Historical Find in Ancient Baobab Tree

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One hundred sixty five years ago, the famous African explorer and missionary, Dr. David Livingstone first reached Sangwali, the area in Linyanti, now the Northeastern part of Namibia. Today, it is an unassuming village in Northeastern Namibia. But history proves it was once the scene of a peaceful encounter between Livingstone and Sebitwane, the great Chief of the Makololo. Sebitwane had crossed thousands of miles from the south with his men and their families to the marshes of Linyanti to seek protection from their powerful enemies.
When Livingstone departed Sangwali with his wife Mary, they spend two nights in the remote area of Malengalenga. It is here Dr. David carved an inscription in the trunk of an ancient Baobab tree.

Intrigued with the historical value of the Sangwali region; journalist and author, Konny von Schmettau, set about with a small expedition team to hopefully discover the long lost inscriptions of David Livingstone. On August 30 2016, she succeeded with the assistance of Patrick Makumba, Induna (elder) of Mayeyi, and Johannes Wiemann, Nuremberg schoolteacher. 

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Sangwali secrets an abundance of undiscovered adventure; locations where unbreakable friendships were founded but also unimaginable tragedies; many of which would today, make a visitor cringe.

Here played a historical tragedy on the African Continent. It tells of the fated missionary journey beginning in 1859 from Kuruman, South Africa; now known as the Helmore-Price-Expedition to Linyanti. Their party consisted of Holloway Helmore, his wife, four children and Roger Price, his wife and new-born daughter.Their intention was to meet with Dr. Livingstone and establish a Christian mission station. On arrival, to their regret, they found Livingstone was on an extensive expedition with no contact.

Tragically, they soon fell victim to Sekeletu, Chief Sebitwane’s successor. They were not welcome as Sekeletu was expecting David Livingstone, instead of a group of strangers with wifes and children.

The Mayeyi tribe who have once been enslaved by the Makololo, believe the subsequent demise of the Helmore-Price-Expedition was due to food poisoning at the hands of Sekeletu, and a re-discovered letter of 1861 proves the same. Only three of the party survived; Roger Price, bringing only two young Helmore children to safety, Lizzie and Willie.

”Early in 2015, I became aware of a small museum in Sangwali and could not resist the opportunity to discover it’s secrets”, says Konny von Schmettau. “At first glance it seemed to be merely a small clay hut, but when the door opened, it took my breath away. I found floor to ceiling, hand-drawn maps designed and colored on sturdy linen by students from Bloemfontein University. They were specifically made to describe and document David Livingstone's way through the then undiscovered Africa; the trail of the Makololo from Zululand up to the Linyanti and winding paths of the missionaries.“

Stella Kilby, descendant of little Lizzie Helmore, founded the museum 1999 in memory of their ancestors. It was built by Linus Mukwata, a well educated Mayeyi from Sangwali who wants to preserve the history of his people for generations to come. Sadly, Stella died before its completion. Fortunately, the Kilby family trust continues to maintain support for the museum with dedication and generosity.
The area surrounding the museum is where Sebitwane served as tribal Chief. Not far away is his grave identified only by a pile of stones.

A reed encircled arm of the Kwando River, surrounded by huge Marula trees, is a sunny clearing where rare birds flutter about and Hippos graze in the evening twilight. Here in later years, the first administrator of the Caprivi authorized another rondel, which he used as a second office. Its ruins can still be found near by the museum.


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The  Discovery

Just 15 km away from Sangwali is Malengalenga, where Sebitwane’s son and successor Sekeletu, had his headquarters. Unlike his father, Sekeletu was inspired by evil, saying the Mayeyi who describe themselves as river-people looking for the tranquility of nature, having to live by and on the water to be truly happy: “Watari, Watati, Water - these are the Mayeyi". In contrast to Sekeletu, the Mayeyi are peaceful people; as related by ancestral tribal elders. They always sought a place surrounded by unspoiled nature with no fear of enemies.

Tradition says in 1505, the Mayeyi travelled down from the Middle East and Central Africa, arriving at Linyanti in 1820, which seemed to them, Paradise on Earth. However, they were repeatedly subjected to attack by stronger tribes; and ultimately the Makololo. Under Chief Sebitwane, life as a slave was hard, but not nearly as unbearable than for Sekeletu’s people having to dig with bare hands sprawling irrigation ditches in Malengalenga. Sekeletu’s tomb is found not far from his house where his ruins lie hidden in the sand.

