History of Malawi
History of Malawi
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Malawi: Through TimeMillions of years ago
100,000 years ago
10,000 years ago
At the dawn of a new era
Contact with Europeans
British Protectorate Nyasaland
John Chilembwe uprising in Nyasaland
Nyasaland in 1915-1964
Hastings Kamuzu Banda
Millions of years agoThere is evidence that human ancestors lived on the territory of modern Malawi millions of years ago. The fossil remains of late Australopithecus, Paranthropus boisei, were found in 2005 near Malema village near Lake Chiwondo in Karonga District, Malawi.
Near Uraha village the jaw of an early hominid is found. This jaw is dating from 2.3 to 2.5 million years old. Paleontologists attributed this jaw to the Homo rudolfensis, which is a transitional stage between the Homo habilis and the Homo erectus.
Probably, the Paranthropus boisei and the Homo rudolfensis coexisted. Perhaps this coexistence was not peaceful, the herbivorous Australopithecus Paranthropus boisei could have been prey for the larger and more intelligent Homo rudolfensis. However, there is no doubt that at the dawn of the evolutionary history of mankind the leg of the most ancient human ancestor was already stepping along the shores of Lake Malawi.
The territory of present-day Malawi is located in the so-called “hominid corridor”, on the path of ancient people migrating through the African continent millions of years ago. It is worth expecting that the land of Malawi will still give archaeologists new sensational finds that shed light on the history and development of man.
100,000 years agoToday, the depth of Lake Malawi (otherwise Lake Nyasa) is 706 meters. Analysis of the cores obtained from the drilling of lake bottom sediments showed that about 100,000 years ago the water level in the lake was 600 meters lower. The core layers from that period contain very little plant pollen. The obtained data says about a catastrophic long-term Mega-drought affecting the area around Lake Malawi and, possibly, a significant part of Africa.
Lake Malawi. Photography: Bryan Ngaleka
Archaeological research does not provide evidence of the extensive human communities in that period in Malawi. Taking into account the water level data it can be concluded that 100,000 years ago the territory of present-day Malawi was, in practice, a desert with very rare vegetation, with a very small number of living creatures there.
The knowledge of Mega-drought gives an explanation of the hypothesis that all humans are descended from several ancestors living in Africa somewhere between 150,000 and 70,000 years ago. Namely Mega-drought, existed in tropical Africa in that period, could force the human ancestor to actively migrate in search of a suitable habitat with sufficient water reserves.
10,000 years agoFor the first time, excavations on Hora Mountain in the Mzimba District in Malawi were carried out by British archaeologist Desmond Clark in 1950. Pottery and two human burials were found about 70 cm below the surface. The first burial discovered was the skeleton of a short man, who was 30 - 40 years old at the time of death. The skeleton of a woman was found nearby, she was the same height as the man, and died at the age of about 20 years. The age of the graves is estimated at 5 - 10 thousand years.
Mount Hora. Photography: Jessica Thompson
A large number of human bone fragments were found in a rock shelter on the Fingira Rock. The Fingira Rock is an inselberg (single rock formation) located within the boundaries of the Nyika National Park in northern Malawi. Excavations gave one whole skeleton, many bone fragments, which are the remains of at least 15 people. Bone tools, ceramics and rock paintings are found here. The age of bone fragments is estimated at 6–2 thousand years.
Fingira Rock. Photography: Jacob Davis
A genetic analysis of the bones of Malawian hunter-gatherers found on Hora Mountain and on Fingira Rock showed that these hunter-gatherers made no significant contribution to the gene pool of the people living in Malawi today.
