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Loyal to the ends of the earth

Loyal to the ends of the earth


Chuma and Sussi, two servants who became friends and carers for the faltering explorer Dr David Livingstone, deserve their own place in history.

When David Livingstone negotiated the release of a young Waiyau slave boy by the name of James Chuma from a slave gang near Lake Shirwa in 1861 he would have had no idea how richly that act of kindness would be rewarded. For three years Chuma travelled the Zambezi and its tributaries with his liberator in search of navigable waters to open trade into Africa’s heart. Then in an outrageous endeavour they sailed across the Indian Ocean to India in the miniscule boat Lady Nyassa that they had used on the rivers. Chuma remained in Bombay in the care of Dr. John Wilson, head of the Free Church of Scotland Mission School, but was picked up again by Livingstone about eighteen months later when he returned to Africa to search for the source of the Nile.

Chuma, who by now could speak and write English, together with his Shupanga companion and camp cook, David Sussi, stayed loyal to Livingstone throughout his seven desperate years in a vain search for the origin the world’s longest river.

When his porters abandoned him they remained faithfully by Livingstone’s side, and when he was left destitute because all his goods had been stolen, they shared a dinner of rats with him. They carried him bodily when he collapsed from remorseless onsets of fever.

When he was so weak that he couldn’t even raise his head, they paddled him in dug-outs across big waters to the safety of Ujiji. Here, Chuma greeted Stanley in fluent English when the American journalist eventually tracked down the missing Livingstone. After the doctor finally succumbed on 1 May 1873 to the litany of diseases that he had endured for so long, it was Chuma and Sussi who had his heart and innards removed through a small incision in his belly. His heart they buried in the Africa that he so dearly loved, but they had his body embalmed so that they could carry it on an epic, 1300 kilometre, life-threatening voyage that took them halfway across the continent to Bagamoyo in present day Tanzania.

At times they had to travel stealthily at night in order to avoid the capture and summary execution that would have followed had they been caught with the remains of a white man by tribal chiefs.

From Bagamoyo they boarded a ship to Zanzibar where they were shown little gratitude by the British authorities, and they had to watch as the body of the man, to whom they had been so faithful, set sail for Westminster Abbey. Livingstone was buried without the presence of the two men who were his closest companions over many years, but both Chuma and Sussi did later get to visit the grave of the man for whom they had risked so much.

In 1878 Chuma returned to the lake region of central Africa for three years when he joined a surveying expedition led by Johnston and Thomson.

The names Chuma and Sussi have become synonymous with dedication and loyalty, but their greatest service to mankind is that they were instrumental in helping Livingstone expose the brutality of the slave trade in Africa to the outside world.

Read more articles from this issue:
Zambezi Traveller (Issue 07, Dec 2011)