One of the five continents of the world, is Africa, the largest land mash of the earth planet that lies equidistantly within the Equator and the tropics of cancer and Capricorn. In reading historical accounts, Africa has been described by the civilized nations as the continent whose interior was shrouded in “mystery” and overwhelmingly a “dark” continent. It is a fact that the interior of the continent has been since the dawn of “homosapiens: ‘unknown” “impenetrable”, “inaccessible”, and “unexplored” both by the Ancient civilization of the  ancient Near East and  Great Britain, the British Empire. 

In the olden days, preceding the historical chapter of the explorers of Africa, fairly tales, horrendous and horrifying were hilariously narrated in Great Britain. The tales could possibly have reached Europe from the sailors who under Vasco da Gama, sailed through the Atlantic and Indian Ocean to India. The voyage was along the Coast of Africa. The curious sailors used the sense of sight, experience and imagination to manufacture thee tales.The “dark” continent was described to be the habitation of man-like apes, guerillas and tiny men, the pigmies. The natives were also described to be “primitively uncivilized savages,” and presumingly man eating “savages”. While investigating on the latter, I made a confirmation that a tribe on the East coast of Africaenjoyed a delicious meal of human flesh.

A stretching belt of fire was believed to be in existence in undefined locality of the interior. This belt of incessant fire was a sheer tale of imagination and fantasy which notwithstanding posed anticipated difficulties and dangers to venturesome explorers and pioneers of the African interior.


Beastly wild animals, man-eating lions, aggressive leopards, hippos, rhinos, elephants, lurking jackals and bone-smashing hyenas mystified the westerners with terrible hazards and jeopardize in any meditated attempt and actual penetration into the interior.

 Africa, lying on the Equator and tropics was a continent of dread, daunting and appalling dense forests and tropical jungles. The British  were made to believe, albeit falsely, that the woods and jungles were the scenes of utter desolation and habitation of wild-haunting spirits, most dreaded for wreaking and inflicting havoc on mortals. These most frightening tales had adverse effects on warning the western world that for security reasons, people should keep away in making any attempt of penetrating the interior of the continent.  

Finally, an extensive kingdom of desolation, the Great Sahara desert formed a natural barrier of making penetration into the interior. This stretch of sand-dunes, scorching climate and bare of natural vegetation parted the North and the interior of the African continent. The natural barrier was an impassibility though a natural habitat of the Tuaregs nomadic people who were naturally adapted to the hostile environment with all its difficulties and hardships of the desert.

Difficulties and hardships exist as challenges and indeed as integral part of human life. Psychological fear, a great deterrence, imbues one with cowardice to face difficulties and hardships of life. As a result, one chooses no to run the risk of making any venture in life. In the end analysis, the coward achieves nothing.

Love of knowledge inspired men from Great Britain with adventure to the “unknown” intently to demystifying the interior continent of Africa. The ten heroes who ran risks have inspired a many people to grapple with difficulties and hardships to persue knowledge and truth, be it in the abyss of a pit or the highest mountain of the earth. The cowardly have the challenge to run risks. Face what is believed to be insurmountable difficulties, hardships and man’s most dreaded lot, death.

The lands of the African continent known to the civilizations of the ancient Near East and Europe are those bordering the Mediterranean Sea. The most popular among these is Egypt, the land of pharaohs and pyramids.

The Nile, the treasure to the Egyptians is not only the longest river in the continent but also of great economic importance to the people in providing perennial waters for irrigation in the land of absolute aridity. The interior of Africa, South of Egypt remained a mystery to the Egyptians. However, though favoured by nature’s bounty, they were neither adventurists nor explorers with the initiative of searching for the springs of the Niles, the river that gives them life and prosperity.

Immense fortitude drove the first explorer James Bruce to the monarchy of Abyssinia [Ethiopia]. In spite of great difficulties and terrible hardships that beset journeys, he reached the source of what he thought to be the Nile but in reality, what he saw was the Blue Nile, one of the largest tributaries of the Nile. In a book, he narrated his experiences and discoveries in the land of Ethiopia. However, his readers ridiculed and mocked his accounts to be flagrantly dishonest. After his death, mockers came to confirm the truth of all that Bruce put down on paper. Many heroes are honoured when they are in the grave.

