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I’m Gonna Guess Your Skinny Ass is David Livingstone

Did he or didn’t he? As one might assume, there’s some question as to whether Henry Morton Stanley’s first words to Dr. Livingstone were in fact, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” It’s a while into Stanley’s return that this first comes up, and the page where it would be in his diary is missing (though that doesn’t prove anything; maybe he just got a hooker that day and didn’t want anyone to know).

In 1871, Livingstone was broke and living on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in the old-school trading town of Ujiji (pronounced “Ooh, Gigi!” and one of my favorite town names ever). He’d lost considerable weight and had been missing in the African interior for a couple years at this point. The New York Herald contracted Stanley to find the lost explorer, dead or alive.

Whatever Stanley’s introductory words were, Livingstone’s response was likely along the lines of, “You got anything to eat?” but I like to think it was “You bet your sweet ass I am.”

Unlike many historical sites, there is a good chance that the stone commemorating the spot is actually accurately placed, as it was outside Livingstone’s hut, below a mango tree. I learned all of this info from two sources: a Stuff You Missed in History Class podcast, and the pleasant 203-year-old man who gave me a tour of the premises, raising his voice several octaves at the end of every sentence.

According to him, when Stanley was approaching the town, locals ran around yelling “The British are Coming! The British are Coming!” At this point in the retelling, the guide in an aside voice retro-translated this as “Mzungu, mzungu.”

After visiting the monument and the small museum beside, I hopped a motorcycle back 8 km to Kigoma. Tomorrow I’m off for a one- to two-day journey up to Kigali, Rwanda.

stanley and livingstone
The famous hat duel between Henry and David
Dr. Livingstone thinking about slavery
Oh, no doubt about it.
Ujiji girl
A modern day Ujijan youth

One Comment

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