David Livingstone
A Popular Account of Dr. Livingstone's Expedition to the Zambesi and Its Tributaries


The chief brought a small present of meal in the evening, and sat with us for a few minutes.  On leaving us he said that he wished we might sleep well.  Scarce had he gone, when a wild sad cry arose from the river, followed by the shrieking of women.  A crocodile had carried off his principal wife, as she was bathing.  The Makololo snatched up their arms, and rushed to the bank, but it was too late, she was gone.  The wailing of the women continued all night, and next morning we met others coming to the village to join in the general mourning.  Their grief was evidently heartfelt, as we saw the tears coursing down their cheeks.  In reporting this misfortune to his neighbours, Muana-Moesi said, “that white men came to his village; washed themselves at the place where his wife drew water and bathed; rubbed themselves with a white medicine (soap); and his wife, having gone to bathe afterwards, was taken by a crocodile; he did not know whether in consequence of the medicine used or not.”  This we could not find fault with.  On our return we were viewed with awe, and all the men fled at our approach; the women remained; and this elicited the remark from our men, “The women have the advantage of men, in not needing to dread the spear.”  The practice of bathing, which our first contact with Chinsunsé’s people led us to believe was unknown to the natives, we afterwards found to be common in other parts of the Manganja country.

We discovered Lake Nyassa a little before noon of the 16th September, 1859.  Its southern end is in 14 degrees 25 minutes S. Lat., and 35 degrees 30 minutes E. Long.  At this point the valley is about twelve miles wide.  There are hills on both sides of the lake, but the haze from burning grass prevented us at the time from seeing far.  A long time after our return from Nyassa, we received a letter from Captain R. B. Oldfield, R.N., then commanding H.M.S. “Lyra,” with the information that Dr. Roscher, an enterprising German who unfortunately lost his life in his zeal for exploration, had also reached the Lake, but on the 19th November following our discovery; and on his arrival had been informed by the natives that a party of white men were at the southern extremity.  On comparing dates (16th September and 19th November) we were about two months before Dr. Roscher.

It is not known where Dr. Roscher first saw its waters; as the exact position of Nusseewa on the borders of the Lake, where he lived some time, is unknown.  He was three days north-east of Nusseewa, and on the Arab road back to the usual crossing-place of the Rovuma, when he was murdered.  The murderers were seized by one of the chiefs, sent to Zanzibar, and executed.  He is said to have kept his discoveries to himself, with the intention of publishing in Europe the whole at once, in a splendid book of travels.

The chief of the village near the confluence of the Lake and River Shiré, an old man, called Mosauka, hearing that we were sitting under a tree, came and kindly invited us to his village.  He took us to a magnificent banyan-tree, of which he seemed proud.  The roots had been trained down to the ground into the form of a gigantic arm-chair, without the seat.  Four of us slept in the space betwixt its arms.  Mosauka brought us a present of a goat and basket of meal “to comfort our hearts.”  He told us that a large slave party, led by Arabs, were encamped close by.  They had been up to Cazembe’s country the past year, and were on their way back, with plenty of slaves, ivory, and malachite.  In a few minutes half a dozen of the leaders came over to see us.  They were armed with long muskets, and, to our mind, were a villanous-looking lot.  They evidently thought the same of us, for they offered several young children for sale, but, when told that we were English, showed signs of fear, and decamped during the night.  On our return to the Kongoné, we found that H.M.S. “Lynx” had caught some of these very slaves in a dhow; for a woman told us she first saw us at Mosauka’s, and that the Arabs had fled for fear of an uncanny sort of Basungu.

