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Masai and Kikuyu Responses to the Establishment of British Administration in the East Africa Protectorate1


This paper attempts to study the contrasting responses of two Kenya tribes, the Masai and the Kikuyu, to the establishment of British administration. It suggests that neither reacted in the way expected of them by early British officials, who anticipated that the Masai would forcefully oppose the British entry, while little or no resistance was expected from the Kikuyu.

Instead, the Masai actively co-operated with the British, through the support of a laibon, Lenana, and the provision of levies who accompanied British punitive expeditions. Although twice removed from their lands, the Masai still did not fight, but appealed to the law courts. When this failed, they showed little or no interest in further opposition. Although apparently having some cause to resent treatment received at the hands of the British, they showed virtually no interest in the protest movements of the twenties.

By contrast the Kikuyu, far from standing aside as had been expected, opposed the British entry in a series of short engagements, in which they suffered considerable casualties. Soon, however, collaborators began to emerge and ‘chiefs’ such as Kinyanjui—created by the British and beholden to them–benefited considerably from the connexion. Despite this co-operation, the earlier resentments continued and were reinforced by losses of land to European settlers, and by the unsettling effects upon tribal life of the proximity of Nairobi and the teaching of the missions. When, after the acute sufferings of the war years, further demands were made by the government, the Kikuyu responded by active participation in organized political protest.

Possible reasons are put forward for these contrasting responses, and the suggestion is made that differing attitudes to the protest movements of the twenties can be more fully appreciated when the history of these earlier years is taken into account.

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2 The kipande was a card bearing finger-prints that adult males were compelled to carry under the new system of African registration.

3 The Nandi, who consistently interrupted communications in the Uganda Protectorate, and who strongly opposed the building of the Uganda Railway, were only included in the East Africa Protectorate in 1902, when the Eastern Province of Uganda was transferred. See Matson A. T., Nandi Resistance to British Rule (Nairobi, forthcoming).

4 Construction of the Uganda Railway began at Mombasa in December 1895. The railway reached Kisumu, on the shores of Lake Victoria, in 1901.

5 Jackson F. J., Early Days in East Africa (London, 1930), 130.

6 Thomson J., Through Masailand (London, 1885), passim.

7 Hardinge to Hill, Private, 25 Apr. 1897, Public Record Office, Foreign Office Papers, series 107, volume 77.

8 Report by H.M. Commissioner on the East Africa Protectorate, Cd. 769 (1901), p.5. Somewhat surprisingly, by 1903 Eliot had changed his view, asserting that he agreed with those who did not think that the Masai were a formidable element in East Africa. But he explained this apparent volte-face by claiming that the Masai had become more amenable during the past year. (Report by H.M.'s Commissioner on the East Africa Protectorate, Cd. 1626 (1903), p.8.)

9 Ainsworth to Lloyd, 31 March 1899; Ainsworth to Craufurd, 31 May 1899, ‘Ukamba out 1899’, Kenya National Archives (K.N.A.).

10 Judgment of the High Court in the Case Brought by the Masai Tribe against the Attorney-General of the East Africa Protectorate and Others, Cd. 6939 (1913).

11 G. A. S. Northcote (Assistant District Commisisoner, Kiambu) to C. W. Hobley, 27 May 1914, Kiambu Confidential Correspondence 1910–1919, K.N.A.

12 Beech M. W. H., ‘The Kikuyu point of view’, 12 Dec. 1912, Dagoretti Political Record Book 1908–1912, K.N.A. The point is elaborated inLawren W. L., ‘Masai and Kikuyu: An historical analysis of culture transmission’, J. Afr. Hist. ix, no. 4 (1968), 578.

13 For a discussion of the Masai in the later nineteenth century, see Low D. A., ‘The Northern Interior, 1840–1884’, History of East Africa, I (Oxford, 1963), 301-18. See also Sorrenson M. P. K., Origins of European Settlement in Kenya (Nairobi, 1968), 190–1; W. L. Lawren, op. cit.; Cashmore T. H. R., ‘Studies in district administration in the East Africa Protectorate 1895–1918’ (unpublished Cambridge Ph.D., 1965).

14 A graphic account of Hall's experiences is given in a series of letters which Hall sent to his father in England, at approximately monthly intervals. For a description of Hall's early dealings with the Masai, see especially the letters of 28 Oct. 1893 and 12 Feb. 1894. The Hall Papers are at Rhodes House, Oxford.

