Zambezi River, Zambia & Zimbabwe
Insights into signature aspects of the world’s most spectacular places
David Livingstone & Victoria Falls
By David Raezer
David Livingstone (1813-1873) — a Scottish Congregationalist missionary and explorer — was the first European to see the Mosi-oa-Tunya waterfall, which he renamed Victoria Falls after Queen Victoria.
For Livingstone, as it is for all those who came before and all those who follow, the experience was transformational. We have collected our favorite quotes from David Livingstone’s personal account of the experience:
One of the questions asked by Sebituane [his local guide] was, ‘Have you smoke that sounds in your country?’ They did not go near enough to examine them, but, viewing them with awe at a distance, said, in reference to the vapor and noise [from the falls], ‘Mosi oa tunya’ (smoke does sound there).
No one can imagine the beauty of the view from any thing witnessed in England. It had never been seen before by European eyes; but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.
At three spots near these falls, one of them the island in the middle, on which we were, three Batoka chiefs offered up prayers and sacrifices to the Barimo [god]. They chose their places of prayer within the sound of the roar of the cataract, and in sight of the bright bows in the cloud. They must have looked upon the scene with awe. Fear may have induced the selection. The river itself is to them mysterious. The words of the canoe-song are,
‘The Leeambye! Nobody knows
Whence it comes and whither it goes.’
On the left side of the island we have a good view of the mass of water which causes one of the columns of vapor to ascend, as it leaps quite clear of the rock, and forms a thick unbroken fleece all the way to the bottom. Its whiteness gave the idea of snow, a sight I had not seen for many a day. As it broke into (if I may use the term) pieces of water, all rushing on in the same direction, each gave off several rays of foam, exactly as bits of steel, when burned in oxygen gas, give off rays of sparks. The snow-white sheet seemed like myriads of small comets rushing on in one direction, each of which left behind its nucleus rays of foam. I never saw the appearance referred to noticed elsewhere. It seemed to be the effect of the mass of water leaping at once clear of the rock, and but slowly breaking up into spray. I have mentioned that we saw five columns of vapor ascending from this strange abyss. They are evidently formed by the compression suffered by the force of the water’s own fall into an unyielding wedge-shaped space.
Download (for free) Livingstone’s complete personal account of his experience.
The experience is very different depending on the season.