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David Livingstone and the Other Slave Trade Part III. The Slaver and the Abolitionist

This the third and final installment of National Museum of African Art Library volunteer Judith Schaefer’s series on David Livingstone. See Part I and Part II.

“In Congo, unrelenting violence”
“.  .  . violence and insecurity have continued to plague eastern Congo . . . groups have sought to gain power and control over the nation’s vast mineral wealth . . . civilians have been raped and killed . . .”
The Washington Post, August 12, 2013, A6.

This report could have been written any time during the last half of the 19th century.  The only difference would have been the nature of the “vast wealth”: then it was not minerals but ivory and slaves.

The Slaver

Hamed bin Muhammed bin Juma bin Rajad el Murjebi,
called “Tippu Tip,” 1837-1905. ©Pictures From History

Tippu Tip, immaculately groomed, polite, speaker of perfect Arabic, and helpful to Europeans in distress, was also the most powerful of the Arab traders of slaves and ivory in east Africa during the last half of the 19th century.  He and his minions—Arabs and Swahilis aided by thousands of central African men absorbed into the trade as slaves or freed slaves—stuck terror into the hearts of chiefs and villagers, compelling them to hand over tusks and slaves in exchange for their lives.

Villages that resisted saw their crops destroyed, granaries raided, dwellings burned, and inhabitants kidnapped, raped, and murdered.  Whole villages disappeared, whole regions were depopulated.

On the map of trade routes below, Tippu Tip’s area is shown by the dotted lines in the Lake Tanganyika area. It covered the entire eastern half of the Democratic Republic of Congo, where violence rules even today.

Indian Ocean and Red Sea Slave Trade Routes in the 19th Century [1].
Most of the thousands upon thousands of slaves taken here were used to carry ivory to the coast and supplies back to the interior; they were not for export. Of every caravan, at least 20 percent died en route of hunger, disease, and exhaustion, a loss that required constant replenishment.

The numbers taken in this internal slave trade are not known, but this trade should be acknowledged in any total count for the Arab slave trade.[2]

It has been suggested that the Arab slave trade created a whole new disruptive social system, “fragmenting society and leading toward the emergence of distinct cultural groups,” among them undisciplined, detribalized African men, neither slave nor free, who formed marauding private armies.[3]

The Abolitionist

David Livingstone spent his final years in Africa—1866 to 1873—searching for the source of the Nile, a quest that led him deep into Arab slave-and-ivory trading country, where Tippu Tip held sway. He set out believing that the Arab slavers were not as harsh as the Portuguese, whose depredations he had seen on previous journeys.  He soon found out otherwise.  The following quotations and are all from his last journals.[4]

27th June, 1866.—To-day we came upon a man dead from starvation, as he was very thin. One of our men wandered and found a number of slaves with slave-sticks on, abandoned by their master from want of food; they were too weak to be able to speak or say where they had come from; some were quite young.

“A method of securing slaves,” Alfred J. Swann [5]

28th July, 1867.— Slavery is a great evil wherever I have seen it. A poor old woman and child are among the captives, the boy about three years old seems a mother’s pet. His feet are sore from walking in the sun. He was offered for two fathoms [a measure of cloth], and his mother for one fathom; he understood it all, and cried bitterly, clinging to his mother. She had, of course, no power to help him; they were separated at Karungu afterwards.

And soon this brief entry:

29th July, 1867.—Went 2½ hours west to village of Ponda, where a head Arab, called by the natives Tipo Tipo, lives; his name is Hamid bin Mahamed bin Juma Borajib.

Ill and destitute, Livingstone accepted help from this Tipo Tipo.  The great slaver gave the great abolitionist supplies and guaranteed safe conduct on the next legs of his journey through a region seething with violence. The horrors of this trade exceeded all else he had so far seen in Africa.  “To overdraw its evils,” he wrote, “is a simple impossibility. The sights I have seen, though common incidents of the traffic, are so nauseous that I always strive to drive them from memory.”  “Africa is bleeding from every pore,” wrote an Englishman making his way through this region shortly after Livingstone’s death.[6]

In 1871, Livingstone witnessed a massacre carried out by rival slave traders and their men, some of whom he suspected belonged to his own party.  It filled him with “intolerable loathing.”

"The massacre of the Manyuema women at Nyangwe,” based on Livingstone’s sketch.
“The massacre of the Manyuema women at Nyangwe,” based on Livingstone’s sketch.

