The British Empire Library

From Mtoto to Mzee: Story of My Life's Safari

by Mervyn Maciel

Courtesy of OSPA

Mervyn Maciel has written a second memoir to add to his previously published Bwana Karani book. However, this book is in a very different style to that earlier book for a number of reasons. First of all, it covers a far longer period of time. Whereas Bwana Karani concentrated on the author's government service in Kenya, From Mtoto to Mzee covers more of his early years and education back in Goa and extends his story well beyond leaving Kenya in 1966 to his emigration to Britain. Indeed, it carries the story right up to the present day. Secondly, another crucial difference between the two books is the inclusion of many photographs to help illustrate the story of his life. Thirdly, it is a much briefer account especially the years in Kenya: From Mtoto to Mzee has fewer pages, it has many more photographs throughout the text and the text itself is larger and clearer but meaning that there are far fewer words per page. This apparent brevity, does not detract from the book at all though. If anything rom Mtoto to Mzee nicely complements Bwana Karani in that many of the events of that earlier book are illustrated with pictures or rephrased in a fresh but not repetitive style. I do not think it actually matters which way round one reads these books. If you were to read this book first, it would provide an outline that the Bwana Karani fleshes out for his African career. Whereas, if you were to read this book second, it feels familiar and puts a wider historical context into events by examining the author's schooling before his career in Africa and even more fascinating, what became of Mervyn and his family when they decided to take the government compensation package and come to the UK when his position in the Agriculture Ministry was earmarked for Africanisation. This book helps show how the British Empire could end up providing an unlikely jigsaw to allow a Goan family to live and work in Africa and then come to Britain to settle and to contribute to British society. The Empire was responsible for huge population shifts during its existence and Mervyn's story is just one example of how people could end up far from their ancestral homelands and often in places they never expected to live in.

From Mtoto to Mzee once again shows the remarkable Goan network that sustained their culture, religion and opportunities throughout East Africa and far beyond the shores of West India. It is clear that the Goan community provided an informal network of help and support that in many ways surpassed those provided by most governments of the time. The author makes it clear that although Goa was a Portuguese colony whilst he was growing up and being educated there, it was still very much in the midst of a British India and much of the education he received was with a view to the likelihood of working somewhere in this Anglosphere. Of course, this was before the onset of the Second World War which brought its own tragic consequences to the Maciel family and also preceded Indian Independence in 1947 and the beginning of the end of that arena of British influence. Nevertheless, even as the British Raj was ending in India, the service and reputation of Mervyn's father was enough to help him get his foot in the door of the Kenyan Government's Service and two decades of work in a variety of postings and jobs throughout the colony. He especially appreciated his time in the wilds of the Northern Frontier District where he respected the hardy tribespeople and the simplicity of life combined with variety of opportunities on the Frontier. It was also one of the safer postings in the time of the Mau Mau Emergency as entrance to the region was by permission only and few Kikuyu were present in this part of the colony. In fact, its relative safety meant that it was the perfect place for the Kenyan government to deposit the more high profile political prisoners many of whom Mervyn ended up meeting in a professional capacity.

The author does not shy away from the iniquities of colonial rule whereby Asians were generally treated to worse terms of service than Europeans. This is perhaps demonstrated most vividly in the book by the quality of hospitals afforded to the Maciel family and particularly in the case of maternity services. You can actually chart the relative changing attitudes towards race and hierarchy in the colony in the quality of medical care and housing provided to the Maciel family through the 1950s and early 1960s. Why parts of the colonial government, individual settlers and many businesses persisted with segregating the colony is hard for the modern reader to fully empathise with. But these attitudes did prevail at the time and they go some way in explaining why so many were keen to see 'Uhuru' for Kenya, although even independence did not end all awkward racial attitudes and complexities. It is something of a tragic irony that the author ultimately lost his job in 1966 thanks partly at least to the colour of his skin.

The story of the Maciel family's arrival in Britain in the summer of 1966 is particularly interesting and gives another historical dimension to this book. It is something of a relief to read that the family was treated well and appeared to suffer little or no racial problems on arrival in Britain or whilst establishing themselves in their new country. If anything, having come from the racially aware society of Kenya, Britain appeared unexpectedly tolerant to this Goan family. Even so, the difficulties of changing cultures and career are clearly laid out in the book. For example, having to find a new house to buy for a family used to having housing provided by their employer. Also the realities of having to make do with the far smaller houses in London than the large government houses in the vast open spaces of Kenya. Having to make do with no servants! The economics of East Africa meant that labour could be very cheap indeed and once you had got used to life with a cook, a nursemaid and an errand boy they could be sorely missed. I suppose, if you had never had servants in your life, you would never miss them, but if they had been part of your household and the society you grew up in and regarded as family then it might take some real adjusting to redistribute all those jobs back through your family whilst still having to earn a living or study! And of course the impact of the British weather on a family of Asians who had lived and worked in Africa offers its own peculiar challenges. The fickle nature of British weather was just one more difference that the family had to adjust to. Perhaps some mention might be made of the glue of the Catholic faith that seems to have sustained the Maciel family and Mervyn in particular throughout his life and career. It is not just that his older brother took up the priesthood or that his younger brother served Pope John Paul and Mother Teresa in their visits to Kenya that are of interest. In fact, it seems as if the Catholic Church provided an anchor wherever the Maciel family were in the world and that it helped to open doors to a ready made community of fellow believers and support systems from the most remote outstations in East Africa to the suburbs of London. The role of religion no doubt helps explain at least some of the success of the Goan community wherever they find themselves in the world.

