[First posted Nov. 2010, Revised 06 November 2011]
The Portuguese had been trading in and marginally colonizing east-southern Africa since the 15th Century. When, two centuries later, the English decided to explore the region, small settlements of Portuguese and their Catholic missions already dotted the areas of the Zambezi and Shire rivers.
It was Dr. Livingstone together with several specialists and missionaries (Protestant) who set about on the trip spending six years sailing and tramping throughout, describing ‘tribes’ (ethnic groups), land, crops, water sources, and especially the state of the slave trade and possible exports from the area that could replace the slave trade.
One major goal was to find a way of taking boats up the rivers as part of establishing a trading venture, for which the expedition was equipped with a wood-burning boat that in a few years was replaced by a second, similar boat. Another major goal was establishment of missions.
Although a tremendous amount of information was collected, the expedition was considered a failure by many in England. The rivers had too many rapids to be navigated, many of the ethnic groups were hostile, and the Portuguese government was not willing to accept their free passage and transport in some of the areas, although Portuguese in specific settlements were generally quite friendly, as described in the passage below.
As well, there were a number of deaths, including Livingstone’s wife, the head of the missionary venture, and others. Several thousand samples of plant life were collected and then lost in a boat accident. It seems, also, that there was considerable discord amongst members of the expedition.
Nevertheless, the book written about these years of ‘discovery’ by Livingstone is indeed fascinating. Snippets of information are contained on a variety of topics and it is unfortunate that he did not write a more detailed and technical book. He wanted to, but the publishers were firmly against it for reasons of increasing popular sales.
In the following passage, Livingstone describes finding Carolina Rice being regularly cultivated on an Island in the Zambezi River. The seeds, coming from South Carolina, would be ancestors of rice that is indigenous to West Africa and that was taken to South Carolina – see this blog entry. Thus, African indigenous rice makes a ‘full circle’, from it place of origin in West Africa to South Carolina and then back to Africa.
Livingstone, David – A Popular Account of Dr. Livingstone’s Expedition to the Zambesi and Its Tributaries And of the Discovery of the Lakes Shirwa and Nyassa (1858-1864)
… A Portuguese gentleman, formerly a lieutenant in the army, and now living on Sangwisa, one of the islands of the Zambesi, [River] came over with his slaves, to aid us in getting the ship off… [he] … farms pretty extensively the large island called Sangwisa,–lent him for nothing by Senhor Ferrao,–and raises large quantities of mapira and beans, and also beautiful white rice, grown from seed brought a few years ago from South Carolina. He furnished us with some, which was very acceptable; for though not in absolute want, we were living on beans, salt pork, and fowls, all the biscuit and flour on board having been expended.
- Explorers of the Nile: The Triumph and Tragedy of a Great Victorian Adventure by Tim Jeal: review (telegraph.co.uk)
- Vic Falls & Kayaking the Zambezi river – Livingstone, Zambia (travelpod.com)
- Zambia: country factbox (telegraph.co.uk)
- Colonial Encounters with West African Rice (dianabuja.wordpress.com)