This book provides rivetting nostalgia for those who, like myself, were fortunate
enough to serve in a colony and at a time when walking safari was still a necessary
way of touring at least some parts of one's district. John Blower sailed by BI on his first
appointment to the Tanganyika Forest Department, but before he could disembark at
Dar es Salaam and present himself to the Head Office at Morogoro he was ordered to
proceed to Lindi, 300 miles down the coast, and take over the huge and undeveloped
Southern Province. There were few roads and these were usually impassable in the rains,
so his first major safari was by dhow along the coast. Three years of walking followed,
interrupted by a minimum of office work, learning about the people, the animals and the
mainly savanna forests, which fixed in him a love of this outdoor life.
Apprehensive of a more desk-bound job in his next tour, he took the opportunity of
transfer to the Game Department and was posted to a remote bungalow on Banagi Hill
(hence the book's title) in central Tanganyika with vast views over the Serengeti Plains, only recently declared a national park, where he was able to indulge in his passion for
safari, while watching and protecting the great herds of game which roamed there.
In 1954 with itchy feet he volunteered for a temporary secondment to the Kenya
Police who were struggling to suppress the Mau Mau rebellion. He set up a small wellarmed
striking group nick-named Blowforce with the aim of breaking an aggressive and
successful Mau Mau gang under 'General' Kago, who had murdered local Kikuyu and a
European DO, raided police stations and burnt an aircraft. Tracking terrorists in the thick
forest of the Aberdare Mountains was an exciting and dangerous task but eventually
after a running fight Kago was killed with 35 of his men.
He transferred to the Game Department in Uganda and soon moved to Karamoja, still
the most remote, most barren and least developed district. Early in the century great
herds of elephant had roamed here, till decimated by hunters like Karamoja Bell and
Arabs from the coast. Inhabited by several tribes whose lives centred on their cattle,
whose diet was milk and blood and whose pastime was raiding their neighbours for more
cattle. Blower found here his personal paradise; he established a fiefdom based at
Opotipot in the north and oversaw the creation of Uganda's third national park, Kidepo.
Blower gives vivid descriptions of peaceful scenery, and of violent action ranging
from the onslaught of a tropical thunder-storm to capturing 14 endangered white rhinos
by chasing and lassoing them from a truck and relocating them somewhere safer. He was
an acute observer and a meticulous recorder, thanks to his habit of maintaining a daily
journal. He remembers and tells us everything from the kinds of birds gathered round a
pool to the state of dress or undress of a gang of poachers, but sometimes I wondered
whether I should prefer to dispense with knowing what he had for supper and instead
learn more about the zoology and ecology of his fascinating charges. A single sentence
is the only clue that he was Chief Warden in Uganda from 1960 to 1964, overseeing the
transition to independence, when he must have fought and won many important battles at
government level over conservation policy and practice.
The book is illustrated throughout with many evocative photos. If you served in
Africa this book is a 'must read' while anyone else can hardly help enjoying it.