There is one more hidden gem for historians in this book in the section on the Kenya Administration Club in the UK. On the face of it, a club of ex-Kenya government employees might sound of interest to those who lived and worked in the service but of little consequence to anyone else. However, I was intrigued by his explanation of how attitudes to race and government service persisted even into the post-colonial world. This form of discrimination did not seem to fall until surprisingly late and I urge you to read his reply to a speech by a former British High Commissioner to Kenya, Sir John Johnson on the occasion of ex-Asian employees finally being admitted to the Club as late as 2002! It does make for fascinating reading and puts Asian colonial government service into an intriguing perspective and it brings the fight for equality of esteem if not of terms of service right up to the 21st Century.

In conclusion, Mtoto to Mzee complements Bwana Karani perfectly. Although it is briefer, you know you have the luxury of getting more detail on the colonial career and life of Mervyn from his other book. What this book adds is a wider historical timeframe and photographic evidence to help illustrate his fascinating and varied life story. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, well in this case, it might mean that Mtoto to Mzee is at least as comparable in length to Bwana Karani after all! In fact, the best way of reading these books is to have them both side by side. That way, you can get the depth of detail on colonial service from one with many relevant illustrations and wider timeframe of the other. You won't be disappointed.

Review by Peter Fullerton (HMOCS Kenya 1953 - 63)
From Mtoto to Mzee by Mervyn Maciel, neatly complements Selma Caravalho's A Railway Runs Through: Goans of British East Africa 1865 - 1980 by illustrating the history of the Goan community with a biography of one of its members. Mervyn Maciel was typical of Goan families who went to work in Kenya. His father had gone there as a young man and worked his way up in government service, ending in the Secretariat in the 1930's. Mervyn was born in Nairobi in 1929 and grew up there with his two brothers. His father was a member of the Goan Gymkhana, one of the best sports clubs in Nairobi. He went on home leave to Goa during the war taking his family with him and left his sons at school there but died tragically in 1942 when the ship in which he was travelling back to Kenya was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. After leaving school at 18, Mervyn Maciel returned to Kenya and was offered a job in the secretariat by his father's former boss. He then joined the Provincial Administration as a District Clerk and served for many years in a succession of bomas, including Lodwar under Leslie Whitehouse and Marsabit under Windy Wild, two legendary DC's in the NFD. Later, frustrated by the lack of promotion, he transferred to the Agricultural Department and became Executive Officer at the research station at Njoro.

After Independence, Mervyn Maciel came with his family to the UK and had a successful second career with several companies, including British Gas. In 1985 he wrote and published Bwana Karani, a vivid description of Boma life in Kenya, much acclaimed by readers. His latest book. From Mtoto to Mzee is a full biography from his childhood in Kenya and Goa to happy retirement at his home in Sutton which he named Manyatta. I enjoyed this book immensely, and commend it to all colleagues who served in East Africa.

Additional Review by Gerhard A. Fuerst (Adjunct Professor of Social Science, Western Michigan University)
From Mtoto to Mzee is the Life Safari of author Mervyn Maciel, of Sutton, Surrey, U.K. It is a biographical account presented in first person singular narrative style, a journey from childhood to old age.

The book has just appeared: Copyright 2014. It was edited and published, painstakingly and prolifically illustrated by means of a myriad pictures and documents with the professional assistance of Canada-based Goan author/artist Mel D'Souza. Mel also produced the very clever and handsome cover design of the book which shows a smiling and pipe-smoking Mervyn Maciel riding a camel, with a copy of his earlier work, Bwana Karani, in one of his saddle / travel bag... and a vital supply of delectable, tasty, thirst-quenching Tusker beer in another! His chosen first person narrative, of course, makes it intensely personal in all the details of his recollection of his incredibly fascinating life lived to date, things seen, learned, and experienced, scores of people encountered and many places visited or called home. His second book, by his own admission, will have to serve the point and purpose of leaving a detailed written legacy for his great family, his children and grandchildren, his countless friends, and his many former colleagues in the civil service of colonial Kenya, East Africa. He, his fellow clerks, indigenous staff, and British colonial administrators in many different positions of trust and fields of specialization, serving in countless posts, even in very remote and inhospitable desert locations, did what had been asked of them with great care, skill, and incredible dedication and loyalty...time-consuming service for relatively modest pay (particularly for non-British...of course, in keeping with the relative racial segregation being enforced in those days!)... and as it turned out later...with due public recognition and most deserving credit being given (at times reluctantly...or even a bit begrudgingly) very late in life. A person of non-British origin had to find ways to fit in... to make do... to survive... to make the best out of the given socio-political situation of racial compartmentalization.

