There is evidence of Stone Age man living around the Victoria Falls for 2 million years. This is known from stone tools which have been found all over the area and have been studied by members of the Livingstone Museum. The tools can be analysed by their degree of sophistication in manufacture, by their probable use and by their place found in the layers of the ground.
Over those 2 million years not only has man evolved but the climate and geography have changed too. Rivers have altered their courses, lakes have appeared and dried up, forests have come and gone. During the Ice Age between 70,000 and 10,000 years ago Europe and Asia were uninhabitable but man continued to evolve in Africa.
The earlier tools found are very basic with just one sharp edge being formed by hammering the stone. Later they became more advanced by chiseling both sides and then being attached to wooden handles. There are also stones which were attached to bark string which would have been thrown at an animal to entangle its legs. Also came the use of fire. By the end of the Stone Age period man was organised into family groups who worked as a team. They had bows and arrows, the arrow heads laced with poison; they ground seeds for flour; they could bring down large animals like elephant for food and they knew how to preserve the meat by drying it. (When walking along the gorges, stone tools can still be found).
Successful as they were as a species, their end came with the advent of the Bantu people from the Congo basin who had developed iron tools, kept domestic animals and planted crops. The immigration of the Bantu people into now-Zambia started around 1300 AD and stone age man gradually disappeared from the scene. They were either killed, dispersed or were assimilated into Bantu groups. The last remaining clans of Stone Age people were in the north and west of now-Zambia as late as the 1800s.
The remaining descendants still live in the Kalahari in Botswana where they are known as the San or Bushmen.
The first Bantu immigrants in our area are the Tonga people in about 1300 AD who settled along the Zambezi River further downstream. Our present Toka-Leya people around Livingstone are cousins of the Tongas.
The first written evidence we have of the people around the falls were of Chief Sekute. His clan lived on the islands and when David Livingstone visited he found the grave of a past Chief Sekute on an island surrounded by elephant tusks. David Livingstone was brought to the falls by the Kololo people from the west and, although the Kololo people were good canoe paddlers they did not have the skill to take their canoes through the rapids near to the falls. They used the expert Toka canoe paddlers. (For more information on the Kololo see the section under history of Liuwa Plain).
David Livingstone was taken to an island on the lip of the falls where he attempted to measure their size. He renamed the island as Garden Island as he planted some seeds there but later the island was to be renamed Livingstone Island in his honour. It was David Livingstone who renamed the falls the Victoria Falls in honour of the Queen of England at the time. The Kololo knew them as Mosi-oa-Tunya and the Toka called them Shungu Namutitima.
The first European residents to come to the area set up their camp upstream of the falls in 1897. The camp developed during the 8 years of its existence to a small hamlet with women and children as well as traders, missionaries and fortune-hunters. It became known as the Old Drift and the site is now within the Game Park. The cemetery is still there, with a National Heritage Monument. Another Monument is at the site of the landing for the ferries which plied the river before the bridge was built.
When British influence increased and the railway was brought up from Bulawayo to the falls, the administration decided to site a new village for the Europeans up on a sand ridge away from the river. The deaths from malaria of so many people at the Old Drift prompted this move as it was now known that it was the marshy lands that were bringing the malaria. (Malaria comes from Mal Air – bad air).
Livingstone town has had its ups and downs. The best time for the development of the town (for Europeans) was when it was the capital of Northern Rhodesia (Zambia) between 1911 and 1935. The main administrative centre was around a central green area known as Barotse Gardens, now called Mukuni Park. Many of the original buildings can still be seen there. Down the hill and by the railway station is a residential area which housed the railway workers. Around the outskirts of the town suburbs were constructed to house staff.
After the capital of Northern Rhodesia was moved to Lusaka, the economy of the town went down but it became an industrial as well as a tourist hub. For more stories on the colonial period of Livingstone, An Historical Guide to Livingstone and Victoria Falls Town is available in shops in town.
After Independence, Zambia was fraught with crises from external and internal problems caused largely due to many civil conflicts going on around its borders. Livingstone suffered along with the rest of the country. The Victoria Falls Bridge was closed to traffic for many years.
It was only in 1991 when a new government was elected that things began to change and tourism started to pick up again. It has been a slow but steady development of Livingstone as a tourism town over the past 25 years with the town now on the map as a must-visit tourist destination. However, because of its history, Livingstone is not just a tourist town, there is lots of other activity from government to industry and commerce.
At Independence the names of many towns were changed from the colonial ones to African names. The town of Livingstone did not change because of the high regard David Livingstone held in the memories of the people. Not only is his heart buried in Zambia but it was through his influence that the slave traded was ended as quickly as it did.