What Mr Sanders Really Did

Written by Veronica Bellers

Not Fair Dealings


"One forgets the endless scroll of past failures on which the names of men of every race are written and the miseries they have inflicted on this continent of suffering, and remembers only those who with patient fidelity gave their lives to bring nearer in Africa the long-delayed victory of justice." (Leys)

Dr Norman Leys, who wrote those wores in his book "Kenya", says that Arthur Collyer was one of the people he had in mind. He was an admirer of Collyer's, whose service in the early Kenya Administration was both brief and sad. During the short time that Arthur was an administrative officer in the Colony, he displayed a stolid stoutheartedness as he faced his own inevitable early death. This was all whilst facing the opprobrium of his superiors as he defended the rights of the Masai.

He arrived in Kenya from Oxford in 1902. Both his family and he himself hoped that the warmth of the tropics would help him recover from the tuberculosis from which he suffered. Of course, this was simply not going to happen in those days. A medical friend of his wrote after his death "only doctors know how inefficient they can be."

As he was my great uncle, I have been able to study the photographs which he and his sister, Olive, took during the time that they lived in the DC's house in Rumuruti. They made a beautiful garden around the house which gave pleasure to DC's and their wives throughout the colonial period. Who knows, it might be there still.

Arthur was a tall and rather heavily built man in his late twenties or early thirties. Although he does not smile in any of the photographs, there is a ghost of a twinkle in a couple of them. As he stands in his unsuitable suit with his white pith helmet perched rather high on his head, over the caption "The DC", there is a sadness about him which is rather heartbreaking.

From the few papers I have of his, it seems that he coped with his illness by ignoring it. A friend of the family wrote that "His was a fine character and he faced his broken life with the utmost courage and patience."

These do not seem to have been merely kind words. From 12th December, 1910 to the 29th December, for example, he went on safari, walking every day; ten miles, fifteen miles, twelve miles. He only remained in camp on the 19th "waiting for the Masai to combe back with H(ut) T(ax) money". On the 25th of December he only walked six miles. He neglected to mention that it was Christmas Day. Never once does he allude to tiredness or ill health. His entry - which is written in pencil on a large lined pad - probably Government issue - for 17th December is typical of his plain, utterly practical style:

"Up the hill, through some olive wood. Trees rather stunted and then a descent to Lorogli District. Camped on (illegible) close to the east end of it; water was not flowing - march about four and a half hours. Before descending all the Lorogli country was visible and Kisuna to the East. 13 or 14 miles."

Physical courage he seems to have had in some measure. However, it was over the sorry business of the moving of the Masai tribe that demonstrated Arthur's moral bravery - but in the end it broke him.

Many Europeans, settlers and officials alike, liked and admired the Masai tribe. They must be one of the most beautiful people in Africa and they are considered to be brave and gentle, with independent and warrior-like characteristics. They did have their detractors, though, who found them dirty and indolent with distasteful, even cruel, sexual practices involving children.

Arthur was devoted to the Masai and he spoke their language. From about 1905 until 1910 he was District Commissioner at Rumuruti which was the area in which the Northern Masai lived, known as Laikipia. He had their interests very much at heart and at one time he asked for "permission to import Marino rams to cross with the woolless Masai sheep [but he] was forbidden to do so on the grounds that if the Masai began to breed for wool they would begin to steal sheep from their European neighbours."

The tribe had become split into two sections when Lord Delamere and a London syndicate were granted permission to buy the land on the floor of the great Rift Valley. This is the gargantuan fault running north to south with its golden grasses, lakes and volcanoes. Before the advent of the colonial administration, the Masai grazing areas extended from the Uaso Nyiro River in the North East of Kenya, right across the Rift Valley to the Tanganyika border to the South West of the Rift, and beyond. They were lords of an immense area of wonderful land and they were fiercely protective of it, demanding money off strangers who wished to pass through it - or face their spears.

