Sensational Headline Slanders Dr. Livingstone

File:David Livingstone by Frederick Havill.jpg
                        David Livingstone by Frederick Havill.jpg

From Wikipedia,
Dr. David Livingstone (19 March 1813 – 1 May 1873) was a Scottish medical missionary with the London Missionary Society and an explorer in Africa.

I just finished reading Dr. David Livingstone’s Final Journals. I was doing some research to learn more about his life when I came across an article in the UK based newspaper,  The Telegraph.

I was surprised to see the headline below:

Dr Livingstone ‘lied in famous account of slave market massacre’

The headline was taken from the following statement from the article, which was bad enough, but the cheap twist accomplished by leaving out “may have” is shoddy journalism against someone who cannot defend himself.

“Dr David Livingstone may have lied about his famous account of a slave market massacre, a new study into a faded 140-year-old diary has suggested.”

Horror: An illustration of the Massacre of the Manyuema Women at Nyangwe in which slavers opened fire on 1,500 people at a market in Zanzibar. The atrocity was one of the darkest points of Dr Livingstone's career.

Read more:

Project Director, Adrian Wisnicki of Indiana University of Pennsylvania said Livingstone’s party may have been involved in the massacre. He said that it’s just a theory and not thoroughly researched; nevertheless, he proceeded to make unsubstantiated negative suppositions about Dr. Livingstone’s character.

I find this accusation disturbing. Dr. David Livingston was a follower of Jesus Christ. He came from a Christian family with a history of honesty for many generations. In The Personal Life of David Livingstone by William G. Blaikie, the author says, “the only tradition he himself felt proud of was that of the old man (his grandfather) who had never heard of any person in the family guilty of dishonesty, and who charged his children never to introduce the vice.”

Based on his sterling reputation as a Christian and the many observations he made in his journals concerning the grief he endured because of the dishonest and unethical behavior he encountered in his travels, I believe he was an honest man who would have recorded events accurately or not at all.

In addition to what’s known about his character, it is also known that he personally denied the involvement of his hired men in the massacre. So, it’s not just a matter of comparing various written accounts or trying to discern if an innocent bystander could be as morally outraged and as emotionally traumatized as Livingstone was by the horrific event, it’s a matter of accepting or rejecting who he was and all he stood for!

Noting another inaccuracy, let me say, it wasn’t even “a slave market massacre.” See the complete article at the link below.

I believe this article is very misleading. As I said, the massacre was not at a slave market. It was a village market in Nyangwe, in the Congo, where 1500-2000 Africans (mostly women) met to sell their wares.

Dr. Livingstone said he saw the Arab slavers enter the market with their guns, considered rebuking them, but thought they possibly did not realize guns were not appropriate in that setting. Within minutes, he heard shots and saw the Arab slavers firing at natives.  They were so terrified by the guns that they ran in a panic to the river, hoping to escape in their canoes. The panic and confusion increased as they fled from more Arabs who were firing on those in the water. Several canoes were overloaded and sank from trying to save those in the water. The river was crowded and Dr. Livingstone said he thought more natives drowned in the deep, rushing water than died from gunshot wounds. The scene horrified Livingstone. He wanted to intervene but was restrained by his belief in and lifelong practice of Christian pacifism. His inability to save the natives caused him deep remorse.

Someone read into the story that he “may have” felt guilty because some of his hired ex-slaves “may have” been involved. I see no indication in any of his journals that his men were involved.

It was not his practice to arm his workers. He only carried guns to hunt for game for their meals. If any of his party had acquired guns, without his permission, he would not have allowed them to carry them into the market. And, it is highly unlikely they would have risked their salary by openly defying his authority.

He related in his journal that he was deeply disturbed by the slaughter and by finding himself among Muslims who engaged in such demonic behavior. He was ashamed to face the natives who survived the massacre and came to him for help. He wanted to get as far away from those Muslims as he could and still complete his geographical research.

I consider the following statement to be slander.

“Livingstone would never have published this private diary in his own lifetime. In particular his attitude to the liberated slaves in his entourage is one of disgust – an attitude greatly at odds with his public persona as a dedicated abolitionist.”

His abolitionist attitudes are clearly expressed throughout his journals. In thoughts, prayers and actions, he detested slavery and longed for the day when it would be totally abolished.

His attitude toward the liberated slaves had nothing to do with their status as free men. It had to do with the disgusting behavior they had learned from the slavers and their time in slavery. Their association with their captors and captivity had ruined their characters.

File:The Slave Gang (relates to David Livingstone) by The London Missionary Society.jpg

The Slave Gang (relates to Livingstone) by The London Missionary Society

This article appears to be trying to rewrite history by slandering a Christian explorer who found himself in a very difficult position trying to do his work in areas overrun with Portuguese and Arab slave traders. And, by making Livingstone look bad, they apparently hope to call his reports about slave traders in Africa into question, possibly whitewashing such activities from history.

You may notice there is no condemnation of the Muslim slavers who carried out the massacre of the Manyema people. The only criticism in the article falls on Dr. David Livingstone who witnessed the massacre, brought it to the attention of the world, and thereby helped close the Zanzibar Slave Market.

Researchers often see what they are looking for. Before you let sensational and inaccurate headlines affect your opinion of this famous and revered explorer who literally laid down his life to open the heart of Africa to the Gospel, I hope you will read the journals for yourself!

If you are interested in the day of the massacre, I’ve included the link below.


About Cherel

I love to read. I also enjoy journaling, writing poetry, sharing faith and encouragement with others, and blogging! Hope you are blessed by my site.
This entry was posted in Book Review, Current Events and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Sensational Headline Slanders Dr. Livingstone

  1. Ugg boots says:

    Hello there! Thanks for investing the time to read my comments. I’m greatly interested in this subject and would love looking at more on this particular matter. If it is possible, as your knowledge increases, would you share more information on this subject? It’s a great choice for me. Browsing more due to this content!

  2. Cherel says:

    I came across another article using the same slant in presenting the new discoveries. I read the comments and was pleased to see that there was almost no support for the negative view of Livingstone in the comments!

  3. Robert Thoresby says:

    Why did you say that Nyangwe was overrun by Portuguese slavers? What is the evidence for that?

    • Cherel says:

      Hello, Robert. My only reference to Portuguese slavers was, “This article appears to be trying to rewrite history by slandering a Christian explorer who found himself in a very difficult position trying to do his work in areas overrun with Portuguese and Arab slave traders.” That comment was referring to slave traders encountered by Livingstone during his many years of travel in Africa. It had nothing to do with Nyangwe.

      Thank you for visiting and commenting.

      Grace and peace to you.

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