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We went to East Africa in 1960.
Or, more correctly, we travelled through from Mombassa to Zanzibar
and on to Zambia.
This trip was part of the trip we made when we went to Germany to
buy our Khombi camper. My father had ordered the Khombi direct from
the factory in Westphalia as it was one of the first models they
brought out featuring the camper part. And I think my father had
requested that the Khombi be fitted with its own water tank. It was
only available in Germany.
The return trip my father planned to travel through Europe to Italy
or Greece and then sail across the Mediterranean with the Khombi on
board to Cairo in Egypt. From there the plan was to take the Nile
steamer to Khartoum and then travel down Africa on the
Cape-to-Cairo 'highway' back to Zambia, making detours along the
way to see places in Tanzania and Kenya where Livingstone had
My cousin, Derek Newall, was to accompany us and settle with us in
The trip went according to plan over the European continent. My
father recorded the places where they went on his cine camera. I
don't remember much of the trip but we called at Pompeii to see the
famous ruins from the volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius. And in
Rome we went to Vatican City where apparently the Pope gave us a
Somewhere along the way, I think in Yugoslavia, Derek decided not
to carry on with us and returned to Britain.
We caught the Greek passenger liner, the Agamemnon whose first port
of call was at Cyprus.
On board ship I remember my parents, my mother especially, was
terribly sea-sick and spent most of the time laid up in the cabin.
One of the kitchen crew, a French man, took a shine to me as I was
of similar age to his daughter whom he missed when he was at sea.
While off duty he entertained me, would show me around the ship,
and gave me chocolate éclairs as treats.
Six miles off Limassol in broad daylight, a French merchant ship,
the Donnet who was leaving for Benghazi ran into the Agamemnon. How
the accident occurred we did not know, and we were in the cabin at
the time. All of a sudden there was a huge noise and a violent
shaking of the ship. My father went to investigate and said that we
had been in a collision with another ship and that it was wedged in
the starboard side near the stern. Luckily we were on the port side
of the Agamemnon.
Immediately panic set in with the passengers especially with those
whose cabins were below deck. My father managed to get me and my
mother on deck. But said later that the panic was quite frightening
for those below as they scrambled over each other to get out ... he
was shocked that the men weren't gentlemen in allowing the women
and children to go first.
There was more shudderings and shakings when the two ships pulled
apart. There was more panic when the Agamemnon started to take on
water and she began to lean heavily. I think at this point even my
dad started to panic! But the Captain and officers did everything
they could to restore calm and the ship managed to limp into
Once on shore, we all went to see the damage and were thankful that
the accident had not occurred at night when more people would have
been sleeping in the cabins, and that the Mediterranean had been
particularly calm that day, otherwise more people would have been
hurt or fatally injured.
The accident was reported in the paper and said that the Agamemnon
had been heavily damaged and that one man, a Cypriot of Nicosia,
was fatally injured named Demosthenis Strouthos, who was born in
Ayios Dhometios and had lived and worked for many years in Africa.
He was en route for Greece on a holiday trip with his wife.
Strouthos was sleeping in his cabin at the time of the
As a result of the accident we had to stay at Cyprus until we could
board another ship for Egypt. The delay meant that we missed the
Nile steamer sailing and another wasn't available.
Instead of driving from Cairo to Zambia my father decided to take
another ship to Mombassa, much to the intrepidation of my
However, this trip was uneventful and we sailed through the Suez
Canal, down the Red Sea and down the coast of Africa.
In the Suez Canal I was amazed to see dolphins accompanying the
ship. Whilst on board my father taught me how to swim and I
remember something of a celebration and frolicking amongst the crew
and passengers as we crossed the Equator.
Just outside Mombassa the Khombi developed engine trouble and we
had to return to the town. I remember the day spent hunting around
various garages for the part and my dad getting more and more
stressed out when one couldn't be found. Eventually one of the
garages located one in Nairobi but that it would take several days
for them to get it to Mombassa. However, some guy, a customer, said
he was on his way to Nairobi in a few hours and offered to take my
father there and bring him back. My mother and I stayed at the
A few more problems were encountered when they tried to fit the
part and this meant a further delay. After this my father decided
not to take his intended route into Tankanyika and we travelled
instead down the coast to Dar es Salaam and across country to
On the way we met up with a young German couple travelling in a VW
Beetle and camped one night with them. Other than that I don't
remember much of the journey back to Zambia apart from one occasion
seeing the shells of some huge land snails (Achatina fulica) and my
father taking a piece of cine film of the countryside near an
elephant crossing roadsign.