Mungo Park is described as a “gallant traveller” who set out to Gambia, in West Africa to explore the mysterious river Niger. He confirmed that the Niger winds not to the West as thought previously but to the East. In his attempt to reach the source of Niger, he wandered ragged and barefoot. When he fell ill, a slave trader, a man with a heart of magnamity carried him to the coast and arrived in Scotland alive and kicking.

In his final attempt, disaster dogged his steps and he wrote this imperishable note, “I set sail to the East with a fixed resolution to discover the termination of the Nile or perish in the attempt.” Indeed, the “gallant traveler” perished in the attempt. Only a few personalities would follow the example of James Bruce to choose death in pursuit of knowledge and truth.

Then came the first explorer of the human heart, the first pioneering British missionary Robert Moffat, who carried “human Christi” to the natives of the “dark” continent. The enthusiastic missionary wandered up-country  from cape town and arrived at a farm of an old slave- owning Boer. In conducting a prayer service, Moffat asked for the presence of the slave Hottentots  The Boer retorted,” Umph, if it is a congregation of that sort you want, I will call the baboons from the mountains or the dogs from the porch.’ Moffat continued with the service without another word. Moffat then read a verse from the biblical  story of Lazarus and the rich man that states, “Truth, Lord, yet the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masteris table. “The old Boer interrupted the preacher and said, “Will you sit down a minute, you shall have the Hottentots.”  The poor slaves came in wondering. It was the first time they were seeing the Christian house in life time. After the service, the Boer slave-owner said to Moffat, “My friend, you took a harder hammer and you have broken a hard head.”

Moffat settled at Kuruman in Bechuanaland and transformed that wild and blood stained land into a sanctuary of “Lumen Christi.” and civilization. The news of his missionary activities reached Scotland and the first to be inspired was David Livingstone, a poor boy working in a cotton factory [mill]. The heart of David Livingstone was wholly given to the thought of winning human souls for God.

Penetrating into the “unknown” interior of the African continent brought feelings of excitement and fulfillment by being right inside there and exploring. Quantitatively, the number of volunteering explorers kept multiplying. David Livingstone had initially contemplated going to China but when war broke out in that communist country, he made a timely decision to follow the footsteps of Robert Moffat. The interior of Africa, the land of “mystery” was his focus. He wanted to be in the very territory where Moffat had preached to a Boer slave-trader and the Hottentots slaves.

The Boers repulsed him from the territory they had occupied and forced him to travel to the North, in the Transvaal. In the course of time, he deserted the Transvaal region, then entered Tanganyika from Mikindani Bay near the mouth of Ruvuma river on 4th April 1866 as a doctor, missionary and explorer. More than anything else, he believed himself to be a pioneer paving the way for the influx of the British. The youthful explorer, aged twenty eight[28] years made three earnest travels to explore more in details the map of the “dark” interior. The president of the Royal Geographical society persuaded him to map, the exact nature of the lakes, rivers and mountains. He concentrated on travelling and notwithstanding the difficulties and hardships he experienced, more than any one else, he never gave up his search for knowledge.

In his explorations, Livingstone had objectives that he was determined to achieve for the benefit and advantage of his country, Great Britain. The underlying basic principles of his exploration were:-

[a] Africa must be brought into contact with Great Britain.

[b] British must come to Africa with the purpose of introducing:

 [i] Christianity.

[ii] Civilization.

[iii] British settlers’ farmers and commerce.

[iv] British colonization.

[v] Livingstone was equally determined to unveil the mystery of the source of River Nile.

[vi] Finally, he strongly believed that the coming of the British would effect the abolition of the atrocious trafficking of African slaves.

Livingstone’s greatest task therefore was to map the geography of the: “unknown, mysterious and dark interior” for his masters at home.

Livingstone experienced difficulties and hardships in the African jungle. As a foreigner, he found himself in a foreign land that was all “dark, unknown forest gloom and mystery. Every tribe he came across was aggressively “savage”. The wild animals too were constantly aggressive and menacing his life, come day and night. Fever, pestilence, starvation and sickness stalked side by side with him incessantly.

