The Journal of African History

Research Article

Masai and Kikuyu Responses to the Establishment of British Administration in the East Africa Protectorate1

G. H. Mungeam

This paper attempts to study the contrasting responses of two Kenya tribes, the Masai and the Kikuyu, to the establishment of British administration. It suggests that neither reacted in the way expected of them by early British officials, who anticipated that the Masai would forcefully oppose the British entry, while little or no resistance was expected from the Kikuyu.

Instead, the Masai actively co-operated with the British, through the support of a laibon, Lenana, and the provision of levies who accompanied British punitive expeditions. Although twice removed from their lands, the Masai still did not fight, but appealed to the law courts. When this failed, they showed little or no interest in further opposition. Although apparently having some cause to resent treatment received at the hands of the British, they showed virtually no interest in the protest movements of the twenties.

By contrast the Kikuyu, far from standing aside as had been expected, opposed the British entry in a series of short engagements, in which they suffered considerable casualties. Soon, however, collaborators began to emerge and ‘chiefs’ such as Kinyanjui—created by the British and beholden to them–benefited considerably from the connexion. Despite this co-operation, the earlier resentments continued and were reinforced by losses of land to European settlers, and by the unsettling effects upon tribal life of the proximity of Nairobi and the teaching of the missions. When, after the acute sufferings of the war years, further demands were made by the government, the Kikuyu responded by active participation in organized political protest.

Possible reasons are put forward for these contrasting responses, and the suggestion is made that differing attitudes to the protest movements of the twenties can be more fully appreciated when the history of these earlier years is taken into account.


1 This is a revised form of a paper presented to the University of East Africa Social Science Conference, Nairobi, in December 1966, and subsequently to the Postgraduate Seminar at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. I am grateful for the comments of those present, and for the more recent advice of Dr T. H. R. Cashmore, Dr. J. M. Lonsdale, and Mr. A. T. Matson. Responsibility for faults in argument and presentation is of course my own.