I stick to my work in spite of 
everything because most of my friends

Page 2v, right margin

will say as my good daughter does – "much as I wish to have 
you home I would rather that you finish your work to your 
own satisfaction than come merely to gratify me" there’s a good 
brave girl I guess – a chip off the old block and no 
mistake      David Livingstone
News came lately to Ujiji that a large body of Turks (Egyptians?) 
came and attacked Sunna – They were repulsed and fled in disorder 
Sunna is Spekes Muza with his fathers name – can this be Sam Baker
[previous line continues:] or De Bono?

Page 2v, page center, overtext

Baker does not seem to be aware how 
often the Portuguese have tried the conquering 
plan and always failed – more signally 
in the West perhaps than the East
but it may 
be different with him and though I dont 
know his plan
I hope he may do good 
on the Zambesi the natives to a man were 
most friendly – the Portuguese instructed from 
Lisbon were civil but hated us
& to the expedition 
with Baker the Turks will be as friendly as the 
Zambesi natives to us – but I fear that the 
common people will be like our Portuguese 
But for cannon Sunna could conquer Egypt 
far more easily than 3000 troops could injure 
him – 100 000 warriers though an exaggeration means something great

Page 2v, lower right corner, upside down, undertext

Revise Nov 23/69
for Dr Livingstone Interior of Africa


Critical Notes 
(keyed to passages in blue)

Page 2v

I once saw … oppressed   An earlier draft of this incident appears in Livingstone’s journal (1866-72:24 June 1868; 1874,1:306-07): "[S]ix men slaves singing as if they did not feel the weight and degradation of the slave sticks – asked them what their song was about – They replied ‘that when they were dead their souls would come back and haunt and kill the different men who had sold them to go to Manga’ or the sea – The names of these men were the chorus – as if it were ‘oh Johnny Smith, Johnny Smith oh’ […]."

"There be higher than they."   "If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter: for he that is higher than the highest regardeth; and there be higher than they" (Ecclesiastes 5:8, King James).

I am terribly … fogie   Livingstone reiterates the sentiments expressed here in several letters from this period (see, for instance, [1870e] 1872). In Bambarre he endured choleric fever, breathing difficulties due to a recent bout of pneumonia, and "irritable ulcers on the feet" that ate through "muscle, tendon and bone" and which he treated with the Arab remedy of powdered malachite (Livingstone 1870-71a:X; [1870b] 1964). He also suffered from chronic hemorrhoids, which at times prolapsed and needed to be lanced, and which were exacerbated by his constant use of drastic purges (Jeal 1973:191; Northcott 1973:106). The bleeding was so severe that medical historians have suggested it might have been chronic colitis; Livingstone, however, refused to have a potentially life-saving operation (Gelfand 1957:279; Northcott 1973:11, 106; Ransford 1978:227). Livingstone’s "second childhood" refers in part to the loss of his teeth, some of which he pulled himself (Livingstone [1869b] 1880:397).

doubtful if I live … again    Waller had written to Livingstone, "When you come home send me a telegram from Paris and I will come and meet you were we parted at Dover," and had closed the same letter with the words, "Goodby God bless you Dr, may He grant that we soon meet" (Waller 1869b). 

Page 2v, right margin

my good daughter   Agnes Livingstone (1847-1912).

News came lately … De Bono?   This "news" was probably delivered to Ujiji in 1870 or early 1871 by a party of Ganda soldiers on their way to Zanzibar as envoys of Mutesa, whom Livingstone later encountered in Unyanyembe on the return leg of their journey (Grant 1872:265-66; Livingstone 1874,2:176-77; cf. Kiwanuka 1972:158-60). However, the specific attack mentioned here eludes conclusive identification. Although Livingstone speculates that it might have been carried out by the men of Baker or De Bono, and in the overtext on this page leans towards the choice of Baker, this assumption is not correct. Baker’s army never reached Buganda and did not even arrive in Bunyoro, the region directly to the northwest of Buganda, until early 1872 (Baker 1873-74; Baker 1874). De Bono, in turn, sold off his assets to the Egyptian government and ceased operations in the region in 1865 (Gray 1961:82). It is more likely that the invading force consisted of Turco-Egyptian slave traders employed by the Egyptian trader and Governor of Khartoum, Muhammad al-‘Aqqād, who at the time was "the sole owner of trading ‘rights’ in the area" south of Gondokoro (Gray 1961:95, 99). Some of al-‘Aqqād’s men had arrived in Bunyoro with Baker on his first visit to the region in 1864 and had subsequently become involved in the succession war that followed the death of Kamrasi (r.1857?-69), the ruler (Omukama) of Bunyoro, and that resulted in the ascension of his son Kabarega (r.1870-99) (Wisnicki 2010; Doyle 2006:50). In that war Mutesa supported Kabarega, and as a result probably had his "first dealings" with the Turco-Egyptians in 1869 or 1870 (Kiwanuka 197:146-47, 160). That said, there are no references to the specific attack noted by Livingstone nor, more generally, to any forays by the Turco-Egyptians into Buganda in the relevant oral sources from Bunyoro and Buganda (see, e.g., Wilson in Johnston 1902,2:597-98; Fisher [1911]:160-61; Kaggwa 1971:158-59; K.W. 1937:63-64; Nyakatura 1973:110-11). However, another incident described by Baker (1874,2:98-99) may have some relevance here. When Baker met some of al-‘Aqqād’s representatives in Fatiko in early 1872, he learned that they had only recently made their first visit to Mutesa "and had been treated like dogs […] and […] had slunk back abashed, and were only glad to be allowed to depart. They declared that such a country would not suit their business: the people were too strong for them […]." On one hand, the details of this incident seem to preclude any previous attacks on or visits to Buganda by the Turco-Egyptians and so correlate with the oral sources cited above. On the other hand, in its rough outlines the Turco-Egyptian visit described by Baker parallels the attack mentioned by Livingstone, and so the former may have ultimately served as a basis for the latter, being either played down by al-‘Aqqād’s men when speaking with Baker or exaggerated by the Ganda envoys during their visit to Ujiji.

