Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The clumsy origins of Eldoret; once a boer town

By John Kamau
Eldoret is out- may be for a short period after witnessing the exodus of its second wave of investors.
Of all the fancy and clumsy stories about origins of some Kenyan towns that I have come across, Eldoret beats them all: Nine-zero.
This was the only Kenyan town that ostensibly had a bar that was never manned! Revelers would just go, take beer and leave the money at the counter- and if they needed change they would take the exact amount and stagger to the hyena-laden fields of Farm 64 as the emerging town was known then.
The story is told of how two thirsty revelers found that one of their own had accidentally locked the padlock and they broke the door, took their beer, paid as usual and left. For years, the story goes on, the bar operated without a door.
But that is as far as the juicy stories of Eldoret go. Perhaps it happened, or it is one of those Happy Valley tales.
I doubt it happened for one reason. Eldoret is one of the only towns in Kenya that was founded by South African and British rogues, renegades and perverts! So, one might just ask: at what point did they acquire this civility of taking beer, paying and taking the exact change. Total lies.
But what we know is that Eldoret was the epicenter of colonial notoriety, murders, rape and chicanery. What is currently amazing is that the town, or just “Eldy” as they call it, has managed to hide this notoriety and past and soldier on rising to become the fifth largest town in Kenya.
It all started in 1909 when about 280 Boers arrived in Kenya from South Africa with prefabricated houses, wagons, ploughs, cattle and sheep and started a mighty trek to the highlands looking for a place to settle. Something akin to the velds of South Africa where they had fled from fearing to be colonized by the British.
Led by Meneer Van Rensberg the group left Mombasa – where they arrived aboard a chartered German Boat “Windhoek” – on June 1908 and reached Nakuru on July 18, 1908. It was at Nakuru that the47 families dispersed to different routes but most veered towards modern day Eldoret with some 42 wagons.
It was in the Uasin Gishu plateaus that the group, interestingly aided by gun totting British rogues, that they managed to push out the Maasai to create what they called “breathing space” .
Colonial writer, Elspeth Huxley in her book "No Easy Way" captured the drama: "To get heavily-loaded wagons up this steep escarpment along the rough, narrow, treacherous track, with inexperienced oxen and in a wet year, was a truly remarkable feat, and only Afrikaners could have performed it...."
Famous American travel writer Negley Farson, in his 1947 book "Last Chance In Africa" says that Eldoret to the Boers looked like “ their beloved kopjes in the Transvaal -- they out-spanned at once, saying: 'Here is a land where our women can breed in space' ...
But why did they pick Eldoret? There is one story that has been passed on for generations.
It is said that one of the wagons that made it to Eldoret was carrying a heavy safe that collapsed at the site of Eldoret. An attempt by the Boers to lift it back to the wagon failed and they decided to build a bank around the safe!
By this time most of the best land had been grabbed by the whites who had christened the entire area “white highlands” and wanted to lock out ownership from everyone else. That is how the Nandi’s lost most of their land here.
Of course the boers were no ordinary settlers but cowards (fleeing Anglo-Boer war!) perverts, and racists. It was the Nandis who paid a heavy price dealing with them.
The british also had no time for the boers who had taken up farms here that had been surveyed by the Royal engineers.
Farm 64 had been allocated to a boer named Willie van Aardt and it was him who built the first post office since he could not make a living out of the farm. Thus, the story of Eldoret township started after Aardt started getting applications for business plots on the farm.
The British administration sent one of its administrators, N.F. Corbett to build a stone house opposite the New Lincoln Hotel. It was opposite here that they build a corrugated iron police station and a District Commissioners residence from the remaining material.
All this time Eldoret had no name and was just Farm 64 and farmers had to be summoned by Governor, Sir Percy Girouard to give it a name.
The names suggested included Girouardfontein, Sirikwa, Sosiani, Bado Kidogo, and finally, Eldare. It was the governor who suggested that a ‘t’ be inserted at the end to read Eldaret but due to a typing error in the official gazette the name was spelt “Eldoret” in the gazette notice of January 1, 1912 and it was never rectified!
The Bank built by the boers became The Standard Bank but the Cape Town office allegedly refused to approve the premises unless bars were fitted in the windows. Historian, A.T. Mason captures what happened: “ all the paraphenaria of city banking arrived, including a brass plate which was quickly affixed to the mud and wattle wall. On one occasion its manager J.C Shaw told the office boy to patch the flaking mud but the Swahili of both the manager and the worker was meager with the result that when Shaw returned he found the wall had disintegrated under repeated onslaughts with buckets of water and the safe was outside in the mud!”
It is said that because there was no accommodation in Eldoret, some of the customers slept at the counter and took their morning bath at the bank or at a bar next door known as The Eddy’s. It is the Eddy’s that had been broken into by the revelers to have a beer.
Unlike other towns Eldoret used the Kruger coins as its currency and its District Commissioner had very little hold of the boers and the town was basically neglected and the public works department did not encourage stone buildings hoping to remove the corrugated iron and go elsewhere.
The DC had to refer all decisions to Naivasha or Nairobi and had no powers and in 1913 the first DC resigned in protest.
But it rose to service the agricultural farms with fuel and as a post office and by 1924 the railway arrived connecting the town to the coast.
Even today, the Boer legacy on this town can be seen in the old buildings and churches.


