11 – Arrival At Lake Nyassa

Livingstone reached Lake Nyassa on August 8.  He had made it victoriously through many troubles and obstacles, with the primary one being a severe scarcity of food.  He passed around the south end of the lake and was most hospitably entertained at all the villages. The population around the lake was extremely dense and he found just a successions of village after village with only  a small break between them. 

     At a village called Mponda he found an Arab party with nearly eight hundred slaves confined in a pen made of dura (sorghum) stalks.  Nearly all of them were in the taming stick except the boys, and they were tied together by a thong passing around their necks. 

     He remained there two days.  On the morning of the second day a woman was found in a bush by the village who had been killed by a lion and was more than half-eaten.  It was a common occurrence at that time for women and children to be carried off by lions in this vicinity.  The natives would not hunt them and the animals were not afraid to attack whenever they found someone whom they could overpower.  Two days later a native had drunk so much beer that he fell asleep near the edge of the lake and a crocodile seized him and carried him off.  He had twenty wives and they mourned greatly for him for several days. 

     The people about the lake were much engaged in iron work, though their machinery was very crude.  There was an abundance of iron around this area.  Livingstone watched a founder drawing off slag from the bottom of a furnace and describes the process in his journal in the following way:

     “He broke through the hardened slag by striking it with an iron instrument inserted in the end of a pole, when the material flowed out of the small hole left for the purpose in the bottom of the furnace.  The ore (black oxide) was like sand, and was put in at the top of the furnace, mixed with charcoal.  Only one bellows was at work, formed out of a goat-skin, and the blast was very poor.  Many of these furnaces, or their remains, are met with on knolls; those at work have a peculiarly tall hut built over them.”

     Hoes and spears were the articles that were chiefly built.  The hoes were generally built with two handles, so that they could be worked by two persons at the same time.  Of course, the spears were needed for hunting game for food.

     The people were good-looking and friendly.  They did not commonly wear the lip ring, but have another custom that must be tortuous to receive.  They ornamented their arms with large, ridge scars which were lattice-shaped, and extended also to the back and shoulders.  These were produced by deep-gashing, and the wounds were irritated afterwards so that they would not heal quickly and would therefore form a bad scar. 

     The people who lived at the northern shore of the lake were friendly and industrious, but also were most inhuman and superstitious.  They would usually have a storehouse in some large hill where they would keep grain but it would not be touched except in case of war.  Over this storehouse they placed a cow which would occupy a shed placed on the summit of the hill.  The people believed that the cows would start lowing when an enemy came near, and would bring them good luck in case of war.  Their inhumanity extended to selling their own people, and even their own children.  Livingstone reprimanded an old chief for selling his subjects to the Portugese and Arabs for slaves.  He was astonished at the chief’s reply because he said that he had too many people who caused him trouble and he would be much better off without them. 

     The helpless children of a mother who died were just left to the mercies of nature, because no one would care for another’s child except it just might be a very close relative.  Livingstone saw a little child in a village crying and calling his dead mother.  The ones who passed by told him that she was coming, but no one would give him food or shelter and he soon died from starvation. 

     Livingstone left the banks of Nyassa in November, and traveled northwest.  This led him through very dense forests where game was very plentiful but hard to shoot and get because it was hard to find.  Nyassa was 2,600 feet above sea level, but toward the west the elevation increased to 2,800 feet.  Then in fifty more miles there was a descent into a large valley that was very fertile.  The people west of the lake were almost continually at war and it was very hard for the party to purchase many provisions that they needed, even if they could pay a lot for them.  At one time Livingstone was greatly afraid that he and his party would starve to death.  Fortunately, he encountered some bee hunters who were using a honey bird as a guide.  The bird came quietly with them, and patiently waited on the limb of a tree while the hunters sat for half an hour smoking and chatting with Livingstone’s men.  This extraordinary bird would fly from tree to tree in front of the hunter chirping loudly, but would not be content until he arrived at the spot where the bee’s nest full of honey was.  He would then wait quietly until the honey was taken and would feed on the broken morsels of honeycomb which would be left.  Livingstone followed the bird for a mile or more and was rewarded with a rich store of honey that was enough to fill up his men for two days until they reached a village where an elephant had been killed and they were able to purchase some of its dried meat to take with them. 