Stretching some 4,000 miles and running in two branches ... from
Mozambique through Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Zaire, Burundi,
Rwanda, Uganda, Sudan, Kenya, Ethiopia, The Red Sea, and Lebanon
... the Great Rift Valley is an ecological masterpiece in itself
with considerable diversity of landscape, flora, and
Active and semi-active volcanoes, and boiling springs indicate that
rifting is still in progress. Craters from old volcanoes form
mini-ecosystems teeming with life.
Early cartographers T. Wakefield and Clemens Denhardt gleened what
information they could about the area from Arab traders. And in the
1860s the first maps began to appear. Twenty years later explorers
arrived. Different groups explored different parts, naturalists and
botanists collected speciments, geologists collected rocks, artists
drew pictures. Adventurists, hunters, enthusiasts, and settlers
arrived in their droves.
Curiosity and speculation grew also over the source of the Nile and
the hunt was on to find it. Stories from the ancient Greek masters
Ptolemy and Homer fired and fuelled people's imaginations with
romantic place names such as the 'Mountains of the Moon' or the
'Sea of Zinj'; and the allure of treasures of gold, ivory, and
precious stones hinted at in Arab books set European hearts
The Rift Valley drew people like Dr. Gustav Fischer, the German
naturalist ... Bauman, a German explorer ... Keith Johnson and
Joseph Thompson, explorers from Scotland ... artists like Ludwig
von Hohnel from Germany ... geologists like John Walter Gregory
from Scotland ... and even richmen, like Count Samuel Teleki von
Szek from Hungary.
Place names, hitherto known by local people by deep, dark,
mysterious names like Basso Narok, were changed to those more
familiar to European tongues, and claimed in the names of their
Kings and Queens.
As these early Europeans tried to get to grips with tribal
languages, tribal differences, and classifying each leaf and twig
by their sometimes unpronounceable Latin literates appending the
word Africannus or Niger to each species, so the tribes of Africa
distinguished each white man by his idiosyncracies to tell them
Gregory became 'Bulging Pockets' because he was always stuffing his
trousers with rock samples.
The Jade Sea or Lake Turkana lies in the Rift Valley that runs
through Kenya, its northern tip just inside Ethiopia. It is a place
of spellbinding beauty. Its waters change colour from misty
charcoal grey through to Delft blue and deep Jade green, hence its
nickname, and sunlight sparkles on its surface.
Lake Turkana's cool waters look tempting but their bitter alkaline
taste can never quench your thirst. Crocodiles lie sleepily along
its shores making you wonder whether there is truth in the belief
that these fish-eating saurians never eat humans. But they are not
the only fishermen of these waters. Lake Turkana is a fisherman's
paradise and many a white man risks his life and tiny aircraft to
land on the twisted, rock strewn horror airstrip presenting a
challenge to even the most skilled of bush pilots.
The remains of the petrified forest on Sibiloi Mountain make you
believe that the Turkana people did indeed once belong to the
Nimonia ... the forest people, and you wonder why they chose to
stay in this landscape that looks so uninviting. And it is ironic
that Lake Turkana, where today men and women and animals struggle
for survival, may actually have been the birthplace of mankind
It was here that Kenyan paleontologist Richard Leakey and his team
of international scientists have spent many years carefully
brushing away sand and dust from a treasure trove of hominid bones
and stone tools to prove that man-like creatures with a high level
of intelligence inhabited the shores of Lake Turkana nearly 2
million years ago, and thus replanting our ancestral roots by half
a million years.
And 7 million years ago the forest on Sibiloi Mountain with its 15
metre high junipers made Lake Turkana a whole different ecological
system ... but now they are strewn about like building blocks of
the gods looking for all the world as just another rocky landscape,
and in some places the lush plains have become desert where mirages
play tricks on the traveller and sands hiss in the breeze.
Nature's volcanic playground keeps you guessing ... because just
across the desert, its extinct peaks are capped with mist forests
where elephant and kudu live and in its craters are pools of water.
Marsabit is perhaps the most fascinating of the myriad volcanic
mountains in the north and its crater holds the enchanting Lake
Paradise. It is a place that travel writers are tempted to keep to
The Turkana people have evolved a material culture peculiar to
themselves. They carve water troughs and containers from wood and
decorate them with poker work, and make milk containers from camel
hides, decorated with beadwork and cowrie shells. Their women wear
enormous quantities of beads around their necks, and a neck-ring
and bracelets of brass or aluminium.
Marriage is a 3 year ceremonial process designed to ensure the
ritual, spiritual and social well-being of those involved. Not
until the first child has been weaned and has reached walking age
can the marriage process be completed.
