The missionary-explorer David Livingston was an exceptionally prolific writer, detailing during his travels in Africa – among myriad other things – all manner of animal and vegetable products either grown or collected, the characteristics of these items, and how they were grown, collected, caught, used and-or cooked. In these ways, he is one of the best colonial authors in terms of detail, and also one of the least bigoted in his descriptions of the people amongst whom he traveled and lived. As well, he was thoroughly committed to his work:
I think I would rather cross the African continent again than undertake to write about it. I intended on going to Africa to continue my studies; but as I could not brook the idea of simply entering into other men’s labors made ready to my hands, I entailed on myself, in addition to teaching, manual labor in building and other handicraft work, which made me generally as much exhausted and unfit for study in the evenings as ever I had been when a cotton-spinner. The want of time for self-improvement was the only source of regret that I experienced during my African career.
—Livingstone, from preface to Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa (1857)
The following entry is taken from Missionary Travels and Researches in South Africa and describes a certain huge frog – the Giant African Bullfrog – that, Livingston suggests, is both good to eat and good to think about:
… Another article of which our children partook with eagerness was a very large frog, called “Matlametlo”.- … the Pyxicephalus adspersus of Dr. Smith.
… Length of head and body, 5–1/2 inches; fore legs, 3 inches; hind legs, 6 inches. Width of head posteriorly, 3 inches; of body, 4–1/2 inches.
These enormous frogs, which, when cooked, look like chickens, are supposed by the natives to fall down from thunder-clouds, because after a heavy thunder-shower the pools, which are filled and retain water a few days, become instantly alive with this loud-croaking, pugnacious game. This phenomenon takes place in the driest parts of the desert, and in places where, to an ordinary observer, there is not a sign of life.
Having been once benighted in a district of the Kalahari where there was no prospect of getting water for our cattle for a day or two, I was surprised to hear in the fine still evening the croaking of frogs. Walking out until I was certain that the musicians were between me and our fire, I found that they could be merry on nothing else but a prospect of rain.
From the Bushmen I afterward learned that the matlametlo makes a hole at the root of certain bushes, and there ensconces himself during the months of drought. As he seldom emerges, a large variety of spider takes advantage of the hole, and makes its web across the orifice. He is thus furnished with a window and screen gratis; and no one but a Bushman would think of searching beneath a spider’s web for a frog.
They completely eluded my search on the occasion referred to; and as they rush forth into the hollows filled by the thunder-shower when the rain is actually falling, and the Bechuanas are cowering under their skin garments, the sudden chorus struck up simultaneously from all sides seems to indicate a descent from the clouds.
With a bit of tongue-in-cheek, Livingston then considers the possibility of introducing this and other African species to Europe:
… It is remarkable that attempts have not been made to any extent to domesticate some of the noble and useful creatures of Africa in England. The eland, which is the most magnificent of all antelopes, would grace the parks of our nobility more than deer. This animal, from the excellence of its flesh, would be appropriate to our own country;
… and as there is also a splendid esculent frog nearly as large as a chicken, it would no doubt tend to perpetuate the present alliance if we made a gift of that to France.
The Giant African Bullfrog:
…some larger male African Bullfrogs in a population will demonstrate parental care by guarding their tadpoles against predators and, when necessary, insuring sufficient water is accessible to their brood by digging channels between pools.These guardian males have been known to attack animals much larger than themselves in defense of their offspring. The size differences between the sexes are probably due to this parental behavior and the violent fighting that occurs between males at breeding time. Fighting takes the form of grasping an opponent in an attempt to flip or throw him.These frogs are equipped with bony tooth-like projections called odontoids, located in the center of the lower jaw, which can deliver a very painful and bloody bite to an opponent or the finger of a human being. When forced on the defensive, these frogs will puff up with air to appear as large as they can, and in the case of guardian males they will lunge at the attacker with jaws open in an attempt to deliver a discouraging bite.
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