     As food was scarce in all the villages, Livingstone could not afford to stop in any of them, so he kept pushing on.  At this point, everything appeared extremely gloomy to him.  On January 1, 1867, he had reached the Chambeze river, but now the rains had set in and ten miles a day was all that he could make.  Tall grass obscured the paths and even the guides had trouble following the trail.  Also snakes were numerous and they had to tread carefully for fear of stepping on one as they liked to hide in the grass.  One morning Livingstone sat down by a tree and saw by his side a large cobra and puff-adder.  Fortunately it was cold and they were still somewhat numbed from it so they didn’t bite him. 

     As they kept going further and further, rain and hunger now united to keep them from making much progress at all.  A less resolute man might have just given up completely and waited to die.  On the 20th of January, the most serious loss that Livingstone could sustain befell him.  Two Waiyan carriers who had served him faithfully for several weeks decided to desert him and left with his medicine chest.  They also took all the dishes, a large powder box, two guns, a cartridge pouch, and all the tools.  Even though it was a huge blow to lose the tools and guns, Livingstone felt as if he had received a death blow without the medicine for Malaria that the medicine chest carried.  He knew that it would be next to impossible for them to survive in this malaria-infected wilderness without the quinine in the chest.

     As they were in the middle of nowhere, though, they had to keep going.  They came upon a small stream called the Lopiri, which was a branch of the Chambeze.  They followed it downward and on the last day of the month came upon a village.  Fish were very plentiful there and he decided to stay for a few days for the party to regain their strength.  He was gladdened to see a party of Arabs who were going to Zanzibar for supplies.  He sent by them for coffee, candles, sugar, quinine, calomel, resin of jalap, and some other things and asked them to forward them to Ujiji.  He didn’t know if they would ever reach him or not, because the Arabs were not very friendly towards him. 

     Chitapangwa was the great chief of the village and very shortly after they entered the village he wanted to see them.  He wanted to see what goods they had brought into the village.  The first meeting was friendly and he gave Livingstone a large cow and begged him to stay several more days there.  On the following day when they were about to slaughter the cow for food for their party, one of the chief’s head men objected and said that a blanket must first be given.  Livingstone did not have one that he could spare and they had a long discussion with the result being that they had to give the cow back.  Now the only alternative was for them to either fast or eat dried hippopotamus meat, which was not very good at all. 

     At his next meeting with the chief, Livingstone declared his intention to go a little way east from the village and buy goats, but the chief didn’t like this idea and after much discussion told them that they could have the cow.  The chief was a jolly man and full of promises, but was very hesitant to carry them out.  He wanted to trade for clothes that were worth much more than the cow was.  They haggled and he still insisted on a blanket and would not let them leave until they had given him one of their well-worn blankets.  The chief thought that Livingstone had only come to his village for individual gain.  Livingstone finally convinced him that that was not the case, and he finally got into the graces of the chief.  They finally got the cow to slaughter and eat, but it came with much trouble.  The part remained there three weeks and when they left the chief gave Livingstone a brass knife with an ivory sheath and sent some of his men to accompany them and show them the way to Lake Tanganika, which was nearly two hundred miles away.

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God has radically changed my life, and I want to share the awesome things I am learning with you. I have found that the Holy Spirit is an awesome teacher when I listen to, obey, and apply what He teaches to my life.


About Cathy Deaton


My name is Cathy Deaton, Owner of Fan the Flame Ministries. God has radically changed my life, and He has shown me that I am to share the awesome things I am learning especially with the Millennial Generation (1981 – 1996), but I love connecting with Christians of all ages. I have found that the Holy Spirit is an awesome teacher when I listen to, obey, and apply what He teaches to my life. You truly can make a difference for God in an uncertain world.