Although born in Kenya, Mervyn Maciel, is also of Goan ancestry. He understands Portuguese, and is able to communicate in the Goan indigenous language of Konkani. He was raised and educated a Catholic, and is very devoted to his faith. One of his brothers, in fact, became a priest. The other brother became a well-known writer / journalist. Mervyn's wife Elsie, indeed the love of his life, had shared this adventurous life's safari. She was not only a solid partner and travel companion to all their joint stations in life, throughout Kenya, and later on in the United Kingdom, where they relocated and settled after Kenya had become an independent nation. The first half of Mervyn's second book, From Mtoto to Mzee, can now be called a perfect companion to his first book Bwana Karani, because content and timeline complement and parallel each other. [Mtoto is the Kiswahili word for child, Mzee is the word for respected elder; Bwana means Mr. or Sir, and Karani is the word for clerk / cashier / book keeper / paymaster / accountant]. The book is lovingly crafted by the author in careful collaboration with his editor and publisher Mel D'Souza.

Mervyn' s life was not an easy climb to success. It also had its share of grave tragedy. His mother died early in childbirth. His father and step-mother, along with some of the step siblings perished in the Arabian Sea, when the boat on which they were returning from South Asia to East Africa was attacked and sunk by a Japanese submarine. Relatives came to the aid of the orphaned Mervyn and his two brothers. His schooling was completed both in Goa and India. He returned to Kenya and eventually found employment in the civil service administration of Kenya Colony. Mervyn has a very daring, tenacious, and adventurous spirit and even wanted to be posted to remote areas in Northern Kenya, inhabited by pastoral nomads. He was fascinated by their lifestyle, and the manner in which they managed to survive under harsh conditions. In due course, Mervyn met Elsie. They were married and she joined him to share a frontier life. She is equally as adventurous, and became also the mother of five children, although one died in infancy, a great tragedy for both parents.

As has been mentioned, Mervyn and Elsie eventually left Kenya and are now living in the United Kingdom, and that demanded the added willingness and ability to socially integrate and economically to adapt, without loss of personal dignity or cultural identity. He had been assured a pension for his time in the colonial civil service. However, leave it to an adventurous type, Mervyn had reinvented himself many times over in various professional occupations, and he left his mark as a respected and reliable employee or boss. Furthermore, he and Elsie should be called a perfect Renaissance couple. They are indeed amazing people. She was not only a devoted wife and dedicated mother. She was and still is a fantastic cook, known particularly for her many Goan and Indian culinary delights. For that reason alone, she was encouraged to author and publish a popular cookbook which subsequent to its first appearance had gone through several editions. Furthermore, she also took up pottery and became very good at it. So, artistry and a many-sided craftsmanship are natural to her.

Both of them are passionate and successful gardeners, with proven skills of the proverbial "green thumb." Mervyn has also made a name for himself as a producer of tasty wines and delicious marmalades....and more. They are devoted members of their church, who practice what is preached in terms of love, kindness, community service and Christian charity. They have many friends, and their immediate family of four children, two sons and two daughters, has grown with respective spouses to total of eight grandchildren. Both have reason to be grateful and proud. Together they have achieved much. They have traveled far and have survived adversity. They have made new and successful lives for themselves as immigrants to the United Kingdom. They have much to share in terms of life's trials, tests, tribulation...and how to emerge relatively unscathed... and being able to tell...not tall tales...but the truth... detailed accounts which will fascinate the reader!

Additional Review by Pascal James Imperato (State University of New York)
From Mtoto to Mzee is the autobiographical account of Mervyn Maciel, who was born of Goan parents in Nairobi, Kenya in 1929. It compliments A Railway Runs Through: Goans of British East Africa 1865 - 1980 by engagingly recounting the life experiences of one individual of Goan descent who served in the colonial civil service. Tragedy hung over Maciel's early life, first when his mother, Josephine, died in childbirth in 1935, and later in 1942, when his father and his father's second wife and their three young children perished aboard the S.S. Tilawa when it was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine a few days after it had left Bombay. Because of this tragedy, Maciel and his two brothers, Joseph and Wilfred, were orphaned. Fortunately, their maternal grandfather in Goa accepted responsibility for raising them. Joseph went on to become a Jesuit priest, and Wilfred a distinguished journalist. At the age of 18, Maciel returned to Kenya where he quickly secured employment as a District Clerk in the Provincial Administration.

