Two Field Interviews [Transcription Excerpts]
British colonialism in what became Kenya began officially in 1895 and lasted until 1963, but the Maasai themselves were not effectively under British rule until just before the First World War. These excerpts come from longer interviews conducted in Narok District in Kenya in 1973 and 1983 in the years following the end of British colonial rule. In these interviews, elders were asked about a 1935 riot in the Rotian District. Seiro was involved in the riot; Attetti may have been present at Rotian as one of the senior murran. Senjura too was there: he was a Tribal Policeman at the time and was on good terms with Buxton, a British District Commissioner.
Some of the details in these accounts are at variance with those given in the official report. Memories change, and what these elders convey is less the actual detail of events than what it meant to them at the time and how they came to understand it later. They are thus reflecting on an experience and drawing on public memory, rather than merely reporting events. They are also seeing murran through the filter of age. When interviewed, they were all senior elders. They had decades of experience of dealing with youth as sponsoring elders and as the heads of families. Their words blend distant memories of their own youth and more recent experiences as responsible adults and community leaders.
Aitteti ole Nkarara, Sironkei ole Nkoie, and Seiro ole Rakwa. Interview by Richard Waller, Narok District, May 1973. Senjura ole Nchoe. Interview by Richard Waller, Narok District, January 1983.
Primary Source Text
A: Interview with Aitteti ole Nkarara, Sironkei ole Nkoie, and Seiro ole Rakwa – May 1973
Buxton was the man who shot Il Kidotu at Rotian. He was very brave but not a good man. He forced them to dig a road. They were told that they were going to cut a track. There were 600 murran cutting the road. Il Diegi had drunk milk but Il Kidotu went to Eunoto after the fight. 1 Kimoruai was the laibon. He was [very] powerful . . . and had many cattle. He was . . . a very nice, bright, man -- polite, not harsh. He was friendly to the Europeans, but even if he was not , the Europeans did not care because they had defeated the murran , all the elders and the laibons. . . .
The day that the fight occurred, Il Diegi were in the forest cutting and Il Kidotu were the murran digging. They had changed from the day before. There was a tree . . . that caused the fight. They had to cut it for eight days. On this day, Il Diegi passed the tree. Buxton came along on a horse with a white leg and stood by them and told them to cut the tree. They had cut the other trees and they refused to cut this big tree. They cut another tree. Then he started to insist and they again refused. Then people cried out . Buxton heard this and went, shouting to his camp. The murran heard the cry and thought that the elders were fighting the Europeans. They gathered together, threw down their [hoes], and rushed to their manyatta, which was nearby, to prepare. The elders tried to stop them but they would not listen. Buxton called his askaris 2 and killed some murran. Then they agreed and dug the road. Kimoruai was not there, he had been taken away by Buxton to his home. Kimoruai did not want them to fight. He told them not to, but, because of the hard work, they did not obey him. . . . The fight was caused by that cruel man Buxton. The Maasai and the Europeans had an oath not to fight and Buxton ignored it.
B: Interview with Senjura ole Nchoe – January 1983
The fight broke out when the government told them to dig the road from Narok to Mau. . . . [Il Diegi] started to dig and the murran joined them and were told to dig. The murran did not want to dig the road. They collected a few of the leaders of the murran to join [Il Diegi] in digging the road. Il Diegi were following behind the murran and the murran cleared the road ahead. There was a big cedar tree left still standing and Il Diegi cried out against it: "The murran have left this big tree for us to cut down; we are dead." The murran heard the outcry from ahead and they thought that the Europeans were beating their seniors. 3 They ran to their manyatta and brought out their weapons. Buxton was camped at Rotian. He heard the cries of Il Diegi and the war cries of the murran. He got on his horse and came up. On the way, he met the first murran and he went back at a gallop. A sword and club were thrown at him. He drew up the askaris. When they saw the murran advancing the askaris shot at them and killed three. The murran in front prevented those behind from coming [forward], so Buxton was able to go down the road to Narok with his wife. That is how the fight was.
[Senjura then describes negotiations between the murran and the colonial administration]
[At a meeting] the murran told Buxton that they hated digging the road and that they had not planned to fight. It was just that they had heard the seniors shouting and had thought that the askaris were beating them. Those seniors, when the fight broke out, went to the camp. The seniors told Buxton that it was true about the shouting because the murran were working ahead of them. So Buxton said: "Let us stop fighting and make peace. But let us go back [to Narok] because the [Officer in Charge] is coming ..." Then they could tell [him] what they disliked. . . .
[The murran were taken to Narok--to court--and the administration had already decided what they would do, which was to enroll the murran as Tribal Police]
Kimoruai was there at the manyatta. He was preparing for the Eunoto and Buxton thought that perhaps he was the one refusing them Eunoto [ie delaying the ceremony] because, as you know, laibons are consulted about the Eunoto. So Kimoruai was taken [away] to his own place. He was not inciting the muran. Anyone who says so is lying: he was not. Kimoruai just want to look after the murran so that he would be given cattle. He did not give them any charms to fight. It depends on how much medicine they take in the forest. 4 The charms of a laibon can do nothing to a murran. It is only medicine in the forest that makes him brave. . . . There was rivalry between right and left hand [circumcision groups]. The seniors were contemptuous of the left because, they said, they were very young. But when they had [retired as murran], who could despise them as they were all becoming elders then? Il Diegi were taunting [Il Kidotu] and even now, if they have been drinking, they still do. . . . It's just a joke – not serious now. But they were friendly when they were digging the road because they were one [age set]--only the names are different.
The elders wanted the murran to dig the road. They discussed it and agreed on it. Ole Galishu and ole Kotikosh were giving the orders. Ole Galishu liked the murran but did not want them to stay [murran] any longer without retiring. He had forced Il Diegi to have Eunoto while they were still [young initiates]; and after Eunoto some of them had built another manyatta. . . . Ole Galishu wanted to end murranhood completely. He wanted just a few days of murranhood and then they should settle down and become elders. . . .
[Senjura then describes disagreements between the chiefs over whether murran should retire early and whether they should be allowed to have manyattas. To force Il Diegi to retire, Ole Galishu had pressured their spokesmen into going though the final retirement ceremony in secret and in their fathers' camps.]
Ole Galishu wanted them to [retire] early to lessen the trouble that they might cause. Il Diegi caused trouble because they were many. They could have gone on a raid and finished people if they had been allowed to. They went [as small raiding groups] on more than one occasion, but not [as a major war party]. . . . Ole Galishu was ol piron of Il Diegi [and Il Kidotu] 5 and the other sponsors agreed with him. . . . They agreed because Ole Galishu was olaigwanani kitok and ruled them. 6 No one would go against what he said because it was the spokesman speaking.
1 Il Diegi and Il Kidotu, the names by which Isalaash and Il Kishun [Buxton report] are better known to Maasai.
2 Askaris – soldiers; here armed police.
3 Seniors – Il Diegi. Il Diegi had already gone through their Eunoto ceremony and were in the process of retiring into elderhood.
4murran retire to the forest to eat meat and take herbal medicines before going on raids.
5 Ol piron – here the age-set spokesman of the sponsoring elders.
6 Olaigwanani kitok – the "great spokesman." Ole Galishu was senior spokesman for Il Dwati age set and had also been one of the senior government chiefs in Narok District.
How to Cite This Source
"Two Field Interviews [Transcription Excerpts]," in Children and Youth in History, Item #54, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/primary-sources/54 (accessed September 27, 2016). Annotated by Richard Waller