Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Africans - The Zambezi Expedition (11)

Although there are still many individuals associated with Livingstone’s thwarted Zambezi Expedition who have been forgotten or remain unrecognised, this series of posts will conclude with a brief tribute to those members of the Expedition without whom the venture - and all of Livingstone’s explorations in general it might be said - would have been impossible, and that is the huge number of African people who acted as guides, translators, porters, sailors, labourers and cooks.  

They came from diverse tribal backgrounds, such as the Yao from Mozambique and the Makololo from areas in what is now Botswana and Zambia, the tribe most favoured by Livingstone. There were the Kroomen or Krumen of West Africa who were associated with the Royal Navy, Johanna men from the Comoro Islands and Bombay Africans and Nasik Boys - often former slaves sent to missionary schools in India to learn practical skills.

History affords some of the more famous a few pages. 

Abdullah Susi and James Chuma are
Jacob Wainwright guarding Livingstone's coffin
perhaps the best-known as those who helped to preserve David Livingstone’s body and then carry it all the way from Chitambo in present-day Zambia to Zanzibar on the coast and then on to eventual burial in Westminster Abbey. Jacob Wainwright was one of the pall-bearers.

Susi and Chuma toured Britain telling of their experiences, but there were many others who escorted the body like Carrus Farrar or John Wekatoni who have slipped through history’s cracks and the sad fact is that they were discarded with little credit or further acknowledgement.

Matthew Wellington - refused a pension
Another example is Matthew Wellington who lived on in Mombasa until 1935 and is still within living memory of individuals who met him as children. (See this blog.)  He even met the Prince of Wales (later Duke of Windsor) in 1928. For years, local officials and well-wishers tried to get a small pension to help Matthew, but their appeals fell on deaf ears in a Britain which had long ago abandoned its obligations to all such men.

Although 60 RGS (Royal Geographical Society) medals had been awarded to those connected with Livingstone's last journey, not all of them reached their recipients. Carrus Farrar's son sold his father's medal in 1906 to a colonial government official but when the purchaser wrote to the RGS about the award, nothing could be found relating to it.

The 1975 book by Donald Simpson Dark Companions  provides a valuable insight into some of these forgotten heroes as well as some who turned into villains.

The Zambezi Expedition is covered in Chapter 5, some of which overlaps with other famous enterprises such as the search for the source of the Nile by Baker, Burton and Speke, and Henry Stanley's sorties looking for Livingstone and the relief of Emin Pasha. It is recommended reading for anyone interested in the African contribution to 19th Century exploration. The Who's Who of Africans at the end of the book is particularly useful in finding out what happened to some of them.

But beyond a few facts and dates, one is left to try and imagine what some of their personal stories might have been: men such as Bishop Mackenzie's Jamaican cook, Lorenzo Johnson, who had been a slave in the American South, or Joao Tizora, known as Joe Scissors, who had been sold into slavery by his own family yet still managed to become a highly competent river pilot.

But they are all gone, leaving just a few traces of their lives in books written by white men, and all are worthy of further study and fresh investigation by African researchers.

Vasco da Gama, the first European to see the delta of the Zambezi River, rather prematurely called it Rio dos Bons Sinais, or the River of Good Omens. David Livingstone's expedition had few good omens and, if one believes in such things, perhaps he had offended Nyaminyami, the serpent god of the river in some way and it took its vengeance. 

Nyaminyami by Larry Norton

I am Nyami Nyami
Bringer of life
Courier of death
Ceaseless and eternal
I scatter your bones in my sand
Crush your dreams on my basalt
Bleach your memories
And send them
Silent to the sea

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