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It was settled by three broad categories. Firstly, there were the fiercely independent South African Boers who, after the Boer war, had trekked the 4,000 miles overland with their families, stopping when they reached the Eldoret area, deep in Kenya’s highlands. Strangely, here they were still under British control, albeit nominal.
Then there were the Indians. When Britain built the lunatic line, immortalised in the book “Lunatic Express” by Charles Miller, there was a dearth of “educated” skilled local labour so it was decided to recruit a few thousand workers from India and the posts were duly advertised. At the time work was scarce in India and applicants far exceeded the posts available, so the selectors became very choosy, enrolling only the physically fittest and most mentally alert of a very large group. Before the railway was even completed, many of these fit, bright and hard working men, who had brought their families with them, had set up small businesses at the larger stops along the line, mainly supplying basic goods or technical services. The majority of these above average Indians did not return to a life in India, thus creating a high quality gene pool for future descendants.
Lastly, there was a British influx of missionaries, colonial administrators and motley settlers, many of them secondary members of the British upper classes. To understand why the latter came you need to remember that in Britain it was traditional for the eldest son to inherit the family property and title, whilst lesser sons sought a career in the church or as a commissioned army or naval officer. But times had changed and life in the military or church held no appeal for many an aristocratic “second son”, who craved adventure and a chance to make his own place in the world. Kenya seemed to offer “a man’s life”, with all the heroic, pioneering qualities held dear by people brought up in an environment that was steeped in the glories of empire. When amongst these adventurers, one could easily be served afternoon tea from a solid silver pot and handed sandwiches on the finest of bone china plates, whilst sitting on a home made chair in a mud walled home that had the odd insect dropping from the grass thatch roof. They bequeathed to Kenya a special character.
Kenya’s interior was sparsely populated, much of it by nomadic tribes, and most it pretty arid. With British government approval many early settlers acquired large areas of crown land, for which they paid, but it was undeveloped and they poured their lives into it, breeding disease resistant cattle, experimenting with crops and creating fledgling industries and businesses. It was not a life of ease and leisure for the vast majority of early settlers. Wealth could be created, but only by hard work or good luck. My grandmother, who arrived alone in the early nineteen twenties, experienced a lot of the first and a fair bit of the second, along with hardships and heartache.
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As the early twentieth century progressed more settlers arrived, but the pattern had been set. I was part of the last generation of colonial settlers to be born, bred and educated in East Africa, and also part of the first generation of us to live and work there in the post colonial era. My parents, being neither in the colonial service nor in the army, were true settlers; they had to “sink or swim” on their own merits and hard work. Please put aside the myth of jack booted colonial masters lording it over terrorised de facto slaves, so beloved to makers of movies about the American South. Where anything remotely resembling that stereotype existed it was usually recent civil service arrivals with an over rated opinion of themselves.
We locals preferred to call ourselves settlers, if only to make a distinction between ourselves and overbearing, “anything-but-civil” servants, usually out in “the colonies” on short-term, renewable contracts, complete with regular “home leave”. My father never saw the home he had left behind in the early thirties for over 20 years.
Of course we had servants, we were socially advantaged; we were near the top of the pecking order. Kenya was a bastion of the lifestyle of olden day Britain, as portrayed nowadays in many a television serial. The servants were part of one’s household but were also one’s responsibility. My family treated them as people, with feelings, and I was taught to say thank you for any service received. I was mainly in the care of an African “ayah” (nanny) and I would also follow the African herdsmen around, talking and learning. My parents actively encouraged it: Kenya was our home, for life we thought.
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