Considerable numbers of cattle or camels are required to meet the
bride price, and these the suitor obtains from his own herds and
those of his father, his uncles and his bond-friends. The important
position of the wife in the Turkana homestead is reflected in the
close ties that will be perpetuated between her husband on the one
hand and her father and brothers on the other. Sons remain within
the family group, while daughters leave their homesteads as soon as
they get married.
Milk and blood are their main diet, and cattle provide hides to
make sleeping mats and sandals, and to cover their huts against
rain. Camels are also important while goats and sheep are killed
for guests, minor rituals or meat. Donkeys are used solely as pack
They make dried milk from boiling large quantities of fresh milk
and drying it on skins. Wild berries are crushed and made into
cakes with blood, or ground into a dried meal. In the rainy season
they grow millet and gourds near watercourses. And of course there
is the fishing in Lake Turkana ...
Lake Turkana was formerly Lake Rudolf, the name that Count Samuel
Teleki von Szek gave it in honour of the Austrian Crown
Prince, but before that it was the fabled Basso Narok. In the
north-east lies its smaller companion, Basso Ebor ... renamed Lake
Stephanie after Prince Rudolf's consort, and the Kenyans have given
it yet another name that sounds like a character from Star Wars ...
The knowledge of the size and position of these lakes, especially
Lake Turkana, was immensely important. Plotted on the map in 1891
by the Viennese geologist Eduard Suess, who had never been to
Africa, they appeared as links in a connected chain leading north
to the Red Sea.
He concluded that the whole line of the country from Lake Nyasa in
the south to the River Jordan in the north had been fractured by a
connected series of earth movements. He used the contemporary
geologists term to describe the phenomenon ... he called it a
Graben, or grave.
But he needed the valley explored scientifically, because as yet
the theory of continental plates and shifts was not conclusive. The
young Scottish geologist John Walter Gregory was an ardent follower
of Eduard Suess and agreed with him that the continents were once a
super-continent which they called Gondwanaland.
Gregory decided to see the Rift for himself and discover empirical
support for his beliefs.
Like those explorers before him, he did not account for the
unreliability of the local people, in this case the Somalis, he
understocked on food, and then there were the fevers ... He ended
up at Mombasa, far to the south, with malaria and dysentery, but
with an unshakeable determination to carry on with the expedition.
Despite repeated discouragement from Europeans, who urged him not
to venture into the little known territory of the hostile Kikuyu
and Masai tribes, Greggory left Mombasa on March 23rd 1893
accompanied by two European officials and 40 men.
He knew that his task of diagnosing Eduard Suess's Graben
geologically would be daunting.
Lava from volcanic eruptions would cover the valley floor, immense
deposits of silt would have been laid down by the lakes that have
filled much of the valley with water at varying times and at
varying levels, different parts of the valley may have slipped to
different positions ... but he knew also that if he chose a
suitable spot to make a cross section and was successful in
collecting rock samples from selected points and using them to draw
a cross section diagram of the rock strata underlying both the
walls and the floor, he could possibly provide evidence that
seismic activity had once torn at the fabric of Africa and pulled
the super-continent of Gondwanaland apart.
Gregory found that the place he had chosen to make his cross
section in the area around Naivasha was a hotspot for Masai
belligerence and their tribesmen were busy slaughtering Kikuyu and
harassing any caravan or traveller who seemed insufficiently
protected. Despite his talents for diplomacy he was forced to move
100 miles to the north to Lake Baringo.
Here he found his 'jewel' ... to the trained eye the escarpments on
either side of the valley look wedge-shaped and not just a series
of hilly mountains ... and you can picture the land tilting and
twisting and subsiding through seismic activity. But scientists
need evidence of rock stratas so he set about chipping away and
collecting rock samples ... he was finally forced to stop when his
supplies ran out and new tribal hostilities came to the area.
Although he had traversed only half of the valley, the samples that
he took back to England provided sufficient evidence to reach the
correct conclusions about the Rift and addressing the orthodox
geologists of his day said triumphantly:
'These valleys were not formed by removal grain by grain, by rivers
or wind, of the rocks which originally occupied them, but by the
rock sinking in mass, while the adjacent land remained stationery.
For this type of valley I suggest the name of Rift Valley. Such
valleys are known in many parts of the world, but that of East
Africa may just be called - The Great Rift Valley.'
The Kikuyu and the Maasai are the most well known of the Kenyan
tribes and are the most written about, but I don't think the others
should be left out.