July 15, 1871   . . . As I write I hear the loud wails on the left bank over those who are there slain . . . . Oh, let Thy kingdom come! No one will ever know the exact loss on this bright sultry summer morning, it gave me the impression of being in Hell.

The Arabs estimated the loss at between 400 & 500 souls.[7]

Why would David Livingstone—missionary, explorer, ardent abolitionist to the end—accept help from Tippu Tip?  At the beginning of his last journey, he wrote in his journal what every wilderness-lover  knows: “The mere animal pleasure of traveling in a wild unexplored country is very great.”  But by the time he encountered the famous slaver he was a already a sick man, virtually alone in Africa (except for a few porters and his faithful servants, Chuma and Simi), and most of his possessions, including his medicine chest, had been stolen.  Simply put, he needed help and the Arab trader offered it.


David Livingstone
After the massacre, a sick and deeply demoralized Livingstone returned to Ujiji, on Lake Tanganyika, where Henry Morton Stanley found him in 1871.  When Stanley departed, Livingstone remained behind; he died in 1873 in a village on the shore of the lake.  Chuma and Simi buried his heart there, carried his remains to Zanzibar, and accompanied the body back to London.  In 1874, Livingstone was buried in Westminster Abbey.  The plaque on his tomb bears a reminder of his life-long crusade against slavery—words he wrote on May 1, 1872, exactly one year before his death:

All I can add in my solitude, is, may heaven’s rich blessing come down on every one, American, English, or Turk, who will help to heal this open sore of the world.

In 1874, the English explorer Verney Lovett Cameron came upon Livingstone’s papers in Ujiji and sent them back to London.  He also witnessed the horrific regional violence; he wrote in his diary, “Africa is bleeding out her life-blood at every pore.”[8]

Tippu Tip
In the 1770s and 1880s, the notorious slaver extended his power in central Africa, eventually claiming the entire eastern Congo for himself and the Sultan of Zanzibar.    He also helped various English and German explorers find their way through the region; one of those was Henry Morton Stanley.  Dr. Heinrich Brode, a German official who knew Tippu Tip in his later retirement and translated his autobiography from the Swahili (written in Arabic script), wrote “. . . the paths traced out by his blood-stained hands have supplied the framework for all the subsequent cartography of German East Africa and the Congo Free State.  Thus a life-work of destruction has served to aid the advance of civilization.”[9]

Around 1890, realizing that the Belgians coming up the Congo River from the west and the European missionaries and Germans penetrating the interior from the east were gaining the upper hand politically, he returned to Zanzibar and wrote his autobiography. He died in 1905, a vastly wealthy man, having accumulated seven huge clove plantations on Zanzibar and some 10,000 slaves to work them.


[1] William Gervase Clarence-Smith,“An Overview,” in William Gervase Clarence-Smith, ed., The Economics of the Indian Ocean and Red Sea Slave Trades in the 19th Century (London: Frank Cass and Company Limited), 1989.

[2] François Renault, “The Structures of the Slave Trade in Central Africa in the 19th Century,” in Clarence-Smith, ed.

[3]Melvin E. Page, “The Manyema Hordes of Tippu Tip: A Case Study in Social Stratification and the Slave Trade in Eastern Africa, International Journal of African Historical Studies, 7, 1974.

[4] David Livingstone and Horace Waller, The Last Journals of David Livingstone, in Central Africa, from 1865 to his death. Continued by anarrative of his last moments and sufferings, obtained from his faithful servants Chuma and Susi (London : John Murray, 1874).  See also the Livingstone Spectral Imaging Project,

[5] Alfred J. Swann, Fighting the slave-hunters in Central Africa, a record of twenty-six years of travel & adventures round the Great Lakes (London: Seeley & Co., 1910). The author wrote, “when traveling a shorter pole is used, one end being held up by the preceding person. The neck is often broken if the slave falls when walking.” Jerome S. Handler and Michael L.Tuite, Jr., The Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in the Americas, (2013), sponsored by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and the University of Virginia. Image reference: SWANN.

[6] Verney Lovett Cameron, Across Africa (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1877).
[7]Livingstone’s Third Massacre Narrative, The Livingstone Spectral Imaging Project,
[8]Verney Lovett Cameron, Across Africa (New York: Harper and Brothers), 1877.
[9]Heinrich Brode, H. Havelock, trans., Tippoo Tib, the story of his career in Central Africa (London: Edward Arnold, 1907).

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