At the dawn of a new eraChongoni Rock-Art Area, a world heritage site, is an area of 125 square kilometers on an elevated plateau in the center of Malawi, Dedza District, Central Region. In the Chongoni Rock-Art Area there is the largest concentration of rock art in Central Africa, rock drawings found at 127 locations here. Here is the rock shelter of Chencherere. For the first time, excavations in the Chencherere Cave were carried out by Desmond Clark in 1972, it was found 1 burial and scattered bones of at least 7 ancient inhabitants of the cave, animal bones as well. Human bones show an age of 2,500 - 800 years. Perhaps, the Chencherere Cave was originally used as a shelter by hunters-gatherers of the Stone Age, and later the cattle-breeders and farmers replaced them. The walls of the cave are decorated with drawings.
The Chongoni Rock-Art Area collection of the drawings reflects cultural traditions for many centuries. The first drawings on the rocks were applied about 2 thousand years ago. The most recent of the drawings could be made in the 20th century.
One of the Chongoni Rock Art drawings. Photography: “Malawi”
Around the 4th century AD, Bantu people (herders) began to migrate to the shores of Lake Malawi. They brought with them art of crafts, including the ability to make pottery. Ceramics, its features, are a marker of archaeological cultures of the Iron Age.
Festival of Lhomwe people (Bantu). Malawi, October 2018. Photography: Bryan Ngaleka
The Nkope culture (2-10th centuries AD) is the very first Iron Age culture in Malawi. The culture of Nkope was later replaced by the cultures of Kapeni (9th-12th centuries AD), Lhongwe (10th-14th centuries AD), Mawudzu and Nkhudzi (13th-18th centuries AD), each with its own distinctive ceramics.
Pottery styles Mawudzu and Nkhudzi are associated with the Chewa people (Bantu). The active migration of the Chewa to the shores of Lake Malawi from the territory of the present-day Republic of the Congo apparently began around the 13th century AD.
Competition for land led to clashes between arriving people and hunter-gatherers who inhabited the shores of Lake Malawi (Akafula or Batwa Bushmen). Hunter-gatherers existed in the kind of disparate tribes, based on consanguinity; they could not organizedly resist the expansion. Over the centuries, the tribes of the Bushmen were finally ousted from the lands they had previously owned, or they were all killed.
In Malawi there are legends about ancient people. Those people are called "hunters" or simply "little people". According to the legends, the ancient little people were completely destroyed as a result of the last great battle that occurred about 200 years ago.
Maravi EmpireThe Maravi Empire was a centralized system of governance that united the Bantu tribes. During its heyday (17th century AD) Maravi Empire stretched into the territory of modern Malawi, Zambia and Mozambique. The supreme authority was concentrated in the hands of the king, the Karonga. The power in the places belonged to the leaders of the tribes.
Maravi is a group of 9 nationalities. Chewa of them is the most numerous. "Maravi" means "light" or "flame". In the Maravi Empire people knew how to smelt and process iron. Millet and sorghum served as the staple food. Hunting and fishing were also important. Maravi Empire conducted active trade with Arab merchants, later with the Portuguese. The Empire was also receiving goods from India and China.
The Maravi Empire existed for about 3 centuries and disintegrated in the 18th century. The reasons for the collapse were the growing slave trade, as well as the seizure by the Portuguese of ports on the coast of Mozambique, which led to the rupture of traditional trade relations with Arabs.
Slave tradeWe cannot say when the first slave was captured in Malawi. However, it is known that the Arabs-owned island of Zanzibar reached its height as the center of the slave trade in the 19th century. Every year, tens of thousands of slaves were selling in Zanzibar, mainly from areas near Lake Nyasa and Congo.
The slave market. 19th century drawing
“On visiting the slave-market I found about 300 slaves exposed for sale, the greater part of whom came from Lake Nyasa and the Shire River; I am so familiar with the peculiar faces and markings or tattooings, that I expect them to recognize me. All who have grown up seem ashamed at being hawked about for sale. The teeth are examined, the cloth lifted up to examine the lower limbs, and a stick is thrown for the slave to bring, and thus exhibit his paces” (David Livingston, Zanzibar, 1866).
