THE hidden histories of the unsung heroes who supported David Livingstone in his expeditions are to be the focus of a special event to mark Black History Month.

Africans such as James Chuma, Abdulla Susi and Jacob Wainwright played key roles in the life and death of the famous Victorian explorer but their stories are often passed over.

Now the spotlight is to be turned on them, and other supporters of Livingstone, to make sure their contributions are never forgotten.

In an event co-ordinated by the David Livingstone Birthplace Project, their histories will be preserved online during a “Wikipedia Editathon” which will see special Wikipedia entries created about Livingstone’s guides and helpers on his travels through Africa. Volunteers are being asked to come along and help at the Editathon on October 16 in Rutherglen.

“Over the years Livingstone has often been spoken about as an individual explorer but so many people helped him and we want to highlight them,” said Elena Trimarchi, learning manager at the David Livingstone Trust.

“We are trying to emphasis these histories that are really important to the story. It usually focuses on Livingstone and he was obviously the driving force but he had an amazing and dedicated team around him.”

She added: “We have been working to uncover their histories and the Wikipedia Editathon is a great opportunity to share what we have learned behind the scenes as part of the Birthplace Project.”

Those who will receive special Wikipedia entries include Chuma, who was sold as a slave as a young boy but freed by Livingstone and then accompanied him on his expeditions. Along with Susi, another aide, Chuma brought Livingstone’s body back to the coast after the missionary explorer died in 1873.

There they would have been forgotten by the British authorities but for the generosity of Scots chemist Dr James Young, who had grown rich through the paraffin oil industry and was a close friend of Livingstone.

He took Chuma and Susi to the UK, where their accounts of the gruelling journeys proved invaluable to Horace Waller, the editor and publisher of Livingstone’s journals.

Walter included portraits of the pair in the books and gratefully acknowledged their contributions.

“The faithful companions of Livingstone were able to give an intelligible account of every river and mountain and village in the regions they had passed through; and such aid as they could give was of the first importance to Dr Livingstone in preparing the work on which he was engaged,” said Waller.

The Royal Geographical Society later presented Chuma and Susi with medals in recognition of their contributions to geography.

Jacob Wainwright, another freed slave, also accompanied Livingstone and helped transport his body and final manuscripts back to the UK.

His is the only handwritten witness account of Livinstone’s death. Although the diary survives and is held by the David Livingston Birthplace Museum in Blantyre, historical records of his life are sketchy, reflecting the lack of value the Victorians gave to records of non-Europeans.

The National: the David Livingstone Birthplace Museum in Blantyrethe David Livingstone Birthplace Museum in Blantyre

IT is believed Wainwright was born in Malawi, then captured by Arab slave traders when he was a teenager and later freed by a British anti-slavery ship. He received an education from a Church Missionary Society school and was with Livingstone on his last expedition.

In one diary extract, Wainwright describes preparing the body for embalming, writing: “We had no other remedy than salting his body to preserve it from corruption and when his belly was examined nothing was found except black blood and also his lungs were found wasted up.”

The focus at the Editathon will also be on Salim Hishmeh, who, while still a boy, helped guide Henry Morton Stanley on the famous 1871 expedition in central Africa to find Livingstone. Stanley later credited Hishmeh with saving his life and indicated that the boy was the first to spot Livingstone.

Stanley quotes Hishmeh as saying: “I see the Doctor, sir. Oh what an old man! He has got a white beard!”

Hishmeh later said he had not only been the first to see Livingstone but also the first to greet him – meaning that Stanley’s famous “Dr Livingstone, I presume” were not the first words the old explorer heard from the search party.

It is recorded that Hishmeh later trained as a doctor in Scotland and there is a report in the Hamilton Advertiser of 1883 saying he had given a talk about his African adventure at the United Presbyterian Church YMCA in Stonehouse. The article describes him as the “first discoverer of Dr David Livingstone”.

Trimarchi believes the new Wikipedia entries would be part of the legacy of the project’s £6.3 million renovation of the David Livingstone Birthplace Museum in Blantyre. “It’s an amazing opportunity to share what had been learned behind the scenes,” she said.