Paul Hubbard is a researcher at the Natural History Museum of Bulawayo, and is also a Professional Tour Guide. Last month we were invited to attend a fascinating lecture on his recent trip to Zambia. Paul very kindly has given us his transcript of his lecture which we will publish in sections over the coming weeks. Paul gives incredible insight into the rich history of the Zambesia region, and in this particular excerpt, David Livingstone’s last days.
“In January 2014, together with a good friend of mine, Jono Waters, we undertook a trip into northern and eastern Zambia with the aim of visiting archaeological and historical sites in a part of the country neither of us had ever seen. Many of the site names – Nachikufu, Kalambo, Nsalu – were familiar to me from my archaeology undergraduate days although I had little idea where these places actually were before this trip! I have long regarded this as a serious gap in my knowledge, not least because of the historical connections between our two countries, as fractious as they may have been.
Crossing into Zambia at Chirundu, much patience is needed to navigate this “one stop” border post. It is worth the aggravation though for, a short distance beyond lies the Chirundu Fossil Forest Reserve. What places this accumulation of fossil plants into a class of its own, is the existence of large tree trunks. Some that we saw were over six meters long, all lying atop the surface. The main species are Dadyoxlon sp. and Rhexoxylon africanum, although these are difficult to distinguish with the naked eye. Dating from the Karoo period, over 150 million years of history is at your feet and easily accessible.
Our main objective for the first part of the trip was to locate the memorial marking where Victorian explorer and missionary, David Livingstone died. On the way, we stopped to look at the monument to “Broken Hill Man” in the sleepy town of Kabwe. Searching for metal ore deposits in the limestone caves in 1921, Swiss miner Tom Zwiglaar and is thus credited with finding the first early human fossil ever to be discovered in Africa. When Kabwe (also known as Broken Hill) was sent to Arthur Smith Woodward, Woodward assigned the specimen to a new species: Homo rhodesiensis. Today, most scientists assign Kabwe to Homo heidelbergensis. This skull is one of the oldest known to have tooth cavities. They occur in 10 of the upper teeth. The individual may have died from an infection related to dental disease or from a chronic ear infection. The original skull is in the Natural History Museum in London and Zambia has formally asked for it to be returned.
Riveted to a squat, whitewashed monolith, the outdated plaque records the discovery of the skull of Broken Hill Man and other fossil remains during mining operations. Pleasingly – and this is a consistent trend in Zambia – the plaque is in English and one of the local languages. Communicating such information to as wide an audience is crucial and countries in the region could apply the same intent.
A lifelong dream was fulfilled when we arrived at the entrance to David Livingstone’s Memorial. His travels across Africa inspire my own and his unflinching stance against the horrors of the slave trade serves as a moral beacon signalling the need for fortitude in my own life.
In some respects, the place where Livingstone died is a forlorn place, with an avenue of trees leading you to an obelisk built on the spot where they buried his heart and entrails. Perhaps this feeling stems from how Livingstone died; away from his family for over seven years, short of supplies and wracked with disease. For a man who had traversed Africa on foot, it is sad to think that Livingstone had had to be carried by his faithful followers in a litter for several days before he died; he was to weak to walk or even raise his arms. Horace Waller writes evocatively of what we know of Livingstone’s last moments:
“On reaching the bed the Doctor told him he wished him to boil some water, and for this purpose he went to the fire outside, and soon returned with the copper kettle full. Calling him close, he asked him to bring his medicine-chest and to hold the candle near him, for the man noticed he could hardly see. With great difficulty Dr. Livingstone selected the calomel, which he told him to place by his side; then, directing him to pour a little water into a cup, and to put another empty one by it, he said in a low feeble voice, “All right; you can go out now.” These were the last words he was ever heard to speak.
It must have been about 4 A.M. when Susi heard Majwara’s step once more. “Come to Bwana, I am afraid; I don’t know if he is alive.” The lad’s evident alarm made Susi run to arouse Chumah, Chowperé, Matthew, and Muanyaséré, and the six men went immediately to the hut.
Passing inside they looked towards the bed. Dr. Livingstone was not lying on it, but appeared to be engaged in prayer, and they instinctively drew backwards for the instant. Pointing to him, Majwara said, “When I lay down he was just as he is now, and it is because I find that he does not move that I fear he is dead.” They asked the lad how long he had slept? Majwara said he could not tell, but he was sure that it was some considerable time: the men drew nearer.
A candle stuck by its own wax to the top of the box, shed a light sufficient for them to see his form. Dr. Livingstone was kneeling by the side of his bed, his body stretched forward, his head buried in his hands upon the pillow. For a minute they watched him: he did not stir, there was no sign of breathing; then one of them, Matthew, advanced softly to him and placed his hands to his cheeks. It was sufficient; life had been extinct some time, and the body was almost cold: Livingstone was dead.”
They faced the terrible choice of what do with the body. Amazingly, and despite potential charges of of witchcraft which carried an automatic death penalty, they chose to return Livingstone’s body to his home across the sea. Thus began one of the most incredible journeys Africa has ever witnessed. Removing Livingstone’s heart and viscera they buried it beneath a mbola plum (mvula tree; Parinarium mbola) in a tin box. The rest of the body, they dried and salted for a fortnight, the traditional period of mourning. Aided initially by Chief Chitambo, whose descendants still rule in the area, Sussi and Chuma made the 1500 kilometre journey to the coast and delivered the body to British officials at Bagamoyo in February 1874. The name means “Lay down your Heart”. Livingstone’s body was later formally buried in Westminster Abbey, his heart still in the continent he irrevocably changed.”
Contact Paul Hubbard on firstname.lastname@example.org