16 – Laid Up At Bambarre

 Livingstone was laid up at Bambarre for a period of 80 days because of the lacerations on his feet.  The only thing which gave him any relief at all was malachite, rubbed down with water on a stone and applied with a feather.  Thirty slaves died with this same thing because of their immune system not tolerating these lacerations. 

     During Livingstone’s forced stay at Bambarre, some of the natives went on a gorilla hunt.  The animals were quite numerous throughout the whole Manyuema country.  It might be probable, though, that the gorilla that Livingstone saw here was a species of chimpanzee, and not a true gorilla.  A true gorilla would have been much larger than the following description that he wrote of the hunt and what happened.

     “Four gorillas, or sokos, were killed yesterday: an extensive grass-burning forced them out of their usual haunt, and coming on the plain, they were speared.  They often go erect, but place the hand on the head, as if to steady the body.  When seen thus, the soko is an ungainly beast.  The most sentimental young lady would not call him a ‘dear’, but a bandy-legged, pot-bellied, low-looking villain, without a particle of the gentlemen in him.  Other animals are graceful, especially the antelope, and it is pleasant to see them, either at rest or in motion.  The natives are also well made, lithe, and comely to behold, but the soko, if large, would do well to stand for a picture of the devil.  He takes away my appetite by his disgusting bestiality of appearance.  His light-yellow face shows off his ugly whiskers and faint apology of a bears; the forehead, villainously low, with high ears, is well in the back-ground of the great dog-mouth;  the teeth are slightly human, but the canines show the beast by their large development.  The hands, or rather the fingers, are like those of the natives.  The flesh of the feet is yellow, and the eagerness with which the Manyuemas devour it leaves the impression that eating sokos was the first stage by which they arrived at being cannibals; they say the flesh is delicious.  The soko is represented by some to be extremely knowing, successfully stalking men and women while at their work, kidnapping children and running up trees with them:  he seems to be amused by the sight of the young native in his arms, but comes down  when tempted by a bunch of bananas, and as he lifts that, drops the child:  the young soko in such a case would cling closely to the arm-pit of the elder.  One man was cutting out honey from a tree, and naked, when a soko suddenly appeared and caught him, then let him go.  Another man was hunting, and missed in his attempt to stab a soko:  it seized the spear and broke it, then grappled with the man, who called to his companions, “Soko has caught me:”  the soko bit off the ends of his fingers and escaped unharmed.  Both men are now alive at Bambarre. 

     The soko is so cunning, and has such sharp eyes, that no one can stalk him in front without being seen; hence, when shot it is always in the back; when surrounded by men and nets, he is generally speared in the back, too; otherwise he is not a very formidable beast; he is nothing, as compared in power of damaging his assailant, to a leopard or lion, but is more like a man unarmed, for it does not occur to him to use his canine teeth, which are long and formidable.  Numbers of them come down in the forest within a hundred yards of our camp, and would be unknown but for giving tongue like fox-hounds:  this is their nearest approach to speech.  A man hoeing was stalked by a soko and seized; he roared out, but the soko giggled and grinned, and left him as if he had done it in play.  A child caught up by a soko is often abused by being pinched and scratched, and let fall. 

     The soko kills the leopard occasionally, by seizing both paws and biting them so as to disable them; he then goes up a tree, groans over his wounds, and sometimes recovers, while the leopard dies:  at other times both soko and leopard die.  The lion kills him at once, and sometimes tears his limbs off, but does not eat him.  The soko eats no flesh; small bananas are his dainties, but not maize.  His food consists of wild fruits, which abound.  The soko brings forth at times twins.  A very large soko was seen by Mohamed’s hunters sitting picking his nails:  they tried to stalk him, but he vanished.  Some Manyuema think that their buried dead rise as sokos, and one was killed with holes in his ears, as if he had been a man.  He is very strong, and fears guns, but not spears;  he never catches women.

     Sokos collect together, and makes a drumming noise, some say with hollow trees, then burst forth into loud yells, which are well imitated by the natives’ embryotic music.  If a man has not spear the soko goes away satisfied; but if wounded, he seizes the wrist, lops off the fingers, and spits them out, slaps the cheeks of his victim, and bites without breaking the skin:  he draws out a spear (but never uses it), and takes some leaves and stuffs them into his wound to staunch the blood; he does not wish an encounter with an armed man.  He sees women do him no harm, and never molests them:  a man without a spear is nearly safe from him.  They beat hollow trees as drums with hands, and then scream as music to it:  when men hear them they go to the sokos, but sokos never go to men with hostility.  Manyuema say, “Soko is a man, and nothing bad in him.”

     They live in communities of about ten, each having his own female:  an intruder from another camp is beaten off with their fists and loud yells.  If one tries to seize the female of another, he is caught on the ground, and all unite in boxing and biting the offender.  A male often carries a child, especially if they are passing from one patch of forest to another over a grassy space; he then gives it to the mother.”

     Livingstone was detained at Bambarre a considerable time, even after his ulcerated feet had healed.  All of his men but three had deserted him, so he was forced to send back to Ujiji for more men to accompany him on further expeditions.  This took a long time, and he really didn’t know if further men would come or even what to expect since he was not able to go for himself and make the arrangements in person.  During this long delay, all he could do was watch the habits and characteristics of the people and write down what they did.  The following are some of his journal entries from this long and waiting time in his life.  This is just from one day all the different things he wrote about.  During this time his writing was rambling and disconnected.

     December 16, 1870  –  “Oh, for Dugumbe or Syde to come (the messengers sent to Zanzibar for men and medicine) but this delay may be all for the best.  The parrots all seize their food and hold it with the left hand; the lion, too, is left-handed;  he strikes with the left; so are all animals left-handed, save man.”

     “I noticed a very pretty woman come past quite jauntily about a month ago, on marriage with Monasiamba.  Ten goats were given; her friends came and asked another goat, which being refused, she was enticed away, became sick of rheumatic fever two days afterward, and died yesterday.  Not a syllable of regret for the beautiful young creature does one hear; but for the goats  —‘Oh, our ten goats!’  over and over again:  they cannot grieve too much for the goats.”

     “Basanga wail over those who die in bed, but not over those who die in battle:  the cattle are a salve for all sores.”

     “A man died near this:  Monasiamba went to his wife, and after washing he may appear among men.  If no widow can be obtained he must sit naked behind his house till some one happens to die;  all the clothes he wore are thrown away.  The man who killed a woman without cause goes free; he offered his grandmother to be killed in his stead, but after a great deal of talk nothing was done with him.  ‘Heresi,’ a ball of hair rolled in the stomach of a lion, is a grand charm to the animal and to Arabs.  Mohamed has one.”

     “Lion’s fat is regarded as a sure preventive of tsetse or bungo.  This was noted before, but I add now that it is smeared on the ox’s tail, and preserves hundreds of the Wanyamwesi cattle in safety while going to the coast:  it is also used to keep pigs and hippopotami away from gardens;  the smell is probably the efficacious part of the ‘herisi,’ as they call it.”

     “The neggeri, an African animal, attacks the tenderest parts of man and beast, cuts them off and retires contented;  buffaloes are often castrated by him.  Men who know it squat down, and kill him with knife or gun.  The zibu, or mbuine, flies at the tendon Achilles;  it is most likely the ratel.”

     On February 4 Livingstone was much encouraged by a report that ten of his men from the coast were come near to Bambarre and would arrive that day.  The next text will carry on with more description of the people there.

     Below is a picture from Livingstone’s book of how the Sokos looked.

Gorillas (Sokos) - David Livingstone's Travels 

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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.