Probably the slave trade existed throughout the time of existing of the Maravi Empire. Swahili Arabs from the east coast of Africa were penetrating into the depths of the continent and created trading posts for exchanging and buying ivory. For the transportation of goods Arab merchants needed porters. Such porters were given to them or sold by the leaders of local tribes. The leader of the tribe had great authority; he owned the land and even the people. And it looked like a good bargain to sell ivory, in addition to this, get rid of bad people in the tribe, selling them to the Arab merchant for carrying cargo. Everyone was turned out satisfied, except the unfortunates who became slaves.
Arabs often stayed in Maravi for years. Where they opened trading posts, local women became their wives, accepting Islam. Thus, along with the ivory trade and the slave trade, the Arab religion, Islam, penetrated the heart of Africa.
Former Arab slave centers are Nkhotakota, Salima, and Mangochi. There we can see the signs of that era, which ended hardly a hundred years ago.
Contact with EuropeansIn 1498, Vasco da Gama, following in India, landed on the coast of modern Mozambique. The Portuguese were struck by the abundance of gold, copper, iron, ivory, beads, fabrics and porcelain, which were transiting through local ports here.
The Portuguese rarely dropped back more than a mile and a half from wide navigable waterways. However, in 1616, the Portuguese Gaspar Bocarro had traveled from Tete, which is on the banks of the Zambezi, up the Shire River valley, passed near modern Chiromo, and then achieved Chilwa Lake and returned to the coast of Mozambique in Mikindani, near Pemba.
Lake Chilwa. Photography: Bryan Ngaleka
Chilwa is the second largest lake in Malawi. From the local population, the Portuguese received information about another great lake, from which the Shire River began. The Portuguese explorer Candido da Costar Cardoso saw this great lake in 1846. However, David Livingstone later claimed that he was the first European who discovered Lake Chilwa and Lake Malawi.
David Livingston was born in the village of Blantyre in Scotland on March 19, 1813. On November 20, 1840, Livingston received the status of missionary, at the end of that year he sailed to Africa. Livingston himself defined his life credo as "I will open Africa or die". In total, Livingston has traveled throughout Africa for 32 years.
David Livingston. England, 1857
Moving up the valley of the Shire River, as head of an expedition of 16 people, on April 18, 1859, David Livingston made his way to the Lake Chilwa (Shirwa). September 16, 1859 Livingston first saw Lake Nyasa.
“Iron ore is dug out of the hills. Each village has its smelting-house, its charcoal-burners, and blacksmiths. They make good axes, spears, needles, arrowheads, bracelets and anklets, which are sold at surprisingly low rates; a hoe over two pounds in weight is exchanged for calico of about the value of four pence. In villages near Lake Shirwa and elsewhere, the inhabitants enter pretty largely into the manufacture of crockery, or pottery, making by hand all sorts of cooking, water, and grain pots. Some find employment in weaving neat baskets from split bamboos, and others collect the fibre of the buaze, which grows abundantly on the hills, and make it into fish-nets. A great deal of native trade is carried on between the villages, by means of barter in tobacco, salt, dried fish, skins, and iron. Many of the men are intelligent-looking, with well-shaped heads, agreeable faces, and high foreheads. The men take a good deal of pride in the arrangement of their hair; the varieties of style are endless. About as many dandies run to seed among the blacks as among the whites. But the most wonderful of ornaments, if such it may be called, is the pelele, or upper-lip ring of the women. The middle of the upper lip of the girls is pierced close to the septum of the nose, and a small pin inserted to prevent the puncture closing up. After it has healed, the pin is taken out and a larger one is pressed into its place, and so on successively for weeks, and months, and years” (David Livingstone).
Pelele lip decoration. 19th century drawing
David Livingston returned to Lake Nyasa twice, in 1961 and 1963, exploring the surrounding area. Livingstone was the first, who mapped the authentic outlines of Lake Nyasa.
David Livingston strongly opposed slavery, which earned him respect among Africans. The largest city in Malawi today is Blantyre, founded in 1876 and named after David Livingstone by the place of his birth. The city of Livingstonia in Malawi, as well as the mountains on the northeast shore of Lake Nyasa, are also named in memory of David Livingston.
