Academic journal article History In Africa

Denying History in Colonial Kenya: The Anthropology and Archeology of G.W.B. Huntingford and L.S.B. Leakey

Academic journal article History In Africa

Denying History in Colonial Kenya: The Anthropology and Archeology of G.W.B. Huntingford and L.S.B. Leakey

Article excerpt

I

Colonial attitudes and prejudices can be readily identified by every student perusing Africanist literature of the early twentieth century. More than that, one gets to recognize different slants, notably between an administrative outlook and that of white settlers (varying according to the territory), and a further contrast with that of Protestant and Catholic missionaries, not to overlook mission-educated Africans. But facile characterizing by occupation, economic interests, class, race, or even religion can misrepresent individual intellects and achievements, whether in original contributions to knowledge or in setting the direction of continuing research. In reviewing here the anthropological and archeological endeavors in the Kenya highlands during the 1920s and 1930s of George Wynn Brereton Huntingford (1901-1978) and Louis Seymour Bazett Leakey (1903-72), both of British parentage (and sons of Anglican clerics), it is noticeable that, while each was unmistakably a product of his time and situation, neither falls perfectly into any neat category of European society in colonial Africa.1 Neither belonged to the administrative corps, although both took on assignments for the Kenya government on occasions, and were at hand to volunteer their wisdom about "native customs" and mentality whenever inexperienced officials, insensitive settlers or zealous missionaries encountered distrust or open protest.

Moreover-despite Huntingford's family being absorbed into the white settler community of the western highlands, whereas Leakey was born and raised in an Anglican mission station just outside the nascent capital of Nairobi-their scholarly bents, coupled with their independent if not eccentric research obsessions, quickly distinguished them from the typical settler, and from the average missionary too. Leakey proved capable of offending several shades of white Kenyan opinion, by both his personal behavior and his criticizing settlers' racial attitudes and political shortsightedness in his books of the 1930s. Huntingford seems to have maintained a more conventional stance socially but, with his youthful enthusiasm for local research of questionable utility, he would have been regarded as rather odd in settler circles-or indeed a bore, with his propensity for pronouncing on topical as well as arcane issues with an air of intellectual superiority. Certainly, each took himself seriously as a scholar (or a "scientist" in Leakey's case). Moreover, their proficiency in "tribal" languages-Huntingford in Nandi, Leakey in Kikuyu-enhanced their reputations for local expertise, giving them an edge over the general run of district officers and also over academics on fleeting visits from Britain, let alone commissioners sent occasionally by the Colonial Office.

Huntingford studiously set himself to learn Nandi on arrival at the outskirts of that district in 1921, with a copy of A.C. Hollis' book in hand.2 He was then aged barely twenty and lacked academic training for the task, other than his schooling in England with a sound grounding in classics; that and his youthful intellectual enthusiasm compensated for any technical deficiencies. By 1926 he had compiled a Nandi-English dictionary (which was complementary in effect to the English-Nandi vocabulary in Hollis). Huntingford's effort at this stage was a bound typescript with notes on etymology, phonetics, and grammar, which he continued to annotate and enlarge. In tandem with this language documentation he began, presumably with the help of the same informants (about whom he has disappointingly little to tell), accumulating a store of ethnographic knowledge from which he developed his personal image of Nandi society and culture. All this was eventually set down in his books published in the 1950s.3 By that time, having completed a BSc in anthropology at Oxford, he held a lectureship specifically in "East African Languages and Cultures" at the School of Oriental and African Studies of London University. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.