Through Jade's Eyes

This blog is about the fictional character, Jade del Cameron (, and the historical time period in which she lives.

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I'm the author of the Jade del Cameron historical mystery series set in 1920's Africa. Lots of action, intrigue, mystery and a dash of romance. Follow me at *The audio link (view complete profile) is an interview by Baron Ron Herron (9/17/2009, Santa Barbara {CA} News-Press Radio, KZSB, AM 1290

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Nairobi News

East Africa settlers had two newspapers to choose from, The East Africa Standard and The Leader. The Standard came out daily and then again bound up as a thick weekly. The Leader, the colony’s oldest paper, was a weekly. If a person needed to know what films or plays were showing, or any other more Nairobi-based information, then The Standard was a must. Included with the usual letters to the editor and the world and local news, were a few poems and the occasional description of someone’s recent safari.

One such trip into the Laikipia district started out by train to Naivasha followed by an automobile trip to Gilgil where the oxen, horses, and tents waited along with tea. The equipment was proclaimed in the article to be “just ripping.” Towards dusk, the adventurers had their “sundowner,” which turned out to be champagne rather than scotch and soda. Dinner followed complete with white damask tablecloths and napkins folded as lilies. Clearly, safari life was brutal and not for the feint of heart.

More charming than the actual news, is the glimpse into how people spoke, or at least wrote in 1919 and 1920 East Africa. When the rains came down hard on that safari and the horses didn’t want to move, they were instructed to “boss up that adjective horse.” But the writer also professed to be “keen” to see a lion and positively “gibbose” with excitement. “Keen” was a popular descriptor. One account of a newly formed Boy Scout troop had the lads being “keen as mustard.”

Whether one reads about a “rollicking” dance or a “jolly” gathering, the voices come through the ages in their inimitable style.


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Monday, December 18, 2006

Going on Safari - Part 3

When the old time explorers, like Burton, went on safari, they likely gathered a tribe full of men, gave them supplies to carry, fed them, and perhaps paid them something as their conscience decreed. By the 1920’s, there were distinct rules laid down by the Bureau of Native Affairs for governing safaris.

First of all, each native was required by law to carry a kapandi, a metal case worn around the neck containing their fingerprints, name, his tribe’s name, and a list of people the native had worked for as well as how he acquitted himself on his last job. Natives could not simply quit their jobs. Once they had contracted to work for someone, they had to finish the job or be either fined or imprisoned. If they could prove mistreatment, they might have a case, but since this became a matter of his word against an employer's, it wasn’t likely.

The non-native employer had to follow some rules as well. The employer could not make the porter carry any more than 60 pounds or travel more than 15 miles in one day. The employer provided each porter on safari with 2 pounds of “mealie meal” (a coarse corn meal) a day in addition to a canteen, a blanket, and his wages. Since one 60 pound load of mealie meal would feed one porter for about 6 weeks, there came a point where porters simply existed to carry their own food if the safari was too long. At that point, ox carts often went ahead with additional supplies to some rendezvous point.

Wages underwent some reductions in the early twenties. According to The South and East African Year Book and Guide for 1922, a porter should receive 10 florins per month, a florin being worth 2 shillings or 100 cents at that time after the rupee was abolished. Headmen made 20 to 40 florins per month, the more experienced men commanding the higher wage. Gunbearers, as well, were paid 30 florins per month and were not required to carry any other baggage. Martin Johnson translated this into dollars in Camera Trails in Africa, stating that he paid his gunbearers 25 dollars a month and sixteen dollars a month to the cook. In addition, the employer would want a tent boy for each person, some askaris as sentry guards, a good cook, and a cook’s mate. If the employer planned on hunting, extra porters would be needed to carry back trophies.


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Saturday, December 02, 2006

Going on Safari - Part 2

Martin and Osa Johnson discovered that motorcars had some decided advantages over oxen when going on safari. Martin discusses these in his book, Camera Trails In Africa. He observes that oxen, mules, and ponies are useless when you travel in any region inhabited by the tsetse-fly. The animals are very likely to sicken and die, leaving the traveler stranded. He also notes that travel with these animals is impossible in the rains. The ground becomes a bog and the animals are incapable of pulling the wagons through the mire.

The motorcar could go faster than the pack animals and they could travel off road as well. The Johnsons relied on them in their practice treks North of Nairobi and especially in their long safari to Mount Marsabit in the Northern Frontier. The cars sometimes needed help fording the rivers, but they proved themselves very useful. Even then, the Johnson’s used ox carts to haul fuel and cache it at several key locales.

But Martin admits that there are limits even to where his Fords can go, places with no roads. In these places, the only means is on foot with an army of porters carrying provisions. It is in the use of porters that modern safaris differed from the old days. By the end of the war, the Bureau of Native Affairs had set rules for both the hirer and the porters.


As a side note, I have most recently gained access to microfilm copies of the East Africa Standard, a daily Nairobi newspaper. In particular, I’m viewing 1920 and 1921. Recently I found an article written by a lady who went on safari in late1920. I hope to pull excerpts of it and other tidbits of colony life for future blogs.

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