The British Empire Library

Kenya: A Country in the Making 1880 - 1940

by Nigel Pavitt

Courtesy of OSPA

Veronica Bellers (Daughter of C H Williams CMG OBE, who joined the Kenya Administration in 1931. He became Provincial Commissioner, Nyanza and retired in 1957.)
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.

British Empire Book
Nigel Pavitt
WW Norton & Company Ltd
978 0 393 06777 4


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