Native Potatoes a Great Health Restorative for Livingstone (1870),

Native or indigenous potatoes, discussed in several other blogs, were greatly praised by Dr. Livingstone as a health restorative during his last three years of extended illness, and prior to his ultimate death in Zambia in 1873.

Portrait of Dr. Livingstone in later life. Source: Princeton U.

Here is what Livingstone had to say about native potatoes, over the several months he was ill in 1870:

7th February, 1870.—This was the camp of the headman of the ivory horde now away for ivory. Katomba, as Moene-mokaia is called, was now all kindness. … Rest, shelter, and boiling all the water I used, and above all the new species of potato called Nyumbo, much famed among the natives as restorative, soon put me all to rights.

Katomba supplied me liberally with nyumbo; and, but for a slightly medicinal taste, which is got rid of by boiling in two waters, this vegetable would be equal to English potatoes.

3th February, 1870.—I was too ill to go through mud waist deep, so I allowed Mohamad (who was suffering much) to go away alone in search of ivory. As stated above, shelter and nyumbo proved beneficial.

1st March, 1870.—Visited my Arab friends in their camp for the first time to-day. …  Wood, water, and grass, the requisites of a camp abound, and the Manyuema bring large supplies of food every day; forty large baskets of maize for a goat; fowls and bananas and nyumbo very cheap.

9th November, 1870.—I sent to Lohombo for dura, and planted some Nyumbo. I long excessively to be away and finish my work by the two Lacustrine rivers, …. I groan and am in bitterness at the delay, but thus it is: I pray for help to do what is right, but sorely am I perplexed, and grieved and mourn: I cannot give up making a complete work of the exploration.

The soil of Manyuema is clayey and remarkably fertile, the maize sown in it rushes up to seed, and everything is in rank profusion if only it be kept clear of weeds, but the Bambarré people are indifferent cultivators, planting maize, bananas and plantains, and ground-nuts only—no dura, a little cassava, no pennisetum, meleza, pumpkins, melons, or nyumbo, though they all flourish in other districts: a few sweet potatoes appear, but elsewhere all these native grains and roots are abundant and cheap.

No one would choose this as a residence, except for the sake of Moenékuss. Oil is very dear, while at Lualaba a gallon may be got for a single string of beads, and beans, ground-nuts, cassava, maize, plantains in rank profusion.

The Balégga, like the Bambarré people, trust chiefly to plantains and ground-nuts; to play with parrots is their great amusement.

Several years earlier Livingstone describes nyumbo in some detail when travelling further south.  I have found no other explorer who provides information on the indigenous potato.  This is no surprise, given Dr. Livingstone’s interest in, and detailed descriptions of local produce that he came across in his several decades of traveling throughout central and southern Africa.

I will put up his earlier descriptions of nyumbo in another email.


About dianabuja

With a group of BaTwa (pygmy) women potters, with whom we've worked to enhance production and sales of their wonderful pots - fantastic for cooking and serving. To see the 2 blogs on this work enter 'batwa pots' into the search engine located just above this picture. Blog entries throughout this site are about Africa, as well as about the Middle East and life in general - reflecting over 35 years of work and research in Africa and the Middle East – Come and join me!
This entry was posted in Africa-Central, Colonialism, Explorers & exploration, Food, Health, Indigenous crops & medicinal plants. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Native Potatoes a Great Health Restorative for Livingstone (1870),

  1. Pingback: INUMPU – Burundi’s Indigenous Potatoes & A Recipe « Dianabuja's Blog

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