Stanley Meets Livingstone

The American journalist's harrowing 1871 quest to find England's most celebrated explorer is also a story of newfound fascination with Africa, the growing power of newspapers and the United States' emergence as a world power

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Livingstone had used his fame to preach for the abolition of the slave trade that was decimating the African people. Slavers from Persia, Arabia and Oman—whom Livingstone referred to collectively as “Arabs”—were penetrating deeper into the continent to capture men, women and children for sale in the markets of Zanzibar. Often, African tribes even raided other tribes and sold captives to the Arabs in exchange for firearms.


Despite Livingstone’s reputation, his finances had been ravaged by a failed expedition up the Zambezi between 1858 and 1863. He needed one last great adventure, and the revenue from the bestselling book that was sure to follow, before retiring. So when Murchison asked his old friend to search for the source of the Nile, Livingstone agreed. He had left England in August 1865, planning to return in two years.


Now, six years later, Livingstone sat on the banks of the Lualaba watching thousands of residents of Nyangwe mingle among Arab slave traders in the village market. He had been plagued by one setback after another: anemia, dysentery, bone-eating bacteria, the loss of his teeth, thieving porters and, finally, worst of all, outright poverty—so much so that he now depended upon the Arabs for his food and shelter. That benevolence came with a price. Aware of the increasing worldwide opposition to their trade, the Arabs refused to allow Livingstone to send letters home by their caravans for fear he would spread word of their deeper encroachment. Even so, Livingstone was now enjoying a reprieve. Adiet of porridge, butter and rice had fattened him. All seemed well.


Tabora, Tanganyika (today’s Tanzania), June 23, 1871—In the three months since Stanley had left the east coast of Africa to find Livingstone, he had battled malaria, starvation and dysentery, losing 40 pounds. The expedition had suffered floods, famine, pestilence and drought. Of two white companions who had begun the journey with him, one had died from elephantiasis and the other had fired a pistol at Stanley during a failed mutiny, only to die from smallpox later. Two-thirds of the porters had deserted or died.


Stanley was now in Tabora to regroup. The sprawling village on the savanna was one of three primary Arab enclaves in East Africa; the others were the island of Zanzibar, roughly 400 miles east of Tabora, and Ujiji, 350 miles west on the banks of Lake Tanganyika. Tabora was the crown jewel, its large houses and lavish gardens occupied by the wealthiest Arab residents.



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