The Long African Day
Ten years after Kenya’s independence, the main bar of Nairobi’s venerable Norfolk Hotel is still called the Delamere Room, after Kenya’s legendary settler, and is decorated with the mounted heads of His Lordship’s trophies. An eager hunter thrice mauled by lions, Lord Delamere used to ride through the streets of Nairobi shooting out the lights of streetlamps with a pistol. He once bought a hotel for the sole purpose of staging window-smashing contests in it, using oranges as ammunition. What a good sport, his fellow settlers said, he bought the hotel first.
Another settler, Major Grogan, walked all the way from Capetown to Cairo to win his bride. Once married and settled near Nairobi, he held a public flogging of three African rickshaw boys on the ground that they had insulted some European ladies “by holding the vehicle’s arms up too high.” Grogan was one of twenty children. Traveling through Kenya, one repeatedly hears that its earliest English colonials, who came before World War I, were the younger sons of small landed gentry with large families, the kind of men who in previous years had to settle for modest regiments and parsonages. Were their eccentricities forged in the injustice of the nursery, by that dearth of attention which is often a Benjamin’s lot?
Lord Delamere, the largest landowner in Kenya, acquired 350,000 acres; plantations considered adequate contained thirty or forty thousand. Under Jomo Kenyatta’s capitalistic, conciliatory leadership, Europeans might to this day have kept most of their land if Kenya’s future had been more predictable.
On the terrace of the Norfolk Hotel, in front of the Delamere Room, there stands in desultory splendor a large black lacquered rickshaw. Its story was told to me the morning I arrived in Nairobi by one of the two Big White Hunters who were about to guide us—a party of family and friends—on a photographic safari of East African wildlife.
“In the old days in Kenya,” our guide says, pronouncing it Kee-nya, “there was this lovely old bloke who used to keep a sweet tame lion on his lap when he went riding in that rickshaw. When the rickshaw boy pulled too slowly he would tickle the lion’s throat, the lion would roar, and the boy-ee would truly hurry up. Ha ha!”
The hunter guffaws mightily, slapping his great naked thigh, ruddy and muscled below his khakhi safari shorts. He is a hulking, blond, frenetically jovial Englishman in his middle forties, who came out with the British army at Emergency time to quell the Mau Mau rebellion and stayed on in Kenya to hunt big game, marrying into an old white settler family of Major Grogan’s circle. His family’s land in Surrey was bequeathed to an older brother. His father had also been an army man, a colonel in India’s Gurka regiment. We sit over Pimm’s Cups alongside the rickshaw on the Norfolk Hotel terrace, going over …