‘Africa – the Hidden Frontiers’ is the title of Associated-Rediffusion’s sixth programme in the Intertel series. For other Intertel documentaries film units have visited France, Canada, Cambodia, South Vietnam, Pakistan, Ghana and Iran.
The other members of Intertel – the International Television Federation – are the National Educational Television and Radio Center and the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company of America, the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.
Intertel is a project for international understanding through television.
It is planned to show ‘Africa – the hidden frontiers’ on the British Independent Television network on Wednesday, February 19, and subsequently throughout the world through the other member organisations. It is estimated that each Intertel programme has an audience of between 40 and 50 million people.
When the new black, green, red and white flag was raised in Nairobi at a few minutes to midnight on December 11. 1963, Kenya became more than just Africa’s thirty-fifth new state. And for the bearded, leonine man who became Kenya’s first Prime Minister, the roars of ‘Uhuru’ (Freedom) signified more than the arrival of a 40-year-old dream. For the British, the lowering of the Union Jack meant that the first attempt to create a truly multi-racial state in Africa out of 7,000,000 Africans, 200,000 Asians, 39,000 Arabs and 65,000 Europeans was under way.
For Jomo Kenyatta there lay ahead the task of fusing the diverse elements who form the tribes of Kenya into one race who will work and live with whites and Asians: the Kikuyu, the men of Kenyatta’s own tribe whose urge to recover their ancient lands from the white settler elite sparked off the bloodbath of the Mau Mau rebellion; tall, red-painted Masai spearmen who, with other minority tribes, fear that political dominance of tribes like the Kikuyu and the Luo may, in turn, dispossess them from their ancient lands and threaten their traditional way of life; the Arabs and the Giriama tribe of the steaming coasts; and 200,000 Moslem Somalis in the deserts of the barren north-east. The possibilities in the emergence of this new multi-racial African nation are dramatic. Its success or failure may determine the pattern of multi-racial societies in Africa in the future.
Kenya, said a British Member of Parliament, is ‘God’s own country with the devil’s own problems.’ So we went to East Africa to find out why such a remark was necessary, and to make a film which would show Intertel audiences something of this newest African independent state.
The facts and figures, the travel brochures and press notices, the hand-outs and photographs which are all collected by the team engaged on such a programme gave only the slimmest picture of this emergent nation.
To an Englishman. Kenya meant ‘white settlers’, vast areas of rolling Highlands, and possibly a member of his own family who had lived or worked there, or been on a visit.
To an Australian, a Canadian, or an American, there were often no such links. Kenya was merely a country ‘somewhere in east Africa’ which had given the world the word ‘safari’ and was peopled by picturesque tribes against a chocolate-box background of rhinoceros, elephant, lion and beautiful Mt. Kilimanjaro. To start with, Kilimanjaro is in Tanganyika and not in Kenya, and there is a lot more to the country than stirring tales of taming lion cubs, big-game films and nature books.
With more than 40 separate African tribes, many with widely-different customs, backgrounds, traditions and attitudes, Arabs, Indians and 66,000 white people mainly of British origin, the map of Kenya was constructed by colonial pencils some 60 years ago without thought to ancient boundaries or suspicions.
The largest single group of people is the Kikuyu, numbering one and a half million, and the Luo. and these two peoples have emerged as Kenya’s leading political influences. The Prime Minister of Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta, is a Kikuyu, as is much of his Government, and from the Luo there come mainly the administrators and other professional classes.
All this can be learned from the text-books, but it became rapidly apparent to the team that the Kikuyu was first the predominant people not only in number but in influence, and that many of the other tribes feared, disliked, or at the least, treated them with reserve. So it was agreed to show the situation in Kenya in relation to the Kikuyu, and to take three sets of people – the Masai, the Giriama and the Somalis – to up-point the differences between them and the problems of uniting so many varied people into one nation.
As a country, Kenya tends to indulge in the spectacular. The central area, around Nairobi and to the north surprises the newcomer with its fertility, its lack of ‘African’ atmosphere, its rolling hills, green fields, streams and mild climate. It is difficult to imagine one is not in England (or New England) and log fires, pullovers and raincoats are common during August and September.
To the west of this area, the incredible and breath-taking Rift Valley falls suddenly away below the traveller, dotted with extinct volcanoes. and near the small lakes and the ‘inland sea’ of Victoria the temperature is humid certainly but there is still little dense forest, of the ‘Sanders of the River’ type.
So the two main areas of spectacle are the coastal region, which is typically African, dense jungle, hot, waving palms, miles of white sand fringed by coral lagoons; and the Northern Frontier District coming as a surprise as plain, ordinary scrub and desert – miles and miles of it – hundreds of camels, a few watering places, and the fierce, proud Somali people. Like most foreign locations of such a nature, the difficulties facing the film unit were enormous. Perhaps the biggest headache of all was transport and distance. Bad roads, lack of hotels in some of the areas and the need for a tight shooting schedule all contributed their own headaches.
We were told that the rains started in October. But the first day’s scheduled shooting at Nyeri at the beginning of August was ‘rained off’ and we moved to Mombasa early the next morning by air. It was raining when we got there.
So it seemed quite in keeping when at six o’clock one morning as dawn was breaking over the desert around Wajir in the Northern Frontier District, the director, Rollo Gamble, was heard to mimic the script-writer’s voice saying ‘If there’s one place where I can guarantee you fine weather, it’s Wajir.’ Outside, the first drops of rain to fall for 50 years at that time of year were beginning to turn the desert green.
But life was not all bad weather. Script conferences between the director, writer and senior cameraman at seven in the morning while we were filming on the coast were a pleasant interlude, as were the picnic lunches served way out in the bush, surrounded by curious tribespeople.