British Protectorate NyasalandDavid Livingston noted in his reports the economic prospects for the development of territories along the Shire River valley and at Lake Nyasa. Inspired by the ideas of Livingstone, the Central African Missionary Company Livingstonia was founded in 1878 in Scotland. Later the company was renamed the African Lakes Company. The main goal was trade, but it was assumed that the company's employees would also perform some missionary work among African tribes. The African Lakes Company gained significant influence throughout the Shire River valley and on Lake Nyasa.
In 1891, the British Central African Protectorate was proclaimed here with its capital in Zomba. In 1907, the territory of modern Malawi under the British colonial administration was named Nyasaland.
Great Britain abolished slavery in all its colonies in 1834. However, in Nyasaland, efforts were required to get rid of the slave trade. There were even open armed clashes. In 1895, a self-proclaimed slave-owning sultanate in Karonga was attacked by a squad of 6 British officers and several hundred Africans. About 200 Sultan soldiers were killed; Sultan Mlozi was hanged on a tree.
It must be said that English colonialism brought noticeable changes to Nyasaland. With the improvement of health care, the life expectancy of the local population increased; slavers were expelled; tribal wars almost stopped.
In 1895, Blantyre got city status, the Nyasaland Times newspaper began to be published here (it is published up to today), the Municipal Council and the Chamber of Commerce were created, and Cubit’s, first in the country, hotel opened. In 1998, the future governor, Sir Alfred Sharp, imported in Nyasaland the first car. In 1912 there were 12 cars and 218 motorcycles in Nyasaland.
August 4, 1914 Britain declared war on Germany. Meanwhile, Germany had a ship on Lake Nyasa, sent here by the German Anti-Slavery Society. On August 14, when an unsuspecting team of Germans was enjoying breakfast under a tree, and their ship was under repair and lay on the shore, the British ship sailed up and shot the German ship from guns. The whole team of Germans was captured. Soon an article about this event appeared in the "London Times". The article was called “Sea Victory at Lake Nyasa”.
John Chilembwe uprising in NyasalandUnder the rule of the British, the native population of Nyasaland had something like a tax aimed at reimbursing the costs of maintaining the colonial administration. On average, an African had to work 1 month in a year to pay his land tax, and another 1 month to pay his hut tax. Since the beginning of World War I, Britain had a need for askari (African soldiers). About 19,000 Africans from Nyasaland fought on the fronts of the World War I). Discontent among the local population grew.
A black native of Nyasaland, Rev. John Chilembwe, studied at a Baptist seminary in the United States, returned to Nyasaland in 1900. Chilembwe was deeply outraged by what he saw, the fact that in his home country the indigenous population was treated like second-class citizens. Chilembwe also found no excuse for the fact that Africans must die on the fronts of the World War I for the ideas that do not belong to them. Many Africans thought so and the seeds of John Chilembwe's sermons fell into the prepared ground.
On the evening of January 23, 1915, Chilembwe, accompanied by a heated crowd, broke into the house of the plantation manager near Chiradzulu. The manager's wife, his two children, and several other white people were taken hostage. The plantation manager was killed. The next day, John Chilembwe held his usual Sunday service in Chiradzulu church, laid out the manager's severed head on the altar.
The uprising of John Chilembwe did not find folk support. The uprising was quickly and cruelly suppressed. The church, where Chilembwe demonstrated the manager’s head, was blown up and wiped off the face of the earth. Chilembwe tried to escape, was shot dead on February 3, 1915 in Mulanje, near the border with Mozambique.
In Malawi, John Chilembwe is revered as a national hero; the Malawians count out the beginning of the struggle for independence from his uprising. A portrait of John Chilembwe decorates Malawian paper money of all denominations. January 15 in Malawi is annually commemorated by John Chilembwe Memorial Day.
