16 July 2014

Kenya Cowboys

As you know, I spent some time in Kenya in the late 1980s. We went on safari, hiked Mt Kenya, and explored the coast. I partied in Nairobi, Mombasa, and Malindi with English expats, slim, stylish young men and women, some of whom were taking a 'gap year' working in tourism or conservation projects in the region. They worked hard, but also knew how to have fun. Today, one of my best friends is a Kenya Cowboy expat who works as a commodities trader in Los Angeles.

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"This is the world of the KC, also known as the Kenyan Cowboy. An insular group, descending from white English families that came in the early 1900s, is privy to both adoration and contempt within broader Kenyan society. When the first generation arrived, Kenya was primarily made up of tribes with expansive tracts of unsettled land. The English settlers, most of them wealthy social misfits, were seeking a level of freedom that turn-of-the-century London did not provide. One notorious group, the Happy Valley Set, settled around Lake Naivasha in the 1920s. As the years progressed and the West faced economic decline, the number of settlers swelled to around 20,000. Various scandals, including drug use, affairs, wife swapping, suicide and murder followed the settlers for years. It wasn’t until the early 1950’s during the Mau Mau uprising (which was followed by Kenya’s bid for independence in the 60s) that the Happy Valley lifestyle began to shift.

 The focal point of the KC community began evolving into that of development and conservation. Many members saw themselves as intrinsically linked to the land and worked together to create a number of conservation parks, agencies and some of the very first safari companies. With this they also continued managing a number of farms and cattle ranching. It was here, in the middle of nowhere, that they raised their children and developed intricate networks among themselves. While boarding school was de rigeur, almost all of their children returned to Kenya to work on the family business, or expand their own entrepreneurial companies."

Kenya's Last Cowboys, Persephone Magazine, 2 April 2012

8 comments:

Robert said...

Colonial "noblesse oblige" it runs in the white man's blood-for centuries. What else can one say.

Jacobite said...

"What else can one say."

That in the absence of White rule Kenya is devolving into darkness like Somalia, Ethiopia, and the Sudan(s)?

Robert said...

Jacobite:
Couldn't agree with you more but you left out all of the other countries on the African Continent, Rhodesia, South Africa, Algeria, just to name a few off the top of my head. Pick a country in Africa and it fits your description.

Anonymous said...

I have traveled a lot in Africa. Many Many Africans will admit that they were better off under British rule. I know its not politically correct to even udder that but it is true. The hospitals are pig pens. Health care is still in the dark ages. Life in the congo is pre historic. Rawanda no lights except candles and they still shit in the woods after walking miles to get water. They would embrace "Noblesse Oblige" in a second.

Anonymous said...

Did you ever run into Obama there?

Laguna Beach Fogey said...

Anon @17:57 ~ I don't think so, but I'm pretty sure his family members tried to sell me some cheap trinkets at a roadside shack.

Main Line Sportsman said...

White Mischief with Greta Sacchi is a great film on the Happy Valley days and all the things you reference. I assume you have seen it.

Jacobite said...

Joss Ackland has played an evil plutocrat in at least three of the continuing stream of South and East Africa British colonial films and TV serials. It took no less than Trevor Eve to put him in his place last time. LOL

To be be perfectly honest, among all these movies from Mogambo and The African Queen all the way through Hatari and Out Of Africa and on to Invictus and everything in between, my all time favorite scene from the best movie (despite very minor technical nit picking by pedants) of the lot is still:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1csr0dxalpI

"Fire by rank,
first rank: FIRE!"