A few kilometers from the village stood a great “Sausage Tree” tree (Kigelia africana), where the hapless missionaries camped with their oxcarts en route to Linyanti. Shortly on arrival, they were seemingly poisoned by Sekeletu; such is related by the Mayeyi but also from an historical letter written to the London Missionary Society in 1861 by Roger Price, the only surviving missionary. In it he describes events leading to the tragic deaths of his wife, infant daughter and except for two children, the Helmore family, plus native drivers. Even more significant is Mayeyi elders have since contributed orally this story from generation to generation.
At the ford by the Linyanti, where both David Livingstone and the Helmore-Price Expedition crossed the river, Konny and her team found important clues.

The highlight of the expedition, they experienced on 30 August, as they trekked through trackless bush, to find what the Mayeyi call "Livingstone's Baobab”. It was here in 1851, Livingstone spent two nights with his wife Mary and their two children.
Forty years ago, the owner of the land where the Baobab still stands, says the signature had previously been seen. However, overgrowth was enormous. Only Konny’s team’s diligent search and matching techniques lead to renewed hope of discovery.

tl_files/safaris-nam/Artikel/Livingstone Signature.jpg  Konny von Schmettau explains: 
  ”On closer inspection we could 
  clearly see the letters "TO" and to
  the right (overgrown, but deci-
  pherable) "NE".  From fragments to
  the left are "G" and "S”. Just
  above is "D" for "David", still clearly
  recognizable. Other letters were
  then found strongly joined.”
  Taken from records in 1851, the
  team spent hours comparing,
  logging and testing, until they
  could decipher the inscription
  with accuracy. The line for the
  “1” in the beginning had grown
  together with the “8”, which can
  be seen today as a wider line.
  The “5” has grown down slightly
  and the line for the second “1”
  turns right.


Comparing the traditional Mayeyi record with Livingstone’s biography, "The truth behind the legend" by Rob Mackenzie and other reputable sources; it can be clearly confirmed an imitation of the inscription by later visitors can be excluded.

Even when compared with the engraving of the missionary Holloway Helmore in so-called "Chapman's Baobab” in 1859, one could find similar overgrowth. Unfortunately only a photo is left because "Chapman's Baobab" collapsed in January 2016, sadly obliterating further investigation.

At the top, between the name and date in "Livingstone's Baobab" is a cross, with a probable Crest although the bark is damaged and broken. From the subsequent shape and history, it may accordingly be the Crest of the British Queen Victoria.

Under Queen Victoria and her German husband Albert von Sachsen-Coburg und Gotha, slavery in England was at Livingstone’s urgent intervention abolished. Livingstone adored his Queen deeply; when discovering the great waterfalls of the Zambezi "Mosi-oa-Tunya", he renamed them “Victoria Falls”.

A further indication that there could be his carving of their Royal Coat of Arms.
To this end, extensive studies are currently taking place.

With support from the European Union and the Namibia Scientific Society, the historical Museum is being renovated in Sangwali. Similarly, a planned "Historical Path", which leads to sites in Linyanti where visitors from around the world will be ensured access. "Livingstone's Baobab" can be visited only with an envoy of Mayeyi. The path there is hard to find, assuring the tree must be protected at all cost. To this extent the author has set forward appropriate contacts.

”Such expeditions, especially discoveries such as this, are uncommon; even with my life as a tour guide and journalist”, explains Konny. In her travel books "On the road with Konny", one can read much more about the historical value of her discoveries. This includes the tower roof of Lüderitz Rock Church in 2012; when together with roofer, Dietmar Pistorius and his wife Evi, the author discovered an historic letter: Wilhelm Meckel describes in it the work of the roof and greets from 1912 “with craft regards to future generations”.  Also in 2012, Konny archived the old museum in Oranjemund and found in a jammed drawer “Book Zero – G. Klinghardt – German Diamantengesellschaft – 1910”, which had disappeared after a change of ownership of the museum building.

Konny is sure that “David Livingstone’s rediscovered inscription at Linyanti has now re-opened another chapter of history that she will pursue and investigate further. “Who knows what lies ahead!”

New book release:

“Sangwali – David Livingstone at Linyanti" Extended Editon was published just now and can be ordered directly from the author (email: info@namibia-aktiv.com).

An English Special Edition was published by the Namibia Scientific Society (Email: nwg@iway.na).

Linkt to the eBook: