Richard Meinertzhagen
(Perry, pp. 260-264)

Richard Meinertzhagen (1878—1967) was stationed as a young soldier in Kenya from 1902 to 1906, serving on the raw frontier of British imperialism. Living under great hardships in the African wilderness, exposed to poisoned arrows. his sensibilities outraged by the practices of people the colonial conquerors called "niggers" and "savages," he participated in imposing British rule on the rebellious Nandi tribe. In his spare time he enjoyed shooting wild animals,while also appreciating as an ornithologist the exotic birds he observed. The envies in his diary reprinted below provide insight into the harrowing experiences and the anguish of an isolated young Englishman facing the strains of colonial service, where Western and indigenous ways clashed more sharply than anywhere else in the world.

August 20, 1902

News came in this evening that a policeman had been murdered by a village only a mile or so from the station, as a protest against the white men.... At midnight I sent a reliable native to the offending village to ascertain what was happening. Ile returned at 3 a.m. this morning, saying all the neighbouring vil¬lages had joined forces with the offending vil¬lage and were at the moment conducting an orgy round the dead policeman's body, which had been badly mutilated. A council of war had been held by the natives and they had de¬cided to march on Fort Hall at dawn. So we marched out of the station at 3.30 a.m., crossed the Marthyoia and reached our destination half an hour before dawn. The village had bonfires burning and the Wakikuyu were dancing round them in all their war-paint. It was really rather a weird sight. The alarm was given by a native who tried to break through our rather thin cordon. He refused to stop when challenged and was shot down. There was then a rush from the village into the sur¬rounding bush, and we killed about 17 nig¬gers. Two policemen and one of my men were killed. I narrowly escaped a spear which whizzed past my head. Then the fun began. We at once burned the village and captured the sheep and goats. After that we systematically cleared the valley in which the village was situated, burned all the huts, and killed a few more nig¬ger, who finally gave up the tight and cleared off, but not till 3 more of out men had been killed.

At 3 p.m. we returned to Fort Hall and mid the chiefs who had assembled to meet us that they were to go out to the village at once, get into touch with the local chief, bring him ire and generally spread the news that our anger was by no means appeased. They returned just before dark with a deputation from the village, saying their chief was killed and they begged for mercy. McClean [a fellow official} fined them 50 head of cattle, at the same time inti¬mating that half would be remitted if the mur¬derers of the policeman were produced. This they promised to do tomorrow. We have told them that we are quire prepared to continue tomorrow what we began today, and I think they are impressed. Such nonsense as attacking the station is completely driven from their stu¬pid heads. So order once more reigns in Kenya District.

September 8, 1902
I have performed a most unpleasant duty today. I made a night march to the village at the edge of forest where the white settler had been s0 brutally murdered the day before yesterday Though the war drums were sounding through-out the night we reached the village with out incident and surrounded it. By the light of fires we could see savages dancing in the village, and our guides assured me that they were dancing round the mutilated body of the white man.

I gave orders that every living thing except children should be killed without mercy. I hated the work and was anxious to get through with is So soon as we could see to shoot we closed in. Several of the men tried to break out but were immediately shot. I then assaulted the place before any defence could be prepared Every soul was either shot or bayoneted, and am happy to say that no children were in the village. They, with the younger women, hat already been removed by the villagers to the forest. We burned all the huts and razed tin banana plantations to the ground.

In the open space in the centre of the village was a sight which horrified me-- a naked white man pegged out on his back, mutilated and disembowelled, his body used as a latrine by all and sundry who passed by. We washed his corpse in a stream and buried him just outside the village. The whole of this affair took so short a time that the sun was barely up before we bear a retreat yo our main camp.

My drastic action on this occasion haunted me for many years, and even now 1 am not sure whether I was right. My reason for killing all adults, including women, was that the latter had been the main instigators of not only the murder but the method of death, and it was the women who had befouled the corpse after death.

November 23, 1902

Meanwhile a Land Office under my friend Bar¬ron Wright has been starred with a view to par¬celling out laud to settlers. Eliot thinks there is a great future for East Africa transforming it into a huge white farming and stock area. Per¬haps that is correct, but sooner or later it must lead to a clash between black and white. I cannot see millions of educated Africans --as there will be in a hundred years' time- submitting tamely to white domination. After all, it is an African country, and they will demand domi¬nation. Then blood will he spilled, and I have little doubt about the eventual outcome.

January 12, 1904

The authorities give no help. The administrative officers, with few exceptions, seem to dis¬like their country being mapped by soldiers. In fact the soldier is not in favour in British East Africa. This is largely due to the low class of man who is appointed to administrative ap¬pointments. Few of them have had any educa¬tion, and many of them do not pretend to be members of the educated class. One can nei¬ther read not write. This is not surprising when one realizes that examination is re¬quired to enter the local Civil Service. Sir Clement Hill, who recently visited the colony on behalf of the Foreign Office, remarked that "so, long as Civil Servants were enlisted from the gutter" we could not expect a high stan¬dard of administration When such men are given unlimited power over uneducated and simple-minded natives, it is nor extraordinary that they should abuse their powers, suffer from megalomania and regard themselves as little tin gods.

February 19, 1904

Before this expedition started I issued an order to my company and to the Masai Levies [Afri¬can soldiers in the pay of the British authori¬ties' that if any man was guilty of killing women or children he would he shot. My men are mere savages in the laws and customs of war, and the Masai are bloodthirsty villains to whom the killing of women and children means nothing.

Today we had occasion to rush a small vil¬lage in which some of the enemy were con¬cealed and from which they were firing arrows at the column. I quickly formed up 10 of my men and 30 Masai and rushed the place. The enemy ran, and we killed 4 of them. I formed up this parry some 150 yards on the other side of die village before moving on and then heard a woman shriek from the village, which I had presumed empty. I ran back to the village, where I saw two of my men and three Masai in the act of dragging a woman from a hut, and the body of a small boy on the ground, one of the Levies being in the act of withdrawing his spear from the little body. Another levy was leading a small girl by the hand and was about to knock her on the head with his knobkerrie [a short club with a knob at the end]. I yelled to him to stay his hand, but I suppose his blood was up, for he paid no attention to me and killed the child. Meanwhile one of my own men bayoneted the woman within thirty yards of me. Putting up my rifle I shot the man dead and then his companion, who I think contem¬plated having a pot shot at me The Levies bolted, but I bagged them all three before they were clear of the village.

July 27, 1904

On reading through the first part of this record, I am shocked by the account of taking human life and the constant slaughter of big game. I do not pretend to excuse it, but perhaps I may explain it. I have no belief in the sanctity of human life or in the dignity of the human race. Human life has never been sacred; nor has man, except in a few exceptional cases, been dignified. Moreover, in Kenya fifty years ago, when stationed with 100 soldiers amid an African population of some 300,000, in cases of emergency where local government was threatened we had to act, and act quickly. To do nothing in an emergency is to do something definitely wrong, and talking comes under the category of "nothing." There was no telegraph or telephone, no motor cars or wireless, and ac¬tion was imperative for safety. Thank God there was no rime or opportunity for talks, conferences and discussions.

I also regarded discipline in my company as paramount, more important when dealing with coloured troop than with one's own countrymen. What may appear to have been outra¬geous and cruel conduct on my parr was an insistence on strict discipline- -the obedience of orders. I have seen so many coloured troops rendered useless by inefficient discipline.

September I5, 1905

Living isolated in a savage country, rarely speaking my own language, and surrounded by a population whose civilisation is on a much lower plane than my own are conditions to which I have indeed grown accustomed, bur which do not improve on acquaintance unless one lowers one's own plane to that of the sav¬age, when perhaps one might be contented. Isolation from my family, whose formative ef¬fect has been considerable on my character, is dreary and might of itself accounted for unwholesome ideas and gloomy thoughts. I seem to have received a heavy sowing of unhappiness and depression, which seems to thrive in the iso¬lated conditions which I now experience....

Normally I am healthy-minded, but the worries and conditions of the past few months have been too much for me. All men are not affected in the same way. Other with greater strength of character than myself might suffer little from moral and intellectual starvation. To others, natural history or some object of un¬ceasing pursuit is an effective barrier against complete isolation. But my experience shows me that it is but a small percentage of white men whose characters do not in one way or an-other undergo a subtle process of deterioration when they are compelled to live for any length of rime among savage races and under such conditions as exist in tropical climates. It is hard to resist the savagery of Africa when one falls under its spell. One soon reverts to one's ancestral character, both mind and temperament becoming brutalised. I have seen so much of it our here and 1 have myself felt the magnetic power of the African climate draw¬ing me lower and lower to the level of a sav¬age. This is a condition which is accentuated by worry or mental depression, and which has to he combated with all the force in one's power. My love of home and my family, the dread of being eventually overcome by savage Africa, the horror of losing one's veneer of western civilisation and cutting adrift from all one holds good—these are the forces which help me to fight the temptation to drift down to the temporary luxury of the civilisation of the savage.

March 17, 1906

My 5 years are up this year, and I must decide whether or nor to revert to my regiment. I think I had better go back, for if I were to re-main out here much longer I should get less and less anxious ever to go hack no my British regiment, and that I know I would in the end regret. But I admit I am a bit tired of this sort of life. It is too solitary for any length of time. Nigger, are rather getting on my nerves, the climate is making me feel depressed, and altogether I feel I want a change. I want to be more with my own folk than with these savages...

March 20, 1906

Natives are queer creatures and hold still queerer ideas. No European can fully under-stand the working of the black mind. Their morals, ideals and principles are all based on quite different models from ours, and it fre¬quently happens that some trivial and unno¬ticed incident gives them an impression which the European would never discern.
It is hard to put oneself in their place, as I try to do. A white man is so essentially differ¬ent in every respect, and unless one is master of their language, manners and customs, only at¬tainable after many years' residence in their country, it is a risky boast to imagine that one understands them. By doing so one arrives at wrong conclusions, which is worse than having an empty mind on the subject.