Livingstone reaches Victoria Falls
The 17th of November 1855 AD
David Livingstone proved a far more successful explorer than missionary, though his two roles were intertwined: Livingstone hoped that by opening up the interior of Africa to Europeans he would facilitate the conversion of the peoples living there.
If truth be told he only ever converted one African to Christianity; but he was the first European to sight what he called Victoria Falls, Lake Malawi, Lake Ngami and Lake Bangweulu; he extended European knowledge of the Zambezi River; and mapped parts of Africa’s interior previously undiscovered (by Europeans).
It was the failure of his mission in Kolobeng after prolonged drought that pushed Livingstone northwards to explore other areas, beginning this new aspect of his work in 1852. He had been told of the great waterfall downstream on the Zambezi, and organised an expedition to see this, travelling by canoe. Livingstone saw the plumes of mist raised by the waterfall, and heard the roar of the cascade, long before getting within sight of the fall itself. As his party approached within a few hundred yards he had them land so he could transfer to a lightweight canoe handled by experienced local men able to negotiate the rocks and rapids. Eventually he was put ashore on an island in the midst of the stream, whose far end was on the lip of the fall. Easing his way carefully Livingstone eventually looked over the edge to solve the mystery of where the river disappeared in the earth – a cleft in the basalt rocks leading away at right angles way below.
The local name for the falls was (and is as Zambia still uses the original name) the poetic Mosi-oa-Tunya, meaning The Smoke that Thunders. Livingstone, perhaps with an eye to future honours, prosaically called it after the then Queen of England, Victoria .
While at 108m in height and 1708m in width Mosi-oa-Tunya is neither the tallest nor the widest waterfall on earth, it is the greatest sheet of falling water, a magnificent sight, creating its own micro-mini climate as the water vapour it creates condenses just a few hundred feet above the ground falling more or less constantly as fine rain.
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