The interior of Africa was a “dark, mysterious and unknown” only to the British but not the Boers, Arabs [Zanzibaris] and the Swahili. The three groups of people penetrated the interior of Africa many years before the idea of exploration dawned in the minds of British enthusiasts. They had a good geographical knowledge of East and Central Africa. For this reason therefore, the British explorers “discovered” nothing but only sighted what was already in existence, rivers, lakes and mountains that nature had put in place.

Peace, harmony, quietitude and social fabric life was disrupted by Boers, Arabs and Swahilis who hunted innocent Africans for commercial purposes. The brutal and barbaric hunting of slaves and transporting them to the coast, then shipping them to Zanzibar, the chief slave market. Slave trade was an appauling and abominable activity against humanity. Slaves were at the time the most important community of the East African trade.

The capture of slaves was a deplorable economic activity wanting in humanity. Armed to the tooth, human hunters raided villages with bloody savagely, the huts were torched, and farmland crops were destroyed. Resistance was met with indiscriminate shooting to kill, stabbing to death and inflicting torture on the innocent villagers. Africans themselves, greedy for wealth, prominently the Yao and the Nyamwezi. [The people of the moon] sold slaves to the Arabs and the Swahili. The chiefs of these two tribes acquired guns which they used to raid the villages of their subjects.

An eye witness gives a vivid account of a caravan of slaves being transported to the Coast. “… no greater contrast could be conceived than that between the courteous and white-robed Arab, with his… silver sword and daggers and silken turban, and the miserable swarm of naked squalid human beings that he had wantonly dragged from their new ruined homes… the men were driven, tied two-by-two, in the terrible “goree” on taming stick, or in gangs of about a dozen, each with an iron cellar let into a long iron chain, many even so soon after the start staggered under their loads. The women [were] fastened to the chains or thick back ropes. Many in addition to their heavy weight of grain or ivory…babies. The double burden was almost too much, and still they struggled wearily on.”

Coincidentally, Dr. Livingstone saw with his own naked eyes the atrocities and cruelty of human trafficking of slaves, the greatest crime against humanity.

The mystery of the source of River Nile remained at the back of Livingstone’s mind during his many travels. Like all other explorers, he had that curiosity of finding the source of the Nile. In his mind, he had three possible sources that he strived to establish which of the either was the true source of the Nile.

From his expedition in Uganda, John Speke had reached Ripon falls which he confirmed with surety to be the source, the outlet of the White Nile. Dr. Livingstone, however, disagreed with Speke’s theory. He believed, in an inner inspiration that Lake Tanganyika to be the possible source of the White Nile. In the company of Henry Stanley, the two surveyed the Northern end of Lake Tanganyika, but finally ascertained albeit with discontent that no Nile tributary was flowing out of the lake.

Henry Stanley, a newspaper reporter had been sent by his employer, the newspaper he worked for to look for Dr. David Livingstone “alive or dead”. Stanley met Livingstone at Ujiji, an urban centre on Lake Tanganyika. Stanley persuaded Livingstone to return home but Livingstone declined the request not without a reason through. In all certainty, Livingstone had not yet ascertained the source of the Nile River. This destiny thus accomplished, would give him happiness for the rest of his life. The destiny remained unaccomplished at the time of the persuasion. Hence the two differing explorers parted company in 1872.

Dr. David Livingstone wouldn’t have consented to return home before establishing the true source of the Nile. In his mind, the third possible source that he set out to explore was Lake Bangweulu. However, the spirit was willing but the flesh was weak.

More and more illness, shortage of food and medicine weakened his wasted frame. At last, his travels came to a halt; he couldn’t go on further but stayed famishing and fever-stricken. He said to his porters, “Build me a hut to die in. I am very cold; put more grass on the hut”. The men built him a hut and left lying there helplessly and shivering with cold.

When they came back on the following day, they found him dead. The fever he experienced suggests that Livingstone died of Malaria. Dr. Livingstone died near Lake Bangweudu, the Lake in which he had “the optimism” [1] and hope of finding the true source of the mysterious River Nile.

[1] Read my other article, “Faith in optimism”.