I love coincidences. Today is the birthday of TWO eminent African explorers: David Livingstone (1813) and Richard Burton (1821). Both deserve a post in their own right. However, juxtaposing them allows for some comparisons. I’m not going to dribble on about either at great length. If I pique your interest you can explore more on your own. There’s plenty of material online.
This is a good (brief) site on Livingstone that cuts to the heart of the matter:
This is a strange, but compelling, view of Burton from a blog on “manliness”:
David Livingstone (19 March 1813 – 1 May 1873) was a British Congregationalist pioneer medical missionary with the London Missionary Society and an explorer in Africa. His meeting with H. M. Stanley on 10 November 1871 gave rise to the popular quotation “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” (which some say he rehearsed for months beforehand, whilst others believe is apocryphal). Livingstone was one of the most popular national heroes of the late 19th century in Victorian Britain, and he had a mythical status which operated on a number of interconnected levels: Protestant missionary martyr, working-class “rags to riches” inspirational story, scientific investigator and explorer, imperial reformer, anti-slavery crusader, and advocate of commercial empire. His fame as an explorer helped drive forward the obsession with discovering the sources of the River Nile that formed the culmination of the classic period of European geographical discovery and colonial penetration of the African continent.
At the same time, his missionary travels, “disappearance” and death in Africa, and subsequent glorification as posthumous national hero in 1874 led to the founding of several major central African Christian missionary initiatives carried forward in the era of the European “Scramble for Africa”.
Sir Richard Francis Burton KCMG FRGS (19 March 1821 – 20 October 1890) was a British explorer, geographer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer, and diplomat. He was known for his travels and explorations in Asia, Africa and the Americas, as well as his extraordinary knowledge of languages and cultures. According to one count, he spoke 29 European, Asian and African languages.
Burton’s best-known achievements include a well-documented journey to Mecca, in disguise at a time when Europeans were forbidden access on pain of death; an unexpurgated translation of One Thousand and One Nights (commonly called The Arabian Nights in English after early translations of Antoine Galland’s French version); the publication of the Kama Sutra in English; and a journey with John Hanning Speke as the first Europeans to visit the Great Lakes of Africa in search of the source of the Nile.
Burton defied many aspects of the pervasive British ethnocentrism of his day, relishing personal contact with exotic human cultures in all their variety. His works and letters extensively criticized colonial policies of the British Empire, even to the detriment of his career. Although his university education was aborted, he became a prolific and erudite author and wrote numerous books and scholarly articles about subjects including human behavior, travel, falconry, fencing, sexual practices, and ethnography. A characteristic feature of his books is the copious footnotes and appendices containing remarkable observations and information.
Burton was a captain in the army of the East India Company, serving in India (and later, briefly, in the Crimean War). Following this, he was engaged by the Royal Geographical Society to explore the east coast of Africa and led an expedition guided by the locals and was the first European to see Lake Tanganyika. In later life, he served as British consul in Fernando Pó, Santos, Damascus and, finally, Trieste. He was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and was awarded a knighthood (KCMG) in 1886.
Both men believed in British colonialism, but neither subscribed to the bigoted racism of the day. Livingstone was a staunch abolitionist, considering slavery to be an unchristian evil perpetrated on Africa by greedy opportunists. He railed against the practice in Britain and Africa. Both men respected local customs, being more interested in documenting them than changing them. Livingstone owed his ability to survive in previously unexplored parts of Africa by taking a soft approach with the locals. Others before him and gone off into the bush with large groups of men armed with guns and rifles, hoping to hack and bully their way through. Most of them died for their troubles. Burton and Livingstone both traveled light, and took the trouble to befriend local leaders. In several instances, they owed their survival to this tactic.
Here’s a great example from Burton. Burton’s camp was attacked by a Somali raiding party. He writes his recollection of a time when his encampment was attacked by Somalis in First Footsteps in East Africa:
The enemy swarmed like hornets with shouts and screams intending to terrify, and proving that overwhelming odds were against us: it was by no means easy to avoid in the shades of the night the jabbing of javelins, the long heavy daggers thrown at our legs from under and through the opening of the tent…The revolvers were used by my companion with deadly effect: unfortunately there was but one pair.
In the confusion of the battle, Burton turned to strike a man approaching him, but he was a colleague. Just before striking down his friend he recognized him, and in the moment of hesitation that followed, he was speared through the face by one of the Somali raiders:
I turned to cut him (his colleague) down: he cried out in alarm; the well known voice caused an instant’s hesitation: at that moment a spearman stepped forward, left his javelin in my mouth, and retired before he could be punished.
The spear went through one cheek and out the other, knocking out four teeth and damaging the roof of his mouth. With the spear lodged in his mouth Burton managed to fight his way out and then wandered up the beach through the night and into morning before coming across help. The boat which Burton stumbled upon just happened to be crewed by local men to whom Burton had previously shown great hospitality, and they received him and tended his wounds. The spear left him with a scar which you can see in portraits.
Both men are noted for having better relations with locals in Africa than with fellow Europeans. Livingstone was well known for his inability to get along with other Westerners. He fought with missionaries, fellow explorers, assistants, and (later) his brother Charles. He had little patience with the attitudes of missionaries with “miserably contracted minds” who had absorbed “the colonial mentality” regarding the natives; Burton likewise.