dickmutai said...

Good post except for this "What is currently amazing is that the town, or just “Eldy” as they call it, has managed to hide this notoriety and past and soldier on rising to become the fifth largest town in Kenya" among other such tiny betrayals for distaste of the people rather than the town. Understandable if you belong to the second wave of investors that departed.

Alexander Eichener said...

Here is a rather interesting and worthwhile link from the Boer('s heirs') perspective.
And I learned about the book by Brian M. du Toit: The Boers in East Africa, ethnicity and identity

Alexander Eichener said...

Another rich link:

Anonymous said...

Do you have a picture of the New Lincoln Hotel? If so can you post it because i am currently working on a project abot the hotel. thanks alot

blacc82 said...

If U have any pictures of the new lincoln hotel can u email them to me at hopet78@lsus.edu. i really need the pictures before monday november 15, 2009 thank u so much for your help

tomynextdoor70 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tomynextdoor70 said...

Can anybody give me some details of the school which a gorup of religious Sisters ran for the white girls in Eldoret. I am told, in the place of the old school today the Catholic University of East Africa has a campus called GABHA.

Thanking you for the favour


Anonymous said...

Fascinating blog post! I have a relative that went to British East Africa in 1928. He died an accidental death (possibly a motocycle accident) 7 Mar 1938 while living at the New Lincoln Hotel. Family rumour indicates that he may have been "manager" or "owner" of the hotel. Is there any way to verify this? Is there any way to determine more about his death &, like an earlier poster, are there any photos of the hotel from that period? Thank you from Canada.

Anonymous said...

I posted a little earlier today. As it recorded anonymously it will be impossible to respond to me. My contact is jl.fisher@hotmail.com.

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oncdoc65 said...

I know I'm a bit late, since it is now 2018 !! However, I am a descendant of one of the Boers who went to Kenya in 1908, and would like to correct some of your characterization of them. Yes, the Boers were indeed a racist group, cannot deny this at all. In addition, they were fully in the mindset of all colonialists of their time, with all the arrogant sentiments of entitlement that went with the territory.
However, they were NOT cowards who fled the Boer war !! The Boer War ended in 1902, six years prior to the immigration to Kenya. My great-great-grandmother (great-granfather's mother) died in a British concentration camp during the Boer war, at the age of 66 yrs old. My great-grandmother was also in a British concentration camp during the war, and at least one of her children died in the camp. My great-grandfather was not imprisoned, likely "out on commando" (i.e. fighting against the British). One of their sons, my grandfather, was a 5 year old boy in the concentration camp, and fortunately survived.

You should know that tens of thousands Boers died in dozens of concentration camps during the war, including many dozens of my own family -- mainly due to disease and starvation. In at least one instance, almost an entire family was wiped out in one tent: the mother, and 3 of her 5 children (two teenage sons "out on commando").

My family were poor prior to the war (farm laborers), and lost what little they had in the war -- this is why they chose to leave South Africa and start a new life.

Unfortunately, the entire colonialist type of thinking caused great harm to many people -- and ALL of Europe was responsible for the abuses.

Boers are tough people, stubborn, racist -- but NEVER cowards !! I am certainly NOT proud of everything that Boers have done, but I AM proud of their innate strength and character.