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David Livingstone and the Myth of African Poverty and Disease

A Close Examination of his Writing on the Pre-colonial Era

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Sjoerd Rijpma

This study about David Livingstone is different from all other publications about him. Here, Livingstone is not the main topic of interest; the focus of the author is on nutrition and health in pre-colonial Africa and Livingstone is his key informant.
David Livingstone and the Myth of African Poverty and Disease is an unusual book. After a close examination of Livingstone’s writings and comparative reading of contemporary authors, Sjoerd Rijpma has been able to draw cautious conclusions about the relatively favourable conditions of health and nutrition in southern and central Africa during the pre-colonial period. His findings shed new light on the medical history of Sub-Saharan Africa. The surprise awaiting travellers in and also before 19th century Africa was that the inhabitants of the interior, even the ‘slaves’, were healthier and better fed than many of their contemporaries in Europe’s Industrial Revolution.

“An impressive piece of scholarship, truly forensic in its close reading and re-reading of Livingstone’s published works and those of other travellers during the same era, clearly a labour of love which has taken years to complete” (Joanna Lewis).