Culturally and linguistically Kenya is one of the most diverse
countries in Africa. To reconstruct the history of its various
people is not easy. About 30 different African tribes now live in
Kenya, each with their own language, and the American linguist J.
Greenberg has found that of the four language groups in Africa, 3
of them are to be found in Kenya ... Bantu, which belongs to the
Niger-Congo language group; Nilotic, a member of the Nilo-Saharan
group of languages; and Cushite, the only Afro-Asiatic language ...
the fourth language group is Khoisan but it is no longer spoken in
Through the series of migrations which lasted until the 19th
century, the first immigrant wave was the tall, lean nomadic
peoples speaking Cushitic languages from Ethiopia who moved south
from Lake Turkana beginning sometime around 2000 BC. When the
rainfalls began to decrease and the lake levels fell, these
Southern Cushites restarted their migration and encountered little
resistance from the indigenous people, but it is not known who
these were. They continued moving southwards all the way into
Then 3,000 years ago another group of Cushites called the Yaaku
followed the trail and settled in the central part of Kenya. Today
they are represented by a small and little-known group called the
Mukogodo who now live near the forest north-west of Mount
Over the next millennium, between 500bc and 500ad the roots of
almost all of present-day Kenyans spread in from every section of
the continent. A tide of Cushitic, Nilotic and Bantu groups arrived
and chose to stay on. The ancestors of the Kalenjin group for
instance, arrived from the area of the Nile Valley and began
pushing the Southern Cushites and the Yaaku out of their
territories and eventually occupied much of the highland area in
western Kenya. Later this Kalenjin group developed into the present
Kipsigis, Nandi, Marakwet, Tugen, Pokot and other tribes. One of
the splinter groups are the Okiek, who until very recently were
scattered in the mountain forest of central and western Kenyan and
are called the Dorobo by the Maasai. It is thought that the Okiek
are the product of interbreeding between the first Kalenjin
immigrants and the ancient hunters.
About the same time as
these Southern Nilotes were entering Kenya from the north-west,
different groups of Bantu peoples, originally from southeastern
Nigeria, were streaming in from the west and the south. The Bantus
were influenced by the Southern Cushites and the Southern Nilotes
who, in turn, were influenced by the Bantus. After many complicated
migrations, mixings and splittings, the Bantus ended up at their
present locations as late as the 19th century ... the main cluster
is in central Kenya and comprises the Kikuyu, the Kamba, and other
The Bantu who live near a lake are called lacustrine Bantu. The
Luyha, the Gusii, and the Kuria who live near Lake Victoria have
been influenced greatly by the Kalenjin and other Nilotic
When the Arabs, together with Persian traders, came in the 8th
century they introduced Islamic culture and by the 14th century the
new civilisation and language called Swahili were fully developed,
and between the Bantu and the Arabs there was also
Another set of coastal Bantu, distinct from the Swahili mix are the
Mijikenda, made up of 9 related tribes ... the Giriama, Kauma,
Chonyi, Jibana, Kambe, Ribe, Rabai, Duruma and Digo. They claim
they originated from Shungwaya, somewhere in southern Somalia on or
near the coast. It was said to have been a kingdom, with a capital
city of stone buildings, where people lived peacefully until the
coming of the Galla marauders from the north.
These Oromo-speaking tribesmen had originally moved into southern
Somalia in the 16th century, driving the previous occupants before
them. They then continued as far south as the hinterland of Mombasa
and are today known as the Orma people.
No one knows for sure whether Shungwaya really existed, but it is
mentioned frequently in their oral traditions.
In the dry north of Kenya, an Eastern Cushitic language group had
developed from the original immigration into the area 2,000 years
before. These were the Sam people. Over time the Sam have
diversified into numerous sub-groups such as the Rendille nomads
and the Aweer or Boni hunter-gatherers. About 500,000 of their kin,
the Somali, occupy most of northeastern Kenya with another 4
million living in the Republic of Somalia.
Dinka Man : Photo Michael Asher
The Maasai, like the Kalenjin, came from the Nile Valley. On
arrival in the Lake Turkana region, they interacted with the
There is a tendency among writers to refer to both the Maasai and
the off-shoot group the Samburu as 'Nilo-Hamites' reflecting
recognition of the Cushite influence on them.
An emerging recognition of the Cushitic imprint on the peoples of
Kenya however, is somewhat embarrassing to African historians who
have spent much time and effort trying to dispose of the 'Hamitic
Myth'. This dates from the early part of this century from C.G.
