T he magnificent land of the Serengeti plains is now a National Park visited annually by
thousands of tourists, wildlife buffs, and film makers. It was not always thus.
In 1954, I was District Officer in Musoma, a district of Tanganyika which lies at the mouth
of the Mara river on the east coast of Lake Victoria, and stretches inland up onto the high
plains of the Serengeti far to the south east. Here it marched with the Masai district of
Northern Province to the east and Maswa district of Lake Province to the south.
One day my District Commissioner, Brian Hodgson, said he had a task for me that
he thought I would like. How right he was. I was in my first tour and eager for new
experiences and challenges. The task I was to undertake arose from concern felt by the
PC of Lake Province that Masai cattle were encroaching in unacceptable numbers into
the Lake Province part of the plains, and he wanted an assessment made on the spot
by one of his officers. I was to carry out that assessment, so off I went to Banagi, the
Game Department station in the area. There I was joined by Peter Bramwell, the Game
Ranger of the area, and Pete Venter, a Police Stock Theft Prevention officer from Arusha in
Northern Province. Also two Game Scouts, one of whom was of Masai origin. This latter
man was interesting in that the Masai are not normally given to hunting and conserving
wild life. This man was invaluable to us in our task. We were not engaged in a precise
census, but only in getting a realistic idea of the extent of Masai incursions with their
cattle. Our method was to criss-cross the plains in a rough grid pattern, counting any
Masai herds which we encountered. The Masai game scout would sometimes point out
rather bluntly that we had already counted a herd we came across and had started to count.
On being asked how he knew this he would say with laboured patience the equivalent of
"for heaven's sake can't you recognise them". All we ignoramuses could see was a herd
of miscellaneously coloured and homed bovines. With this man's invaluable insights we
avoided double counting and came up with a reasonable figure.
A number of incidents during this task have remained in my memory. The first was
when one day I spoke to a young Masai herdsman in a sort of pidgin Swahili. Imagine
my surprise when he smiled and replied in perfectly good Swahili, telling me he had once
been at school in Arusha. On my asking why he had come back to this life, standing on
one leg, leaning on a spear, and looking at cattle all day and every day, he looked at me,
then let his gaze roam over the great sweep of grassland, and come to rest on his cattle,
and said "this is my life, I want nothing else". I felt very moved but was lost for words.
The second incident involved Venter. He became very agitated one day, telling us that
he had lost his pistol, a Beretta .22 which he carried in his pocket, no doubt a sensible
precaution in his sometimes hazardous job. Later that day a tall Masai came striding
into our camp. He walked straight up to Venter and handed him his pistol which he had
obviously found lying in the grass somewhere on the plains. He then turned on his heel
and disappeared as soundlessly as he had come. No word was spoken. Venter wore
uniform and was thus easily recognised. We thought this a remarkable example of simple
The third incident I recall was rather alarming. In the Mom Kopjes area we suddenly
came on a gang of young Masai moran, all armed with their long spears and short two edged
simis or pangas. They were clearly up to no good, and almost certainly on a raid for
Sukuma cattle in Maswa district to the south. Venter's reaction was immediate. He went
straight up to the biggest of the moran and slapped him across the face, telling him that
he knew what they were about, and they must drop their weapons immediately, and clear
off sharpish. What seemed a long silence followed until Venter made another peremptory
bark. Slowly the men dropped their weapons and slunk off, looking extremely angry.
Tension relaxed we congratulated Venter, collected the weaponry and left. After all these
years I still have two of those beautiful spears.
We completed our task, and came up with a reasonable estimate of the nature of Masai
incursions, and I made my report. Nothing more was heard of the matter, so presumably
the PC was satisfied. For me it had been a great experience, in magnificent country with
splendid people. All in the day's work for a District Officer in those now far-off days.
Looking back I realise how fortunate we were in our life and work.