In 1947 I was a junior DO in Moshi district, Tanganyika, which comprised mainly
Mt Kilimanjaro, home of the Chagga people, but also bordered part of Masailand
that lies in Kenya. A messenger came to my house with a note in the proverbial
forked stick from the sub-chiefdom of Usseri, in the Rombo division, telling me that
they had killed a Masai herd boy for grazing over their ulezi (finger millet) near
the border. They expected trouble. I asked Holman, the Senior Superintendent
of Police, to come with me at once but he said he had booked a game of golf and
would not be free until the next day!
When he and I got there the next day there was panic and people were racing
towards the Masai border armed with everything from shot-guns to the kitchen
knife. Near the border they told me not to go an inch further and I could see a
line of Masai moran out on the grassy plain. Already there had been clashes with
three Chagga dead and 12 Masai wounded.
I drove to a point on the track level with the Masai, told Holman and his six
askari not to fire without my order, and walked out to confront the advancing ‘army’,
Holman calling “Come back, you fool!”. I held up the office file on the area which
I had brought with me, and shouted ‘stop!’, and they did and surrounded me with
so many spears before my face that I was dazzled. They did not speak Swahili
but to my surprise a man came forth in an army great-coat and spoke English.
He said the Chagga had seized 240 head of cattle as well as killing the herd boy.
I took two Masai back with me in the Police truck to Usseri and told the Mangi,
the Chagga chief, that he should round up the stolen Masai cattle. To verify the
number I went down to the Masai boma in the evening and confirmed their story
in that there was enough dung there for about 240 animals, but there were only
60 young calves.
I stayed three weeks sorting it out, recovered all the Masai cattle I could, not
more than about 50, and ordered the Chagga to bring their stock to make the
number up to 300. On the final day the Masai were allowed to take 240 head
and drive them back over the border and I provided a Police and local messenger
Finally, the DC from Kajiado (Kenya) came and so did my DC, Dick Bone, and
they held a baraza including the Masai Laigwonon, Kerringol, and it lasted until
after dark in the headlights of a Landrover. That evening I was the guest of DC
Kajiado at Laitokitok and he took blankets for me from the duka (local shop) and
there was also with him a Game Ranger called Hunter who wrote a book called
Hunter. He was blotting lion which were taking Masai stock. DC Kajiado was far
more complimentary to/about me than my own DC, Dick Bone, who was a true
blue civil servant and not a safari man at all.
The battle of Usseri went down in Masai folk lore as I found out many years
later. The Masai moran were almost naked, spears, shields and with red ochre
and feathers in their hair. They shone with oil in the midday sun and it was a
picture I will never forget. If only I had a camera! I was wearing khaki uniform
with my KAR war ribbon campaign medals and in my hat a brass Tanganyika
Government badge which shone as did my buttons. I am sure this saved my life
as one moran, foaming at the mouth, had to be held down by his fellows as he
may have started to spear me. On the way to Usseri court house the two Masai
I took with me insisted I came in the back of the open Landrover with them and
they clasped me in a hug as a human shield and their oily bodies marked my
What a day. Nowadays it would have been on BBC Television as it was almost
an international incident!