When my father attended the Colonial
Service Probationers' Course at
Cambridge in 1930, a lecturer told them that
the British administrations in Africa would
be there for "a speck in the ocean of time".
Mr Pavitt's outstanding historic photographs
and the informative text that accompanies
them covers most of that speck in Kenya's
story which, for the people who took part in
it, was, as he puts it, momentous.
The complexities which arose from the
contact of black and white were almost
unprecedented. One only has to study the
photographs of the mechanical ingenuity
of those early British in-comers to
understand the enormity of the changes
the Kenya Africans found themselves
facing. And yet in the photographs one is
struck by the confidence that is exuded by
Africans and Europeans alike. With
insouciant assurance the British threw
themselves into farming, constructing,
hunting, experimenting, teaching, playing
polo, exploring or administering the
Colony. The Africans for their part seem
to have taken the transformations to their
lives and country with a confident nonchalance, throwing themselves into the alien tasks
while holding on to their own spirited customs of living, hunting, dressing and partying.
As we look back from our present vantage point it is easy to criticise or be shocked that
the British went in and "took over". The history of Kenya has been subject to fluctuations
of opinion and, as a result, the facts have sometimes been distorted. It cannot be gainsaid
that the complexities produced difficulties and resentments which, post-1940, erupted in
some areas into hostility and violence, but I believe - and the photographs seem to show -
that throughout Kenya the ill-will that some have focused upon has been exaggerated.
Mr Pavitt has given us a monumental book. The pictures astonish, startle and
fascinate. He has taken great trouble to clean and enlarge them. We can clearly read the
heartbreaking faces of the liberated slaves, enjoy the amused bafflement of the Luo lads
lounging beside a European busy hammering together sections of a boat, or long to
eavesdrop on the two Masai women intently conversing in Bazaar Road, Nairobi.
This book is not to be missed.