Presuming Dr. Livingstone

Our Malawian pop-star pal Kenny, well-met in Canterbury, told us the tale of Dr Livingstone. This story was related over a pot of Early Bird in Simple Simons (now the Parrot).

The accuracy of the story cannot be confirmed, but anyroad, it goes thuswise:
Livingstone was a Scottish Missionary, a man with a great heart, and with the balls of an elephant. As a missionary, he was not hugely successful, being accredited with only one conversion to the Church. But as a hero amongst men, he was (as all heroes) uniquely spectacular.


So what did he do?

Born in Lanarkshire, he worked in cotton mills from the age of 10 till 26. He grafted and saved, until he became a minister, and was inspired to go to South Africa, to try to end slavery by the spread of trade and Christianity.

His prowess and zeal were more focussed on physical, actual freedom, than the theoretical liberty typically espoused by churchmen. Armed with a Bible (no loose term), Livingstone wandered in deep Africa from 1840 onwards, and in 1852 was the first European to see Mosi-oa-Tunya (the Smoke that Thunders), which he named the Victoria Falls. He learned the languages, studied the customs, and travelled lightly, with only a few helpers, so was not seen as a threat by the powerful tribal kingdoms.

The middle of Africa was uncharted to European civilization at this time. It was only 150 years past, but the maps were blank. There were no satellites looking down watching everything.

So Livingstone found the Slave kingdoms, where tribesmen from all over Africa were sold, by Slaver Africans, to the rest of the world. Britain in particular bought a great many of these slaves, for labour on her new colonies. Livingstone waltzed right into the Slaver Kingdoms, waving his Bible, and said ‘you must stop this’. They did not know what to do. Some said they should kill him, but most were so impressed by his bravery, which was a coin of unmistakable value in tribal Africa, that they let this crazy white man live. But the slave trade would continue uninterrupted.

One day, watching the slaves being led in chains toward the coast, Livingstone snapped. With his few helpers, he freed the handful of slaves, and started some sort of war with the local Slaver King. Returning to Britain for men and supplies, to fininsh this fight, Livingstone found he was both celebrated and unpopular – slavery was big business, but exploration was glorious. So, with the resources he could gather, he returned, by boat up the River Zambezi.

The discovery of unknown rapids forced them to turn back. A new boat was built, one that could be completely dis-assembled, and it was sailed back to the rapids, where two years were spent taking it apart, carrying it around the rapids, and re-building it, before the mission could continue. Such determination and patience defies modern standards.

So then battle could re-commence, and after some years of small melees, the slaver kingdoms around Lake Malawi fell, and Malawi became the first British Colony that was taken for entirely the right reasons, for freedom and humanity. Empire was not always a monster.

Then Dr Livingstone went missing, wandering in dark Africa, discovering places no European had ever seen. His exploits had become internationally famous, and were hugely popular in America, which meant they caught on in the British Press soon after.

An American journalist, called Stanley, realized that if he could track down the missing hero, it would be the Scoop of the Century. He resolved to do just this, with a huge retinue of bearers, guns, and equipment, in true American fashion.

Stanley was an Anglophile, which meant he was an admirer of the understated British mode of expression, perceived to be an inimitable style, rather than evidence of irritated reserve and gloomy self-awareness. On the voyage to Africa, we imagine Stanley, in front of the ship mirror, practising the words, till they sounded just dull enough: “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

Stanley found his man, and the world got its story.

Livingstone eventually died in Africa, and his heart was buried under a Baobab tree, the spiritual temple of the Malawian people. Then, despite it being taboo in Africa, his body was carried off, wrapped in Bamboo, and for four years his faithful friends suffered drought, attack, disease, persecution and plague, before Livingstone’s body was eventually carried back to Scotland, to be buried.

A hero with the balls of an elephant; we say may men like this be born every day.

2 Responses to “Presuming Dr. Livingstone”

  1. Mrs M K Musk says:

    I came across you singing joyously in front of Boots on Haslemere High Street just as the shops were about to close a couple of days ago and was beguiled by your music and youthful, undaunted sense of adventure and could not resist contributing to your travel fund.
    If only more young people were like you, the older generation would not feel so jaded or pessimistic about the future of our society.
    Thanks for giving me your card so I could access your site. I shall track your progress.

    All good wishes. Marsha Musk, 27th March 2009

    • Branching Arts says:

      Thankyou very much for your kind words and support, Marsha. The future is, if anything, a jolly adventure eager to meet us all.

      We will soon enough update our story to include Hazelmere, and wish we could have sung more for the town, but are glad to have popped in and made the connections that arose.

      All the very best to you, for the budding spring and all your works. We look forward to a future meeting, and please spread the word about what we’re upto.

      Many thanks, and cheerio.

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