A story that haunted Burton up to his death (recounted in some of his obituaries) was that he came close to being discovered one night when he lifted his robe to urinate rather than squatting as an Arab would. It was said that he was seen by an Arab boy and, in order to avoid exposure, killed him. Burton denied this, pointing out that killing the boy would almost certainly have led to his being discovered as an impostor. Burton became so tired of denying this accusation that he took to baiting his accusers, although he was said to enjoy the notoriety and even once laughingly claimed to have done it. A doctor once asked him: “How do you feel when you have killed a man?”, Burton retorted: “Quite jolly, what about you?”. When asked by a priest about the same incident Burton is said to have replied: “Sir, I’m proud to say I have committed every sin in the Decalogue.”
These allegations coupled with Burton’s often-irascible nature were said to have harmed his career and may explain why he was not promoted further, either in army life or in the diplomatic service. As an obituary described: “…he was ill fitted to run in official harness, and he had a Byronic love of shocking people, of telling tales against himself that had no foundation in fact. Men at the FO [Foreign Office] … used to hint dark horrors about Burton, and certainly justly or unjustly he was disliked, feared and suspected … not for what he had done, but for what he was believed capable of doing.” Whatever the truth of the many allegations made against him, Burton’s interests and outspoken nature ensured that he was always a controversial character in his lifetime.
David Livingstone died in 1873 at the age of 60 in Chief Chitambo’s village at Ilala, southeast of Lake Bangweulu, in present-day Zambia, from malaria and internal bleeding due to dysentery. His loyal attendants Chuma and Susi removed his heart and buried it under a Mvula tree near the spot where he died. That site, now known as the Livingstone Memorial, lists his date of death as 4 May, the date reported (and carved into the tree’s trunk) by Chuma and Susi; but most sources consider 1 May—the date of Livingstone’s final journal entry—as the correct one.
The rest of his remains were carried, together with his journal, over 1,000 miles (1,600 km) by Chuma and Susi to the coastal town of Bagamoyo, where they were returned by ship to Britain for burial. In London, his body lay in repose at No.1 Savile Row, then the headquarters of the Royal Geographical Society, prior to interment at Westminster Abbey.
Burton died in Trieste early on the morning of 20 October 1890 of a heart attack. His wife Isabel persuaded a priest to perform the last rites, although Burton was not a Catholic and this action later caused a rift between Isabel and some of Burton’s friends. It has been suggested that the death occurred very late on 19 October and that Burton was already dead by the time the last rites were administered. On his religious views, Burton called himself an atheist, stating he was raised in the Church of England which he said was “officially (his) church”.
Isabel never recovered from the loss. After his death she burned many of her husband’s papers, including journals and a planned new translation of The Perfumed Garden to be called The Scented Garden, for which she had been offered six thousand guineas and which she regarded as his “magnum opus”. She believed she was acting to protect her husband’s reputation, and that she had been instructed to burn the manuscript of The Scented Garden by his spirit.
The couple are buried in a remarkable tomb in the shape of a Bedouin tent, designed by Isabel, in the cemetery of St Mary Magdalen Roman Catholic Church Mortlake in southwest London. The coffins of Sir Richard and Lady Burton can be seen through a window at the rear of the tent, which can be accessed via a short fixed ladder.
Mrs Beeton can be counted on for a colorful story:
THE PRICE OF A SOW IN AFRICA.—In one of the native states of Africa, a pig one day stole a piece of food from a child as it was in the act of conveying the morsel to its mouth; upon which the robbed child cried so loud that the mother rushed out of her hovel to ascertain the cause; and seeing the purloining pig make off munching his booty, the woman in her heat struck the grunter so smart a blow, that the surly rascal took it into his head to go home very much indisposed, and after a certain time resolved to die,—a resolution that he accordingly put into practice; upon which the owner instituted judicial proceedings before the Star Chamber court of his tribe, against the husband and family of the woman whose rash act had led to such results; and as the pig happened to be a sow, in the very flower of her age, the prospective loss to the owner in unnumbered teems of pigs, with the expenses attending so high a tribunal, swelled the damages and costs to such a sum, that it was found impossible to pay them. And as, in the barbarous justice existing among these rude people, every member of a family is equally liable as the individual who committed the wrong, the father, mother, children, relatives,—an entire community, to the number of thirty-two souls, were sold as slaves, and a fearful sum of human misery perpetrated, to pay the value of a thieving old sow.
I won’t vouch for the specific veracity of the story but some elements ring true. Among African herders traditionally, animals were wealth. They were not bred simply for food and other products. They were used for payment of a variety of social obligations, and the ability to breed large herds led to great power and prestige. In consequence an animal was not slaughtered idly. Rather, animals were killed ritually, usually as part of community-wide celebrations. So, a traditional recipe for you would be something like – “choose a well-fattened ox, kill it with a single spear thrust to the heart, let it bleed, then cut the meat into large chunks and boil it in large pots.”
Here’s a wonderfully entertaining and famous description of a Christmas feast in the Kalahari by Richard Lee:
Otherwise you can make ugali. Ugali (also sometimes called Sima, Sembe or Posho) is a dish of maize flour (cornmeal), millet flour, or Sorghum flour (or a blend) cooked with water to a porridge- or dough-like consistency. It is the most common staple starch featured in the local cuisines of the African Great Lakes region and Southern Africa.
The traditional method of eating ugali is to roll a lump into a ball with the right hand, and then dip it into a sauce or stew of vegetables and/or meat. Making a depression with the thumb allows the ugali to be used to scoop, and to wrap around pieces of meat to pick them up in the same way that flat bread is used in other cultures. If you are new to this way of eating, it will take practice.