In 1946, surrounded by the Loita Hills, to the surprise even of his brothers and age mates, Karambu Ole Sendeu, went from calm to throwing a spear at Narok District commissioner, Hugh Grant with such force that it went through his heart and exited his back, sliding across the ground some distance.
Rupert Watson is a Kenyan writer of English descent. His book ‘Culture Clash’ published 2014, looks into the relationship between District Commissioner Hugh Grant, representing Great Britain just after the world war and Karambu Ole Sendeu’s Maasai life.
Maasai had a quota to supply the government with their cattle, sometimes the cattle had to be requisitioned. Whilst Karambu was at a meat camp, Major Grant selected the cattle that would meet the quota, one was the only bullock Sendeu had left and one whom he had raised himself like a pet, after its mother had died at childbirth. Having moved from moran to junior elder, Karambu had gone into an ol pul (meat camp). Watson writes with great sensitvity and understanding: “Their usual food in the manyatta was milk and blood and it being a taboo for women to witness warriors or junior elders consuming meat, this is usually eaten some distance away from the homestead.
There they stayed together, living off the flesh of the animal they slaughtered, perhaps glad to be away from the chores of manyatta life, responsible only to one another. As well as eating meat, they most likely made up soups, laced with roots, stems and leaves of forest herbs that they collected up themselves.”
He continues with an in depth look at the working life of the British commissioner: “Grant’s own thought process at the time is not hard to imagine. As far as he was concerned the young man’s manyatta had been given ample notice to select animals to fulfil its quota and bring them to Morijo the following day… now he (Karambu) was asking for his bullock back even after it had already been valued and the ticket issued to his brother. On top of that, Grant had been up since before one in the morning, and was hoping to get back to Narok later in the day.”
The story follows the trial of Karambu Ole Sendeu until his hanging in Nairobi. The detail of culture and law in the book is beautiful and possible due to Watson’s own deep knowledge of the law and the Maasai tribe. An advocate, accredited mediator and co-founder of the Dispute Resolution Centre, his deep commitment to resolving disputes oozes through the book.
It’s a small, easily readable paperback that would make sense on any holiday this coming African winter.