The Livingstone – Stanley Monument and The Famous Tale of Two Explorers in Africa
Without a doubt, European explorers in 19 th century Africa changed history. Two of the most famous are Dr David Livingstone, and the journalist and explorer Henry Morton Stanley, who opened central Africa up to Europeans. In Burundi, there’s a monument depicting the historic first meeting of the two great explorers - an event that has been celebrated in countless movies and books.
The Historic Background Of Livingstone and Stanley
The late 19 th century was the golden age of European exploration of the African continent. Dr David Livingstone (1813-1873) was a Scottish missionary and explorer, famous for his excursions into Central Africa. During his attempt to discover the source of the Nile, he was the first European to record important geographical features such as Lake Malawi.
In 1865, Livingstone went missing and because of his fame, it caused a sensation in Europe and America. For 6 long years the outside world heard nothing from the explorer, who was ill for much of this time.
Sir Henry Morton Stanley, a Welsh journalist and explorer, best known for exploring the Congo Basin, went in search of Livingstone and eventually found him in 1871. When he first saw the Scottish missionary/explorer he is purported to have uttered the memorable phrase, ‘Doctor Livingstone, I presume?’ However, it is highly unlikely that Stanley ever spoke these words.
Dr Livingstone, I presume? (public domain)
The Error That Led to the Livingstone–Stanley Monument
At the time, the area was ruled by the Kingdom of Burundi. The monument marks the spot where many Burundians claim Livingstone and Stanley visited and spent two nights in 1871. However, based on the journals of both men, the actual meeting took place at a location that is now in Tanzania. The two men agreed to explore the region together and they arrived in the Kingdom of Burundi together.
Posthumous portrait of David Livingstone by Frederick Havill (public domain)
Stanley and Livingstone did stay in the location of the monument, where they met a local chieftain and were warmly hosted by the local people. Over time, many confused this trip by Livingstone and Stanley with the first meeting and believe that the monument marks the place where the two explorers met.
The monument was erected by the Belgian colonial authorities in the 1950s and despite the misunderstanding, the monument commemorates the two British explorers’ visit to the area, which was to have important historical repercussions for Burundi.
Portrait of Henry Morton Stanley (public domain)
Description of Livingstone–Stanley Monument, Burundi
The monument which is 7 miles (12 km) south of the city of Bujumbura and adjacent to Lake Tanganyika, consists of a vertical standing stone on flat land. It is marked with a crude engraving which reads ‘Livingstone-Stanley, 25-11-1871’ and is surrounded by a circle of smaller stones. It’s often climbed by locals and visitors to get a better view of Lake Tanganyika, one of the largest lakes in Africa.
Lake Tanganyika (Rafal Cichawa / Adobe Stock)
This monument, almost a parallelogram of rock, stands over 10 feet (3.2m) high and 6 feet (2 m) wide and is an unusual feature in the flat landscape around the lake as the coloring of the granite is distinctive with its reddish hue. A small settlement where local people still live a largely traditional lifestyle can be found near the rock.
Discovering the Livingstone–Stanley Monument
The location is not far from the former capital and biggest city in Burundi, Bujumbura, even though the monument can be difficult to find as it is off the main road. There is no admission fee to the site, and it is possible to buy food from the locals at roadside stalls.
There is also a small visitors center at the site with some information on the history of the site, although much of the information is in French. Accommodation near the Livingstone–Stanley Monument is plentiful.
Top image: Memorial to Stanley and Livingstone, Burundi Source: Poffer, D / CC BY 2.0
By Ed Whelan
Dugard, M. (2012). Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley and Livingstone. Random House
Keitumetse, S.O., 2016. Interpretation: Dealing with Multiple Identities. In African Cultural Heritage Conservation and Management (pp. 113-133). Springer, Cham. Available at: https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-32017-5_5
Otfinoski, S. (2007). David Livingstone: Deep in the Heart of Africa. Marshall Cavendish.