Art and Entertainment


Reality Show Recreates Legendary Expedition Through Africa

May 31, 2009
by Denis Cummings
History’s “Expedition Africa” sends four explorers through Tanzania to re-enact Henry Morton Stanley’s 1871 expedition to find Dr. David Livingstone.

Four Explorers to Follow Stanley’s Path Through Tanzania

In “Expedition Africa,” a show premiering Sunday on the television channel History, four explorers will travel 970 miles from Zanzibar to Ujiji in western Tanzania, following a similar path to that taken by journalist Henry Morton Stanley in 1871 to find British explorer and Christian missionary David Livingstone.

The four participants—a guide and expedition leader, a survivalist, a National Geographic correspondent and a journalist—will be restricted in their use of technology, such as not using GPS devices, in an attempt to replicate the challenges faced by Stanley.

“The first thing was to hire an old 16th century boat to even get them from Zanzibar to the African main land,” said producer Mark Burnett, best known as the creator of “Survivor,” to CBS. “Then they had to hire porters. … They even hired Masai warriors to guard them from the lions and some trouble, and then head off.”

But there are some significant differences in the “Expedition Africa” journey, which takes just 30 days, compared to Stanley’s nine-month journey. “So they go over mountains that he went around,” writes the New York Daily News. “They also drive part of the way, though we don’t see those stretches.”

The Story of Livingstone and Stanley

Scottish-born Dr. David Livingstone began traveling through Africa in 1841 as a Christian missionary. He soon realized the evils of slavery and was convinced to travel through the continent spreading Christianity. His travels took him to unexplored areas of the Kalahari Desert and the Zambezi River and in 1855, he discovered and named Victoria Falls, writes Worldwide Missions.

In 1864, Livingstone embarked on what would be his last expedition: to find the source of the Nile River and continue to document the horrors of slavery. As time went on, Livingstone’s correspondence became more and more infrequent, which sparked speculation that he had been kidnapped or killed somewhere in Africa.

The editor of the New York Herald took an interest in Livingstone’s disappearance and in 1871 he commissioned reporter Henry Morton Stanley to go to Africa and find Livingstone, writes the BBC. The Welsh-born Stanley, who had immigrated to the United States as a teenager and fought for both sides in the Civil War, had no experience as an explorer.

“What’s really been fascinating in doing the research for this project is seeing the transformation of Henry Morton Stanley from a journalist to an actual explorer,” said “Expedition Africa” participant Kevin Sites in a promotional video. “He didn’t know what he was doing when he came here. He had a mission that was funded by his newspaper to find Dr. Livingstone, but he did not know how to put together an expedition; he was simply a journalist.”

Stanley lost more than half of his more than 350-man party to disease and desertion in his 700-mile journey from Zanzibar to the western edge of Tanzania. He “endured malaria, smallpox, tribal warfare, mutinous porters and crocodile attacks” and “lost 40 pounds from dysentery in a week,” writes Martin Dugard, author of “Into Africa: The Epic Adventures of Stanley & Livingstone,” on the “Expedition Africa” Web site.

On Nov. 10, 1871, in the eighth month of his journey, Stanley’s expedition party found Livingstone in the small village of Ujiji, Tanzania. In an account provided by EyeWitness to History, Stanley described meeting Livingstone: “I would have run to him, only I was a coward in the presence of such a mob,—would have embraced him, only, he being an Englishman, I did not know how he would receive me; so I did what cowardice and false pride suggested was the best thing,—walked deliberately to him, took off my hat, and said, ‘Dr. Livingstone, I presume?’”

Although toothless and in poor health, Livingstone took the new supplies brought by Stanley and went on exploring Africa until his death in Zambia two years later, on May 1, 1873. His body was taken back to England, where Livingstone was given the biggest funeral in modern history, according to Dugard.

After Livingstone’s death, Stanley decided to continue Livingstone’s mission. He spent the next four years exploring the lengths of the Lualaba and Congo Rivers, and identified Lake Victoria as the source of the Nile.

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