This is one of the great slave-paths from the interior, others cross the Shiré a little below, and some on the lake itself.  We might have released these slaves but did not know what to do with them afterwards.  On meeting men, led in slave-sticks, the Doctor had to bear the reproaches of the Makololo, who never slave, “Ay, you call us bad, but are we yellow-hearted, like these fellows—why won’t you let us choke them?”  To liberate and leave them, would have done but little good, as the people of the surrounding villages would soon have seized them, and have sold them again into slavery.  The Manganja chiefs sell their own people, for we met Ajawa and slave-dealers in several highland villages, who had certainly been encouraged to come among them for slaves.  The chiefs always seemed ashamed of the traffic, and tried to excuse themselves.  “We do not sell many, and only those who have committed crimes.”  As a rule the regular trade is supplied by the low and criminal classes, and hence the ugliness of slaves.  Others are probably sold besides criminals, as on the accusation of witchcraft.  Friendless orphans also sometimes disappear suddenly, and no one inquires what has become of them.  The temptation to sell their people is peculiarly great, as there is but little ivory on the hills, and often the chief has nothing but human flesh with which to buy foreign goods.  The Ajawa offer cloth, brass rings, pottery, and sometimes handsome young women, and agree to take the trouble of carrying off by night all those whom the chief may point out to them.  They give four yards of cotton cloth for a man, three for a woman, and two for a boy or girl, to be taken to the Portuguese at Mozambique, Iboe, and Quillimane.

The Manganja were more suspicious and less hospitable than the tribes on the Zambesi.  They were slow to believe that our object in coming into their country was really what we professed it to be.  They naturally judge us by the motives which govern themselves.  A chief in the Upper Shiré Valley, whose scared looks led our men to christen him Kitlabolawa (I shall be killed), remarked that parties had come before, with as plausible a story as ours, and, after a few days, had jumped up and carried off a number of his people as slaves.  We were not allowed to enter some of the villages in the valley, nor would the inhabitants even sell us food; Zimika’s men, for instance, stood at the entrance of the euphorbia hedge, and declared we should not pass in.  We sat down under a tree close by.  A young fellow made an angry oration, dancing from side to side with his bow and poisoned arrows, and gesticulating fiercely in our faces.  He was stopped in the middle of his harangue by an old man, who ordered him to sit down, and not talk to strangers in that way; he obeyed reluctantly, scowling defiance, and thrusting out his large lips very significantly.  The women were observed leaving the village; and, suspecting that mischief might ensue, we proceeded on our journey, to the great disgust of our men.  They were very angry with the natives for their want of hospitality to strangers, and with us, because we would not allow them to give “the things a thrashing.”  “This is what comes of going with white men,” they growled out; “had we been with our own chief, we should have eaten their goats to-night, and had some of themselves to carry the bundles for us to-morrow.”  On our return by a path which left his village on our right, Zimika sent to apologize, saying that “he was ill, and in another village at the time; it was not by his orders we were sent away; his men did not know that we were a party wishing the land to dwell in peace.”

We were not able, when hastening back to the men left in the ship, to remain in the villages belonging to this chief; but the people came after us with things for sale, and invited us to stop, and spend the night with them, urging, “Are we to have it said that white people passed through our country and we did not see them?”  We rested by a rivulet to gratify these sight-seers.  We appear to them to be red rather than white; and, though light colour is admired among themselves, our clothing renders us uncouth in aspect.  Blue eyes appear savage, and a red beard hideous.  From the numbers of aged persons we saw on the highlands, and the increase of mental and physical vigour we experienced on our ascent from the lowlands, we inferred that the climate was salubrious, and that our countrymen might there enjoy good health, and also be of signal benefit, by leading the multitude of industrious inhabitants to cultivate cotton, buazé, sugar, and other valuable produce, to exchange for goods of European manufacture; at the same time teaching them, by precept and example, the great truths of our Holy Religion.

Our stay at the Lake was necessarily short.  We had found that the best plan for allaying any suspicions, that might arise in the minds of a people accustomed only to slave-traders, was to pay a hasty visit, and then leave for a while, and allow the conviction to form among the people that, though our course of action was so different from that of others, we were not dangerous, but rather disposed to be friendly.  We had also a party at the vessel, and any indiscretion on their part might have proved fatal to the character of the Expedition.

