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Friday, June 3, 2011

INSIGHTS INTO HISTORY: Journey to back to Kenya


Do you may remember Joannes (Joe )Theodore who lived in the village (Choiseul) where the barber’s shop is now? He has been described as ‘the village wise man‘, 'an extremely knowledgeable bush doctor',  ‘a walking encyclopaedia‘ and 'a good fortune teller' .  He was my late husbands grandfather;  and my husband who had health problems was often sent to stay with Joe and - having the same enquiring mind as Joe - would  eagerly  listen to his stories .
 One of those was that his ancestors in Africa were a very tall tribe who were nomads ,  whose wealth was cows, had an unusual dance where the youth jumped  very high and were called Maasai. 

Now I knew the Maasai live in the Kenya region of East Africa which went against the generally held belief that all slaves came from West Africa but piecing together the little information I had I quickly realised that if the plantations were set up in the Choiseul area in the late 1700s,  then by then it would be harder  to get slaves from West Africa  even though the French had connections there. They also had connections with East Africa  they had colonised Somalia , next to Kenya , Mauritius and the Seychelles  so this made sense.

So in 1995 instead of our annual visit to St Lucia we decided to go to Kenya  for a month to see what we could discover. On arrival the first discovery was that there were at least 14 distinct tribes , living in different areas of the country  with different cultures , languages and physical characteristics with a mixture drawn to the coast . There was a group of Maasai near the coast who performed for the tourists although their homeland was in the interior near Lake Victoria and Mount Kenya.

The second night in the hotel they came to perform and guess what ! the young men sprung into the air as though their long thin legs were metal springs, to music that was so similar to reggae you would not believe. All the while they were watching Julian and when they had finished the leader came up to him and said “ You are one of us “ Julian laughed, held up his arm and said that he was a black man too the reply was ‘ No , no you are one of us , Maasai “  So we all arranged to meet next day for a chat. This we did and he explained where he had come from with much drawing of maps in the dirt  ( bear in mind that they are totally uneducated  and had heard of Europe and America  but knew nothing about them ) . They said that according to their handed down  verbal history  70 generations ago   Arabs had come with guns given to them by white men and captured almost all the Samburu Maasai and taken them away, never to be seen again.

70 generations takes us back to about 1770.

The few remaining members searched all over their known world  for over a year but could not  find them and had to give up. Then came the realisation of what had happened and the sight of these young warriors who carry their war clubs and spears everywhere with them in tears was so moving . A message was immediately sent to the chief, this involved 2 days walking there and back and in the meantime we did a lot more talking comparing notes on local bush medicine and there were so many things in common it was unbelievable  bearing in mind different tribes have different uses. An example is gro diten ( big thyme ) Kikuyus plant it by their latrines to use as toilet paper, Maasai use it in cooking. 

We then were taken to see the chief inland, luckily we did not have to walk but travelled on an ancient London Transport bus complete with conductor with an original  ticket machine.
The chief took one look at Julian and then said he was one of them and we then had to explain where we came from all over again and the chief and elders were also overcome. We stayed there for 2 nights talking comparing jokes and old stories which somehow have stayed very similar over all this time . It struck me how similar their mannerisms were , giggling like school girls and very jovial. Physically they were like a lot of gens Choiseul, tall slim and wiry with long thin hands and feet, fairly dark skinned but without negro features and with the  zoreille European that Joe was so proud of. 

Before we left Julian was presented with Maasai regalia  as he was now officially Maasai , he could not be given the 2 thin necklaces worn crossing over the chest as he had not killed his lion , but in addition was given another necklace containing red ochre which is traditionally used for decorating themselves. The chiefs wife gave me her necklace of animals that has a good luck charm made from a lions bone.

I am also an official Maasai as anyone who is married to a Maasai  becomes one by default. A frequent question Julian was asked was “how many cows and sheep did he have to pay my father?”

My only regret is that I could not take pictures at the time as they believed that I would take their soul so I had to respect that. 

Towards the end of the trip we visited one of those awful places where captives were held  by the Arabs prior to shipment and I have never felt such bad vibes before in my life.

Since that mind-blowing  trip I have mentioned the story occasionally to historians when the topic came up and got no positive feedback just strange looks that said I didn’t know what I was talking about. It was only at a training course for museum curators 2 years ago that I mentioned it to a leading historian from Barbados who was extremely surprised that I had found that out  and said that historians have only just recognised the fact that slaves also came from east Africa via Mauritius !


  1. Great piece. I just love it. Maybe I'm Maasai too.

  2. A people without the knowledge of their past history, origin and culture is like a tree without roots.

    ~Marcus Garvey

  3. The Powerhouse going historical or cultural. I know the "Boss" likes culture but I didn't know he was into History too. I know he is a scientist. Wonderful piece. Encourage Miss Theodore to write more like that. I enjoyed the videos and I really enjoyed this piece. I might even use some of the material in there in my classes. Thank you again Madame Theodore.

  4. I think it is so important to record our history as our history may be in the past but it has shaped who we are today. Often " Grandpa's " stories are all we have and they should be recorded before they are lost forever , here in St Lucia there are no written records available as they were kept in Martinique as St Lucia was just an outpost of Martinique and these records are now in France and therefore practically inaccessible . So please , sit down with your grandparents with a notebook and ask !! then share . If Anon above wants further info please ask the Boss for my contact details,Diana Theodore