Biharamulo was my first station as a District Officer in Tanganyika. On arrival in
Mwanza, the headquarters of the Lake Province, in late September 1951, as a very
green DO (Cadet), I was informed by the Provincial Commissioner that he was sending me
to one of the "last lingering corners of ancient Africa", as he put it. So off I went by the lake
steamer Sybil to Bukoba on the west side of the lake. There I was met by my District
Commissioner, Ronald Smith, and we travelled for four hours in his landrover the 113 miles
of rugged earth road to my new place of work. I noticed that a single line of telegraph wire
bordered the road, and was informed that this was the sole means of communication to the
world outside, apart from the road we were on, and that there was a morse key and receiver
at each end. Apparently elephant frequently put the line out of action!
Biharamulo was a fairly large district of 4500 sq miles, at the south-west corner of
Lake Victoria, but with a population of only about 50,000 people, and these were
concentrated into sleeping sickness-free enclaves. It had only merited a single
Administrative Officer, the DC himself, but Smith reckoned he needed an assistant, and I
was the fruit of persistent badgering of the PC. My first task was to supervise the building
of my house. This was built of raw local rock, held together by mud mortar and with a
thatched grass roof. It was entirely innocent of any form of plumbing. While this was
being built I enjoyed Smith's generous hospitality. I quickly got down to my work as a
DO, functioning as a Magistrate of the Third Class and as the coroner; supervising the
Accounts Office and answering Treasury and Audit queries, overseeing our small prison
and Police Force, out in the district visiting Native Authority offices and Local Courts,
checking case records and local treasury accounts, and visiting schools and clinics. As my
Swahili improved I began to deal with a host of petitioners of one sort or another, both in
the office and out in the district. Social life was limited by the fact that the station was so
small. We were the DC and myself; a District Assistant; a Settlement Officer; an
Agricultural Field Officer; and an African Police Inspector, none of whom were married;
and also the McGregors, man and wife. They had gone out to Nyasaland pre-1914 to
grow cotton. They were as tough as old boots, and his task was to try to teach the Bazinza
to grow fire-cured tobacco. Most of the subordinate staff were Bahaya from Bukoba.
Incidentally, our Police Inspector, Saidi Maswanya, eventually became Minister of Home
Affairs in Nyerere's first government after independence in 1961. I met him again in
Dar es Salaam at the tenth Independence Anniversary celebrations in 1971.
I began to get just a little bit restless, and pestered Smith to let me out on some foot
safaris. He was very understanding and so I was able to get out quite a lot. I was
particularly eager to see some of the huge wilderness areas of the district at first hand. So
one weekend I got a lift to Nyakahura, and the next day, a Sunday, walked back to
Biharamulo cross country with Daudi, a District Office messenger (or tarishi in Swahili),
a very competent and cheerful companion. It was a trip of about 35 miles and I was
thrilled by this magnificent country. But the elephant we met at close quarters I found
rather intimidating, especially as we were quite unarmed!
My first longer working safari was to the neighbouring district of Ngara. Here I went
with the DC, George Gordon, by bicycle to a new road he was building northward
towards western Biharamulo. I was greatly impressed by what could be achieved by
hand labour. New lands were being opened up and it pleases me greatly to see on
modern maps that that track has now become a main road going north.
A rather unusual safari was occasioned by a request from the War Graves Commission
that someone should visit and inspect some Belgian 1914-18 war graves out in the bush in
the east of the district towards the lake. I took five porters and tarishi Musa and we did
the round trip in four days. It had been raining and we walked for miles through water
about one foot deep, viciously assaulted by tsetse and mosquitoes. We found the graves,
and cleaned up the site. Over the four Belgian graves there had been erected grave-stones
on which were engraved the name, rank, and birthplace of each officer, and the words
MORT AU CHAMP D'HONNEUR The askaris were buried under a large pyramidal
cairn. The Belgians and their askaris had been wiped out by a German ambush, and
buried on the spot. I made a note of the names and we left in a rather sombre mood.
A longer ten-day foot safari took me into the western parts of the district. The area
was remote, and seldom visited and at each camp large numbers of people had gathered
to meet me and discuss their affairs. Eventually I reached the very impressive Rusumo
Falls on the Kagera river. Here we crossed the river and marched from there up to Ngara.
Crossing the river in dugout canoes with the roar of the falls close by was a trifle
disconcerting! At the present day there is now a bridge there.
A safari of a different sort was with Smith in the government launch from Mwanza.
We visited the islands in Emin Pasha gulf which lay within Biharamulo district. The
people seldom saw visitors, least of all from Government, and they were very pleased to
see us. Each night we anchored off an island and we slept on board while the two crew
men went ashore.
Apart from work in the office, in court, and on safari out in the district there were
other things to do. There were lots of guinea-fowl and partridge close by, and so we had
plenty of good shooting. I borrowed an ancient single-barrel twelve bore from the Native
Authority for the purpose. I also went hunting after buffalo with a Husquarna 9.3 mm
rifle I had bought from Smith. This was an exciting if chastening experience!
There was a series of rocks known as the Bukoba Sandstone outcrops in a long escarpment south of
Biharamulo. I found that these were similar in many ways to the gritstone of my native
Pennines, on which I had learned the arts of rock climbing. I used to take the long
suffering Daudi with me to do some interesting climbing. He must have thought me
quite mad but was far too polite to say anything, and was content to watch.
Eventually, with a government loan I was able to acquire a landrover, which gave me
greater scope for travel. Apart from getting about my work in the district more easily it
enabled me to spend a couple of weekends enjoying the flesh-pots of Bukoba. I was also
able to go down quite often to Nyamirembe on the lakeshore, only twenty six miles
away, to visit Bryan Cooper, the Game Ranger for the region. He taught me a great deal
about wildlife and its habitats.
Biharamulo was giving me much satisfaction. The work, the people, the opportunity
to do things I had always dreamed of doing in a fascinating environment were
wonderful. But young District Officers were not left for long in one place, and sure
enough after eighteen months I got my orders to cross the lake to Musoma. That turned
out to be an equally absorbing place in which to live and work.
As a postscript, many years later and after our retirement from Africa in 1991, my
wife and I found ourselves living near the Smiths. He gave us a superb leopard skin,
which came from a leopard that had been terrorising the Katoke area of Biharamulo
when I was there. Eventually it had been trapped and shot, and Smith had had the skin
cured and mounted in Nairobi. It is a priceless memento of a very happy time spent in
Biharamulo, and of my DC, Ronald Smith, now alas deceased.