Livingstonia: History Matters

By Kimberly Gregory (McGill)

A view from the top

A view from the top

Leaving Makupo to go to Livingstonia was strange because I felt like I was entering a different world. As we were on the bus driving there, we started seeing streetlights, stop signs, and buildings. These were all things that I had not seen in a while. It made me realize how remote Makupo village really is. Despite this, the poverty in Livingstonia was still as prominent. On our way there, many of us needed to use the washroom, and therefore, we stopped at someone’s home. These people lived in little huts made of straw and mud. Their bathroom was a big hole deep within the ground. When you looked into it, you saw millions of larvae at the bottom. My selfish self was so disgusted by this, that I preferred going to the bathroom behind the bush. I was navel-gazing because I was only thinking about myself in this situation. However, now that I reflect upon this experience, I realize that this is a daily reality for the people who live there. I didn’t even want to use the bathroom there once and yet they must do so every day. How can life be so unfair? Also, in order to make their shower and bathroom a little bit more private, it was surrounded by straw. Nonetheless, you could see through the straw so it begs the question, what is the point? I guess they do what they can with the resources that they have. It must be difficult to live when you are lacking even the most basic of needs: shelter. I cannot imagine how they use these facilities during the rainy season.

When we finally arrived at the Lukwe Lodge in Livingstonia, I had many mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was amazed by the view we had on the landscape; it was absolutely breathtaking. In front of us, there were these enormous curved shaped mountains. These mountains were covered with big beautiful trees. They looked like pine trees – it was reminiscent of Canada. It was truly one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever scene. As I was sitting on a swing overlooking this scenery an intense feeling of curiosity was aroused inside of me. I wondered: What is in there? What creatures live in those mountains that seemed so far away? What would it be like if I was walking through that forest? What details would I notice? I wondered all these things as I was watching the sunset. The sky had layers of purple, orange and pink. It was surreal. I would show you all a picture but no picture could truly capture the beauty that was in front of me.

The reason I stated that I had mixed feelings is because as much as I was amazed by this landscape, I also had an immense feeling of guilt. I was sitting on a swing, with a nice cold drink, overlooking this fantastic view and my biggest decision of the day was whether I would eat a sirloin steak or T-bone for supper. All of this, when only a few kilometers away, I knew that people were struggling with real issues like having proper shelter, famine, AIDS and the list goes on (Caplan, 2008). The Lukwe Lodge was incredible. I know that I appreciated my experience there even more because of what I had seen in these past few weeks. Nonetheless, the incalculable feeling of guilt stayed with me all throughout my stay in Livingstonia.

The next day we walked to the town of Livingstonia. This gave us the opportunity to get an even better view of the landscape as well as, see how developed the town was compared to other areas in Livingstonia. It took us about 1 hour to climb uphill to where the town was located. Once we arrived at the top of the mountain we saw a University, a museum, a church, among the structures that were there. They were all very beautiful. It made me question: How was all of this built? Who carried all of the bricks up this relatively steep hill? The answer was obvious but it took me a while to realize what it was. My colleague had picked up a pamphlet that was advertising the attractions to visit when arriving to the town. As I was reading it and discussing with him, it dawned upon me that the place we were visiting was built by slaves. However, nowhere in this pamphlet did they mention the harsh reality of slave labor. Why else would people carry tons and tons of bricks to the top of this hill? As I questioned this, I also imagined the amount of violence that must have been involved in this inhumane process. I felt nauseated by this thought.

Furthermore, in this pamphlet, the Scottish missionaries had claimed to have “contributed greatly to the development of Livingstonia” which is true. However, it made me question whether or not they were complicit in the oppression that took place towards the African people at this time. I questioned this because to this day, we see the repercussions that cultural imperialism has had on the African people. Meanwhile, many countries have benefited and developed enormously because of this kind of tyrannical behavior towards them.

As I searched for answers, I realized that what was missing in this picture was the truth. The true history of this town was buried. As Gerald Caplan had stated, “history matters”. I think that this is especially true when considering this situation. It is easy to be ignorant, especially when the truth is not explicit. However, people need to know these realities in order to better understand the subsequent evolution of Africa. Too many people have filled the lives of the African people with sufferance and coercion and this has helped to place them in the catastrophic situation that they are in today. History must be uncovered in order to fully grasp the realities of our world.

Caplan, G. (2008). The betrayal of Africa. Toronto: Berkeley.

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