“His Heart Belongs in Africa”


There once was a man, a great British man. This British man, of Scottish descent, would forever change the world’s perspective on Africa. A man so important to the Africans, that upon his death they tried to keep his body. With much dismay, the villagers at Ilala turned over his body to Britain. Britain wouldn’t know until later, upon finding a note, that Chief Chitambo’s people had kept his heart.

So who is this man, that Britain was willing to ship his body thousands of miles? If your answer is “Dr. Livingstone I presume?”, then you would be correct!

Young David Livingstone

David Livingstone, born on March 19, 1813, would become one of the greatest national heroes in Victorian Britain. Let’s not get too far ahead though. David Livingstone had a few factors, some “coming to fruition” moments, that led to his incredible desire to become a pioneer of medical missionary.  His father, Neil, was a very religious man. A Sunday school teacher and teetotaler, Neil was very wary of  David reading science books and forced theology books on him as reading material. Neil also made a habit of passing out religious material while working as a door-to-door tea salesmen. (Maybe I am the only was laughing on the inside, but I thought it was funny that he was a tea-selling teetotaler.) David still had quite the hankering for grasping concepts of science and nature, and books, like Philosophy of a Future State, helped him reconcile religion and science.

In 1836, Livingstone (from here on out, all Livingstones will be David Livingstone) attended Anderson’s College for medical school and the University of Glasgow to obtain Greek and theology education. While in medical school, he applied to London Missionary Society (LMS) and after a few bumps in the road became a missionary. In 1840, Livingstone met Robert Moffat, an African missionary on leave, and was greatly influenced by what he heard. There was a land tormented by slavery, ungodly, and unopened to trade. Robert Moffat described it as “the smoke of a thousand villages, where no missionary had ever been.” (Livingstone ended up marrying Moffat’s daughter, Mary.) Livingstone was immediately sold and made haste for Southern Africa. On November 17, 1840, Livingstone left to give religion to the Dark Continent.

Livingstone started his medical missionary work in Southern Africa and worked his way seven-hundred (700) miles into the jungle. Not only does he preach to the villagers and practice medicine, but he finds forty-three different kinds of fruit and thirty-two edible roots. [1] As Livingstone preaches to the villages “where Jesus was unknown” (Moffat), it is not the typical preaching one hears of. At the Mabotsa station, Chief Sechele accepts Jesus in his heart, but tells Livingstone, “You cannot make these people believe by talking. I can make them do nothing but by thrashing them. If you like, I will call them all together, with my head man, and with our whips of rhinoceros hide we will soon make them all believe.” Haha, this is not what Livingstone had in mind.

After spending ten years doing missionary work with his wife in the Southern parts of Africa, he was prepared to find a new purpose. (Apparently, he wasn’t a very good missionary.) He believed that his new calling was exploration. He began exploring new areas that were known as “white man’s graveyard,” because all white men who ventured in were never seen again. He started on the west coast and was determined to make it all the way through to the east coast of Africa. It was during this exploration, in 1855, that he found the widest waterfall known to man, and named it Victoria Falls.

Victoria Falls

In 1857, the London Missionary Society asked that Livingstone focus more on conversions and missionary work, and less on exploration. Livingstone resigned and sought funding elsewhere. The following year, in 1858, the Royal Geographical Society sent Livingstone back to Africa to find the source of the Nile River. Livingstone spent seven years attempting to find the source of the Nile, but had no such luck. In 1864, the Royal Geographical Society cut off Livingstone’s funding and brought him back to Britain. While unsuccessful in finding the source of the Nile, he and his crew found and contributed a “large collections of botanic, ecological, geographical, and ethnographis material” to scientific institutions in Britain. [2] In January of 1866, Livingstone collected private funding and headed back to Africa to again tempt to find the source of the Nile. Within months his crew abandoned him and reported him as dead. (His crew did this a lot! On an earlier trip, head physician John Kirk wrote, “I can come to no other conclusion than that Dr. Livingstone is out of his mind and a most unsafe leader.”)

The last years of Livingstone’s life were depressing. It is 1866, and Dr. Livingstone is now deserted and presumed dead by Britain, without supplies, and very ill–it is only going downhill from here. In his ill state, he was often forced to rely on slave-traders for travel and food. In one instance, he writes that he had to eat meals from Arab slave-traders in a roped off area for their entertainment. On one of these trips he saw four-hundred (400) Africans being massacred by slavers. This traumatic event demolished his spirit and this event–coupled with his deteriorating health–ending the search for the source of the Nile.

Livingstone’s routes between 1851-1873. Click on the picture to enlarge!

This is going to be a two-part entry. Check back tomorrow for part two. Part two will cover the last years of his travel, his famous “Dr. Livingstone I presume?” encounter, and his legacy!