Turks (Egyptians?)   Livingstone’s uncertainly regarding the identity of the invading force arises from the fact that Egypt was at this time governed not by the "true" Egyptians of the lower Nile, but by a heterogeneous group known collectively as the "Turks," whose numbers included Turks, Circassians, Kurds, Greeks, Albanians and Berberine Egyptians as well as Turkomans from central Asia, Slavs from Bosnia and Laz from Trebizond (Wisnicki 2010:4; cf. Hill 1959:1). 

Sunna is Spekes Muza with his fathers name   Sunna was the ruler (Kabaka) of Buganda until his death in 1857. He was succeeded by his son Mutesa (r.1857-84) (Burton 1860,2:188-89), whom Livingstone here mistakenly calls "Muza." During his second expedition to Africa (1860-63), Speke stayed at Mutesa’s court from early to mid 1862 (Speke 1863:283-452).

can this be Sam Baker or De Bono?   For Baker’s expedition in the service of Isma’il, see above. Andrea De Bono (1821-71) was a Maltese slave trader and pioneer in the southern Sudan (for more on his activities, see De Bono 1862-63; Gray 1961; Catania 2002). Livingstone no doubt knew of De Bono’s activities because Speke and Grant had previously encountered De Bono’s agents in southern Sudan (see Speke 1863:579).

Page 2v, page center, overtext

how often the Portuguese … East   "West" and "East" refer, respectively, to Angola and Mozambique. For more on Portuguese initiatives in these areas, see Henderson (1979) and Newitt (1995).

I don’t know his plan   See note for "Baker’s plan" above, page 1v.

on the Zambesi … hated us   The reference is to the experiences of Livingstone and his party during the Zambesi Expedition. In their narrative of the expedition, Livingstone and his brother Charles (1865:76) indicated that they had secured the goodwill of the local Zambesi populations by distinguishing their objectives (i.e., the expedition’s) from those of the Portuguese: "Dr. Livingstone went ashore; and on his explaining that we were English and had come neither to take slaves nor to fight, but only to open a path by which our countrymen might follow to purchase cotton, or whatever else they might have to sell, except slaves, Tingane [a local chief] became at once quite friendly." The Portuguese, though prevented from outright hostilities by political considerations (as Livingstone here indicates), still resented Livingstone’s presence in their territories because of his possible "territorial ambitions," because of previous criticism he had leveled at the Portuguese administration of Angola and Mozambique in Missionary Travels and because of an increase in their slave trading activities in the area (Jeal 1973:218-20; see also Newitt 1973). Livingstone and his brother Charles (1965:241) elaborate on the situation thus: "Public instructions […] had been sent from Portugal to all the officials to render us every assistance in their power, but these were understood with considerable reservation. From what we observed it was clear that, with the public orders to the officials to aid us, private instructions had come to thwart us."

But for cannon … great   Livingstone’s assessment of Buganda’s military capabilities is roughly correct. Buganda was at this time the dominant state in the interlacustrine region, but its power was due to the size and skill of its army, rather than to possession of firearms. Although firearms probably reached Buganda in about 1844, and during the reign of Mutesa "their symbolic importance was immense," the supply of such weapons to the kingdom did not increase significantly until the mid to late 1860s (Reid 2002:219; Kiwanuka 1972:143-45). Those weapons that did reach Buganda, such as muzzle-loaders and flintlocks, were notoriously unreliable. Moreover, until about 1880 only a minority of the army would have been professional or semi-professional soldiers armed with spears and shields or, later, guns; the remainder were peasants armed with clubs or heavy sticks (Roscoe 1911:252-53).

3000 troops   At its largest, Baker’s army consisted of a total of 1500 Egyptian and Sudanese soldiers. However, when Baker finally made the push from Gondokoro to Bunyoro in early 1872, he traveled with a force of just over 200 men (Baker 1873-74:53, 57-58).

100 000 warriers   The figure here refers to the size of Mutesa’s army, which was drawn from levies on regional chiefs. Despite Livingstone’s disclaimer, the number he gives is low compared with the estimates of other contemporaries. With reference to Arab informants, Burton (1860:189) suggested that Mutesa’s army was made up of "‘at least 300,000 men,’" while Stanley ([1874-77] 1961:99), who visited Buganda in 1875 and saw the army firsthand, wrote in his diary that it consisted of "some 150 thousand warriors […], accompanied with something like 50,000 women, and 50,000 slaves and boys." Reid (2002:207) suggests that both estimates have been exaggerated for dramatic effect.

Page 2v, lower right corner, upside down, undertext

uncorrected … Africa   This text is not in Livingstone's hand, but was written as an address to Livingstone on the proof copy of the Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society upon which Livingstone wrote his letter (for more on this topic, see Note on the Text).


Note on the Text