Following a brief apprenticeship in Nairobi, Maciel was assigned to Mombasa on the coast, and then inland to Voi in the Teita District. Finally, he was posted for 18 months to Lodwar, a remote district headquarters in the arid north of Kenya on the western shores of Lake Rudolf (now Lake Turkana). This was considered a hardship post by reason of geographic location, its arid climate, and the very unsettled security situation in the region.

Maciel was then transferred to Marsabit, a small government post on the eastern side of Lake Turkana. Located at the base of an enormous verdant volcanic mountain, Marsabit's climate is in dramatic contrast to that of Lodwar. However, like Lodwar, it was remote and isolated, and located in an area where there was consistent civil unrest due to warring ethnic groups, the incursions of Ethiopian poachers, and an almost perpetual cycle of livestock rustling. Marsabit's major crater lake, Lake Paradise, had by then been made famous by American wildlife photographers and filmmakers, Martin and Osa Johnson, who lived on its shores for several years. For the forests around the lake were home to herds of elephant and buffalo and other wildlife.

In 1952, Maciel married his wife, Elsie, and together they returned to Marsabit. This is clearly the area in Kenya with which Maciel strongly bonded. He frequently traveled throughout the district, came to know its diverse peoples, their way of life, belief systems, and history. It is no surprise then that even today, Maciel retains close contacts with people in Marsabit. So extensive is his knowledge of Marsabit and the former Northern Frontier District in which it is located that there is hardly a contemporary scholar, researcher, or writer who has not sought him out for guidance and assistance. Along with the late Reverend Paul Tablino, a renowned authority on the Gabra and other groups in northern Kenya (The Gabra. Camel Nomads of Northern Kenya, 1999), he has greatly enriched our knowledge of this part of East Africa. Had he been able, Maciel would have prolonged his service at Marsabit.

However, his young son, Conrad, was born with a congenital cardiac condition which today could have been easily remedied. In the interests of his son's health, but with much regret, Maciel requested transfer from Marsabit to another post where medical care was accessible. Although he was assigned to Kisii in the western highlands, his son's condition did not improve, and he eventually passed away.

After many years of service in Kenya, Maciel, like many of Goan descent, had to leave Kenya. On arrival in Great Britain, he was able to reinvent himself and easily found employment with the Gas Board and later with an international construction company in Surrey. From there, he and Elsie retired to their home, Manyatta (Maasai word for settlement) in Sutton, Surrey.

Once in Great Britain, Maciel established a broad network of friends among former colonial officials through the Overseas Service Pensioners' Association. In addition, he had already over the years been in close contact with a large number of writers, scientists from different fields, anthropologists, historians, and political scientists whose fieldwork he had facilitated in northern Kenya. With all of these contacts and his extensive knowledge of the region, he has remained an active facilitator of bringing people with similar academic interests together. He has also been very active in fundraising efforts on behalf of the people of Marsabit, and remains in close contact with his Kenyan friends there.

While A Railway Runs Through comprehensively covers the lives, history, and contributions of the Goan diaspora in East Africa, From Mtoto to Mzee profiles one individual from this group, albeit someone who is unique and highly accomplished. In writing his autobiography, Mervyn Maciel has sketched on the canvas of colonial Kenya, the life of his family as it was lived in some of the then very remote corners of East Africa. He also vividly describes how, after expulsion, they were able to successfully reconstruct their lives in Great Britain while retaining strong connections with Kenya and their many friends there.

These two complementary volumes greatly enrich our knowledge about the lives and contributions of the Goans in East Africa. They will be of great value to all who are interested in East Africa.

British Empire Book
Mervyn Maciel
The author has kindly allowed this book to be made available as a download:

From Mtoto to Mzee PDF.

As the author has donated the profits from this book to the Catholic Mission in Marsabit, Northern Kenya, he very much hopes that readers who access this FREE copy may consider making a similar donation sending their cheques (made out to 'Consolata Fathers') to: The Superior, Consolata Fathers, 3 Salisbury Avenue, Finchley, London N3 3AJ - and please mention "From Mtoto to Mzee"

The Author
219 Collingwood Road
Also by the Author
Bwana Karani
Additional Articles by Author
Wanderings Among Nomads
With The Pastoralists Of Kenya's Northern Desert Once More
To Lodwar I'm posted
Escape from Zanzibar
The Life And Times Of An Indomitable Goan Lady Mrs. Mascarenhas Of Kisii
"Uncle" Gerald Reece of Kenya's N.F.D.
The Unforgettable Dubas of Kenya's Northern Frontier
Memoirs of a Frontier Man
Two Elephant Feet


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