British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by Graham Edwards
(Agricultural and Fisheries Officer, Tanganyika 1951-63)
Death by Spearing - Nearly
Coffee Picking
In 1960 I was posted to a small township in Tanganyika called Tarime, 60 miles from Musoma, an important port and township on Lake Victoria, and approximately 50 miles from the Kenya border. I had previously been living at Kigoma, a port and township situated at the end of the 700 mile railway from Dar es Salaam, where I worked as an Agricultural and Fisheries Officer. I spent 7 years there but finally was forced to leave in a hurry because of political upheaval.

Death by Spearing - Nearly
Loading Coffee
Tarime had a local store operated by a nice friendly Sikh who wore very thick glasses, and was affectionately known by the Africans, and everybody else, as Bwana Four Eyes. There was a Shell garage and an African market, a few stray donkeys, and that was it! The total number of government officers living in Tarime was eight, so with wives and children the expatriate community, excluding several thousand Africans, was no more than 25 people. Tarime was mainly a highland district, with a suitable climate for growing Arabica coffee. My transfer there was to establish coffee seedling nurseries, of which there were many created. When the seedlings were large enough to be planted in the African smallholdings, the Agricultural Department's task was to ensure correct planting, spacing, and pruning was taught to the local Africans. Drying and preparation for marketing was also part of their tuition. I had acquired knowledge of coffee drying factories whilst working on Kilimanjaro during the early 50s. Part of the process was to ferment the ripe berries in water-filled tanks. The berries then passed through a mill to remove the pericarp before floating through water-filled channels which by gravity automatically graded the beans according to size and density. The beans were then left to dry on large trays in open-sided huts. Each hut was constructed so as to enable trays with wire mesh bottoms to be stacked in tiers to allow the air to circulate to complete the drying process.

During one of my safaris inspecting nurseries, I hit a concealed rock and pushed the front suspension of my Peugeot pick-up completely out of alignment making the moving of the vehicle impossible. With the aid of an African chief, I was able to cadge a lift back to Tarime where the general consensus was I would have to get the car to Nairobi for repairs, some 400 miles away! After a discussion with the District Commissioner he suggested we could utilise the service of the Native Authority truck, which that week had to travel to the nearest rail-head at a township called Kisii, just over the border in Kenya. The truck would be travelling empty in order to collect a load of corrugated iron sheets from the railway station. So, here was an opportunity for me to at least get the car to the rail-head whence it would be transported by train to Nairobi where the main Peugeot agents would collect it and deliver it to their depot where they had the equipment to stretch and straighten the front end and chassis.

We set out for Kisii and duly delivered my pick-up to the station. It was agreed with the African truck driver we would meet at 3 pm to set out for the return trip to Tarime. At the appointed hour the truck arrived loaded to the hilt with corrugated iron sheets. I sat with the driver and noticed a rather distinct smell of African beer pervading the cab, and that the driver appeared to be very anxious to put his foot down and travel at what I considered was an excessive speed for a 10-ton load! We crossed the border into Tanganyika and were travelling through an open grassland area at a speed of about 50mph over a badly corrugated road. The road declined towards a gradual bend and suddenly we were confronted with a herd of at least 100 cattle crossing the road. The driver put his foot on the brake and shouted "I have no brakes". Of course the beer had muddled his thinking and I yelled at him to pump the foot pedal, but it was too late, we hit the cattle crossing the road, and the truck leapt in the air as we began to ride over the cattle. How the truck remained on an even keel I shall never know, but we did, and of course we automatically slowed down without the aid of the brakes because there were at least 6 to 8 animals lodged underneath the truck, dead and injured of course, to say nothing of the trail of dead and injured cattle we had left behind!

Behind us was a scene reminiscent of battlefield with dead animals scattered all over the road. We alighted from the truck and walked a few yards to where there was an ever increasing gathering of Africans who seemed to appear from nowhere. The driver and I were immediately surrounded and there was much shouting and gesticulating, jumping up and down, and when an African does that, beware because it indicates extreme anger!

The tribesmen, dressed in their usual skins, were armed with spears and I began to fear for my life. Not surprising because cattle are like money in the bank for such people and from memory there were at least 10 dead animals, and double that number injured. One could sympathise with them, but at that point I was really only thinking of the fate awaiting the driver and myself! You could claim I was being selfish perhaps? I cannot recall whether I said a silent prayer or not, but just at that time I looked up the road and saw the large Mercedes truck owned by Bwana Four Eyes (the Sikh store owner from Tarime) coming down the road. His driver, too, had gone to the rail-head to collect provisions for his shop! I did some quick thinking and whispered to my driver and told him to make a run for it just as soon as I gave the order, when I gauged the truck would be level with us. The truck was gaining on us and at the appropriate time I duly gave that crucial order, "Kimbia!" meaning "run for it", and we did, too, like hell! The other driver had quickly ascertained our predicament and imminent danger, and slowed down sufficiently for us to jump on the running board where we hung there for dear life until well clear of the angry crowd, who followed in hot pursuit! "Phew," that was a close one indeed, because I lived to tell the tale.

Next day the District Commissioner sent out one of his officers and took a driver with him to salvage the truck and bring it back to base. It was minus quite a large quantity of its load, no doubt taken as a form of compensation for the loss of the cattle. Could you blame them? No court case was required to fight for compensation. Some good old fashioned bush justice had prevailed!

Colonial Map
Map of Lake Victoria, 1958
Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 112: October 2016


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