But the tribe's fortunes changed for the worse. Disease and famine had swept across the land killing stock and decreasing the tribal numbers dramatically. The Rift Valley looked virtually unoccupied. Nevertheless, in order to accomodate Delamere and his friends, a treaty was drawn up in 1904 on the instructions of the Foreign Office. Lenana, the chief Masai Laibon spoke for the tribe. This treaty proposed to move the Masai out of the Rift Valley leaving them with a split territory north and south of it. There was to be a mile wide corridor across the valley floor in order that the two sections could remain in contact. Despite the fact that the Foreign Office would not allow the Masai to be moved out of the Rift without the tribe's consent by treaty, Dr Norman Leys wrote: "The Rift Valley was most unwillingly evacuated."

The mile wide corridor across the Rift was never honoured. Some say that the reason for this was fear of spreading tick-borne diseases which is probably partly true. But the fact remains that the redesignation of the Rift Valley separated the two sections of the tribe by many miles and this created a great problem for them and for Lenana, the chief Laibon, who lived in the southern section. The splitting of the tribe caused "great unrest and mistrust..., and these were increased by the rumour, then freely talked of in the country, that the northern reserve was to be given to Europeans."

Poor Arthur, liked and trusted by the tribe, he "made a special tour round the reserve to give assurances that the Government would keep its solemn pledge." that what had been agreed by treaty would not be changed. For someone who was described as a man "with absolute straightness and consientiousness" and "a very warm and loyal person", what a blow he must have had when he began to realise that the new Governor, Sir Percy Girouard, was plotting to persuade the tribe to move out of Laikipia.

A pencil-written (and rather difficult to read) report covers a discussion between Arthur and thirteen elders (all named) including Legalishu and the chief Laibon of the Northern Masai. Legalishu was an interesting character. Rather odd looking, he was nonetheless described by Sir Frederick Jackson as a spare and wiry little man who excelled as a "patriot, delegate, obstructionist, call him what you like." At this discussion, Arthur asked the elders' opinion on the proposal being discussed between Lenana and the Governor of the Colony "to move the Masai as the N. Masai reserve is not sufficient for Masai stock. The Masai will get a part of Ologorot - there are two rivers Manori and Oigani. H.E. told me to tell the Masai that they will get Ologoroki and not to afraid [sic] of water as it will be irrigated. Will send a man to see about it... H.E. wishes to tell the Masai that the boundary of Laikipia cannot be extended."

Loyele, who had inspected the southern area commented: "we gave all the information of the country that we travelled and all Masai say it is insufficient but if Govt wants to move the Masai - can do so - we have no strength to fight with Govt."

All the elders felt the same and Legalishu summed up the rather sad theme of this meeting: "We are willing to obey the Govt order as it is not our order. Formerly you said that we will get this country and road to go to Laibon S. Masai Reserve - we know that all our stock will die if we are moved the other side."

A series of negotiations took place, one of which was in May 1909 when Arthur went down to Nairobi and accompanied the Governor at a meeting with some of the tribe. Considering that there were no cars or roads, Arthur did not spare himself. He was then sent on a six week reconnaissance of the additional land which it was proposed would be given to the Masai. From his notes the fear of shortage of water was a very real one. (see The Position isn't Easy or Comfortable)

In February 1910, the Governor had a meeting with the Masai elders "at the camp known as Kiserian close to the kraal of Lenana." Reading the report, written in Arthur's hand and then typed up, presumably for the benefit of His Excellency, everything looks logica, constructive and friendly.

"After greeting Lenana, His Excellency reminded him that he had previously expressed a wish to see Lenana and the chiefs of the Northern Masai."

"He wished to discuss the question of the position of the lands now occupied by the Masai. The government had formerly made an arrangement that some of the Masai went to Laikipia while the others remained in what is known as the Southern Masai reserve, and had promised at the same time to send an officer to Laikipia whom the Masai knew. This had been done."

