Above: “Dr Livingstone, L presume?” The epic soundbite delivered by Henry Morten Stanley (l) to Dr David Livingstone(r) on 10 November 1871
Copyright Rupi Mangat
We’re driving through a narrow cobbled street, ten kilometers south of Kigoma to reach the historic village of Ujiji a few meters from the shores of Lake Tanganyike. The road is lined with simple single-storeyed houses fitted with tin roofs – like the old Arab-Swahili settlements along the East African coast and sturdy palm oil trees – an important economic tree.
It was here that the famous sound-bite was uttered by the maverick American reporter Henry Morton Stanley on 10 November 1871 – ‘Dr Livingstone, l presume?’
It’s at Ujiji that the Livingstone’s Museum is – of the explorer-missionary who reported about the horrors of slavery and fought against the trade in humans.
Stanley had been sent by the American – James Gordon Bennett Jr, the young news-hungry editor of the New York Herald with one mission – ‘find Livingstone’.
When Stanley did and sent the telegraph from Aden – just before the telegraph broke down- it made sensational news in Europe and America in the May 2nd1872 edition of the Herald titled ‘Livingstone Safe’. Of course, it annoyed the British that an American newspaper broke the news and not their own – because Livingstone was British and had been sent by the Royal Geographical Society to determine the source of the Nile.
Expecting a big sign to point to the famous meeting place, we almost drive past it, if it wasn’t for the askari at the gate waving at us.
In a large mango-and-grass-filled compound with swaying palm trees, a single storeyed building poses as the museum. We’re eager to see the monument that’s on the very site that the two men introduced themselves in 1871.
The guide leads us to it – cordoned off with a wire fence – two gigantic mango trees grafted from the original tree that Livingstone and Stanley had met under – and the monument. It’s a simple obelix of soft beige stone with a cross engraved on it and the letters LIVINGSTONE. It’s quite a moment to be at the very spot that l read about in my childhood history books. And when l place the palm of my hand on the cool stone, the guide states, “The stones are from Jerusalem.”
That gives me a jolt – to suddenly be touching the stones from the holy city.
A few feet from it is another plaque set in stone – where in January1858 Richard Burton and John Speke first reached the shores of Lake Tanganyika – both men were ill and Speke almost blind that he could barely see it. It was here that the explorers heard of another big lake from the Arab traders – and Speke continued there to make the epic statement that this had to be the source of the Nile – and named it Victoria after the reigning British queen.
Back to Ujiji – at the time it was a wealthy town – and today the oldest in western Tanzania largely founded on the slave trade that boasted a slave market.
“In the 1800, the lake reached here,” continues our guide as we stroll around the museum filled with murals of Livingstone and the slave story. It seems a huge recede for the world’s longest and second oldest fresh water lake. “With climate change and global warming,” continues the guide “the lake might vanish in the next few millennia.”
It’s an interesting museum showing the slave routes from the heart of Africa and more. Ujiji’s decline came with the end of that trade and the start of Kigoma when the railway reached it.
Driving a few minutes down the path to the lake shore, local fishers bring in their boats to the landing site.
The lake –an African Great Lake in the Albertine Rift – is shared between four countries -Tanzania, DRC, Burundi and Zambia.
The Lukuga River is the only major river that drains the lake. The floodwaters of the lake feed into the mighty Congo River and ultimately into the Atlantic Ocean.
After finding Livingstone, it became Stanley’s next mission – to map the mysterious Lualaba River that Livingstone had told him about – the Congo – which he did between 1876 and 1877that flowed into the Atlantic.
Read the ‘Blood River’ by Tim Butcher who in 2004 traced Stanley’s route along the Congo reporting on a country completely ravaged by incessant war, corrupt leadership and poverty.
Arusha to Kigoma (1,053km is smooth tarmac except for three sections after Tabora but easy for saloon cars). Map your journey with overnight at Tabora or Singida – nice hotels on route – average Ksh 5000 for a room BB.
Stay at Jakobsen Beach and Guesthouse http://newsite.kigomabeach.com/ – with a private beach. In town many good affordable guest houses for Ksh 5000 a room. Sail to Gombe to track chimpanzees.
Have your passport and Yellow fever card – for Kenyans entry into national parks is East African rate and very affordable