Archeology and Reconstructing History in the Kenya Highlands: The Intellectual Legacies of G.W.B. Huntingford and Louis S.B. Leakey

By Sutton, J. E. G. | History In Africa, January 1, 2007 | Go to article overview

Archeology and Reconstructing History in the Kenya Highlands: The Intellectual Legacies of G.W.B. Huntingford and Louis S.B. Leakey


Sutton, J. E. G., History In Africa


I

A preceding article examined the ethnographic, linguistic and archeological enquiries of G.W.B. Huntingford (1901-1978) and L.S.B. Leakey (1903-1972) in the Kenya highlands in the "high colonial" era of the 1920s and 1930s-the one, a young settler, researching independently in the Kalenjin region west of the Rift Valley, the other brought up on an Anglican mission station in Kikuyu country to the east and then, as an ambitious prehistorian, concentrating his activities in the Rift itself.1 That article pointed to their contrasting approaches to these disciplines, observing how each in his own way separately compartmentalized his anthropology from his archeology, with the result that any sense of the history of the existing peoples whom they studied-Nandi and Kikuyu-was effectively denied. This sequel examines their archeology more critically, beginning with their basic approaches and methods, and then tracing the impact of their work on subsequent scholarship and research endeavors, and especially on those anxious to reconstruct East African history in the changing intellectual climate leading to Independence.

The article concerns itself therefore with what Leakey in the late 1920s designated "Neolithic cultures" in the Nakuru-Elmenteita basin within the elevated stretch of the Rift Valley, to which subject Mary Leakey subsequently contributed, leading to Sonia Cole's essays at synthesis in the 1950s/1960s; and also with the Azanian hypothesis of Huntingford, which was rediscovered by Basil Davidson in the late 1950s and, with some deft transformation, catapulted centerstage for an emerging picture of East African history of a positive and enlightened sort.

II

Neither Huntingford nor Leakey underwent any formal training in archeological fieldwork methods; and anyway the former, emigrating from Britain in 1920/21 soon after leaving school and without professional skills, never attempted serious excavation. He clearly regarded his linguistic and anthropological investigations of greater import. But Leakey, embarking on his first research expedition in 1926 and boldly attempting to excavate ancient burials that same year, seems to have relied on his native intelligence in devising suitable excavation techniques. Although he had just completed his Cambridge B A., only one year of study had been devoted to Anthropology broadly defined, and that without, apparently, much of a methodological content, at least on the archeological side. Such lack of emphasis on research methods and field techniques would have been rather typical of academic curricula of that time, but other budding archeologists would have gained their excavation experience by assisting established figures on sites in Britain or elsewhere. Leakey did not-assuming that his memoirs are not deceptive on such formative influences-go through any such apprenticeship. These questions of methods and practical training (or lack of it) need, in Huntingford's as well as Leakey's case, to be considered alongside dieir broader archeological outlooks on embarking upon fieldwork in Kenya.

Huntingford-as told in the preceding article-grew up with an enthusiasm for archeology, or rather for antiquities visible on the landscape, and a scholarly interest in their historical significance, which he indulged as a youth in parts of England and Wales and carried out to the Kenya highlands. In this new environment he immediately set about exploring (and pursuing leads offered) on the Elgeyo border, Uasin Gishu plateau and adjacent north Nandi (presumably getting around on foot, horseback, or bicycle). Most of this early exploration was on land allocated for European farms where, as a new arrival from Britain, he would doubtless have been indoctrinated into settler attitudes regarding such matters as African land-use and history.

Alongside this interest in antiquities, the young Huntingford set himself to learn the Nandi language, and this linguistic competence naturally facilitated his recording of ethnography and folklore as he ventured further into the Nandi "reserve" (living there, moreover, in 1925-27 while teaching at Kapsabet). …

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