The trade of Cazembé and Katanga’s country, and of other parts of the interior, crosses Nyassa and the Shiré, on its way to the Arab port, Kilwa, and the Portuguese ports of Iboe and Mozambique.  At present, slaves, ivory, malachite, and copper ornaments, are the only articles of commerce.  According to information collected by Colonel Rigby at Zanzibar, and from other sources, nearly all the slaves shipped from the above-mentioned ports come from the Nyassa district.  By means of a small steamer, purchasing the ivory of the Lake and River above the cataracts, which together have a shore-line of at least 600 miles, the slave-trade in this quarter would be rendered unprofitable,—for it is only by the ivory being carried by the slaves, that the latter do not eat up all the profits of a trip.  An influence would be exerted over an enormous area of country, for the Mazitu about the north end of the Lake will not allow slave-traders to pass round that way through their country.  They would be most efficient allies to the English, and might themselves be benefited by more intercourse.  As things are now, the native traders in ivory and malachite have to submit to heavy exactions; and if we could give them the same prices which they at present get after carrying their merchandise 300 miles beyond this to the Coast, it might induce them to return without going further.  It is only by cutting off the supplies in the interior, that we can crush the slave-trade on the Coast.  The plan proposed would stop the slave-trade from the Zambesi on one side and Kilwa on the other; and would leave, beyond this tract, only the Portuguese port of Inhambane on the south, and a portion of the Sultan of Zanzibar’s dominion on the north, for our cruisers to look after.  The Lake people grow abundance of cotton for their own consumption, and can sell it for a penny a pound or even less.  Water-carriage exists by the Shiré and Zambesi all the way to England, with the single exception of a portage of about thirty-five miles past the Murchison Cataracts, along which a road of less than forty miles could be made at a trifling expense; and it seems feasible that a legitimate and thriving trade might, in a short time, take the place of the present unlawful traffic.

Colonel Rigby, Captains Wilson, Oldfield, and Chapman, and all the most intelligent officers on the Coast, were unanimous in the belief, that one small vessel on the Lake would have decidedly more influence, and do more good in suppressing the slave-trade, than half a dozen men-of-war on the ocean.  By judicious operations, therefore, on a small scale inland, little expense would be incurred, and the English slave-trade policy on the East would have the same fair chance of success, as on the West Coast.

After a land-journey of forty days, we returned to the ship on the 6th of October, 1859, in a somewhat exhausted condition, arising more from a sort of poisoning, than from the usual fatigue of travel.  We had taken a little mulligatawney paste, for making soup, in case of want of time to cook other food.  Late one afternoon, at the end of an unusually long march, we reached Mikena, near the base of Mount Njongoné to the north of Zomba, and the cook was directed to use a couple of spoonfuls of the paste; but, instead of doing so, he put in the whole potful.  The soup tasted rather hot, but we added boiled rice to it, and, being very hungry, partook freely of it; and, in consequence of the overdose, we were delayed several days in severe suffering, and some of the party did not recover till after our return to the ship.  Our illness may partly have arisen from another cause.  One kind of cassava (Jatropha maligna) is known to be, in its raw state, poisonous, but by boiling it carefully in two waters, which must be thrown off, the poison is extracted and the cassava rendered fit for food.  The poisonous sort is easily known by raising a bit of the bark of the root, and putting the tongue to it.  A bitter taste shows poison, but it is probable that even the sweet kind contains an injurious principle.  The sap, which, like that of our potatoes, is injurious as an article of food, is used in the “Pepper-pot” of the West Indies, under the name of “Cassereep,” as a perfect preservative of meat.  This juice put into an earthen vessel with a little water and Chili pepper is said to keep meat, that is immersed in it, good for a great length of time; even for years.  No iron or steel must touch the mixture, or it will become sour.  This “Pepper-pot,” of which we first heard from the late Archbishop Whately, is a most economical meat-safe in a hot climate; any beef, mutton, pork, or fowl that may be left at dinner, if put into the mixture and a little fresh cassereep added, keeps perfectly, though otherwise the heat of the climate or flies would spoil it.  Our cook, however, boiled the cassava root as he was in the habit of cooking meat, namely, by filling the pot with it, and then pouring in water, which he allowed to stand on the fire until it had become absorbed and boiled away.  This method did not expel the poisonous properties of the root, or render it wholesome; for, notwithstanding our systematic caution in purchasing only the harmless sort, we suffered daily from its effects, and it was only just before the end of our trip that this pernicious mode of boiling it was discovered by us.

