Memorial To A Moment Where Stanley Met Livingstone.

Posted: February 10, 2000

UJIJI, Tanzania — The Livingstone Memorial, I presume?

Down a palm-lined dirt lane, past a row of mud-and-wattle houses, several mosques and the Livingstone Restaurant, a pile of granite rests next to a museum that is empty except for a few paintings and two papier-mache statues. In the hazy distance, the blue mountains of Congo rise on Lake Tanganyika's far shore.

The place where journalist Henry Morton Stanley located explorer David Livingstone in 1871 in one of colonial Africa's most celebrated moments is a monument to understatement.

The sign pointing the way to the Livingstone Memorial is hardly noticeable on Ujiji's main street, where the Cine-Atlas doesn't look as if it has shown a movie in a while. Gangsta rap blares from a store where Michael Jordan's likeness is painted on the wall.

Most of the foreigners who stumble across this village in a neglected corner of Tanzania are aid workers and missionaries from the United States and Europe. Many of them are unfamiliar with the circumstances of Stanley's search for the ailing Scottish explorer.

"But almost everybody knows what Stanley said," says Govola Mbingo, who runs the memorial.

Mbingo has repeated the line almost every day for the last 10 years, which, with his Swahili accent, sounds more like: "Dr. Rivingstone, I preshume?"

English missionaries erected a granite monument to Livingstone more than 50 years after his meeting with Stanley. Today, there is not much else to attract tourists to Ujiji, a former Arab slave-trading village that once was a key outpost for European explorers searching for the source of the Nile. It has faded in importance with the growth of nearby Kigoma, the principal port on the 4,700-foot-deep lake.

It took Stanley eight months to trek more than 700 miles from the Indian Ocean coast to Ujiji. Now Ujiji can be reached from the coast in several days by rail, three days by road, or four hours in a turboprop airplane. But it is still remote. Modern aerial maps depict western Tanzania as one large featureless white space: "Relief data incomplete."

Mbingo, 46, a slight man with receding hair and soft voice, was a farmer before a friend, the regional culture minister, offered him the job as museum curator. The government-run museum is flexible when it comes to such things as admission fees and operating hours, and a good day might bring two dozen visitors. Mbingo knew little about Livingstone when he took the job, but the ministry lent him a biography, which he has committed to memory.

English is Mbingo's third language after Swahili and his tribal tongue, so his description of Livingstone's life has a machine-like intonation. He does not like to be interrupted. This, essentially, is what he tells visitors:

Livingstone, a physician and a graduate of Cambridge University, was famous after his first two trips to Africa. He discovered Victoria Falls, survived a lion attack, and declared his desire "to make an open path for commerce and Christianity." His descriptions of the slave trade propelled the abolitionist movement in Africa.

Livingstone began his third and final trip to Africa in 1866, venturing through what is now Mozambique, Malawi, Zambia and Congo before he stopped in Ujiji and built a shelter where he could recover from malaria.

His whereabouts were unknown to the outside world, where it was rumored he had died.

That is where Stanley came into the story.

In 1869, James Gordon Bennett, publisher of the New York Herald, dispatched Stanley to attend the opening of the Suez Canal and then to visit the Middle East. His final assignment was to look for Livingstone. "If he is dead, bring back every possible proof of his death," Bennett ordered.

Stanley was a Welsh adventurer who became a naturalized American. He fought on both sides in the American Civil War, excellent qualification to be a journalist.

He was 30 years old when he crossed Tanzania with an entourage of porters, a hard journey through feverish forests and treeless plains. The two other Europeans who accompanied him died of sickness on the way.

Stanley had been told that Livingstone did not like journalists, which probably explains his cautious greeting when he entered Ujiji on Nov. 10, 1871. Stanley immortalized the moment in his first book, How I Found Livingstone.

Livingstone was thrilled to meet Stanley and to get news from the outside world. The two spent several months together exploring around Lake Tanganyika while Livingstone's health improved.

Stanley tried to persuade the 59-year-old Livingstone to return to civilization. But Livingstone said his mission in Africa's interior was incomplete, and Stanley had a deadline to meet, so the two parted ways. Stanley carried Livingstone's papers with him.

Stanley returned to Europe, got rich and famous, and later became an extraordinary African explorer in his own right. Unlike Livingstone, who traveled alone and befriended Africans, Stanley was a ruthless adventurer who often used a weapon to command respect.

Less than two years after meeting Stanley, Livingstone caught malaria in a swamp now in northern Zambia. He died on May 1, 1873.

Livingstone's four stewards, whom he had freed from slavery, were worried that they might be accused of abandoning their master, so they decided to take his body home. They buried the explorer's heart and intestines in Zambia. They rubbed the corpse with salt, dried it in the sun for two weeks and then carried Livingstone, wrapped in cloth, more than 1,000 miles to Zanzibar, on the Tanzanian coast.

Eleven months after Livingstone died, his body arrived in London, where it was interred in Westminster Abbey.

As he tells the story, Mbingo surveys the faces of his visitors - a dozen medical missionaries from Kansas - who seem a bit shocked by the description of Livingstone's final journey. There are no questions.

Few Africans visit the memorial, Mbingo says. He says they don't seem much interested in the life of a Scottish missionary, though Mbingo has become a great admirer after reciting Livingstone's story for 10 years.

"He was a great man," he said. "He fought against the slave trade, and left Africa a better place."

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