THE LIFE AND TIMES OF CHUMA AND SUSI
by Daniel Karanja
New Bedford, MA
The names of these two assistants to David Livingstone are well known, it is also known that their deep devotion to him drove them to carry his body across half the continent and thence to Europe rather than bury him where he died. (The Muslim section of his servants wanted to bury him right away upon death.
Verney Lovett Cameron who met with the caravan carrying his body also suggested they bury him in Africa.) The story usually ends there leaving the curious amongst us with a number of questions.
Who were Chuma and Susi and what happened to them after Livingstone's death and burial. This is an attempt to answer those questions in brief.
Both of these men came under his employ in 1864 while he was exploring the Zambezi River. James Chuma was a young man from the Yao tribe man freed from slavery in 1861. This was done by missionaries on their way to start a mission station in today's Malawi that Livingstone had personally appealed for. It was while he lived with the missionaries that Livingstone found him.
Chuma and Susi (left standing) with Chuma in London, 1874
Though h is universally remembered for devotion and humbleness, some of what Livingstone said about him is not flattering. According to the missionary, Chuma was a bhang smoker who was “too lazy ever to get a wife”. When asked about it, he admitted to this flaw saying it was “because he had no wife. Thereafter, a “fine looking … buxom” single lady was implored to become his wife and she agreed. His laziness however continued unabated.
Abdullah Susi who was a bit older and remained the leader between the two, came from Mozambique. He was employed by Livingstone as a general handy-man and remained illiterate throughout his life. Chuma, who was passably literate, looked up to him as a superior.
This was to the degree that in 1868 when Susi rebelled and chose to quit working for Livingstone, Chuma also followed suit. This relationship continued for another decade. During his travels with Livingstone, Susi also married one of the many women who formed part of their caravan.
While these two are the best known and served under him from 1864 till he died, others served under the great explorer for lengthy periods too but fell into the crevices of history. Three of these others were Jacob Wainwright, Matthew Wellington and another man named Mabruki whose story deserves to be related by separately.
Chuma and Matthew Wellington and Wainwright had been sent to the missionary training school at Nasik in India and for these reasons were sometimes generally referred to as “nasik boys”. Susi too had been to India although he was not there for education, he had been taken there by Livingstone in 1864 who had decided to dispose his boat there rather than sell it in Africa and perhaps fall into the hands of slaver traders.
When David Livingstone returned to Europe to look for funds and attend to other matters, Chuma and Susi waited for him and would continue working for him on his last journey. They travelled with him sharing in every hardship he endured.
During the final days of his life as his health continually deteriorated, they even carried him on their shoulders. When he passed away in today's Zambia, they resolved to carry his body to the coast even though it would have been far easier to bury it, send a message to Zanzibar and continue with their lives. Livingstone’s heart and internal organs were removed by another assistant named Farjallah Christie (who had worked for Dr. James Christie the personal doctor to Sultan Bargash and witnessed autopsies). (Nature, A WEEKLY ILLUSTRATED JOURNAL OF SCIENCE VOLUME VI. MAY 1872 to OCTOBER 1872 pp 69) While a prayer said by Wainwright , these organs were buried under a tree.
Wainwright then wrote an inscription on the tree to commemorate the event. (The tree with the inscription survived for decades. It was later cut down and the small relevant section sent to England) His body was then embalmed by Matthew Wellington; yet another black assistant who had received some training in the science. This was done by rubbing salt on it and washing it in alcohol to slow decomposition.
It was carefully exposed to allow it to desiccate in the sun over a two week period. The body was then wrapped up in cloth and hoisted on their shoulders for the 1600km trek to the coast. After a poignant journey full of adventure and risks, they got to Zanzibar and from here to Britain for the burial. Some people in Europe doubted if the shriveled body was really Livingstone’s and it was the wound inflicted on him by a lion in the early 1840's that confirmed the identity. During the burial itself on April 18th 1874, only Wainwright acted as a pall bearer amongst the Africans. Chuma and Susi did make it to England but not on time for the funeral. During the subsequent months in London, all three were shabbily treated.
Upon their return home, the men were initially highly regarded and much sought after. Chuma and Wellington worked with the Anglican missionaries at Zanzibar and Mombasa. Chuma was also with Joseph Thompson on his first journey in East Africa. For the latter, he received a service medal. Unfortunately, he fell in love with the bottle and died in 1882 from alcohol related complications. When he returned home from Europe, Susi served under Henry Morton Stanley and the interesting thing is that during all this time he remained a Muslim. This changed in January 1884 and got baptized in 1886. From then on he accompanied Bishop Smythies until his death on May 5th 1891.
Jacob Wainwright’s path however took him in a different direction. Because he was fully literate he wound up in 1875 at Frere Town in Mombasa working as a school teacher. After a demotion when a Caucasian replacement was sent, he left for Zanzibar and by the middle of 1881 he was working at Kabaka Mtesa’s court in Uganda. Most Europeans who knew him credited Jacob’s departure from Frere Town to his airs and haughtiness. It is claimed that Jacob after leaving Frere town worked as a doorman in Zanzibar. [To the Central African Lakes and Back By Joseph Thompson pp 34]. Wainwright died in 1892 in today’s