The British Empire Library

A Cuckoo's Parting Cry

by Rennie Bere

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by W. F. H. Ansell (Northern Rhodesia 1947-66)
The late Rennie Bere's autobiography mainly covers what can perhaps be considered the heyday of the Pax Brittanica in Uganda, and in the light of subsequent events in that unfortunate country it is hard to disagree with the distinguished historian who said that the world was a better place when it had the British Empire than it has been since. The book comprises five parts each divided into chapters and is mainly a straightforward account of the author's career as a colonial administrator interspersed with numerous anecdotes relating to his great personal interests - wild life and mountaineering. The first part covers his early life up to the time of going to Uganda, and a brief introduction to the country as it then was.

Part two is the longest and deals with the Acholi of northern Uganda. It includes some shrewd observations on the justice administered by the chiefs court vis-a-vis the magistrate's and higher courts which of course were run in accordance with the British legal system. The author evidently considered, I think rightly, that hearings in the chief's court usually resulted injustice being done despite (or perhaps because of) its lack of formality. After all, the chief was dealing with his own people on matters within his own knowledge, and would have a pretty good idea of whether a witness was lying or telling the truth. Of course you could not translate such an informal system into a more sophisticated society and indeed, even in those days, really serious crimes had to be tried in a higher court. Nevertheless one may endorse the implication that in linking punishment for a crime with compensation to its victim the chiefs courts were superior to British law which "...with its rigid distinction between criminal and civil matters, tended to punish wrong-doers and leave their victims to seek compensation as best they could. " Among the other interesting things related in this part are Were-lions and witchcraft, hunting in a tribal society, and the ceremonial dances of the Acholi.

Parts three and four cover the author's time in Buganda and western Uganda, the war years and after, including the rise of political parties in the post-war period, and the conclusion of his administrative career with a final tour in the Northern Province, this time as Provincial Commissioner.

Part five covers his time as Director and Chief Warden of Uganda's national parks including involvement with the pioneer, and at the time highly controversial, scheme for culling the huge hippopotamus population in the Queen Elizabeth National Park. A chapter is devoted to mountaineering in Africa, which was judged to fit better here than interspersed in the main narrative. The final chapter tells of Rennie's activities after leaving Uganda to settle in his old home at Bude Haven, Cornwall, where in 1962 he became a founder member of the Cornwall Naturalists' Trust (now the Cornwall Trust for Nature Conservation). For the rest of his life he worked tirelessly for the trust, and in addition wrote several books mainly on African wild life, but also some on Cornwall. Those of us who were privileged to know and work with Rennie will be grateful for this last publication, completed only a short time before he died.

British Empire Book
Rennie Bere
Cedar Publishing


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