15 Ainsworth to Hardinge, 3 Dec. 1895, enclosure in Hardinge to Salisbury, 19 Dec. 1895, F.O. 107/39.

16 Ainsworth to Hardinge, 23 Dec. 1895, enclosure in Hardinge to Salisbury, 9 Jan. 1896, F.O. 107/49.

17 For the similar attitude adopted by the government of the Uganda Protectorate towards the pastoral tribes of north-eastern Uganda, compare James Barber, Imperial Frontier (Nairobi, 1968), 8889.

18 Sorrenson, op. cit. p. 191.

19 Masai levies had, in fact, already been used by the British in the Uganda Protectorate and, on occasion, in the E.A.P. The exact identity of the levies used on the E.A.P. expeditions is still uncertain. Although reference is made to 400 ‘Uasin Gishu’ and 600 ‘Masai’ for the Nandi Field Force of 1905–1906 (Mobilization Orders in Jackson to Lyttelton, 9 Dec. 1905, C.O. 534/1) there is insufficient evidence to show their composition on all expeditions. They may have been composed primarily of Lenana's Purko, through whom Lenana may have hoped to establish dominance throughout Masailand. Alternatively, they may have been a collection from many subtribes, with Lenana trying to secure overall control through the British alliance.

20 Minute by Lobb, 29 May 1907, on Jackson to Crewe, 17 Apr. 1907, and Sadler to Crewe, 9 May 1907, C.O. 534/5.

21 Low, op. cit. 304-7.

22 Stewart to Lansdowne, 5 Sep. 1905, F.O. 2/839. Enclosure I contained the proposed agreement, as a ‘Provisional Memorandum’. A printed copy of the agreement, headed ‘Agreement dated 10 Aug. 1904, between His Majesty's Commissioner for the East Africa Protectorate and the Chiefs of the Masai Tribe’, is given as an appendix in Correspondence relating to the Masai, Cd. 5584 (1911).

23 ‘Short history of the Masai reserve’, Laikipia Annual Report 1910–1911, K.N.A.

24 Girouard to Harcourt, 30 Sep. 1911, C.O. 533/90.

25 Harcourt, the Colonial Secretary, doubted the accuracy of Governor Girouard's reports and minuted: ‘Sir P. Girouard must have telepathically inspired Lenana's dying wish.’ Girouard to Harcourt, Telegram, 15 Mar. 1911, and minute thereon by Harcourt, 16 Mar. 1911, C.O. 533/85.

26 The Colonial Secretary was warned in a private letter, dated 3 Feb. 1910, addressed to Gilbert Murray from an author within the protectorate. The letter is filed in C.O. 533/72.

27 Masai opposition was expressed, for example, by Legalishu, but he seems to have been bullied by a government official, C. R. W. Lane, into agreeing to the move. SorrenSon, op. cit. 204.

28 Leys N., Kenya, 3rd ed. (London, 1926), 129.

29 Cashmore, op. cit. 303–10.

30 Cd. 6939 (1913). See also ‘Further Correspondence (17 July 1911 to 20 July 1914) relating to the Masai’, Colonial Office Confidential Print, African, no. 1001.

31 In the ‘Olulunga Battle’ of 1918 (which is still remembered by the tribe) the moran attacked, after provocation, a K.A.R. company and lost 14 killed and Ca. 50 wounded, Cashmore, op. cit. 386–7.

32 Sandford G. R., An Administrative and Political History of the Masai Reserve (London, 1919), quoted in Leys, op. cit. 132.

33 Lonsdale J M., ‘Some origins of nationalism in East Africa’, J. Afr. Hist. IX, no. 1 (1968), 126.

34 The mystique of the Masai, and other pastoralists, exercised a curious fascination over certain Europeans, and may have had racial connotations. See Ogot B. A., ‘The role of the pastoralist and the agriculturalist in African history’, in Ranger T. O. (ed.), Emerging Themes of African History (Nairobi, 1968), 126.

35 Low, op. Cit. 302–3.

36 Lawren W. L., ‘Masai and Kikuyu: an historical analysis of culture transmission’, J. Afr. Hist. IX, no. 4 (1968), 571-83.

