David Livingstone didn’t discover Victoria Falls

Colleen Simard, a columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press, has written about a tribe ofLivingstone
indigenous people in the Amazon who were recently photographed pointing their bows and arrows at a plane. They've apparently lived in seclusion all these years, far from what we consider civilization. Simard, who's a member of Canada's indigenous people, says she cheered for her "brothers and sisters" when she saw the story on national TV.

Some media reports said the tribe had been discovered. Discovered?
Now wait a minute. The word discovery wasn't right in Columbus' day,
and it shouldn't cut it today either.

The word "discovery" always makes me bristle. It's like we were hiding
under rocks like crayfish or something. You're meeting up with a tribe
of people, not plants or animals.

It also gives weight to the misguided idea we were just hanging
around doing nothing, when actually we had our own governments,
cultures, practiced ecological farming and hunting, and had villages
and trading systems that spanned the country.

Primitive? I think not.

My interpretation of history is that our ancestors probably saw the
newcomers coming from miles away. They probably checked them out pretty
good, maybe for a few days or weeks. Then they decided to be friendly
and help the newcomers out. It was our way, after all.

We didn't go around saying we "discovered" newcomers, although that's probably a more accurate explanation. [Link]

The word "discovered" doesn't sit well with me either. During my schooldays in Zambia, I learned about a host of European explorers who discovered parts of the world where people were already living.

The Scottish missionary David Livingstone was the chief discoverer of central Africa, walking great distances during his lifetime. He discovered the Zambezi River, he discovered Victoria Falls and he discovered sores on his feet.

Thankfully, his Wikipedia entry merely states that he was "the first European" to see the Victoria Falls, which is a far cry from discovering it. (If you're wondering who has the distinction of being the first Asian to see the Falls, it was some guy from India who didn't hire a good publicist.)

Wikipedia notwithstanding, Livingstone doesn't have to worry about his legacy as a discoverer. He is, after all, the subject of a book by Ben Alex called "David Livingstone: The Missionary Who Discovered Africa." The BBC website says that he "discovered a spectacular waterfall which he named 'Victoria Falls'." Wholesome Words credits him with discovering Lake Nyassa, Lake Moero, Lake 'Ngami, the upper Zambezi, Lake Tanganyika and Lake Bangweulu.

How did Livingstone manage to do so much discovering? The answer might be found in his diary:

November 17th, 1855: "Today, I had the good fortune of meeting a group of natives who took me to see a spectacular waterfall. Upon discovering the falls, I named it after Queen Victoria. Then I asked the natives if there was anything else they would like me to discover. 'Yes,' they said eagerly, and they took me to their village, where an attractive young woman invited me into her hut, saying 'I hear you want to make more discoveries, Dr. Livingstone.'"

If you enjoyed this piece, you'll love Melvin's novel Bala Takes the Plunge, available in North America through Amazon.com and McNallyRobinson.com You can also find it at major bookstores in India and Sri Lanka or online at FlipKart, IndiaPlaza, FriendsofBooks or other sites. A number of readers have written reviews of the novel. An excerpt of the novel can be read here.


  1. Hi
    Have a look at this post where i checked out Akbar’s nocturnal adventures

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