British Empire Article

Courtesy of OSPA

by Ted Claw
(Forester, Tanganyika 1952-65, died Dec. 2008)
Flight from danger
Mount Hanang
The mountain Hanang towered above the hot, dry, open plains scattered with trees. I was in this area (July 1959) to visit the forest boundary clearing work that was taking place. The boundary encircled the mountain, for Hanang was a designated Forest Reserve protecting the water supplies of the region. It was the end of the month; the workmen needed their pay and I had to show the Forest Guard in charge of the reserve that I had not forgotten him. In my area of responsibility - 21,000 square miles - some Forest Guards might only have a visit from me once every three months.

I intended to stay the night in the rest-house near the village of Katesh that looked up to the peak of the 3,500m high mountain. Katesh was a typical village in this part of Mbulu District, the only inhabitants being the few shopkeepers living and working in their shops on the dusty road leading through the village. Their customers the Barabaig, a cattle owning tribe, lived elsewhere in their small and scattered family communities.

These shops were simple mud and wattle buildings roofed with corrugated iron and having rough-hewn plank doors and tiny windows with wooden shutters. The duka owners were often poor Indian merchants trying to make a living by selling anything that could be sold or bartered. In these primitive shops one could buy knives and pangas, tins of meat and sacks of coarse maize-meal, bags of salt and hanks of thick twine. One could find bottles of beer and kali cigarettes, paraffin that the shopkeeper would pour into empty beer bottles for their customers to take away, and stacks of old newspaper for making home-made cigarettes. Even in these early days of the transistor it might have been possible to find a small Japanese radio for sale.

Flight from danger
One needed a strong stomach, or an insensitive nose, to enter one of these dukas for they stank to high heaven. The Barabaig who frequented these shops wore clothes made of goat hide that the women had softened with urine. This smell mixed with that of dried dung, grease and human sweat assailed the nostrils in the close confines of the shops for they were always crowded. In their dark interiors away from the intense heat of the sun the women gathered to gossip and the men to drink beer. The Asian shopkeepers were quite oblivious to this smell having lived with it for so long.

The District Commissioner had built the Katesh rest-house many years ago to house one of his young district officers, but now abandoned it served as accommodation for government personnel on safari. Officers did not pay to use rest houses, for most of them were unstaffed and completely bare of furniture. Little money was spent on their upkeep apart from repairing any leaks to the roof that might appear at the onset of the rains.

As I drove up to the rest-house in the late afternoon I noticed a landrover parked outside the door. Another government officer was making use of the rest-house's limited facilities. The temporary occupant proved to be the Mbulu Veterinary Officer, Pat Moorhead, who was in the area to inspect the progress of an inoculation programme in the anti-rinderpest campaign that his staff were carrying out in the Katesh area.

Flight from danger
Akonai, my house servant, helped by Pat's boy carried my safari gear into the rest-house. Pat and I then had tea and finished the sandwiches that our wives had packed for our journeys. As soon as we were both settled in and before our evening meal, which our servants would prepare jointly, Pat suggested that we go for a stroll in the bush to see if he could shoot a sand grouse or a guinea fowl for the pot, so off we went taking Pat's liver-coloured pointer dog with us.

We set off walking through the scrub but found no game birds to hunt. Then in the distance Pat saw a large herd of Barabaig cattle grazing amongst the trees guarded by their herdsmen. He told me that he would go and inspect the beasts to see if they had already been inoculated against rinderpest. It was easy for Pat to check for inoculated cattle were given an ear tag indicating that they had been treated. He then hurried off towards the herd, his dog at his heels, while I just strolled along in the same direction not really paying much attention to anything. Suddenly, I became aware that ahead of me there was an increasing sound of cattle milling around in the direction in which Pat had gone. In the next minute I was acutely conscious that the whole herd in pursuit of the dog was tearing headlong in my direction.

Within seconds the dog had shot past and I lost interest in its predicament and became acutely aware of my own situation. I was in the direct path of the stampeding cattle. I became very frightened - a wall of large animals was rushing towards me. The only thing I could do was to turn and run.

I ran and ran over the dry stony ground, dodging the few small bushes and spindly trees, with the sound of pounding hooves behind me. I was young and fit in those days, and could run reasonably fast, but having covered at least a hundred yards I was completely out of breath. My legs were like jelly and my running became less and less controlled. I knew I couldn't run another yard. In sheer panic I looked for a suitable tree to climb or hide behind but found no refuge ahead but a small, miserable tree that looked as if it would flatten under the weight of a small calf let along an angry bull. I tottered behind this two metre high sapling and turned to face the charging animals. The noise of pounding hooves, the swirling, blinding dust, and the massive bodies of the leading cattle only yards away galvanized me into action. I shouted and shouted and waved my arms furiously. I shouted at the top of my voice, and the herd of cattle parted in front of me and rushed by on either side.

I collapsed on the ground with fatigue and relief and a minute iater the herdsmen chasing their cattle flew past like the wind, waving their sticks and spears. Pat rushed towards me to ask if I was hurt. I managed to gasp out that I had not been hurt and was perfectly all right. I did not see what happened to the dog or the herd of cattle for I was far to exhausted to care. I understand that it wasn't long before the animals lost interest in the dog and went back to their grazing.

Years later I read a book called Killers All by an Italian hunter. He had once been chased by a herd of African buffaloes - a much more formidable enemy than a herd of cattle - and he had shouted and waved his arms as I had done. The buffaloes had also parted in front of him and rushed by on either side leaving him safe but shaken. So I suggest that if you are walking your dog across a field and are confronted by a herd of dreamy-eyed cows that look as if they might attack at any minute, turn and face them bravely. Then, if things get out of hand, shout and wave your arms; it might do the trick.

British Empire Map
Map of Western Tanganyika, 1949
Colony Profile
Originally Published
OSPA Journal 104: October 2012


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