37 Portal to Rosebery, 31 Jan. 1893, F.O. 2/60, quoted in de Kiewiet Hemphill M., ‘The British sphere, 1884–1894’, History of East Africa, 1, 417.

38 von Höhnel L., Discovery of Lakes Rudolf and Stefanie (London, 1894), 286361.

39 Portal to Lady Portal, Feb. 1893, Portal Papers, quoted in Hemphill, op. cit. P. 417.

40 For his accounts of these expeditions, see the letters of Francis Hall to his father for 1893 and 1894, Hall Papers, Rhodes House.

41 R. Meinertzhagen, ‘Intelligence Report on the Operations against the Irryeni Tribe in the Kenya Province during February and March 1904’, 17 April 1904; Major PopeHennessy to Meinertzhagen, 21 Apr. 1904. Both in the Meinertzhagen Papers, Rhodes House. For a personal account of operations around Fort Hall, see also Meinertzhagen R., Kenya Diary 1902–1906 (Edinburgh, 1957).

42 Details are given in Meinertzhagen, op. cit. 6674, and Moyse Bartlett H., The King's African Rifles. (Aldershot, 1956), 204.

43 Ranger T. O., ‘Connexions between “primary resistance” movements and modern mass nationalism in East and Central Africa’, Part I, J. Afr. Hist. IXx, no. 3 (1968), 440–1.

44 Athamaki may broadly be defined as Kikuyu whose leadership was limited to specific topics such as war, trade, arbitration, etc., and whose authority was based solely on their personal prowess.

45 Hall to Col. Hall, 10 June 1894 (Hall Papers).

46 Kikuyu society was organized in a system of age grades, and elders were chosen from those men who had retired from warriorhood, and reached the age of eldership (Kenyatta J., Facing Mount Kenya (London, 1938), 188). The Kikuyu system of government as a whole is discussed in chap. IX, pp. 186–230.

47 Reports Relating to the Administration of the East Africa Protectorate, Cd. 2740 (1905), p. 33.

48 Kiambu Political Record Book, part ii, section (c), ‘Chiefs and Headmen (names, record and personal character)’, K.N.A.

49 Karanja wa Mariti, for example, was described as ‘a gentleman amongst the Kikuyu, always willing to assist the Government’ (ibid).

50 H. R. Tate, ‘Administrative history of Kiambu district’ (n.d.), Kiambu District Political Record Book, section i (part i), K.N.A.

51 Kiambu Political Record Book, part ii, section (b), ‘Revenue’.

52 Evidence submitted by Hon. Dundas C., Native Labour Commission, 1912–1913, part i, pp. 65–2.

53 Ibid.: evidence of Muraru wa Ngururu, pp. 238–9.

54 Ibid.: evidence of Kamau wa Kabiana, pp. 234–5, and Mbatia wa Gicheru, p. 235.

55 Report of the Kenya Land Commission (Nairobi, 1933), and especially vol. I of the ‘Evidence’. See also Sorrenson, op. cit. ch. XI.

56 Beech M. N. H., ‘The Kikuyu point of view’, 52 Dec. 1912, Dagoretti Political Record Book 1908–1912, K.N.A. While it may be argued that some of the Kikuyu statements should be treated with reserve, the general tenor of the document, with its underlying critical tone, has an authentic ring and inclines one to believe that it may be accepted as an important early source for the expression of Kikuyu dissatisfaction.

57 Sorrenson, op. cit. 277.

58 Only the Africa Inland Mission attempted, with little success, to work amongst the Masai.

59 For a study of the recruitment of men for the Carrier Corps, see Donald C. Savage and Forbes Munro J., ‘Carrier Corps recruitment in the British East Africa Protectorate, 1914–1918’, J. Afr. Hist. VII, no. 2 (1966), 313–42.

60 Rosberg C. G. and Nottingham J., The Myth of Mau Mau (New York, 1966), 18.

61 Sorrenson, op. cit. 266–7, quoting from Welbourn F. B., East African Rebels London, III.

1 This is a revised form of a paper presented to the University of East Africa Social Science Conference, Nairobi, in December 1966, and subsequently to the Postgraduate Seminar at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. I am grateful for the comments of those present, and for the more recent advice of Dr T. H. R. Cashmore, Dr. J. M. Lonsdale, and Mr. A. T. Matson. Responsibility for faults in argument and presentation is of course my own.

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