Livingstone’s travels, which he recorded in meticulous detail, gave vital information and opened up routes for the many missionaries that followed him. His fascination and admiration was not only for the land but the people. And he received genuine respect from Africans.
Alvyn Austen writes, ‘Livingstone treated his hosts with decorum. Tribes usually reciprocated by treating him like a visiting dignitary. “Africans are not by any means unreasonable,” he wrote. “I think unreasonableness is more a heredity disease in Europe.”[i]
He lived among, learnt from and suffered alongside Africans. When white farmers attacked the Bakwain tribe they also completely plundered Livingstone’s house, taking all his belongings. Their loss was also his loss. His struggle was to abolish slavery and replace it with honest commerce.
This kind of identification with the African people has won a lasting place of affection for Livingstone in many African hearts.
An American Journalist’s Dream
When rumours spread that Livingstone had died trying to find the source of the Nile, Henry Stanley, an American journalist successfully hunted him down. When they met at Lake Tanganyika and Stanley uttered the now famous words, ‘Livingstone, I presume?’ he was an old, 60 years of age, weakened by disease. Stanley tried to convince Livingstone to return to Europe but he refused. In May 1873, while kneeling by his bed in prayer, he died.
Alvyn Austen continues, ‘His African friends, former slaves he had freed, buried his heart under an mpundu tree 70 miles from the shore of Lake Bangweulu. Then they carried his body back to his own people, an 11-month journey through equatorial jungle and open seas.
All Britain wept. The whole civilised world wept. They gave him a 21-gun salute and a hero’s funeral among the saints in Westminster Abbey.’
Honoured by Africa
‘Today, at a time when countries are being renamed and statues are being toppled, Livingstone has not fallen. Despite modern Africans’ animosity toward other Europeans, such as Cecil Rhodes, Livingstone endures as a heroic legend.
Rhodesia has long since purged its name, but the cities of Livingstone (Zambia) and Livingstonia (Malawi) keep the explorer’s appellation with pride.
Furthermore, the [commercial] capital of Malawi, Blantyre, was named for Livingstone’s birthplace. And Livingstone’s massive bronze statue still points to the world’s largest waterfall, Victoria Falls.’ [ii]
Livingstone, more a discoverer than a missionary, probably did more to introduce the continent of Africa to European readers than anyone of his generation.
For the first part of the Livingstone story click here
© 2011 Church History Blog / Lex Loizides