Review by Dr T.H.R. Cashmore
(Colonial Administrative Service, Kenya 1953-1962)
A.T. Matson (“Mat”) died in 1987 leaving his history of Nandi opposition to early
Colonial rule unfinished. Matson had served as a Health Inspector in Nandi district
for fourteen years after World War Two, had written numerous articles on East African
history based on careful research, and had earned the Nandi nickname of “Chepkendi”. He
was asked by the elders to write up the history of the Nandi wars. Volume 1 of his Nandi
Resistance was published in Kenya in 1972 and he had completed Volume 2 (covering
the 3rd Nandi War of 1900) before suffering a stroke in 1981. Material for a third
and final Volume (up to 1906 including Meinertzhagen’s shooting of the Nandi Laibon
in October 1905) had been collected, but had never reached the drafting stage. When
Matson died Volume 2 was in proof, but then the type was inadvertently destroyed.
Now, thanks to the patient efforts of Donald and Patricia Simpson the text has been
reconstructed from the original draft and, with the help of the African Studies Centre at
Cambridge, has been published in a limited paperback edition.
Matson was a pioneer historian, who was self-taught. A leading Africanist scholar at
Cambridge has fairly commented that “Mat had no formal training as an historian. He
made up for that in his experience as an official. He had no affection for grand theories
of causation but infinite sympathy for the tribulations of “men on the spot”, African and
British. He was fascinated by detail, and the detail of imperial conquest matters”. Matson
was also generous with his time and unrivalled historical knowledge in helping many
students of East African history, who took up their studies at the end of Colonial Rule.