5 Kwacha banknote with the portrait of John Chilembwe
Nyasaland in 1915-1964Nyasaland under British colonial domination remained in general an agrarian country. All wealth and privileges belonged to white immigrants. The indigenous black population of the country existed practically in the position of serfs, despite the formally forbidden slavery.
Nyasaland was a territorial and human resource for Great Britain. September 1, 1939 (two days after the German invasion of Poland), Great Britain declared war on Nazi Germany. During the war in Nyasaland several camps were organized to house refugees from Europe. 27,000 black askari soldiers from Nyasaland were sent to the British army. They fought with the Italian fascists in East Africa, at the end of the war--with the Japanese in Asia.
The World War II severities caused a wave of national liberation movement that swept across colonial Africa. In Nyasaland in 1944, the African Congress of Nyasaland (ACN) was created, which started to produce the leaflet "Kwacha" ("Dawn"). The main purpose of the ACN was to achieve equal voting rights for the black and white population. The indigenous population was completely excluded from the governing own country, there was not a single African in the government of Nyasaland.
On August 1, 1953, from the self-governing British colony of Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and the British protectorates of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia) and Nyasaland, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland was established by the British authorities.
In Nyasaland, with the formation of the Federation, little has changed. The basis of the economy here remained the cultivation of tea and tobacco. There were no industrial enterprises in Nyasaland, with rare exceptions: at the end of the 50s, cement production was organized here for deliveries to neighboring African countries. First of all, Nyasaland was a source of cheap labor needed for the development of mineral deposits in Rhodesia.
Tea plantation in Malawi. Photography: Bryan Ngaleka
In the second half of the 1950s the federal Ministry of Race Relations was created in Nyasaland, and the principle of "races partnership" was proclaimed. The white minority openly acknowledged the problem of racial segregation. Attempts were made to solve it: at the end of the 50s, a "multiracial" hospital with 750 beds was opened in Blantyre.
The concessions of the white minority only spurred the national liberation movement of the indigenous population. In 1958, the African Congress of Nyasaland will be headed by Hastings Kamuzu Banda. In a few years, Banda will lead the country to independence.
Hastings Kamuzu BandaThe exact date of birth of the first president of Malawi, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, is unknown. Most sources point to February 15, 1898. His place of birth is the Kasungu district in the Central Province of Malawi. His mother was from the people of Chewa, his father was probably Tonga from the northern neighborhood of Lake Nyasa. The name Hastings boy Kamuzu received at baptism.
After graduating from a Presbyterian missionary school in Kasungu, in 1915 or 1916, Banda went to Rhodesia, where he worked in coal mines. From 1917, Banda worked in the mines in Dundee and Boksburg in South Africa, and later was occupied in Johannesburg as a translator for Chewa migrants employed in gold mines. In South Africa, Banda attracted the attention of American missionaries who financed his relocation to study in the United States.
In 1937, Banda graduated from Meharri Medical College in Nashville (Tennessee). Then he moved to Scotland, a country he had heard so much about in Nyasaland from the missionaries of the Scottish mission Livingstonia. In 1941 he received a diploma from the University of Edinburgh Medical School. He practiced medicine in North Shields (northern England) and London.
Hastings Kamuzu Banda. Source: National Archives of Malawi
While in England, Banda actively opposed the creation of the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. After the establishment of the Federation in 1953, in protest, Banda left England and settled in Kumasi (Ghana), where he continued his medical practice.
Established in 1944, the African Congress of Nyasaland needed a strong and charismatic leader. Banda became such the leader. In 1958, he returned to Nyasaland, was proclaimed a messiah, and took over the leadership of the ACN. Banda ardently got down to business. Igniting the masses, he will shout “Kwacha!” three times at the beginning of each rally. This word means “dawn”, but in the mouth of Banda it sounded like a call to rebellion. And in March 1959, riots will happen in Nyasaland, a state of emergency will be introduced, and the African Congress of Nyasaland will be banned. During a series of raids by federal military units, Banda and other ACN leaders will be arrested. In total, about 2,000 active supporters of the ACN will be thrown into prisons.