Seligman who wrote:
'The incoming Hamites were pastoral Caucasians, arriving wave after
wave, better armed as well as quicker-witted than the dark
The implication was that the 'superior' Hamites introduced just
about everything of value into Africa, and bestowing the Caucasian
(white) civilisation on the 'backward' locals.
The 'Hamitic' tag is therefore usually replaced by the term
The Cushites did not in fact come from Caucasia (which is in
Europe) as has always been asserted, but from the Ethiopian
uplands, from where many East Africans originated.
According to the most recent classification, they are not strictly
'Hamites' but South Nilotic (for example the Kalenjin), or East
Nilotic (the Massai and the Turkana), while the 'pure' Nilotic
tribes (like the Luo) are now called West Nilotic.
The Samburu live in the
desert north of Kenya, and a third Maa-speaking group called the
Ilchamus or Njemps, live on the southern shore of Lake Baringo.
There is some affinity between the Maasai groups and the peoples
previously referred to as 'Hamites' - the Oromo. Of these, there
are the Gabbra nomads who roam the arid northern lands around the
Chalbi Desert, their cousins the Boran who live to their east who
reach well north into their original Ethiopian homeland.
The Oromo-speaking tribes live along the Tana River in arid bush
country. The Sakuye are a small group of camel herding people who
live to the east of Mount Marsabit. And finally the remaining
tribal group is the Nilotic Luo who are originally from the
Bahr-al-Ghazal region of southern Sudan, now occupied by the
related Dinka and Nuer. The Luo began to move into western Kenya
through Uganda in the early 16th century displacing or absorbing
the resident Bantu speakers. They then spread south around Lake
Not so well-known or documented are the early arrival and
settlement by people from India and Pakistan. Immigrants from
Gujarat and Kutch in southwest Indian began settling in the coastal
Afro-Arab trading towns as early as the 10th-12th centuries,
although there is no evidence that they mixed with the local
population as the Arabs did. However, most of Kenya's present-day
Asian community arrived in the late 1800s as workmen on the British
Kenya also has some 40,000 inhabitants of European descent, most of
whom arrived in the late 19th or early 20th century from Britain,
South Africa, Italy, Greece and elsewhere.
Incidentally there was, during WW1, a ship also called the
Agamemnon - she was formerly owned by Germany and called the Kaiser
Agamemnon 1917-1919 Formerly SS Kaiser Wilhelm II
Passenger Steamship, 1903)
Kaiser Wilhelm II, a 19,361 gross ton passenger steamer built at
Stettin, Germany, was completed in the spring of 1903. Designed for
high speed trans-Atlantic service, she won the Blue Ribband for the
fastest crossing in 1906.
In the years before the
outbreak of World War I, she made regular trips between Germany and
New York, carrying passengers both prestigeous (in first class) and
profitable (in the much more austere steerage). Kaiser Wilhelm II
was west-bound when the great conflict began on 3 August 1914 and,
after evading patrolling British cruisers, arrived at New York
three days later.
For more than two and a half years, as armies exhausted themselves
in the European trenches, Kaiser Wilhelm II remained inactive. She
was seized by the United States Government when it declared war on
Germany on 6 April 1917, and work soon began to repair her
machinery, sabotaged earlier by a German caretaker crew, and
otherwise prepare the ship for use as a transport. While this work
progressed, she was employed as a barracks ship at the New York
The U.S. Navy placed the ship in commission as USS Kaiser Wilhelm
II (ID # 3004) in late August 1917. Her name was changed to
Agamemnon at the beginning of September and active war work
commenced at the end of October, when she left for her first
troopship voyage to France.
While at sea on 9
November 1917, she was damaged in a collision with another big
ex-German transporter, USS Von Steuben, but delivered her vital
passengers to the war zone a few days later.
Following return to the
United Stated in December and subsequent repair work, Agamemnon
again steamed to France in mid-January 1918 and thereafter
regularly crossed the Atlantic as part of the massive effort to
establish a major American military presence on the Western Front.
The routine was occasionally punctuated by encounters with real or
suspected enemy submarines and, during the autumn of 1918, with
outbreaks of influenza on board.
In mid-December 1918, just over a month after the Armistice ended
the fighting, Agamemnon began to bring Americans home from France.
She made nine voyages between then and August 1919, carrying nearly
42,000 service personnel, some four thousand more than she had
transported overseas during wartime.
USS Agamemnon was
decommissioned in late August and turned over to the War Department
for further use as a U.S. Army Transport. Laid up after the middle
1920s, she was renamed Monticello in 1927 but had no further active
Too elderly for use in
the Second World War, the ship was sold for scrapping in