When Narok moran speared colonial-era DC to death

Saturday June 01 2019

Maasai moran Karambu ole Sendeu. He was charged with the murder of colonial-era Narok District Commissioner Hugh Murray Grant. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Colonial-era Narok District Commissioner Hugh Murray Grant and Maasai moran Karambu ole Sendeu had two things in common. They were born warriors and had a sense of entitlement.

The DC was born to a family of Scottish landowners who believed all land under the sun belonged to the British “empire” on whose shores, they said, the sun never set.

Prior to joining public administration, Grant had a stint in the military and fought in World War I, after which he was posted to Kenya to serve in the Kings African Rifles (KAR).

On retirement, he joined public administration, first as a District Officer (DO) in Mandera before the posting to Narok as District Commissioner.

Narok was everything the retired and decorated British soldier would have wanted: plenty of land, big game to hunt, and a big house where he and his wife Pauline entertained guests from Nairobi and abroad.

Besides, he had the monopoly of a gun to kill any native who stood in his way.



On the other hand, moran ole Sendeu was born to a family of Laibons (Maasai royalty), and was a celebrated warrior who used to be the first to aim his spear at a lion before other morans joined in to kill the revered king of the jungle.

And like all Maasai men those days, he believed all the cattle in the world belonged to the community and that, with a spear and a shield, nobody could stand between him and his beloved hoofed friends.

In the aftermath of the World War II, meat was a scarce commodity in Britain and in all its colonies. But not for Africans in the colonies, who owned 95 per cent of the livestock.

A decision was made for compulsory purchase of cattle from Africans.

Colonialists had also long perceived the Maasai community to have more cattle than they needed, which was a misconception based on failure to appreciate that cattle to a Maasai wasn’t just milk and meat, but a status symbol and a definition of manhood.


In disregard of community feelings, a quota of 2,000 cattle a month was imposed on the Maasai for compulsory sale to the colonial government so that meat wouldn’t miss in the white man’s kitchen.

District Commissioners were ordered to enforce the forced purchase and allowed to use the gun wherever there was resistance.

One morning in August 1946, Narok DC Hugh Grant scheduled a forced cattle auction at Morijo village in Loita Hills, Narok County.

To that effect, he set aside three days for his officers to visit Maasai homesteads and identify cattle for the compulsory purchase.

The procedure was to send out advance notices to each Maasai homestead to voluntarily submit cattle to the sale, and take them to the collecting area a day before the auction.

While Grant hoped the Maasai would volunteer cattle to fill their allotted quota, no cattle had been delivered to the collection centre a day to the auction.

In panic, he ordered policemen to raid the manyattas at day break and confiscate cattle.


At the home (manyatta) of Ole Sendeu, the colonial police picked nine cows which they ordered taken to the collection pens.

Among those selected was a black bull with a white tip at its tail. Ole Sendeu happened not to be at home when the family cattle were taken away, only to get back to hear that his favourite bullock had been confiscated.

Hurriedly, he and his brother set out for the collection centre to try and convince the DC to give them back his favourite bull, for which he was ready to offer another as replacement.

The buying had already commenced when they arrived at the auction centre.

The moran told the DC that he hadn’t been at home when his favourite bull was selected for the auction and pleaded that the animal be released to him in exchange for another.

He implored on the DC that had he been at home, he’d have explained to the policemen why he was so attached to the particular bull and wouldn’t want to part with it.

Its mother had died soon after giving birth, and he (ole Sendeu) had brought up the calf, which he had named Lemelel, the name of his own child.

By then, the bull in question had already been valued and a sale ticket issued.


Having been up since one in the morning, the DC was in no mood to pay much attention to the young man. “Hapana! hapana! (No! no!)," he kept saying and waving his gun as if to tell the spear-wielding young man to scatter or bite the bullet.

Distraught, Ole Sendeu retreated to a far corner to mourn his loss as the DC kept busy supervising the auction.

Suddenly, and seemingly from nowhere, a spear whizzed by with the force of a rocket, piercing through the DC’s torso to stop about 50 feet away.

Before anybody knew what had happened, Ole Sendeu leapt forward, picked up the weapon and sprinted away with the speed of a hunting lion.

The DC’s lifeless body lay face down about 15 feet from where he’d been standing, his loaded gun separated from him.

The bullet couldn’t help him when the spear came with lightning speed.


He was buried atop Ngong Hills; his grave marked with a bronze plaque with the words, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for — the evidence of things not seen”.

The moran was charged with murder. At the trial, his lawyer argued his client had reacted out of provocation, and had diminished sense of judgment as a result of an epileptic attack. The court wasn’t convinced.

He was sentenced to hang. The rope came in as an equaliser where the spear had proved superior to the bullet.



Though executed, Karambu ole Sendeu’s spirit lived on and 17 years after he was hanged, British colonialists packed their bags back to wherever they had come from as Kenya attained independence.

But the moran would turn in his grave because 56 years after independence, Kenyans are yet to throw a spear with enough force to eliminate hunger, disease and ignorance.

Worse, he’d be saddened to hear Wanjiku’s beloved bull — tax money — is still being confiscated and stolen — left, right and centre!

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