9 – Exploration Of Lake Nyassa

Livingstone journeyed about one hundred miles west of Victoria Falls, and tried to retrace his steps back to Lake Nyassa.  He wanted to more fully explore the lake and find out about it.  They constructed a big boat and started out to cross the lake, but a huge storm arose and for six hours threatened to capsize the boat.  Finally they were forced to return. 

     The country lying north of the lake was found to be mountainous, but well suited for agriculture, and a tribe of Zulus lived there.  The people there owned large herds of cattle and were constantly increasing in number by annexing other tribes.  The following is what Livingstone wrote in his diary: 

     “Never before in Africa have we seen anything like the dense population on the shores of Lake Nyassa.  In the southern part there is an almost unbroken chain of villages.  On the beach of wellnigh every little sandy bay, dark crowds were standing, gazing at the novel sight of a boat under sail; and wherever we landed we were surrounded in a few seconds by hundreds of men, woman, and children, who hastened to have a stare at the ‘chirombo’ (wild animals).  To see the animals feed was the greatest attraction; never did the Zoological Society’s lions or monkeys draw more sight-seers than we did.  Indeed, we equaled the hippopotamus on his first arrival among the civilized on the banks of the Thames.”

     Livingstone asked the people how far it was to the end of the lake, and the people were astonished that he would ask such a question.  They couldn’t even fathom doing such a thing.  They said that if one started when a mere boy to walk to the other end of the lake, he would be an old, gray-headed man before he got there.  They had never even heard of such a thing being attempted.  Their answer indicated just how little they had traveled.  The end of the lake was not more than one hundred miles from where they lived, and yet none of them had even tried to explore it.  They had just lived and fished all their lives in one place.

     His exploration of the lake extended from September 2 to October 27, 1861.  He had to stop at this time because he had either used or lost most of his goods.  He did not return again to the lake, but established several missions and devoted himself to freeing slaves.  Slavery had gotten to be the principal occupation among the natives.  There was continual war among the tribes preying on each other and capturing others for selling.  They had become a barbourous people and this concerned Livingstone very much.  He wanted them to be like the people he had come to know when he first went to Africa. 

     On the way back from exploring the lake, a fever broke out among the party on board the boat.  It was very contagious and in April of 1862, Mrs. Livingstone came down with the fever.  It was accompanied by obstinate vomiting.  They had no idea what to do to break the fever and vomiting, because all the medicine they had at the time required that you swallow and she could not keep any of it down.  She received all the medical attention that could be given from Dr. Kirk on board the boat, but she quickly became unconscious and died as the sun set on April 27, 1862.  

     A coffin was made during the night, a grave was dug the next day under the branches of a huge tree, and with grieving hearts they buried Mrs. Livingstone.  The Rev. James Stewart read the burial service, and the kindly seamen volunteered to stand guard for some nights at the spot where they laid her body to rest. 

     This brave, good English wife had made a home at Kolobeng, which was a thousand miles inland from the Cape.  She had exercised a great influence over the rude tribes of the interior, and braved many dangers and toils in this down-trodden land.  Livingstone had to leave his wife buried one thousand miles inland as he further went along his journeys. 

     Livingstone learned from the natives that the Rovuma River had its source in Lake Nyassa, and he set out to explore it.  He had built a steam vessel so that they better time, but found that the water was too shallow.  Fortunately they had brought with them some smaller flat-bottomed boats and it was these that they had to use to investigate the river.  They set out in the three boats and started down the river.  There was a fertile valley that reached several miles on each side near the mouth of the river, but as they proceeded inland the river ran more and more narrow until in several places it ran zig-zag through a deep cut in the rock like it was piercing a mountain.  There was no game of any kind here, and the natives were very unfriendly.  At several places they were stopped by muskets and bows and told that they would either have to pay toll or fight.  They lost some of their belongings in this way when they couldn’t fight them off.

     They ascended a distance of 156 miles down the river and then found it so narrow and obstructed by dangerous cataracts, or rapids, that they had to return.  They were extremely disappointed as they had not gained any particularly valuable information from the trip and felt they had wasted much time.  One good thing was that crocodiles were scarce on the river because the natives hunted them because they loved their meat and it was considered a delicacy.  They also considered crocodile eggs to be even more delicious and relished finding them.  They tasted something like hen’s eggs.  The only other animal who lived near the Rovuma that the natives hunted was the seuze.  Its size was about equal to a domestic cat, but it looked like a pig.  It would hide in dense reeds and mostly fed on young vegetable growths, snakes and mice.  The natives would set fire to the reeds during the dry season to smoke the seuze out and would spear or shoot them in great numbers.

     They finally got back to their steam launch and found that the water was high enough to use it this time.  While they proceeded back up the Zambesi, they found that there was a severe drought in some areas.  They hired many of the people to come aboard as sailors.  Game was still abundant in the area, but they were extremely poor hunters and so just had to subsist on wild berries and such. 

     They found that the Shire River had risen enough to be sailed on by the steam launch, and they started to explore it.  They soon began to see the effects of a chief named Mariano.  He was a Portuguese slave-agent, and had invaded the country capturing slaves, burning villages, and killing and robbing the people.  This is what Livingstone wrote in his diary concerning what they saw:

     “Dead bodies floated past us daily, and in the mornings the paddles had to be cleared of corpses, caught by the floats during the night.  For scores of miles the entire population of the valley was swept away by this scourge, Mariano.  The sight and smell of dead bodies was everywhere.  Many skeletons lay beside the path, where in their weakness they had fallen and expired.  The corpse of a boy floated past the ship; a monstrous crocodile rushed at it with the speed of a greyhound, caught it, and shook it as a terrier does a rat.  Others dashed at the prey, each with his powerful tail churning the water into froth as he furiously tore off a piece.  In a few seconds it was all gone.  The sight was fearful to behold.”

     The reptiles were so numerous that Livingstone counted 67 laying on a single bank.  One of the men reached down to get a cup of water and one seized him and terribly gashed and mangled his hand before he could get free of it. 

     The little steamer was taken by water within 35 miles of Lake Nyassa, where she was then taken apart, having been constructed in sections so she could be portable.  From this place on they had to cut a road through the forest, which required a great amount of labor.  They wanted to place the boat on the lake and have it manned all the time so that maybe they could break up the slave trade and ivory trade.  They wanted to open up a commercial route that would go all the way to the sea down the Rovuma river. 

     They were halfway through when they became extremely ill from dysentery.  Both Dr. Kirk and Livingstone were compelled to give up the expedition and return to England.  Dr. Livingstone was reduced to a mere skeleton.  In addition to the dysentery, they had almost run out of food, and many of the carriers deserted him and went back to their tribes.  He deserted their plan and had the natives carry the parts of the boat back to the Shire before they deserted him all together. 

     He could not endure the idea of returning to England without seeing the huge lake, and he left a dozen of the party in charge of the vessel while he and 24 people went on to the lake and followed its banks until they came to the headwaters.  He noted many small streams that flowed into the lake, but there was no considerable river. 

     This is what he wrote about the results of his Second Expedition in Africa:  “We opened a cotton-field, which, taking in the Shire and Lake Nyassa, was 400 miles in length.  We had gained the confidence of the people wherever we had gone; and a new era had commenced in a region much larger than the cotton-fields of the Southern States of America. 

     His hopes for the future of that country were not fulfilled, though, and he found it to be almost as wild and barbarous as when he visited it.  He felt that the curse of slave-hunting seemed to rest upon it from generation to generation.  This text ends Livingstone’s Second Expedition to Africa.

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About Cathy Deaton

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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.

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