The British Empire Library

From Kaduna to Kirakira: Letters Home from Overseas: A Record of Nine Years in Northern Nigeria and the British Solomon Islands Protectorate

by Jennifer Cawte

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Pat Yaxley (Vanuatu (New Hebrides) and The Solomons 1961-75)
Over a period of eight years Jennifer Cawte wrote regularly to her mother, first from Northern Nigeria and later from the Solomon Islands. The carefully collated letters make up this book which covers the enthusiasm of a single young woman's first posting and the first seven years of a marriage spent in various district postings.

Mrs Cawte took every opportunity to explore - day trips, local leaves, longer expeditions on tour or on a new posting - sometimes by landrover over bumpy roads and sometimes on small boats plying from island to island. She vividly describes these journeys, the country she saw, the people she met and adventures she and her family had on the way. Equally vivid are her word pictures of exciting events such as the Independence Durbar in Kaduna or the beauty of the islands in the Pacific.

These are letters from a daughter to a mother, so there is the sort of domestic news any mother would wish to have; some might feel there is a little too much. Yet, without originally setting out to do so, Jennifer Cawte has provided us with a very good account of District life in general and, more particularly, the life of many a 'government wife'. Battles with wood-burning stoves, enthusiastic but largely unskilled staff, equipment which has somehow not been put on the right ship, a posting at quite the wrong time and, of course, the unexpected VIP visitor, just when supplies are at their lowest - all these are problems, disappointments and irritations with which many of us, including myself, are all too familiar! As indeed, are the things she writes of with evident pleasure, from parties on the station or walks in the bush to what was sometimes rather disparagingly described as 'good works' - the government wife's role of unofficial welfare worker.

As Mrs Cawte omitted anything from her letters which might alarm her mother the picture is sometimes slightly lopsided. On the other hand this caution has protected her from any tendency to embroidery. She tells it as it was: an honest account of a life-style which has long gone and one which will be enjoyed alike by those with interest in this period and those who shared it.

British Empire Book
Jennifer Cawte
The Pentland Press


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