British Empire Article


About Terence Gavaghan


Political and Administrative Priority Issues
A Kenya Cattle-Breeding Tribe Prospers
Under British Guidance
Warriors as Herdsmen
The Samburu tribesmen of northern Kenya call themselves Il Logop "The World 's Top People" -and believe it. It sums up the outlook of a tribe who cling to their own way of life and yet contrive to make a success of cattle-raising and stock marketing. A century ago, when these Egyptian-featured, pigtailed nomads moved into Kenya from the Nile Valley, they numbered 5,000 people, with 30, 000 cattle. Today the tribe is 35,000 strong and owns about 350,000 hump-backed beasts which can, with modern breeding methods and careful husbandry, produce some of the finest beef on - the African continent.

A Kenya Cattle-Breeding Tribe Prospers
Under British Guidance
Terry Gavaghan
After a dour battle against thirst and starvation in the volcanic deserts of the great Rift Valley, the Samburu moved slowly southwards until, 100 miles north of Mount Kenya, they found their promised land. This was the Leroghi Plateau, a highland belt of rolling downs set like an emerald in the copper ring of the surrounding semidesert. Here the foremost families of the migration settled while the rest of the tribe remained in the parched, thorn-studded low country of the Rift Valley. The low country is good for cattle - Americans have compared it with Texas - but tough for human beings. The mountain ranges which bisect it are full of clear streams , but they vanish under a scorching sun before they reach the valleys. The struggle for water at the few isolated oases brought the Samburu in to bitter competition with other desert tribes. Only the long spears of their lithe warriors maintained tribal independence.

A Kenya Cattle-Breeding Tribe Prospers
Under British Guidance
Persuasion
In forty years of British administration, the tribe's cattle, freed from disease by Government inoculations, had multiplied until their numbers threatened to ruin the entire countryside. Plains which eighty years ago were covered with rich grass were being re-clothed in thorn scrub and windtorn sand. The future looked grim for the Samburu. Then a 6-ft. Irishman, the new District Commission r , Terence John Frederick Gavaghan, a thirty-two-year-old product of St. Andrews University, the Royal Ulster Rifles and the British Colonial Service, for which he had worked since the end of the war in other parts of Kenya, took ove r the 10,000 square miles of turbulent territory. Building on foundations firmly laid by his predecessors, he has seen the tribe grow wealthy in the short space of five years.

A Kenya Cattle-Breeding Tribe Prospers
Under British Guidance
Preliminary Inspection
He saw that the Samburu's herds were at once their most valuable asset and their greatest drawback and decided an efficient marketing system would bring wealth to thee tribe and at the same time halt the encroaching desert.

Persuading the tribesmen to sell their livestock was not easy. Cattle to a Samburu are man's bank balance, insurance policy, grocer's shop and place in the social register rolled into one. Reluctant to kill even the most senile of steers, the tribesfolk live on milk and fresh blood drawn from the animal without harming it. Hides provide clothing and homes - skins stretched over wooden frameworks to form huts. A man's wealth and social standing are judged by the number of cattle he owns, not by their quality or health. Cows are an essential part of the bride price, and no maiden would look twice at a warrior who had not filched at least one cow from outside the tribe.

A Kenya Cattle-Breeding Tribe Prospers
Under British Guidance
Paying Out
The District Commissioner and his right hand man, a Kenya-born livestock officer called John Stevens, spent hours talking to Samburu elders and months in demonstrating cattle usage. In the end a little compulsion was necessary before the tribe agreed to the idea of regular stock sales. Under Mr. Gavaghan's guidance, the Samburu African District Council, which has grown in the past three years from an annual meeting held under a tree spending a meagre 7,000 pounds a year, to a go-ahead partnership with an annual budget of 30,000 pounds, launched its three big schemes for relieving weary pastures.

Monthly stock sales were introduced at the three district centres of Maralal, on the Leroghi Plateau, and Baragoi and Wamba, in the Low Country, and each of the ten sections of the tribe had to produce a quota of cattle fixed according to the number of taxpayers in the group. Then the Veterinary Department, with the agreement of the Council, set up a field abattoir at the desert centre of Archer's Post, where the poorest of stock are sent for conversion into dried meat, bone- and blood- meal and hides. Quality animals from the sales are sent on a long road and rail trek to the Kenya Meat Commission's factory near Nairobi. Young steers are bought at the sales for fattening on the Samburu African District Council ranch - one of the District Commissioner's most successful schemes.

Stock sales, once shunned by the Samburu, have become the district's most popular meeting-place, and at Wamba, hundreds of tribesmen gather from as far as 80 miles away for the monthly disposal of some 300 animals. Stock sales now dispose of 9,000 cattle, worth 45,000 pounds every year. Domestic consumption is about 21,000 beasts a year, so that the District Commissioner has achieved his first task of disposing of the annual increase of 30,000 cattle. His second and long-term plan is for a gradual reduction in stock and raising of quality until the district supports about 200,000 valuable animals. But this, he believes, will take years and depends entirely on tribal co-operation.

Patience is essential and the Administration is well satisfied with the results of the past four years. So are the Samburu. Some of the tribesmen are so impressed by Mr. Gavaghan's efforts that they would go so far as to admit that he is almost as good a man as one of the World's Top People.

Originally Published in Sport and Country Magazine 4th of January 1956.

map of British Empire
Leroghi Plateau Map
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Kenya
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