British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by Tony Lee
(Provincial Administration, Tanganyika 1948-62)
I Remember Mbulu District, Tanganyika
In 1950 my family and I were living, and I was working in Mbulu District, in Tanganyika's Northern Province. There are very special tribes native to Mbulu District who are not negroes in the accepted sense. Adjoining Kondoa District (not far from Dodoma) were the Barabaig cattle people not unlike the Masai. According to a sociologist they are related to the Sudanese Nuer (concerning whom Evans-Pritchard was the expert). In 1950 the women wore beaded skin skirts (cow skin - goat maybe - I think) and a large similar wrap of beaded leather round the top - the unmarried girls did not bother about the skirts; the men wore one blanket only and a seven foot spear. It had just about died out when we were there but the Barabaig had a reputation of crossing their border in pursuit of the young men of another (rather inferior) tribe and cutting off the important bit to show the girlfriend. They did however still kill lion (by spear) in my day for the same man-proving purpose. Technically they are Nilo-Hamitic. They also have a beautiful mountain Hanang (which I never climbed).

Beyond the routine duties of checking court records (of the tribal courts), counting cash, if any, and receiving complaints by individuals, there was not a lot to do on safari there, where we were, with one or two children living in a double-fly tent from time to time. But I think the important point was that one was there in the tribal land. The relationship with the locals was one of mutual respect and not even once was I assaulted in Barabaig by bad words or colour prejudice of any kind. There were a number of beautiful small lakes on the low lands - one with great sand-grouse shooting. I missed an occasion (having been put in another location) where there was an outbreak of plague. Young men were called in (the tribal headmen did this) to make huts from the papyrus round that particular lake, to isolate the patients. The young men, not being used to such work, disrobed for the purpose - a magnificent sight it was, no doubt. Next door to the Barabaig was the Gorowa tribe (the chief is mentioned in David Reed's book). This rather small chiefdom is where the former Prince of Wales came to shoot lion in the twenties. Lord Lovelace I missed - he went native and lived there with some of the local girls in a large mud and wattle hut. The said girls in my day were extraordinarily beautiful in those parts and thoroughly pleasant.

I Remember Mbulu District, Tanganyika
Lake Eyasi
There was a small tribe very similar to the Barabaig, known as the Kismajeng. They lived to the west on the shores of Lake Eyasi which was where I picked up the spear of a dead Masai cattle raider - he was impaled by Masai cattle thieves in a tree, and that was where I found him when I got there. In those days there was a wide area of bush, probably gone by now, which divided them from the Wambulu who lives on the high ground above the Rift where we were and the District HQ was situated. That area of bush teemed with game and there were many rhinos; its inhabitants were the Ndorobo, sort of shortish bush people who had no permanent huts and lived off their wits on what the bush gave them. They were master game trackers of course. From time to time they would bring honey (from the wild bees) to our HQ area and exchange it for maize. They themselves did no agriculture whatsoever.

The biggest and main tribe in the district was the Mbulu (properly speaking Iraqw tribe) - Hamitic (I think) sort of milk chocolate in colour - very sweet folks, again with pretty women and not much clothing. Part of the Mbuiu area went up to 8,500 feet. Our house (and David Reed's) was at 7,400 feet - same as Nairobi; very nice for living.

There was a really great DC in charge of the district where I arrived as a DO. It was Peter Bell whose degree from Cambridge was in fact agriculture. It was obvious that there were too many cattle, especially in the high areas - the soil was red and light. The experts said it was essential to reduce the stock numbers. Peter agreed a policy to do this with the Mbulu, especially with the Made Bea. He was the white witch doctor of the Iraqw tribe. He could have dumped the whole idea if he had been so minded. It was a very pervasive policy to implement, i.e. every year there was a review of numbers of stock by villages - each village had a quota (set by the Veterinary Department) year by year. So many beasts had to be sold - to keep to the quota. It worked while we were there and it worked because the tribes said it was OK (no force was used - indeed, we did not have any which we could have used). I do wonder though how they manage today.

I Remember Mbulu District, Tanganyika
Kigezi Terraces
For the actual agriculture Peter B went to Kigezi in Rwanda where (on steep hilly ground like ours in Mbulu) they used a system of trash binding, i.e. lay trash on the contour and in 2 or 3 years you will have a terrace. It works and we did a lot to get the Wambulu to follow that, too, which they did. There were other development projects going on, e.g. water supplies and tree planting, etc.

In the Administration we had a part to play in all this. One extreme example - our Agriculture Officer happened to be South African and he used to ask me to accompany him when there was something he wanted to put over to people, because he was uncertain of his ability to do it himself. I had one spell with the white coffee farmers at Oldeani, a wonderful area south and southwest side of the Ngorongoro crater. Never much to worry about there but we kept a District Court there where I heard cases and the odd inquest.

I Remember Mbulu District, Tanganyika
Lake Manyara Game Reserve
One thing, and I am forever boasting about it, is the Lake Manyara game reserve. Peter sent me and I got hold of the man from the Game Dept and we circled the lake (I think it's soda) and it was up to me to report whether or not there were native interests that would be prejudiced by the establishment of the Reserve. I was able to report all was clear and the game reserve is still with us (but my name is not written on it!).

After Mbulu I was Number 2 in the Chief Secretary's office in Dar. He was called Grattan-Bellew and was a QC of the Crown. I heard him often speaking of our government by consent; indeed it was, and a man of G-B's calibre (and Irish, too) would not have used the word had it not have been so. That was how we worked - firmly and fairly. When not working in Dar one used to do regular safaris to one or other areas of the District and the procedure usually was for the local headman to arrange an informal get together (known as Baraza) and I might ask for one to be arranged if there was something I wanted to talk about, e.g. How are food supplies this year? Are all the children going to the school? Are the elephants trampling the wheat (but there was usually no need to ask that question)? And there were often requests, e.g. we need a new school room, send the water person to look for a new well to drill in the valley.

Colonial Map
Map of Northern Tanganyika and Lake Victoria, 1948
Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 106: October 2013