Micato Musings


Dr. Livingstone, We Presume

In the 12th century, crusaders in Africa returned to Europe with beauty-glazed eyes, raving about unbelievably giant and gentle animals with curved and glimmering tusks and preposterously long noses; they partially made up for this seeming madness by bringing home novelties of sweet-scented oranges and cloves for their wives.

Nearly a thousand years later, when it seems practically impossible to “get off the grid,” there are great swathes of Africa that can still be called virgin wilderness, and much left to be learned from the ways and mores, sights and sounds of this ageless land, where wanderlust so often plants its tattered and brilliant-coloured flag.

Two of Africa’s most iconic explorers were Dr. Livingstone and H.M. Stanley. Their classically British meeting in the jungle is iconic—having been immortalized in film and song—and their individual journeys seem crafted from the stuff of fireside tales and swashbuckling children’s books. Micato has immortalized the men, too, as their adventuring serves as a blueprint of sorts for two of our most popular journeys, the The Stanley Wing Safari and The Livingstone Wing Safari.

Livingstone’s Africa

Livingstone moved to Africa as a missionary, but soon discovered that his passion lay in exploration. He quit his evangelical position and with the help of a very handy friend, the president of the Royal Geographical Society, was appointed to the dreamy-sounding position of Her Majesty’s Consul for the East Coast of Africa.

Thus began his beloved but ill-fated explorations. First he went off to open up the River Zambezi for trade, however the river was completely impassable due to churning rapids. He then attempted to navigate the Ruvuma River, but was thwarted yet again, and his crew disappeared quickly, dying or jumping ship. Alone and unsuccessful in the rough country, Livingstone nevertheless refused to throw in the towel, famously declaring “I am prepared to go anywhere, provided it be forward.”

And, remarkably, he did go forward, safely extracting himself from the wilderness. The wilderness, however, did not extract itself from him, and Livingstone returned to Africa soon enough. This time he was bound for Zanzibar, to seek the source of the Nile. His luck had not improved, and three months in found him down and out once again, with pneumonia and cholera. His supplies were stolen, and with little hope, friend, or food, he hitched a ride with a caravan of traders as far as Bambara, where he was caught by the wet season. In exchange for desperately needed food, Livingstone agreed to eat his meals in a roped off open enclosure for the entertainment of the natives.

He took it all in stride, and his pains and pangs contributed greatly to western science and cartography—he “discovered” Lake Ngami, Lake Malawi, Lake Bangweulu and Victoria Falls, and his many geographical observations enabled large heretofore unknown regions of Africa to be mapped. For his trouble, he was awarded the gold medal of the Royal Geographical Society of London and was made a Fellow of the society, but his wandering heart couldn’t rest, and soon he was back in Africa and, naturally, back in trouble. He lost contact with the world for six years, and was presumed dead.

The Famous Meeting

Enter H.M. Stanley, a decidedly shiftier character. Born John Rowlands in Wales, Stanley moved to the U.S. at 18. Searching for a new life, he found a new name, adopting that of wealthy trader Henry Hope Stanley, whom he worked for, befriended and idolized.

Stanley served reluctantly in the Civil War, fighting first for the Confederate army, which he deserted, then for the Union navy, which he also deserted. Clearly not cut out for the military, Stanley took up journalism, to much greater success.

And thus Stanley embarked on a mission that quickly began to fall into shambles, mirroring Livingstone’s own disasters—Stanley’s horse was bitten by a Tsetse fly and died within days, the members of his entourage either deserted or died—but in the end he was victorious. He found Livingstone.

The moment is enshrined in our cultural consciousness as a pure representation of the famous British calm under fire. After a harrowing journey, accompanied by a skeleton crew of sickly porters, Stanley came across a sole white man in a village on the shores of Lake Tanganyika. He approached the man and allegedly said, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?”

This was most likely Livingstone’s first encounter with a fellow countryman in six years, and these were years in which he had battled illness and even believed himself to be on the brink of death. Upon meeting Stanley, Livingstone reportedly smiled and responded “Yes, and I feel thankful that I am here to welcome you.”

It’s the very picture of a polite introduction at a high society social gathering, and the dissonance of this highly civilized interaction within the highly wild surroundings captured minds and hearts: a triumph of manners over circumstances that is unequalled. The same still holds true in some of our favorite lodges and camps. Come join us in Africa and see for yourself—the grandeur of the days of Stanley and Livingstone lives on.

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