The British Empire Library

Nakumbuka "I Remember"

by Frank Burt

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Patrick Robertson
This is an attractive record of incidents in the working life of an administrative officer of the Colonial Service which spanned the years 1922 to 1946 in Tanganyika (now Tanzania). Tanzania is a vast country of 375,000 square miles. It shares boundaries with Kenya, Zaire (formerly the Belgian Congo) and Zambia (formerly Northern Rhodesia). It was where Stanley met Livingstone (at Ujiji). At the start of World War I it was administered by Germany; it endured a ferocious war; and after the war was mandated to Britain under the League of Nations. Its administration sought to apply the concepts behind Lord Lugard's Dual Mandate, and Indirect Rule.

But this book is not a treatise on all that. Neither does it follow the pattern of a typical auto-biography. The author skillfully avoids sentimentality.

Nevertheless, the main impression left by this most enjoyable collection of "Memories", is of a sincere affection felt by the writer for the "ordinary" people of Africa. This relationship between a British official and "the people" emerges continually, even if sometimes muted, in this account which addresses the interesting question "What was it like working in Africa in those days?" Was it like Sanders of the River? Were all "colonials" incipient or actual alcoholics? The author is to be congratulated on his authentic and straightforward answers.

You will find what it feels like to be lost in the bush, at night, surrounded by dangerous animals; how one might feel on learning that one has sleeping sickness; how to cope with isolation; travelling by rail over ground trodden by Livingstone; the etiquette of "calling" in those post-Edwardian days; the cruel separations for families when children reached school age; sharing malaria with your newly-wed wife; communications based on a weekly mail delivery; telephones non-existent; doctors and telegraphs over 100 miles away; and a crisis on Christmas Eve when the mail was late with the children's presents (a situation happily saved by a hair-raising drive in a Chevrolet "box body", in the dark and pouring rain, over 80 miles of an invisible track axle deep in mud).

It was a way of life which has completely disappeared. The subsequent agonies of Africa throw into sharp focus the severity of the changes that have taken place. No doubt there had to be changes; but there are many millions to whose lamentations few want to listen. The author was one of those who did listen.

British Empire Book
Frank Burt
Newmark Editions


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