The unit learned to surf-board at Malindi on the coast, throw Masai clubs and spears at Ngorika, keep out of the way of biting camels at Wajir, and even (some of us) learned how to play golf at Nyeri from those other members of the unit well-versed in the game.
But these were only interludes in the hard business of putting a programme together. The first people we filmed were at Mombasa where, earlier in the year, hundreds of Arab dhows gather in the harbour from Oman and Muscat, India and Aden. They come on the north-east trade winds, and go back when the winds shift to the south-east. Inevitably, by the time the unit got to Mombasa, the dhows had all gone, and the ancient harbour was nearly empty.
But all was not lost, the quays of the old and lovely town being alive with Seychelle Islands’ coasters which were being loaded and unloaded by the brute strength and broad backs of African dockers.
The streets of this ancient city round the dhow harbour are much the same as they were when the Arab slavers built them 600 years ago, and over them all broods the squat and huge Fort Jesus, symbol of the Portuguese colonial power five centuries ago, and the bitter wars between them and the Arabs over the valuable cargoes of human misery – slaves from Uganda.
From Mombasa the unit went north to Mtwapa and spent a hot and happy afternoon filming the famous ‘singing ferry’, crossing the creek again and again to get the necessary shots while the crew hauled tirelessly on the chains.
After the final scenes had been shot the unit felt so sorry for the ferry crew that they hauled the ferry back across the river while the Africans looked on in unrestrained surprise. Then north again in the dark to Malindi, a favourite holiday spot in Kenya, hemmed in by dense rain-forest and where the sea, without its coral-reef barrier, thunders in from the Indian Ocean on to the wide, white beaches. From Malindi the unit travelled to the village of Ganda and filmed a raucous, colourful ‘ngoma’, a dance of the Giriama tribe, the drums thudding out for hours on end with a strange hypnotic enchantment.
But the coast, with its heat, its giant, twisted and useless baobab trees, its lotus-eating character where all the food either has to be cut down or picked up from the ground, was an all too short experience and we were soon back in the interior, far from the sea, amongst the Masai people.
The Masai tribe are the traditional warriors of central Africa, fabled alike in film and legend. Up to 70 years ago they straddled like an impenetrable barrier across the slavers path to Uganda, forcing the caravans far to the south round Lake Victoria.
But now many of the Masai fear the power of the Kikuyu, a situation which was theirs by might has changed. Under 60 years of benign British rule, the Kikuyu have sheltered behind the protection of the Union Jack until they were strong enough to make their own demands. These demands, fear the Masai, may well lie in the direction of traditional Masai lands, and in attempts to change the Masai way of life which has remained intact for centuries.
Ancient enmities existing between the Masai and the Kikuyu still erupt into violence and only a short while before the unit began filming in the Masai reserves, one of the Moran warriors, incensed at a Kikuyu political speech, ran his spear through the body of the speaker and killed him.
The spear, and their uncanny ability to graze cattle on land which has defeated anyone else, is still the protection and the living of this tribe.
The Moran, young men between the age of 18, when they are circumcised, and 22, are the traditional protectors of the Masai way of life. They do no work, for theirs is the warrior class, but now they are street-corner loungers in the middle of the African bush, stealing a few cattle when they can to make up for their older pleasures of butchering the Kikuyu and stealing their women.
As a present the Associated-Rediffusion unit gave them a steer to kill and the Moran happily drank the blood from its neck, and roasted its meat on an open fire – taking the best bits for themselves, and feeding the women and children the less succulent pieces. It needed strong stomachs to film the proceedings and to at least one film crew now back in London roasted meat still has a special meaning.
From the Masai reserves we travelled north by air, into the Northern Frontier District, to Wajir, the only water in 78,000 square miles of desert scrub where the Union Jack still floated high over the Beau Geste fort in the hard sunlight, and where the Dubas camel corps, the King’s African Rifles and the Kenya police maintain an uneasy peace over the Somali tribesmen whose national sport is murder and whose battles rage over camels, water and women – in that order.
Here again, the Somali people fear the power of the Kikuyu and the problem of the N.F.D. is still awaiting a solution as they prefer the devil they know of British rule to the devil they don’t know of Kikuyu domination.
Wajir, however, occupies a special place in the affections of the film unit for it is here that a regatta night was declared at the Royal Wajir Yacht Club (which owns no boats and is something like 300 miles from any navigable water in any direction you care to walk).
This Regatta Night included camel curry and an obligatory dunking in the swimming pool by the seven tough European administrators and police officers. A night to remember, under the heat of the desert, the incredibly bright stars, and with the weird cry of the camel drivers as they hauled water from the deep wells to satisfy their flocks.
From the desert to the lush green Highlands of north-west Kenya seemed a strange step and trying to keep up with, and film. Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta was exhausting in the heat and the distances to be covered.
But we were soon back in Nairobi and the Kikuyu reserves around Nyeri to film the final sequences we required. A pleasant, soft land of lowering clouds, a little rain, and wood fires in hotel bedrooms in the evening. There are few reminders of Mau Mau terrorism now and we were welcomed, as in the rest of the Kenya, wherever we went.
On the last day’s scheduled filming at Nyeri we finally got the one shot of which we were short – Mount Kenya with all its majesty of glacier and snow, towering above the surrounding countryside.
At such a sight it was easy to understand the Kikuyu’s traditions of descent and the legends which surrounded it. Now the turn really has come for the Kikuyu to take back their own affairs from the ‘men of a fair, pale skin’ – Kenya faces a new independence with a confidence which it hopes the world will share.
Africa – the Hidden Frontiers
Produced by Associated-Rediffusion for Intertel