branding gone bad, ii. [ mark sayers ]


Henry Stanley (1841-1904) finding David Livingstone (1813-1873) in Africa on 3 November 1871

Mark Sayers is our Guest Blogger for this three-part series on Henry Morton Stanley. Mark is a good friend, and is an author and speaker who specializes in interpreting popular culture from a Christan viewpoint. Mark has authored several books including: The Trouble With Paris ( Nelson 2008), The Vertical Self (Nelson 2010), The Road Trip that Changed the World, (Moody 2012) and Facing Leviathan: Moody 2014. – Find out more about Mark (

We remember him for his line, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume.” But to better understand Stanley, we must dig behind his own editorial spin, behind the carefully crafted public persona. Something that needs to occur with greater frequency in our day.
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The man who had come to free the Africans from the tyranny of slavery, to open Africa up to the ‘light of Christianity’ approached the inhabitants of Bumbireh island on Lake Victoria. He had arrived and had safely positioned his boat fifty yards from the shoreline. At this distance Stanley and his men were out of the range of the inhabitants of the locals armed with arrows and spears.

All the island’s residents could do was to shout and scream in an attempt to repel the foreign invaders. Stanley’s previous attempt to land on the island, resulted in a minor skirmish, which left the explorer humiliated and indignant. The indignation brewed inside of him, turning into vengeance. This vengeance exploded into a volley of gunfire.

The fact that neither Stanley or any of his party were in any danger in their boats, did not dissuade them from the use of deadly force. To Stanley these were not tribal people simply trying to protect their island from potentially dangerous visitors, their screams and war cries were direct insults.

The residents of Bumbireh island paid a terrible price for their ‘mocking’ as dozens of bodies now lay dead upon shore. The personal storm that had been brewing inside of Henry Morton Stanley, was now raging externally. Those who clamor for fame know that it is a fleeting commodity, it must be massaged, tended and nurtured. The image of the earnest, brave explorer and heir to Livingstone’s evangelistic crown began to smash into the reality of a man who operated more like a rogue warlord.

As the backlash against the massacre at Bumbireh island gained traction in the media, other questions began to be asked revealing something even more startling about Henry Morton Stanley.

Actual missionaries on the ground seemed to have a very different view of Stanley’s legacy, than the one he had created in the media. The African-American missionary George Washington Williams seemed to embody everything that Stanley was not. His impressions of the ‘great explorer’ veer wildly from Stanley’s own books.

“Far from being a great hero, Stanley had been a tyrant. His name produces a shudder among this simple folk when mentioned; they remember his broken promises, his copious profanity, his hot temper, his heavy blows, his severe and rigorous measures, by which they were robbed of their lands.”

Get Ready for a FINAL SHOCK in Mark Sayer’s Blog POST #3 on STANLEY!

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