"Since this arrangement had been made, circumstances had altered, and now the Government feared that unless all the Masai were located in one locality they would be split up into sections, and the Northern section would be pushed further North. His Excellency pointed out that this would not happen today but that he could foresee that it would happen in the future."

There then followed discussion about which land in the south would be allotted to them.

"Masikondi was now asked what he had to say, and he expressed his opinion in favor of moving with the other Purko [N. Masai] from Laikipia so that the Masai should all be together."

Legalishu also expressed his opinion in favour of the move...

At His Excellency's request Mr Collyer addressed the Laikipia chiefs, telling them that as a friend of the Masai he was satisfied that the proposed move was to the interest of the Masai themselves."

It was disingenuous of His Excellency and it put Arther in an impossible position. Just how unhappy he flet about it is encapsulated in a letter which Leys says was sent to the Governor "by a subordinate official" These phrases demonstrate the flavour of the letter:

"...the Masai left the Rift Valley five years ago in obedience to the wish of the Government and... in return for that surrender of their best land, they were given by the Government a promise never again to be disturbed;... most of the Masai now inthe northern reserve prefer to stay where they are;... they are to go from country ardently desired by Europeans..."

"The great bulk of the natives who have experience of the nature and working of our occupation of the country believe that it is designed for the advantage and profit of officials and their fellow-countrymen. It one tries to explain the contrary, one is met with almost universal incredulity..."

"The careful deliberation of the Government, its conferences and consultations, the very kindliness of its representatives, will by many natives be put down as hypocrisy and guile of those who prefer to take without the trouble of using force. In the view of some men this attitude is more serious than sedition."

Leys is coy about who wrote this passionate letter to the Governor. He say it was a "subordinate official" but then later refers to the views expressed in the letter as "Mr Collyer's frankness and it is known in our family that Arthur wrote a "Minority Report" which leads us to conclude that he might have sent a copy to Dr Leys who was incensed over the affair. Unfortunately, all his correspondence was destroyed in a fire.

A year later the rug was well and truly pulled out from under the Northern Masai case when Lenana died "expressing with his last breath the wish that his people should always obey the Government, especially by leaving Laikipia." And leave they did, in 1911, with Arthur Collyer escorting them. Some of the elderly and "many thousands of cattle" died.

Once his usefulness was finished, Arthur was posted to Nyeri under a cloud. He wrote to Dr Leys to say that "the manoevres etc., that have been employed with regard to the Masai have sickened and embittered me. I have always said that the policy of putting the Masai into one area was right, but I cannot uphold the methods that have been employed to bring this about."

His physical condition deteriorated rapidly in Nyeri and his sister, Olive, who had been such a staunch companion to him, increasingly did his work for him. He was said to worship the ground Olive trod on but he died without her beside him as she was on a tax collecting safari.

I found amongst his papers a letter from Mr McClellan to my great aunt Oive about Arthur's death. Looking him up in "Tribute to Pioneers" it seems that he was senior to Arthur, based at Naivasha, and was "responsible for the movement of Masai from the Rift Valley." His condolences seem to me to be tempered with a wisp of guilt:

Naivasha October 26th, 1912

Dear Miss Collyer,

I was very grieved to hear of the sudden death of your brother with whom I had been associated at one time and another for several years and had always considered one of my friends in the country.

When you and he left for Nyeri, it was hoped that the fact of a healthy station and reasonably good house accomodation would have a beneficial effect on his health... [illegible] I well knew that Mr Collyer had a great admiration for the Masai, as had most officers with they came in contact, especially in the earlier days of our administration, but he expressed to me pleasure in leaving... the Masai under existing conditions. I can only hope that the change of work and climate was not detrimental.

Yours sincerely,

J.W.T McClellan

Post Scripts

Back to Table of Contents | Back to Articles | Chapter 7

Armed Forces | Art and Culture | Articles | Biographies | Colonies | Discussion | Glossary | Home | Library | Links | Map Room | Sources and Media | Science and Technology | Search | Student Zone | Timelines | TV & Film | Wargames

by Stephen Luscombe