AFRICANGLOBE – David Livingstone comes to us in White history as a Scottish medical missionary of the London Missionary Society (LMS), a slave abolitionist and an explorer associated with the Royal Geographical Society. The same history tells us he died in May 1873 at Illala (in present day Zambia), a location described as “the centre of Africa”. I am not so sure whether the upper reaches of Zambia give us the centre of Africa, or this is simply colonial cartography stretching matters for wanton, self-serving symbolism. His heart, we are further told, was removed from his body for burial under a mpundu (some say mvula) tree, again at the same place on the continent. That occurrence invests the matter with even greater symbolism, does it not?
Susi and Chuma
His two faithful servants, Susi and Chuma, are said to have embalmed the rest of his remains, wrapped them in sailcloth, carted them to the coast (Bagamoyo) and then sailed to London, arriving the following year. It is intriguing that by 1873, Africans well known for their mortal fear of, and respect for, the dead, had already mastered the art of embalming, only to forget or fear that bizarre art soon after, right up to this day.
We still bury our dead bodily, standing their ugly, cold grin for no longer while than lasts the body viewing ritual. Whatever strides science and scientific knowledge have made, as Africans, we remain very distant friends of cadavers! it makes the White narrative a bit atypical, out of character. But then, yes this was the White master. Perhaps all fears had to be overcome.
Into the master’s grave
The great White history tells us Livingstone’s body lay in repose at No. 1 Savile Road, London, then headquarters of the Royal Geographical Society. One A.P. Stanley, Dean of Westminster, is said to have written to the president of the Royal Geographic Society offering burial in Westminster Abbey. The funeral eventually took place on April 18 (Oh my word!), 1874 in Westminster Abbey, all to the hymn “O God of Bethel, by whose hand.” I am not so sure who between Susi and Chuma, but one of Livingstone’s servants had to be restrained by Henry Morton Stanley from throwing himself into his master’s grave, presumably to catch up with the master’s company, a good year into his journey to eternity.
And in further tribute to the native hand and heart, Livingstone’s stone read: “Brought by Faithful Hands over Land and Sea Here Rests David Livingstone, Missionary, Traveller, Philanthropist, Born March 19, 1813 at Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Died May 1, 1873 at Chitambo Village, Ilala. For 30 Years his Life was Spent in an Unwearied Effort to Evangelise the Native Races, to Explore the Undiscovered Secrets, to Abolish the Desolating Slave Trade, of Central Africa, Where with his Last Words he Wrote, “ALL I CAN ADD IN MY SOLITUDE, IS, MAY HEAVEN’S RICH BLESSING COME DOWN ON EVERY ONE, AMERICAN, ENGLISH, OR TURK, WHO WILL HELP TO HEAL THIS OPEN SORE OF THE WORLD.” It was a great mythologising epitaph, one that rubbed off David all other preoccupations of his pursuits on the continent, save for the abolition of slavery.
The Rhodes who came back
For us whose country is better known as the White man’s cemetery, the Livingstone story resonates in a very special way. Besides, he stands nonchalantly before the steaming Victoria Falls, eternally joining us in our wet gaze of this wonder of the world. But a watcher who is also watched in great awe. So there is a way in which this death motif unites us with Zambia. And contrasts us too. Livingstone died in Zambia which still keeps his heart. But Zambia sent away the rest of his remains, sent these back to his homeland. Here, Cecil John Rhodes left us, bodily, to then die elsewhere to the south of us, specifically in South Africa whence he came.
That would have been a good eviction if only matters had ended there. They did not. The man still marched on us again, ghostly crawling back into our country for a second conquest. He walked, he walked, walked and walked until he reached the sacred Matopo Hills between whose ravines lay Mzilikazi, within whose belly resided Mlimo, the god who never failed this, our land. There, Rhodes stopped, to burp we all thought. We were wrong. To rest eternally, impregnably, atop our spiritual fontanelle.
Handing down a sacred trust
Cleft between hard granite, sealed by the same, he remains implacably there, perched and hovering above this land bodily, spiritually. And here are the last words of his brother Frank to our forebears, all in front of Rhodes’ grave in 1902: “And as proof that I know the White man and the Matabele will be brothers and friends for ever, I leave my brother’s grave in your hands. I charge you to hand down this sacred trust to your sons that come after you and from generation to generation and I know if you do this my brother will be pleased.” True to promise, our forebears handed down this “sacred trust” to us and Rhodes’ grave remains in our hands, shall be in the hands of our children, grandchildren, great grandchildren ad infinitum! Let’s see how this heritage plays out today to us, Rhodes’ centurions.
The real Livingstone outside White history
Back to Livingstone, and I am getting closer to the bone. Among the favourite scholar he admired was one Professor Adam Sedgwick of Cambridge University. On February 6, 1858 he confidentially wrote to him, all to pour out his heart about the purpose of his itinerary on the African continent. He wrote: “That you may have a clear idea of my objectives I may state that they have something more than meets the eye.
They are not merely exploratory, for I go with the intention of benefiting both the African and my own countryman. I take a practical mining geologist from the School of Mines to tell us of the mineral resources of the country, then an economic botanist to give a full report on the vegetable productions – fibrous, gummy and medicinal substances together with the dye stuffs – everything which may be useful in commerce. An artist to give the scenery, a naval officer to tell of the capacity of the river communications and a moral agent to lay the foundation for knowing that aim fully.
All this machinery has for its ostensible object the development of African trade and the promotion of civilisation but what I tell to none but such as you in whom I have confidence is thus I hope it may result in an English colony in the healthy highlands of Central Africa . . .” He rounded up: “With this short statement you may perceive our ulterior objects.”[/sociallocker]