In an effort to reduce the intensity of national liberation sentiments among the black majority, Nyasaland governor Robert Armitage will be forced to make concessions, giving Africans a majority of seats in the Legislative Council. Banda will stay for several months in prison in Gwelo, Southern Rhodesia. Coming out of prison in April 1960, Banda will take part in transforming the banned ACN into the Malawi Congress Party, he will headed it and lead to a victory in the elections to the Legislative Council of Nyasaland in 1961.
On December 31, 1963, the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland will fall apart. Nyasaland will gain independence from the British crown 6 July 1964 and will be renamed Malawi. Banda will take the post of prime minister. From the first days in power, Banda will show himself as a tough conservative, banning the activities of opposition parties and establishing censorship in the country.
With the adoption of the constitution in 1966, Malawi will become a republic, and Banda will be elected president. Banda was intoxicated with the rapid success of the national liberation movement. If he had found the strength inside himself to leave the presidency in time, nothing could diminish his importance in the history of Malawi. But Banda has cling to the power. In 1971, the elections were abolished, and Banda was declared "president for life".
Hastings Kamuzu Banda. Source: National Archives of Malawi
During the rule of Banda, communist and socialist views were banned. Under the ban were erotic, «wrong» books on the history of Malawi, neckline, short skirts, and pants for women and long hair for men. All adult citizens of the country were obliged to join the ruling party and constantly carry with them a party ticket. In addition to all, armed Malawi Young Pioneers commands were formed from youngsters. Their task was to spy on fellow citizens, identify dissidents and detain them. The number of killed oppositionists for the entire period of the Banda’s rule can reach 20,000 people.
President Banda was the only African leader who established diplomatic relations with South Africa (since 1967), despite the apartheid policy of the white minority there. Not without benefits: with the financial assistance of South Africa, in 1975 the nation's capital was moved from Zomba to Lilongwe. Banda also spoke in support of the Portuguese colonial administration in neighboring Mozambique during civil war there.
Banda's anti-communist sentiment was a commodity that he was successfully exchanging for the protection of Britain and the United States. With the end of the Cold War in the late 80s, Banda became uninteresting to Western partners. The 90-year-old dictator was weak; his authority was becoming weak as well. In 1992, a wave of protest demonstrations swept the country. The Catholic Church of Malawi, which had previously been the pillar of Banda, delivered a critical sermon to Banda's regime. The deteriorating situation in the country, as well as the pressure of the world community, forced Banda to hold a referendum on June 14, 1993, which attracted almost 80% of voters. The results of the referendum for Banda were disappointing: 64% of those who voted were in favor of the country's transition to a multi-party democracy.
In late 1993, Banda underwent emergency surgery on the brain.
In December 1993, the military leadership of Malawi, disagreed with the policies of Banda, disarmed the Malawi Pioneers during the Bwezani army operation. On May 17, 1994, in Malawi, the first-ever general elections (presidential and parliamentary elections) were held on a multiparty basis. In the presidential elections won Bakili Muluzi. The Banda's Malawi Congress Party won only 33% of the votes. On May 24, 1994, Bakili Muluzi assumed the presidency. The era of the Hastings Kamuzu Banda was over.
In 1995, Banda was arrested on charges of murdering members of the government, but the investigation did not find sufficient evidence and he was released.
Hastings Kamuzu Banda statue in Lilongwe, Malawi. Photography: Bryan Ngaleka
The Hastings Kamuzu Banda Mausoleum in Lilongwe, Malawi. Photography: Bryan Ngaleka
Hastings Kamuzu Banda died in Johannesburg (South Africa) on November 25, 1997, at the age of 99. In the capital of Malawi, there is a statue of Banda and its Mausoleum. Every year on May 14, a solemn ceremony is held in Lilongwe at the statue of Banda in memory of the first president.
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