In ascending 3000 feet from the lowlands to the highlands, or on reaching the low valley of the Shiré from the higher grounds, the change of climate was very marked.  The heat was oppressive below, the thermometer standing at from 84 degrees to 103 degrees in the shade; and our spirits were as dull and languid as they had been exhilarated on the heights in a temperature cooler by some 20 degrees.  The water of the river was sometimes 84 degrees or higher, whilst that we had been drinking in the hill streams was only 65 degrees.

It was found necessary to send two of our number across from the Shiré to Tette; and Dr. Kirk, with guides from Chibisa, and accompanied by Mr. Rae, the engineer, accomplished the journey.  We had found the country to the north and east so very well watered, that no difficulty was anticipated in this respect in a march of less than a hundred miles; but on this occasion our friends suffered severely.  The little water to be had at this time of the year, by digging in the beds of dry watercourses, was so brackish as to increase thirst—some of the natives indeed were making salt from it; and when at long intervals a less brackish supply was found, it was nauseous and muddy from the frequent visits of large game.  The tsetse abounded.  The country was level, and large tracts of it covered with mopane forest, the leaves of which afford but scanty shade to the baked earth, so that scarcely any grass grows upon it.  The sun was so hot, that the men frequently jumped from the path, in the vain hope of cooling, for a moment, their scorched feet under the almost shadeless bushes; and the native who carried the provision of salt pork got lost, and came into Tette two days after the rest of the party, with nothing but the fibre of the meat left, the fat, melted by the blazing sun, having all run down his back.  This path was soon made a highway for slaving parties by Captain Raposo, the Commandant.  The journey nearly killed our two active young friends; and what the slaves must have since suffered on it no one can conceive; but slaving probably can never be conducted without enormous suffering and loss of life.

Mankokwé now sent a message to say that he wished us to stop at his village on our way down.  He came on board on our arrival there with a handsome present, and said that his young people had dissuaded him from visiting us before; but now he was determined to see what every one else was seeing.  A bald square-headed man, who had been his Prime Minister when we came up, was now out of office, and another old man, who had taken his place accompanied the chief.  In passing the Elephant Marsh, we saw nine large herds of elephants; they sometimes formed a line two miles long.

On the 2nd of November we anchored off Shamoara, and sent the boat to Senna for biscuit and other provisions.  Senhor Ferrão, with his wonted generosity, gave us a present of a bullock, which he sent to us in a canoe.  Wishing to know if a second bullock would be acceptable to us, he consulted his Portuguese and English dictionary, and asked the sailor in charge if he would take another; but Jack, mistaking the Portuguese pronunciation of the letter h, replied, “Oh no, sir, thank you, I don’t want an otter in the boat, they are such terrible biters!”

We had to ground the vessel on a shallow sandbank every night; she leaked so fast, that in deep water she would have sunk, and the pump had to be worked all day to keep her afloat.  Heavy rains fell daily, producing the usual injurious effects in the cabin; and, unable to wait any longer for our associates, who had gone overland from the Shiré to Tette, we ran down the Kongoné and beached her for repairs.  Her Majesty’s ship “Lynx,” Lieut. Berkeley commanding, called shortly afterwards with supplies; the bar, which had been perfectly smooth for some time before, became rather rough just before her arrival, so that it was two or three days before she could communicate with us.  Two of her boats tried to come in on the second day, and one of them, mistaking the passage, capsized in the heavy breakers abreast of the island.  Mr. Hunt, gunner, the officer in charge of the second boat, behaved nobly, and by his skilful and gallant conduct succeeded in rescuing every one of the first boat’s crew.  Of course the things that they were bringing to us were lost, but we were thankful that all the men were saved.  The loss of the mail-bags, containing Government despatches and our friends’ letters for the past year, was felt severely, as we were on the point of starting on an expedition into the interior, which might require eight or nine months; and twenty months is a weary time to be without news of friends and family.  In the repairing of our crazy craft, we received kind and efficient aid from Lieutenant Berkeley, and we were enabled to leave for Tette on December 16th.


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